It was dark. Hell, it was always dark, and she was fair used to it
by now. Jaysa trembled gently, something she was quite unused to,
but this had been the final straw.
Since Stormpoint had seemingly fallen apart many ages ago, and her aunt left, and her whole family dissembled, she ran from it, fearing the very place that had been her home for so long. Old faces and voices lingered in the dusty libraries of her mind. Eowyn, Calo, even a dark jester and an uppity noble named.. what was his name.. Aidan, perhaps.
Her life had been dark since then, and she was still a young vampire yet. She was never quite one for scuffles, but this one had been severe. She'd never fought with a weir; in fact, she'd never seen one at all. Jaysa found the term "werewolf" to be deceiving insofar as it underminded their strength and cunning greatly. It had simply been a misunderstanding of territory; no, she thought, don't lie to yourself. There was something about that creature, something very wrong. Something so wrong, in fact, that her wounds were not healing the way they usually would. The slash above her eye was still fresh and oozing with the vibrant crimson lifeforce, and the bruises all over her person were purple and throbbing. Her knee didn't seem to be working properly.
Jaysa kept on.
She was sick of living in Calton, for the place had become quite overrun with beasts, and the sun never shone. The clouds were always black and the wind was always blowing and always cold. She surrendered. She had to get back to Stormpoint. She prayed for gypsies, with blazing bonfires and a calming smoke of the pipe. She prayed for the row of shops and homes whose windows always were glowing softly and warmly, and though the streets were never quite safe, there was always santuary there. Perhaps she prayed chiefly for the Theatre; for her warm room and velvet bedding. She thought of Eowyn briefly, and for some reason, the thought of a dark colored bird popped into her head.
She kept moving. Over the old stone ruins of walls, she moved deftly through the fields and trees and tall grasses. There were nightly sounds all about her, but she focused only on the ground before her, and left her weariness behind.
Night passed, the moon hanging low in the sky when she had begun and as she breached the Great Pass, the bridges, the rivers and the wood, the moon had travelled far. She stopped, heaving, and dropped to her knees. She wiped her forehead and she found that the blood still oozed gently. She looked up. Towers loomed in the distance. The castle. She wondered what had become of it.
Her stomach turned; she wondered if she would pass through the gates and find nothing but destruction, orngs, weir, and gods-know what else. She wondered vaguely if she would pass through the gates at all.
She approached, keeping herself hidden in the shadows of the trees. She crossed a small brook, and caught a flash of light near the entrance--a guard? Jaysa didn't wait to figure it out. She made for her secret passage way and slipped through unnoticed by anything.
Jaysa could not bear the thought of seeing the Theatre first. Her fears were heavy.
In the darkness, she made for Merchant's Row.
Kelton wandered the streets of Stormpoint as he always had moving
from the glow of one lantern to another. The shades whose tasks were better
done under the cover of darkness melted into the shadows as the young paladin
neared them. Only to return if he glanced over his shoulder to notice. Once
he had passed, they would return to whatever business they were about.
~Thieves, smugglers, drunkards, and worse...~ Kelton thought silently to himself as a sigh escaped him. ~So much remains the same even as so much has changed. ~
He paused at the alleyway that had become a fixture on his nightly rounds. The alley where Quig and himself had confronted one of then, Stormpoint's Regents, Lady Samantha, over a small girl. It had seemed so minor then, but like a pebble in a pound the ripples carried outward, and within weeks the Alliance that had created the city had crumbled to dust.
Within months after that the kingdoms of Darkendale and Domina were no more. The fey had reclaimed what was once theirs, swallowing almost all of what was Darkendale, except for the dark city of Revinland, into their forest over night. Domina, with the sudden absence of her Queen, shattered into dozens of warring Baronies, each claiming the throne for themselves. Only Lord Ogrek's realm seemed to escape the chaos untouched, taking Stormpoint under its flag as a protectorate, and protecting its newly expanded borders against raiders from shattered Domina.
Now even that was changing as Stormpoint moved towards independence from Ogrekvannia. Kelton absent-mindedly tugged at his new uniform, the blue and silver heraldry of Lord Ogrek had been replaced with the black and gold of the city's Lord Governor. Stormpoint now commanded a respectable militia, and Lord Ogrek's soldiers were slowly being replaced as the city's watch. And, then there were the Rangers, Stormpoint's elite that answered only to the Lord Governor, they were his eyes and ears both within the city and without. Stormpoint's last line of defense should the Watch or Militia not be able to handle it. Generally, should there be trouble afoot you were sure to find a Ranger near.
~Why did I stay? ~ Kelton mused to himself as he turned form the alleyway. A hand coming up to brush away stray bits of his blonde hair that had fallen over his well defined features. Both his Family and the Order he served pleaded with him to return home, but he had chosen stay. He knew the answer even as he asked the question, Stormpoint had become a calling for him, something about the city kept him here. His brothers in the Orders understood the call to serve, and reluctantly gave their blessing for him to stay. Unlike his family, where he could find no words to make them understand why their youngest son wished to remain here. He sighed and tried to figure out why he felt so compelled to remain. Was it Adhri, Malone and the strange dagger they had given him, or Eowyn perhaps and her mysterious ways?
Kelton was lost in his thoughts as his habitual route took him close to the city's wall, he felt a presence before he saw anything. Just a tingling on the back of his neck that he had not felt in over a year. "Vampire..." The paladin whispered softly to himself. He had thought the last of them left for Revinland when Lady Samantha abandoned Stormpoint and the Domina. Kelton's hand rested softly on the hilt of his sword as he stepped back next to a building and out of the lantern light. His deep blue eyes searched the darkness by the shadowed wall till finally a little piece of night seemed to pull it's self free and head towards Merchant's row. The vampire's walk was uneven, weary, and told of a long hard journey to get here as the vampire crept towards where the paladin was hidden.
"I had not expected to see your kind again." Kelton softly said as her face came up to meet his as he stepped in front of her. "You're injured?" His hand came away from his esword to gently reach for her as he took a step forward.
Jaysa sighed softly when she heard the paladin whisper the
word "vampire" to himself. She was already weary and exhausted, she
needed not another confrontation. She saw the gentleman long before
he felt her presence, but lacked the reserve of energy needed to
disappear quickly enough to make him think he'd only imagined what he
She kept on, hoping gently that he would ignore her completely, but being the way things were in the world, she was correct in figuring that the chances were unlikely.
She started, surprised by his sudden appearence before her. Jaysa was suddenly very frightened, not of the watchman but of herself; her senses were down and she should have been aware of his own presence. Her eyebrows twisted slightly at his expression that he'd not expected to see "her" kind again, but her wariness dissembled slowly as she realized he meant her no harm. If there was a god, she thanked it now.
She faltered, still uneasy and still feeling a heightening sense of dread about Stormpoint. "Yes," Jaysa replied, her voice hoarse. Her step stumbled slightly and he reached for her, but she straightened in an effort to remain independent. Her eyes were burning but she felt new strength at seeing a not un-friendly face. She dared a glance towards the Row; a good deal of the windows were dark but some were glowing with yellow-amber light. She realized just what a mess she was and returned her steely gaze back to the uniformed guard. "You must take me to Eowyn," she requested softly, suddenly feeling unsteady. "Who are you?" she added as an afterthought, placing her cool hand upon his proffered arm for stability.
"Kelton.. Kelton Wolfbane of Ogr.." He had to pause and correct himself, the change in his command and allegiance were still new to the youthful paladin. "of Stormpoint milady." He did not flinch away from her touch as he lightly wrapped her arms around his allowing the weary traveler to lean upon him. Kelton glanced around gather his bearings before he began to guide her down the darken street. "The Kuriousity Shoppe is just a few blocks from here, we should be there shortly." Kelton had little doubt that they would also find both the door open and the Shoppe's owner waiting for them.. the elven woman had a disturbing way of knowing everything. He glanced again at the Vampire's silhouette in the pale moonlit, softly studying her features before asking softly. "I have seen you before in Stormpoint have I not Milady?"
Jaysa breathed a silent sigh of slight relief, having a good deal of her weight resting upon the gentleman. She pushed a hand backwards through her hair and felt dried blood; she paused, accepted gladly that it was dry, and turned her gaze to the young man.
She caught the slip of tongue he made when announcing his name, her ears perking to the beginning of what he had originally intended to say.
-Kuriousity Shoppe,- Jaysa thought to herself. She'd forgotten its exact name in the jumble of occurrences between then and now, and repeated it mentally to get her bearings back. "Kelton," she said aloud, this time, to feel the pronunciation of his name.
"I have seen you before in Stormpoint, have I not Milady?"
Jaysa was silent as they moved forward, slowly but quite steadily and with increasing pace as she felt a new surge of energy despite her aching body. She was scanning her memory of any trace of the watchman, but was sure she'd never seen him before.
"I don't imagine so, Kelton," she said quietly with the ghost of a smile that only glanced her lips for a moment. "But it's a pleasure to meet you. A great pleasure since you're letting me lean on you. I haven't been in Stormpoint for.." she paused, the word 'years' about to leave her mouth when she realized quite suddenly that she had no idea just how long it had been. "..for a very long time." Jaysa left it at that and the hint of another smile danced across her palish face, her eyes smoldering lightly the way that gypsies' do.
"The honor and pleasure of being your escort are mine, Milady,"
Kelton answered with the practiced ease of one who had been taught
courtly manners. He noticed how heavily she leaned on him and the
dried blood she tried to wipe away. Whatever had brought her back to
the city, it had been a fight to do so, and not one she had walked
away from unscathed. He felt her stride grow stronger, some of the
weariness seeming to leave her slight frame as they made their way
toward the Merchants' district and Eowyn's Shoppe.
"I must have been mistaken, Milady, you look like someone I have at least seen within the city before." Kelton studied her face again for a moment before he continued. "A very long time indeed, it has been almost two years since I have seen any of your..." He paused for a moment searching for a word that he hoped would not offend her, "... kin within Stormpoint, outside of Lord Calo and the leader of the gypsy camp just outside of the city. They left shortly after Lady Samantha and Lord Sable abandoned both the city and the alliance with Lord Ogrek. Much has changed since that time, and continues to change, perhaps your kin feared these changes. I do not know, but so long as you do not mean ill to the city, you are welcomed here..."
He glanced down at her trying to gauge how she took his words as the Paladin continued to speak softly. "Lady..." Kelton cheeks colored slightly as a sheepish grin crossed his lips. "Please forgive my manners I have not even gotten your name, Milady."
For the first time in quite a while, Jaysa laughed out loud. Her canines only glinted briefly in the pale light of her beloved city, and she walked with increasing strength (but with a contentment to let the pleasant gentleman do most of the work).
-- "Lady..." Kelton's cheeks colored slightly as a sheepish grin crossed his lips. "Please forgive my manners I have not even gotten your name, Milady." --
She wasn't sure what she found funnier, that he had called her "Lady" or that they had forgotten the existence of her own name altogether. "My name is Jaysa, Kelton," and she added with a slight shake of her head and another, softer laugh, "And please don't call me lady." While she understood his exceptional skill at exhibiting chivalrous manners, she had always despised such formalities. Family titles was her only, occasional, exception. She thought momentarily of the Lady Samantha, whom she called "Aunt Sam" with the utmost affection. Nostalgia encircled its chilly tendrils around her heart and threatened to pull her mind away from the present, but she mentally resisted. The mysterious thing about nostalgia is that there exists a certain welcoming sense about it, something pleasurable, while overall the sensation of resurfacing broken memories is rather -un-pleasurable. Jaysa tucked the dichotomy away into the shelves of her mind for another day, when she would possess the time allowance to wax philosophical. She thought the chance was slim that her new companion knew Samantha personally or would much care. But then, there was always room for surprises.
"Two years," she murmured, repeating his words. She wondered if it had only been two years. Perhaps he -had- seen her wandering around the city, but it was really of no consequence now as she couldn't verify his memory lest he should provide some theory as to where he may have seen her. She smiled wanly for a moment, looking around. "Feels like twenty." Her smile deepened as she let the nostalgia pass completely from her thoughts and contemplated his awkwardness at attempting no offense by his words:
-- "A very long time indeed, it has been almost two years since I have seen any of your..." He paused for a moment searching for a word that he hoped would not offend her, "... kin within Stormpoint.." -- "The funny thing about vampires, it would seem," she said, her mouth curving into what could be construed as a grin in the night-time light. "Is that most of the time, they aim not to be seen, and so are not seen."
Jaysa immediately felt the urge to apologize for her lack of manners, but the feeling was counteracted by a confidence she had in the gentleman; that his training had taught him logic and reasoning, and that her play with words was merely a challenge to whatever humor he had. The fact that she did not take offense to his bumbling over a description of her "kind" assured her that he would not take offense to her coy reproof--she realized she was probably quite delirious, as she only attempted such sarcasm when she was feeling a serious drain on her energy reserves. She realized she was quite hungry. That would have to wait.
-- "They left shortly after Lady Samantha and Lord Sable abandoned both the city and the alliance with Lord Ogrek. Much has changed since that time, and continues to change, perhaps your kin feared these changes. I do not know, but so long as you do not mean ill to the city, you are welcomed here..." -- Jaysa left her bothersome wonderings to the gentle breeze that lifted her hair, of varying shades of chocolate, auburn, and darkish blonde, and decided that she had done enough over-thinking for the night. "Yes," she said quietly. "Many of us left," she conceded, and would have continued with the fact that vampires rarely stay where such growing chaos exists, except that the night seemed somber enough without her adding to it. On the inside she smiled at his last sentence, expressing the city's welcome of her if she bore it no ill will. She smiled because she could never bear Stormpoint harm; she smiled because, catching the practiced authority with which he said it, that he was utterly unaware of his lack of control over such a situation if it were to occur.
Stormpoint was a city, and though it was a wondrous city, it was indeed not exempt from an affectionate, though dark, attachment to the insidious side of being such an establishment. It had its thieves, its despair, its unmerciful killers; if she had ever hoped to slip into this side of Stormpoint, her disappearance would go unstopped by any mortal contempt. This, she decided however, was of no matter to her whatsoever, as she was in reality far too warm-hearted (so much as she could be) to bother contemplating a vanishing into the turbulent underworld of Stormpoint. The paladin was sweet, and very kind; more kind than others might be given what she was and how she looked, and she would not dare bother him with semantics. The thought of her Aunt Sam made her laugh to realize her relation again to the former leaders of the city; she would keep that a secret, for there was no need to bother him with that either. She passed the laugh off as a leftover from his addressing her as "Lady" and left it at that.
Clouds passed overhead, blotting out the stars periodically and the cool wind sweeping in from the sea slid gently across her face. She welcomed it. Jaysa was young in appearance, but the last few years had somehow given her face age. Perhaps it could be likened to the slight creasing of newborn wrinkles on the face of an aging mortal; but for the wrinkles did not exist, only that veil of experience and time passed. Her blue-green eyes, flecked with the strangest amber color, took in the old image of the city around her; the architecture, the timeless streets and the burning lampposts on either side. The smell of saltwater, not far off, and the leftover scents of metalworking somewhere further off then the sea.
She was home.
Merchants Row grew ever closer, and she felt warmer inside already; the Lady Eowyn seemed only a vague impression upon her, but she knew there was sanctuary, safety, and knowledge with the woman. She thought briefly of some species of bird, but the image darted away from her as quickly as it had come.
"Tell me, Kelton," she said quietly, turning her face back to study his own as they walked. "How did you come to be here?"
"My name is Jaysa, Kelton, and please don't call me lady."
Her laughter put Kelton slightly more at ease, as if she were forgiving what he was sure were fumbling attempts at courtesy. He chuckled softly himself. His last experiences with vampires had done little to inspire confidence in their kind, as he had found two of them fighting over a small, innocent child with bared fangs. It was the first and only time he had met the Lady Samantha, and it had gone badly to say the least. But, Jaysa was completely different from what he expected. So different, in fact, that he was quickly forgetting what she was. He silently chided himself for his thoughts, and his preconceptions of what to expect from her. He knew it was wrong to judge her simply on her kind before knowing the person, and he was determined to make amends for this failure.
"Of course mil..." The paladin caught himself midway though the word and paused a moment before continuing. "Jaysa."
He listened to her speak as they made their way through the winding cobblestone streets, her pleasant weight leaning on his arm. He chuckled softly at her gentle jibe about vampires not being seen when they wished it so, and watched the profile of her face as she mused about the past. It was clear that she had missed her time here and was at least relieved to be home again. He wondered about her journeys and was about to inquire when Jaysa glanced up at him and asked softly.
"Tell me, Kelton, How did you come to be here?"
Kelton blushed slightly as the focus of attention turned to him. "Well, there's not much to tell really. I am the youngest of my father's six sons and hence stood to inherit little if anything. Correspondingly, I offered little as a future husband for an arranged marriage. So, I was fostered to one of the knightly orders within Ogrekvania when I was five so as to bring honor to my family. I was raised and trained within the order's halls till I passed my final trials and became one the paladins in the order's service, a very high honor that few reach."
Kelton seemed to walk a little taller, his heart filling with pride at his accomplishment as his free hand drifted to the symbol of the diving hawk that rested over his heart. Out of the nearly twenty children that had been fostered at the same time as Kelton, only two, including himself, had passed the final trials to become paladins. The rest, though, still served as knights of the realms had been found wanting.
"I continued my training for several more years till I received my first posting along the northern frontier."
Here the paladin paused in his story and his face clouded over as he wondered what to say. Many of the orders bloodied their recruits along this wild border where raiding from the barbarian troll clans were a constant occurrence. There was much that the young warrior had seen there that quickly aged him from the relative inexperienced novice he was. Though he still carried a certain innocence when it came to other matters, it had served to temper the boy towards being a man. For the moment, he decided to say nothing more about that, it had been a pleasant conversation and he saw little reason to mar it with such recollections.
"Then I heard Lord Ogrek speak of Stormpoint and his vision for the alliance, a vision not all shared nor agreed with, but he won something of a grudging acceptance. I saw merit in what he was trying, and I volunteered to be in the militia that would serve as the first city watch. To my knowledge, I was the only paladin to do so. The orders were less than pleased of his choice of allies, so there was little in the way of support from them, and thus here I am. The city has become something of a calling for me since my arrival, so it would pain me to leave it till I felt my service here was done."
Kelton stopped both his story and their progress he looked up and saw the weathered sign for the Kuriousity Shoppe rocking in the slight breeze that came from the direction of the docks.
"It appears we are here." Kelton said softly as he lightly disengaged his arm from hers and stepped on the landing before the Shoppe's door. "I hope I have not overly bored you with the story of my life ... not very exciting to tell, and probability less so to hear."
He was only mildly surprised to see the light still burning within the windows even at this late hour, and had little doubt the shoppe's owner awaited them within. His hand paused briefly before turning the door handle finding it unlocked, it had been some time since he had met with the mysterious elf. He had offered her both his service and sword against the demon who had been plaguing the city at the time, and she had turned him down. Eowyn had found him wanting then, and it weighed on the young man who constantly fought so hard to prove himself over and over again. He wondered how she would receive him now, but he had escorted Jaysa this far and would see her through till she no longer had need of him. Holding the door open for her to enter, he bowed slightly to her with what might have been a mischievous grin. "After you, Lady Jaysa."
Jaysa smiled gently, listening to the young man's story about how he came to be at Stormpoint. He was veritably swelling with pride as the narrative flowed from his mouth, and she was content to listen, making mental note of his purpose in the city. He seemed quite noble, although his innocence pervaded his gentle strength. Jaysa knew,
whether or not he did, that he would perform heroically in the face of danger given the chance; she could tell these things. Undoubtedly he would one day know for himself.
Jaysa hadn't been paying it much attention, but there was a growing sickness in her gut. It had nothing to do with Stormpoint, or the paladin, or her physical condition.. it was something greater; something much more malevolent. She paused, her chest rising and falling at a quickened pace, and the sickness caused a tingling across her scalp and a burning in her face. Something wicked was waking up; something wicked that she knew far too personally. It wouldn't come to her precisely, but a vague image was lingering in the back of her mind, a shadow that wouldn't keep still long enough for her to recognize. Kelton's words broke her trance and she blinked back to him.
"I hope I have not overly bored you with the story of my life ... not very exciting to tell, and probably less so to hear."
Jaysa shook her head lightly, in part to deny that he'd bored her and in part to clear it. Her prior aches and pains had gone unnoticed in his pleasant company and she smiled, ignoring the tightness in her stomach. "No, actually it was quite an enjoyable story, thank you for telling me." Kelton turned back to the Shoppe and Jaysa looked up at the sign. Something about the words painted on it intensified the shadow in her mind. Eowyn would know--Eowyn must already know. Jaysa blinked again, hard this time, and watched the young man turn the handle of the door. His face read that he'd been here before and as he opened the door for her, he gave a slight bow. The gravity in her middle was becoming a little more powerful now and she moved her hand to clutch his arm for support. She tried to smile. "Thank you, Kelton. Please, if you would, accompany me in; I've not been here for a very long time."
She turned, doing her best to ignore the shadow while her mind was threatening to panic, and entered the shop. She paused in the darkness, her eyes needing no time to adjust to the dim light, and glanced about. She thought it strange that Eowyn would leave the door unlocked but would not be in the main room; she realized that in all likelihood, the woman knew she was coming.
Jaysa wondered if the elf would remember her. She wondered if she would recognize her through the cuts and bruises. Her voice moved softly through the evening air of the Kuriousity Shoppe.
"Thank you, Kelton. Please, if you would, accompany me in; I've not
been here for a very long time."
"As you wish," Kelton answered her easily. He would have helped her even without the request, as he had no intention of simply abandoning her here. He felt her grip tighten on his arm, and wondered if she felt the same trepidation upon seeing the elf as he had. Eowyn had that effect on people, he had noticed. It was her way of simply looking at you... no, not at you, he corrected himself... through you. He had felt it the first time they had met in that darkened tavern when she had rejected his assistance, and part of him feared seeing her eyes again.
~What does she see when she looks me?~ Kelton thought silently to himself, doubt growing within him like a seed till Jaysa's voice broke the silence.
The bell attached to the top of the door rang again as the door closed and Kelton glanced about the shoppe as its echoes faded away. It was first time he had ever set foot within the establishment, as he had purposefully avoided both it and its proprietress. His initial reaction was awe at the sheer size of the place. Shelves and cabinets seemed to stretch forever into the distance. It certainly didn't look this spacious from the outside. Puzzling as well was the fact that all the shelves were bare of goods. Surely Eowyn didn't pack away everything only to restock her wares in the morning. That would be a tremendous burden, not to mention a seeming waste of time. But the only thing Kelton could see aside from the barren shelves was a stuffed raven that sat unmoving on a perch close to the door.
Kelton took another cautious step into the shoppe and jumped in surprise when the raven suddenly spread its wings and squawked loudly. Forcing his heart to a slower pace and his hand away from his sword hilt, Kelton chuckled weakly at Jaysa.
"Some protector I am... Taken aback by a bird."
Before she could answer him, the raven cawed again and took flight, winging up a stairway that ended on empty landing with no visible door. ~Well, that's certainly odd~ the young paladin thought to himself. ~What's the point of stairs if there's no ......~ His thought was prematurely answered when the bird landed atop a carved wooden banister and squawked again, prompting a door to obligingly appear on the previously blank wall. Pausing only to look back at the pair, the ebony bird squawked a final time before alighting from its perch and soaring through the portal.
Kelton got the idea, and held out his arm for Jaysa as he nodded the direction of the stairwell. "Perhaps she is upstairs..."
The ringing of the entrance bell still echoed dimly in her ears, and
with a glance about, Jaysa felt a very vague recollection of having
been in this place. It seemed older, somehow. The sweet scent of the
wood hung in the air, and the energy that the shop had collected and
built up over the years prickled Jaysa's skin.
She had noticed the raven when they'd entered, its alert but not unfriendly eyes assessing the duo. She -thought- she had remembered a bird, and when Kelton started at its sudden flight, she absolutely forced herself not to laugh. She smiled quaintly instead.
"Some protector I am... Taken aback by a bird."
Her smile turned slowly into a grin and under her breath she mumbled, "Perhaps I should be protecting -you-, friend," but he seemed to have missed it as the bird took off towards a dead-end staircase. When a door emerged from the wall, she blinked in what was most definitely surprise--she hadn't remembered that part.
She took the young paladin's arm appreciatively, smiling a thank you to him once more. "Some things in this city," she added as they began their soft, uncertain ascent. "Will never cease to catch me unawares."
She took the young paladin's arm appreciatively, smiling a thank you
to him once more. "Some things in this city," she added as they began
their soft, uncertain ascent. "Will never cease to catch me unawares."
"That shall make the pair of us then," Kelton nodded in agreement with her. He had lived within the city for years now, and everyday carried something new for him to be surprised by. The bird's and the door's invitation was obvious even as he hesitated a moment before taking the first tentative step leading to the shoppe's second story. The Paladin shook his head and chided himself for his foolishness. It was not like Eowyn had the reputation of eating her guests or turning those who displeased her into toads. If either Jaysa or he had been unwelcome, surely they would have known it by now, so there was little reason for the flurry of butterflies that seemed to have taken up residence in his stomach. With a more determined step, he led the Lady vampire up to the landing as the door opened of its own accord. The room across the threshold, if indeed there was one at all, was completely dark, giving the appearance of utter void beyond the door. Having found his resolve, however, he tightened his grip on his injured charge and stepped through the beckoning portal.
It took slightly longer for his foot to reach solid ground than he had expected, and when it finally did he was met with a fleeting feeling of disorientation. When it passed and his eyes had adjusted to the light of his new surroundings, he found himself in a small, windowless room with no visible point of exit, the door through which he had entered having vanished. But they were no longer alone. The shoppe's owner was standing by table with her back to them, mixing something in a bowl. There were bandages and other medical accouterments upon the table, testifying that their arrival, as Kelton expected, had been anticipated. The shoppekeeper's hand paused in mixing whatever reagents were in the bowl to lightly wave towards a bed that sat along one of the walls, opposite a low-burning fireplace.
"Please lay her there, Kelton. I shall see to her wounds in a moment."
The Paladin nodded and led Jaysa to the bed, allowing her arm to slip from his as she sat down. He gave her a brief smile before turning towards shoppekeeper, who was adding something else to whatever mixture already rested in the bowl.
"Is there anything I can do to be of assistance, Lady Eowyn?"
She glanced back at the young paladin and his injured charge. The
girl was weak, so very weak from her injuries, and every step seemed
taken with pain. The sight sparked to life a bitter, gnawing
sensation that ate away at the shoppekeeper's conscious, and she her
turned her gaze away from the girl, hoping it would go away as she
tended to the reagents before. She was almost done. She needed
only one more item, something the paladin had brought with him. It
was, therefore, fortuitous when his voice met her ear.
"Is there anything I can to do be of assistance?"
The shoppekeeper choked back whatever sentiment currently gripped her, and answered with a steady if quiet voice. "Yes." She beckoned to him with pale white fingers and waited until he stood beside her before continuing in a whisper. "She's very weak and she needs blood. Mine won't do. I need only a little . . . a few drops . . . ." She let her words trail off, finishing the plea with her eyes, for she knew it was not the quantity of blood that would trouble the paladin, but rather feeding a kindred's iniquitous appetite at all. Still, he had helped the girl thus far, already offering greater aid and comfort than he would have when last the shoppekeeper saw him. He spoke no words in answer to her request, but simply nodded in silence, a response which had some affect on the infernal gnawing within Eowyn's frame, though whether for good or ill, she could not say.
In like silence the shoppekeeper took his hand in her own. She had forgotten how very young he was until that moment, and she smiled sadly as she reached for a thin knife that lay upon the table. Her cut was swift and true, slicing across the upper portion of his palm, and as the blood ran red from the wound, she quickly moved his hand over the table, angling it such that the full round drops spilt into an eagerly waiting cup. The blood ran for only a few seconds, and when she released his hand Kelton found the wound already healed. Within the cup, the young paladin's blood joined with other liquids, turning the entire mixture a deep, crimson color. A look of deep distaste fell upon the shoppekeeper's features like a pall as she took the cup from the table, but she made sure to lift it ere she turned and crossed to her patient.
Kneeling beside Jaysa's bed, she brushed the blood-matted hair further from the girl's face and spoke in dulcet tones of hushed velvet. "You need to drink this. It will give you strength."
Helping the young kindred guide the cup to swollen lips, Eowyn allowed her eyes drift the length of her patient's body. She was badly injured, so much so that even her kindred nature was struggling against the gashes and tears that covered her frame, unable to do more than slightly stem the flow of blood. Had she been human, she would be dead. Had she encountered a foe rather than a friend in such a condition, she would likewise wake no more. It had been a long time since Eowyn had seen the evidence of a weir attack, and her blood ran cold as she considered its possible implications.
'No.' She pushed the thought back from where it came. This wasn't the time.
It took only few minutes for Jaysa to take her fill from the cup, and when she had finished shoppekeeper rose silently to her feet, further clearing her mind as she exchanged the empty vessel for a near full bowl and handful of clean cloths. Newly armed, she knelt beside her patient once more, placed the bowl atop a small bedside table, and immersed one of the cloths into a pale, cloudy liquid that smelled of clover. The liquid splashed about as she did so, small drops of it spilling onto both the table and the bedsheets. She paid them no heed, but instead took the cloth with both hands and wrung it over the bowl, allowing the excess liquid to drain back into the basin.
"This may sting a bit at first," she warned, gingerly brushing the cloth across the cuts on Jaysa's face and scalp. She had scarce but finished when the gnawing sensation, which she now acceded was guilt, rended full through her; and she turned her face away lest her patient mistake her expression. She found now, however, that she was looking at Kelton, who was hovering by the foot of the bed, wearing a look of concern that told of a need to be helpful.
"Kelton, I need a small blue jar. You'll find it in the room next- door." She gestured with a free hand while she immersed another cloth in the bowl. Responding to either her word or will, a door swirled into sight on the wall opposite the one through which they hand entered; and though the young paladin hesitated for a brief moment, he soon stepped through and out of sight.
She drew deep breath and let it flow slowly from her lungs as he left, glad no longer to be under his eyes. But it was not merely for this reason, nor the need to imbue the paladin with a sense of purpose that she had sent him from the room. Jaysa's body was riddled with wounds and her clothes were unsalvageable. The paladin would be gone some time on his quest, time enough for her to tear what was left of Jaysa's attire from her broken frame, tend her wounds, and dress her in clean garb.
She worked as carefully and gently as she could, marveling that girl had not only survived the attack, but had managed to find her way to the shoppe. Several times Jaysa tried to help, pulling at her clothing with a weak and shaking hand, and several times Eowyn scolded her softly before finally she had finished. She told her that she should sleep, but she doubted her advice would be heeded.
Returning like an actor summoned to a stage, Kelton reentered the room just as Eowyn rose from Jaysa's side. His hand was closed tight around a blue bottle which the shoppekeeper took from him with a small smile of gratitude. Placing it on the wooden table beside Jaysa's bed, she pulled and pocketed its cork. The room grew dimmer as she did so, until only those of keen or preternatural vision could see the compassion within the shoppekeeper's gaze as she whispered softly, "Welcome home, Jaysa."
"She's very weak and she needs blood. Mine won't do. I need only a
little . . . a few drops . . . ."
The shoppekeeper's presence had somehow made Jaysa realize just how impaired her body was; she attributed her newfound, fleeting energy to the shock of the paladin's kindness. Jaysa bristled when she heard Eowyn's hushed words, but before she could protest the mixture was made. Her fingers, colder than usual with sudden anxiety, tightened around the linens she rested upon. Her mouth went dry and her stomach twisted unkindly.
Jaysa caught Eowyn's look of distaste as she brought it towards her. Her heart fell only slightly, but she cast her eyes down as she hesitantly drank the medicine; Jaysa had grown used to the looks but she'd hoped to not have one from the only familiar face she expected to see here.
The drink was thick and the few drops of his blood were hot. She caught her breath at its taste and pressed her eyelids to keep from gazing towards him while she finished it. Accustomed to the bitter blood of criminals and other deplorable types, she'd long forgotten what kind, noble blood tasted like. She let it burn into her tongue and forced her mind to block out the temptations, although as Eowyn dispelled him from the room and subsequently began dressing her wounds she found it difficult to remove her thoughts from the young paladin. The elixir was making her head swim; she drifted in and out of a dream-like state where Kelton's kindness and the taste of his blood mingled together in a sort of ethereal surreality. Jaysa shook her head and groaned, forcing herself from the semiconsciousness and lifting herself onto her elbows. She focused hard on Eowyn. The woman worked quickly and deftly, though the shards of cloth that had adhered to her body with blood sent sharp pains through her flesh. She clenched her jaw and, for a moment, felt completely disoriented. She shook her head and it cleared a little. Eowyn's dark hair was glinting softly in the light and her expression occasionally hardened as the muscles in her face tensed. Jaysa knew she was making a valiant attempt to conceal wary looks of concern, but Eowyn underestimated Jaysa's senses; the ones that had nothing to do with hearing her words or tasting Kelton's life or seeing through the darkness. Jaysa's chest tightened with her own concern and quite suddenly the aches and pains drifted away from her consciousness. She drew herself slightly closer to the diligent healer, searching her face for an indication supplying her discontent. What sentiment lay there? What sentiment broke the elf woman's concentration? Eowyn did not suffer discomfort for no reason, nor was she easily distracted, that much Jaysa knew.
"Welcome home, Jaysa."
As the elf woman moved to pull her hand away one last time, Jaysa caught her wrist gently but firmly. That mysterious something in Eowyn's eyes was something that Jaysa had not been expecting.
"Eowyn," she whispered quietly in the dim light, the slate-blue of her eyes burning gently. "What concerns you?"
"What concerns you?"
Such a simple phrase, three tiny words, yet when joined together and spoken in a whisper by the pale and broken figure with struggling blue eyes, how potent they became. A new wave of guilt spread throughout the shoppekeeper, coating her tongue with a bitter taste as she sought to form a response that wouldn't sound hollow to waiting ears.
"Later. Rest now. There's time for all when you wake. I need to speak with Kelton now."
It was partially true. There would be time to discuss all when the young kindred woke, but for Eowyn, there would be no desire, only the same gnawing sickness that ate away from within. As for the paladin, she did have need to speak with him, and need to study him as well. He had changed since last they met, and she needed to know the extent this change. She thus bid him follow her, leading led him towards the same wall he had left through before. Again, solid wall yielded to their approach, providing a door for their use without flourish or sound. The shoppekeeper opened it and allowed Kelton to proceed her through. He was still partially within the room, somewhere between one chamber and the next when Eowyn turned her head to Jaysa.
"If you need anything, tell my friend there." She cast her eyes to the right of Jaysa's bed as she spoke, indicating the bird which had perched itself comfortably atop a coatpeg, looking down at the young kindred. It gave a soft caw and ruffled its feathers with import, pleased, no doubt, with its post of responsibility. "He'll let me know."
She then turned and left, following the paladin, allowing one word to echo softly in her wake.
As the door closed, sealing the young kindred in the growing warmth and darkness of the room, a small unseen creature leapt upon the bed, padding noiselessly across the sheets, and finally settling itself next to Jaysa. Curled tight within a ball of indeterminate color, it began to purr.
"Later. Rest now. There's time for all when you wake. I need to
speak with Kelton now."
Jaysa shook her head to protest but before the words left her lips, Eowyn was up and moving with Kelton in tow. The room suddenly seemed dimmer and once the pair had vanished a sweet scent filled the air of the room. Jaysa couldn't tell if it was real or in her head, but when she inhaled it filled her with the most pleasant feeling of relaxation. Her eyelids grew heavy against her will and as her head settled back against the downy pillow beneath it, she placed one palm atop the purring figure at her side. Soon she was sleeping soundly.
The fire had burned steadily through the night and into the early
morning hours as the shoppekeeper questioned the young paladin.
She'd asked him a great many things, most of which he'd failed to
see the purpose of, but all of which he'd answered in the same
forthright and tentatively eager character that she'd come to expect
from him. Much had changed since she'd spoken with him last, but
that much, at least, had remained the same. It had cause an amused
smile to dot her lips from time to time, creating an expression that
Kelton couldn't quite read and didn't entirely enjoy. Aware of his
discomfort, she'd tried to keep the look at bay, but it nonetheless
crept out as the interview and the evening wore on.
It wasn't until dawn had spread its dew-filled fingers throughout the streets of the city that she had let him go, asking him to return when night had again fallen. Jaysa would want to see him, she'd explained. He'd nodded, understanding, and left the curious shoppe and its mistress, full of questions both unasked and unanswered.
She'd watched him go without a word, remaining in shrouded contemplation even as she was now, sitting in a well-tanned leather chair at the bedside of her charge. The shadows of evening were lengthening, and the young kindred would soon awake. There would be more questions. More answers. She wasn't sure which concerned her more. That Jaysa had been attacked by a weir, she knew. The wounds were unmistakable. But where, and when? She was tempted, sorely tempted, to reach for the answers, but the possibility that she might be right stayed her hand.
She looked down at Jaysa, lying still as death within the bed. Even in the warm glow of the firelight, her skin looked pale. Her wounds, however, were healing--owing to a combination of her own recuperative abilities and the care she'd received. She would recover, and she would do so quickly. But the thinning red scars that wove across her flesh were not the shoppekeeper's main concern. Flesh healed, even flesh that borrowed its life from another; but what lay within that "too too solid flesh" was often far less resilient. Suppressing both the thought and its attendant affectivity, she turned her gaze to the fire crackling on the hearth. It burned brighter in response, keeping her company while they both awaited Jaysa's rising.
She was young, sitting in a niche on a rooftop far above a city. Her
company was safe company; one of her three brothers, the one closest
to her own age. They had the same pale, gray-blue-green eyes and the
same mischievous smile. The wind on the rooftop was cold and the sky
was black as pitch. The watchful moon illuminated the edges of the
clouds as they drifted by, but eventually the cover was too thick and
even the moon disappeared. The two, who were no longer children but
were surely not yet adults, huddled together and laughed quietly with
half-scared righteousness at the prize between them. The pipe was long
and majestic, smooth to the touch and warm. She held the end to her
lips and lowered a lit match into the opening at the business end.
Inhale.. hold.. release. A plume of milky smoke dissipated into the evening air. The taste of incense remained on her tongue but she leaned back. Her companion leaned back with her and copied her action with the pipe. Soon, when there was only silence between them, he put his arm around her and hugged her close. She wrapped her arms around his ribs and let her eyes close with the intense relaxation overwhelming her body. They were drifting somewhere between dreaming and waking, together, safely. Safely.
Jaysa's eyelids drifted slightly. She was floating somewhere, halfway between dreaming and waking. She felt safe. Her brother's lips on her forehead seemed only moments before. She could see and feel the heat of fire; she was no longer on the rooftop. As she slowly descended back into consciousness, she become aware of the blankets over her body, the pillow beneath her head; the fact that she was not alone.
Recognition only took a matter of moments. Her eyes opened and she realized the pain in her muscles and the torn skin was only now a trace of what it had been. In fact, she wouldn't even call it an 'ache.' This notion liberated her and she lifted up to one elbow, the haze of her sleep slipping away. She'd not felt so comfortable in what seemed like--and may have been--years. She felt safe. Safe? Safe.
The elven woman peering back at her had a look of welcome in her eyes, but also of heavy contemplation. Jaysa thought, for a moment, that she actually -looked- as though something was weighing on her. She suddenly felt embarrassed by her own intense comfort. Her stomach, long forgotten, constricted slightly in its emptiness. She directly ignored it.
She'd never been so glad to see a familiar face.
"Lady Eowyn," she said softly, fairly certain of the answer before she asked the question. "What troubles you?"
The shoppekeeper gave a faint, but warm smile as her young charge
stirred from the gentle arms of Somnus, her eyes fluttering to
wakefulness even as they brimmed with weary confusion. Memory
returned quickly, however, flooding into her mind and spilling over
onto her cold and pale features, and her soft and weakened voice was
the first to break the silence between them.
"Lady Eowyn, what troubles you?"
Eowyn's face grew warmer in response, and the well of compassion that dwelt behind her own dark eyes grew steadily deeper. She leaned forward in her chair, and placed a single hand atop Jaysa's. It was similar in color to that of the young kindred, but whereas the latter bore chill as death, the former surged with warmth and a peculiar quickness that bespoke more than its owner ever would. Whatever its nature, the warmth pulsed in steady waves from the silent form of the shoppekeeper, filling the frame of her injured charge with an ineffable sense of peace.
"I've been worried about you, Jaysa," the seemingly elven woman responded with unwavering voice or gaze. "Much time has passed 'ere last we spoke, and when we parted, you passed beyond my sight."
Her final words were draped in an odd tone, carrying the faintest wisp of a suggestion that such a thing rarely occurred. The silence that followed at their heels gave similar testimony.
"It gladdens my heart to see you . . . even in such a state," her grip on the other's hand tightened in a gesture of affection, and the flow of warmth surged from her flesh once again. "But your injuries . . . ." she trailed off, a renewed look of disquiet awash over her face before she continued somberly. "You were very nearly overcome."
She said no more for a moment, her last words hanging heavy like ripened fruit between them, waiting for one or the other to pluck them from their airy bough. Neither did. Perhaps it was the tone in which they were spoken -- the commingled timbre of reprimand and relief that a parent evokes when calling a child to task after the danger has passed. Perhaps it was the fact that neither could find the phrase with which to respond. Or perhaps it was simply that all that needed said passed silently between them. But regardless of the reason, the moment held them, silent and stationary, until, with a final, reassuring squeeze to the young kindred's hand, Eowyn rose from her chair and crossed the small room.
As she neared the far wall, a window yawned into being, allowing her to gaze down upon the silver-cast city that lay below. A gentle breeze flickered errantly into the room, carrying the brine smell of the sea and brushing a dark lock from the shoppekeeper's face. Eowyn's brow furrowed in response. It wasn't what she'd expected, or, more precisely, it wasn't what she'd hoped. She'd hoped that the young paladin would have returned by now, but neither the breeze nor the shadows it silently carried held signs of his approach. She held back the sigh that had formed within her lungs. They city was busy these days, and much passed within its walls that would require the attention of the city guard. His duties had no doubt kept him. She'd prepared against such a possibility, however, and though it was not her first choice, it would serve.
The window closed in on itself, solidifying and rejoining the wall as the shoppekeeper left its sill and moved towards a cupboard nestled discreetly between a small chest at the foot of Jaysa's bed and the corner of the firelit chamber. It wasn't locked, and it uttered only the tiniest of protests as its owner opened its double doors to peer within. Though it housed four shelves, only one was occupied, and it by only a solitary object whose shape was oddly amorphous within the darkened interior. Once it was removed by the shoppekeeper, however, its form became clear. It was a vessel, no larger in size than a small carafe, but fashioned of green chalcedony with marks of iron oxide. The latter took on a peculiar glow in the flickering light of the fire, but Eowyn paid them no heed, closing the cabinets doors and returning to the chair at Jaysa's side.
"I realize it's not your usual provender," she began, carefully offering the vessel to the recovering kindred, "but I think you'll find it an acceptable substitute . . . particularly now. Drink your fill, and then . . . then I should very much like to hear about the events which took you from . . . and have returned you to Stormpoint."
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