The oily haired man shook as he gave the papers to Mistress Valmont. He knew darn well that this was going to be bad. As she paced the floor he dabbed the sweat off his upper lip. "It could be worse you know Madam, I am sure its only a temporary thing." The poor accountant desperately tried to gloss it all over but it wasn't working. Triana Valmont wasn't stupid. She had run enough businesses to know something was very wrong.
"You mean to tell me that you honestly feel this is temporary!? Either you are the most incompetent accountant I have ever hired or you know something I don't." Her eyes blazed at him not moving. "Well Man speak!" She growled ever so slightly and bared enough of a set of canines to let the man know she was serious.
"Well, umm Madam it would seem that the buzz around town is that ummmm your club The Raven is part of this,"he pauses grimacing, "Ravenclaw group." Having said it the man covered his head with his hands and waited for the inevitable.
"The WHAT? They think I am in cahoots with Ravenclaw!"
"Well Madam your club has never once been touched by these people, its like your immune." She walked straight up to him and grabbed his scrawny neck.
"Did it ever occur to anyone it might be their fear of me keeping them away? Or maybe the fact that half of Calo's Rangers and Lord Ogrek's Orc's practically live there. I am the single most protected, by association, business in this town!" With a murmur she tossed the poor man a bundle of money, grabbed her cloak and stormed out into the night.
Mumbling through the center of town she watched for the first time the whispering as she passed. It wasn't like she wasn't used to it. A large percentage of Stormpoint thought her club was immoral. But now to think of this. With all her other troubles, that blasted demon, Juleana's wedding and Damiaan, something needed to be done. The flags of Stormpoint's Castle blew in the wind making a flapping sound. Samantha, Triana thought she will do something. Tucking her papers away and placing her hood up over her head she envisioned the main gates. In a moments breath she was there off to one side trying not to startle the guards. "Sirs, I am Triana Valmont owner of The Raven. I would like to see Her Highness if you please." She smiled to the guard on the right, Your a regular aren't you? she thought. And the guard blushed a lovely shade or crimson.
Samantha wasn't sure to laugh or hit the guard upside the head for the way he was fidgeting and turning a lovely deep shade of red. "My queen a...er...Mistress...er...Lady Triana Valmont here to see you."
"Show her in." Ahh, he's visited the Raven, she thought with a secretive smile. Triana's club was a place that could have that effect on even the most well trained guards. "Can I help you Triana?" Samantha's dark eyebrow's arched at the look of anger deep within Triana's beautiful eyes. The woman was formidable in strength and beauty and it must be something grievous for her to come here on such non-social business. The dark queen shifted slightly on her throne. What was it going to be this time? Giacomo? Lost caravans? Slain dragons? or a thieves guild? She had her suspicions, and emerald eyes darken in color as she considers them. "I take it this is not good..."
"Actually Sam it isn't, but before I get to that I have to say, I am sorry I haven't been by and congratulations on your exciting news." She moved closer to her friend. "Leave it to you and Sable to do the impossible." Triana removed her cloak and tossed it on a nearby chair. "Sam I have a real problem and I don't even know if you can help me. It has come to my attention that people in town think my Raven is in cahoots with this Ravenclaw group. Business is down by 30%." Triana paced back and forth before her Queen and friend. "And to top it all off I am worried about this Giacomo demon and Juleana. With Calo hunting this guy I don't want to see her in harms way again."She stopped and faced her friend. "I am at my wits end here."
Samantha nodded. As has become her habit of late, her arms cross protectively about her abdomen. The impossible, as triana had said, needed safety and her love and with her kingdom being attacked so covertly, that would be difficult. Mothering instinct made her drive to solve these issues all the stronger. And Triana... not exactly "family" in that strict sense, for there was something about her that Samantha had never pinpointed, but she was a close and trusted friend. "Would it help if I show up? The people know that I'm *not* connected to RavenClaw. My prescence might convince some. I suspect it's the name though...and you have been immune though I'm sure it's the guards prescence more than anything else. The only thing I can think of to do is spread the word that you are not in league with the guild. And I can think to stop the guild as well."
Juleana was a problem though. She didn't want her getting caught in whatever cross fire would ensue from Calo's diligence. "I'll send three extra guards to the mansion. A personal honor guard for Juleana. Calo will understand."
Samantha rises, pacing slowly. "I wish I knew where to begin this, mon amie. I really do."
Triana considered her solutions. Remembering her houseguest. "Sam Under the circumstances I don't think you should come to The Raven. It may not be safe for you in your condition. But if you could spread the word I would be so grateful." She smiled as she said it. She was happy for her friend. "I am not even sure I thought you could do anything anyway. I have a funny feeling my accountant was used as a go between and maybe my reaction will be enough. But I will except the extra guards for Juleana. As long as Calo doesn't feel threatened. I know he is working like crazy to solve this Demon thing." She put her hands over her face.
"Sam what can we do to stop all this mayhem?"
The question hung there like some shiny little bauble she couldn't quite reach out and grasp. She had no answer because there wasn't one. It was an all out subtle and undermining attack. The fatalistic moment lasted only that, a moment. She snarled suddenly and stood up. "I don't know where to start ma cherie... but I know I'm going to. I'm sick of all this foolishness." She remembered that night in panther form, clawing at one of the thieves, feeling fangs sink into flesh and then the man inexplicably ...gone. The city-wide attack had stopped as suddenly as it had started. "For starters..." she took a deep breath. "For starters keep an eye out around the Raven for anyone suspicious, and I mean anyone. You have enough power to see if people are being deceptive, non? If there are any problems, alert the guards. I have everyone I can watching the city but I fear it's not enough sometimes."
She would have Rianna put the gypsy camps on guard. The gypsies who rarely missed anything and could be strong allies in this oh so subtle battle. The guards were already increased around the city. People were wary and on watch. The dragonets themselves were keeping a close eye on things. And she hunted nightly, more to add her own surveillance than to feed.
"Suggestions Triana? I need them. Desperately."
"Truthfully I don't know if I have a suggestion at all. But what I don't understand is why? We are greater creatures then these human thieves. I know we have tried to live together with humans here but Sam, as our old friend used to say "God kills and so shall we; indiscriminately...for no creatures under God are as we are, none so like Him as ourselves, dark angels...." * So why pre tell are we letting them run amuck in our city?" Triana watched her friend wondering if she had overstepped. "I am just thinking a bloodbath deserves a bloodbath."
Samantha sighed. She was right, and she had not overstepped. Subtle means were not working. She recalled the night of her hunt, and snaring claws that ripped the clothing and the flesh of thieves who had tried to harm her people. A shiver of fury rips through her, making her nails dig into the arms of her throne. A shuddered sigh escaped her. "You're correct, but I'm at my wits end. They know what we're planning, I've got spys in the watch that I'm trying to route out... A blood bath, any sort of vengence for that matter...is difficult when you don't know what they are up to. At all. For all my power it's ridiculous how secretive this moron is being."
She tapped her fingers impatiantly as if it would bring an answer any quicker. "Just be careful Triana."
"Oh no problem there my friend, I will be very careful." Smiling Triana grabbed her cape and headed for the door. " Oh and Sam say hi to Sable and please thank him again for what he did for Marcus and Justin they are thriving at the Raven."
Stepping out onto the street Triana let out a sigh of relief. Well, now they'll either stay away and life will get back to normal or I will have some company. Smiling wickedly she strode off toward a nearby alley. I hear the sound of thieving little feet right now.
She hadn't meant to attract the woman's attention, she had only been curious–curious as to how she had suddenly appeared at the front gate of the castle, curious as to the source of the woman's apparent anger, and curious as to why the guards turned crimson when she mentioned the Raven. It was in an effort to assuage this curiosity that Kit had followed the woman as she left the castle, darting from shadow to shadow as she had been taught. She shouldn't be following the woman, she knew. In fact, she shouldn't have been out at all.
Quaralyn had refused her request to scout with the rest of the team, and Kit's repeated protestations that she had always gone in the past fell on deaf ears as Quaralyn stated only that this time it was too dangerous. It wasn't until Rhyskall offered to take her along and keep an eye on her that Quaralyn had finally acquiesced. Kit didn't want a chaperone though, she wanted to show that she could pull her own weight, and so she slipped away when Rhyskall's wasn't looking, smug in her ability to do so. She didn't think about how worried he would be when he found her missing, or the dangers both of them might face as a result of her caprice. She was too young to understand such things, knowing only the need to prove herself to the others.
She had been doing well too, by her own measure, having collected a fair amount of what she thought to be useful information, and was about to return to the guild when she saw the darkly-robed woman appear at the castle's gates. Figuring that information of a mysterious and midnight visitor to the castle might prove to be of some use, Kit's plans of returning to the guild soon disappeared, and she decided to wait for the woman to leave and follow her instead.
She realized too late that the woman had noticed her, though didn't know how, for she was certain that she had been both silent and hidden at every step. Having no time to consider the matter, Kit dashed down a side alley and found herself at a dead end. A quick survey revealed few places to hide, and panic gripped the girl as she ran to cluster of barrels along one of the dank walls. Finding the top to one slightly ajar, she lifted it off the rest of the way. The barrel was half-full of rain water which had spilled from the gutter of the neighboring building, making the prospect of hiding therein less than appealing, but the woman would soon be in the alley, and she saw no other options. Bracing herself for the chill, Kit climbed inside the barrel and replaced the top behind her.
Huddled tight inside the barrel, Kit held her breath and tried not to shiver as the cold water seeped into her small frame. Her heart pounded in fear as she listened for any sign that the woman had followed her into the alley. Nothing. Slowly, her heartbeat returned to normal and she let out her breath to draw another. She was about to drag her chill-soaked body from her hiding place and head back to the guild when she heard footfalls echoing in the lonely alleyway, a steady and fateful sound that was soon overshadowed by the renewed pounding of her own fearful heart.
Triana watched the alley as the thief scurried into her hiding place. She hadn't sensed the vampire along the roofline. This wood be fun Triana mused. She was tired of these Ravensclaw people ruining her hard earned business. It was bad enough she was hiding that annoying creature she didn't need to worry about whether she was making money. The unconcealed footsteps caught Triana's attention too. In moments she had assessed the situation. This was not a human. It was Kindred. The last thing she was going to do was let another Kindred steal this moment form her. Swooping down off the roof she dropped silently along side the barrel. Glancing out into the ally she barred her fangs without a verbal sound only a message sent for one who could understand. ~~~This one is mine~~~ With her left hand Triana knocked the top off the barrel, and before the frightened girl knew what had happened she was lifted out of the barrel. Triana's right hand gripped her throat leaving her feet dangling and kicking wildly. With eyes a green fire and teeth glowing Triana snarled at her prey, "You dare to follow me you silly little thief. You will be the one to let Ravensclaw know I am sick of there bloodbath."
A snarl answered back from the mouth of the alley and a pale hand intercepted Triana's arm, clutching it tightly, forcing it down until the young girl's feet touched the ground and she could breath. She hadn't exactly appreciated the mental threat, but she was willing to let it go in the light of Triana's recent problems.
"Now now Triana... Wouldn't want to kill her."
Samantha smiled serenely, her own green eyes reflecting the fire burning in her friend's gaze. She forced the arm lower, preternatural strengh enough to save the girl's windpipe without breaking Triana's arm in half. Carefully, she loosened the other vampiress' grip and placed a strong, restraining hand on the thief's shoulder." Wouldn't want her to get away either. But definitly not dead," her voice turned more serious. "She's only a child, Tri. At least let's talk to her before we get all vicious." She cast a glance to the castle and nodded. "Back there. I can keep an eye on her that way." She looked at Triana again, eyes locking in a contest of wills, wondering if Triana would bend and concede to reason, or break and cause blood-shed. She knew the anger and the frustration and the worry and the hate in the woman's eyes. She knew it far too well in fact, for so often, it had been mirrored in her own.
A LARGE ogre sticks his head in the alleyway upon hearing a commotion. Taking in the scene, he steps into the alley and draws himself up to his full height, proudly displaying his watch uniform, and announces in a loud booming voice. "Hey now! What you be doin' to that there child? Gaul blimy! Two grown vampire picken on a wee lass? Off with ye and pick on sometin' more your kind before I get cross with ya. I hear there be a fair bit of slugs out behind the Eventide."
Samantha turned, pivoting on one foot and drawing herself up to her full height. From that stance, she was positively unmistakable, the green eyes flaming, the dark hair lustrous. Her smile was tightly controlled.
"Is there a problem, monsieur? I have the situation quite under control and have every reason to believe that this "wee lass" is a member of one of the thieves guilds that are so plaguing are city." She paused, one eyebrow arching regally to make her statement all the more clear. "I believe that is your duty, is it not, to be watching the city and protecting it from these guilds. I assure you, the Lord Sable and I are *quite* capable of keeping the vampire population of the city under some semblance of control." Samantha smoothed a persistant wrinkle from her crimson skirts. Crimson, since after all half the women of the city had decided to wear the usual deep blue of the Queen's colors.
"Now, if you will excuse Triana and I... I believe you may have heard of her, she owns the Raven? Regardless, we will both be taking this girl back to the castle to speak with her. Rest assured, my dear guard, that the girl will not be harmed and that Monsieur Ogrek shall hear of your valiance in the face of such opposition." Her gaze was sincere, but the tone was one of too much sugar that masked her annoyance. Still, the ogre was just doing his job.
In the future it would be wise to teach the guards what their rulers looked liked, she supposed.
Kit tried to scream when the woman ripped her from the barrel, but all that came out where choking sounds as the woman held her by the throat, her grip crushing tighter and tighter around Kit's slender neck. The woman had lifted the small girl as if she were a ragdoll, shaking her tiny frame and leaving her feet dangling in the air. Frantic, desperate, Kit clawed at the woman's hands, fighting for her release as she was fighting for her breath, but the grip was too strong and her small fingers too weak.
"You dare to follow me you silly little thief. You will be the one to let Ravensclaw know I am sick of their bloodbath."
The woman's eyes glowed with hate-filled fury as she spoke, a sight which Kit had only seen in her darkest nightmares, and her fangs glistened with slaver as in tales of dark creatures that feast on small children in the night. Beyond terror, Kit struggled harder to loosen the ever-tightening grip around her throat. She had almost lost consciousness when she heard the second voice.
"Now now Triana... Wouldn't want to kill her."
She didn't know how, but she suddenly found her feet on the ground and felt the death cold grip on her neck loosen. Dizzy and wheezing from lack of air, she collapsed to the ground before the other placed an iron grip on her shoulder and jerked her to her feet again. Looking up at her new captor, Kit could see that this one was smiling, but the same hate-filled sordidness burned in those vile green eyes and the fangs glistened with the same salivant hunger.
Her heart was pounding so fast, ringing in her ears as she gasped for breath, that she heard little else that they said, and in her fear she thought them to be deciding which one would take her, which one would drive their fangs into her neck and drain the life from her small body.
She knew she needed to run. Quaralyn had told her to go to the church if she got in trouble, but there was no way to get away from the two creatures that loomed above her. It was then that she heard the heavy footsteps coming down the alley. Looking up, and up, and up, Kit saw the largest ogre she had ever seen in her short life. She was sure her heart stopped for a moment, and only resumed its beating after he spoke.
"Hey now! What you be doin' to that there child? Gaul blimy! Two grown vampire picken on a wee lass? Off with ye and pick on sometin' more your kind before I get cross with ya."
The women didn't seem to be frightened by the ogre, who Kit now realized was a member of the watch, and one of them made a reference to Lord Sable, as if she was the queen. It was old trick, one women had been using for some time now, but you really needed a blue dress to pull it off.
"I have the situation quite under control and have every reason to believe that this "wee lass" is a member of one of the thieves guilds that are so plaguing ourcity."
"No," Kit cried suddenly, seeing an opportunity emerging through her panic, "I'm not a thief!"
"We will both be taking this girl back to the castle to speak with her."
"Don't let them take me! They're vampires! They're going to kill me! Please," she sobbed, her entire frame shaking beneath the iron grip of the crimson clad woman, "please don't let them kill me." Calling forth all her fear and strength, Kit managed to rend herself away from the woman's grip, and she ran to the ogre, her blouse and shoulder torn and bloodied from the woman's claws.
"Please," she continued wrapping her arms around the ogre's ankles. "Please don't let them . . ." her voice trailed off into tears, and her tiny body shook in a mixture of fear and relief, both genuine and non.
Quig, towering a full twelve feet above both the vampires, scowled and stepped forward, completely shielding the shivering girl at his legs. "Ye come here lass. Lady Samantha, I know who ye are, and missy I not be caren' if ye be Lord Ogrek himself returned from the dead with a note from me beloved Grandma tellin' me ye can take the lass. It tain't right what ye ar doin, and it tain't goin ta happen either, not on me watch. Iffin yer who ye say ye ar ye'll also be knowin that 'igh justice of yers got some strong feelin's about du process an such things which don't includ nabbin wee ones in the middle o te night and takin 'em to te palace fer questionin. How would ye be feelin ifn someon sweeped yer charge Kimmy off 'fer questionin' without so much as a by yer leave? This wee thing don't be lookin like no Ravenclaw to me. Them Claws are a blood thirsty pack of homicidal maniacs they are. Why this babe not be lookin like she could harm a hair on her own 'ead let alone anothers. What proof doust ye have to ye charges? Well?"
Samantha took a steadying deep breath and sighed. "Monsieur, you of all people should know how appearance can decieve. And I am *more* than willing to give the girl the benefit of the doubt for now. What I will *not* allow is her running off to the streets again to either be a homeless urchin, a wayward child, or part of a thieves guild. Mon dieu, soldier, do you think I'm that heartless?" She glared. "If you like, come with us and keep an eye on the petite fille," she indicated the girl with one pale hand. "I'm not going to harm a single hair on her head, even if she is part of that guild. She's a child and I'd give her a decent education, a good bath, some food and a chance before I'd do that. So complain if you will, monsieur." Her words tumbled fast, reasonable, and with the same diplomatic air and touch of compassion that marked all her speech.
The vampiress queen shook her head. She had so long ago tired of all the misconceptions, all the fear, all the hatred and two different forms of it were present in both child and guard. "But she is not leaving."
Triana released her grip on the frightened girl letting her drop to the floor. She blazed at Sam, but before she could comment the Oger arrived. As the two commenced there banter Triana stood back and almost laughed at the comical nature the scene had taken on. She watched the little thief throw herself on the Ogre's mercy. Whomever had taught her had done well. She was almost believable.
Turning to Samantha Triana let a small message pass between them.
~I swear I will not harm her. ~
Moving slowly forward she extended her hand. "My dear Quig. I am sure you remember me , yes? Triana Valmont owner and manager of The Raven? Your Boss the Marvelous Lord Ogrek has sent many of your ... kinsman, as well as his Orc's to shall we say, enjoy a diversion at my humble establishment." She waited a moment to proceed, making sure he was digesting the info. "You may have misunderstood my actions. I was merely making sure this "childe" was just that. A child. I am sure you are aware of the recent sighting of that Horrible Giacomo at the church." Triana had heard mixed stories on these creatures talents so she stayed simple and used no mind manipulation. "At that time he posed as a child and almost relieved Stormpoint of some very influential people, not to mention Lord Calo's fiancee and my ward the Lady Juleana. When she followed me into the alley I was startled. But I now can see that she is the daughter of an employee and should be home with him. Despite her protests she knows very well I would never harm her and nor would The Queen. She maneuvered close to touch the thief's hair, quickly scanning her for info,
"Right Kit, you know you don't belong on the streets at this time of night. You should definitely be home and you know Dad will be waiting at The Raven."
~Go along with me Kitten or you'll end up in the Queens care or worse yet Foster care~
"But she is not leaving."
Turning Triana begged the Queen to go along, ~Please I wont kill her I need information. Let me try.~
Triana looked from the Queen back to the child one way or the other this child would end up talking to someone and she just wanted it to be her.
~Please I wont kill her I need information. Let me try.~
Samantha nodded slightly. She had no desire to hurt this child and she took Triana's word on it as well. She thirsted for information just as much as the owner of the Raven did. And she did not like her orders being defied after she had given just reason for being there in the first place.
"I suggest, monsieur, that you listen to the Lady Triana. Your intentions are quite noble, but I have every right to be here and for my rule to apply. Grievance it with Ogrek or Leila if you will. The child will come to no harm." Hands on hips, she stood waiting.
High overhead, a pair of green eyes stared down on the four in the alley below. 'Damn!' Quaralyn thought, cursing her luck. It had taken her the better part of three hours to locate Kit, and now that she had, she found her in the company of Triana, Samantha, and the watch. Getting her back wasn't going to be easy, but she couldn't leave her with any of the three figures currently vying for her custody. Her options were quickly diminishing, however, and she was about to do something drastic when Fortune looked her way and smiled.
The watch always worked in pairs, a fact which Quaralyn forgot in her present frustration until, from her vantage point, she saw the Ogre's partner rounding a corner a block away. He was a youthful figure, and in addition to the watch emblem he wore a shield across his back which bore the insignia of a diving hawk. It was a mark that Quaralyn knew well, and one which suited her present needs. He was approaching quickly though, and she barely had time to collect her thoughts before she faded back into the shadows. ***
A block away, a woman of shorter stature stepped from the shadows. She wore a simple dress of deep green, and small strands of honey brown hair hung loose from the metal clip designed to keep them atop her head. Her face was flush with worry as she walked, and her pace quickened, turning into a run as she saw the watch member with the peculiar shield. "Please, sir," she said when she reached him, her breath coming fast from her pace and the distress evident in her soft hazel eyes, "Can you help me? I can't find my daughter!"
Kelton stopped as the woman ran up to him, almost in a panic. He inspected her as she stood, trying to catch her breath to speak. She appeared to be one of Stormpoint's common folk, but knowing how deceiving appearances can be within a city like Stormpoint, Kelton focused his mind as he had been taught within the order. ~~"Evil never wears its own face when one of innocence deceives much better."~~ Focusing, reaching, he sensed only goodness and concern radiating from the woman before him. "Please, sir," she began, her breath coming fast from her pace and the distress evident in her soft hazel eyes, "Can you help me? I can't find my daughter!"
Concern rose to clearly color his young face as she spoke. "Your child is missing? I shall not rest until she is returned safely to you. You have my word on it. Just allow me to gather my friend and no stone shall escape our scrutiny." Quickly, Kelton moved to disengage Quig from whatever he was involved with to chase after the missing child. As he rounded the corner he saw the ogre standing between a small girl, and two vampires--the queen and her friend. The woman at his side made a desperate movement towards the child, and Kelton knew they had found her daughter. He held her back, however, pulling her quickly back around the corner and motioned for her to keep quiet. She started to protest, and he could sense the concern she had for the child, but something wasn't right here, and Kelton would learn what it was before he exposed the woman to possible danger.
"I have the situation quite under control" the queen spoke, "and have every reason to believe that this "wee lass" is a member of one of the thieves guilds that are so plaguing are city......."
"I'm not at thief. Please," the child cried, her arms wrapped about the ogre's ankles. "Please don't let them kill me."
Standing as a formidable barrier, Quig spoke in a stern tone. "Lady Samantha, I know who ye are, and missy I not be caren' if ye be Lord Ogrek himself returned from the dead with a note from me beloved Grandma tellin' me ye can take the lass. It tain't right what ye ar doin, and it tain't goin ta happen either, not on me watch..............."
The vampiress queen shook her head. ". . . she is not leaving."
"You may have misunderstood my actions," the other vampire, Triana, added, "I was merely making sure this "childe" was just that. A child. I am sure you are aware of the recent sighting of that Horrible Giacomo at the church..................But I now can see that she is the daughter of an employee and should be home with him. Despite her protests she knows very well I would never harm her and nor would The Queen."
"I suggest, monsieur, that you listen to the Lady Triana. Your intentions are quite noble, but I have every right to be here and for my rule to apply. Grievance it with Ogrek or Leila if you will. The child will come to no harm." And with that, the queen stood with her hands on her hips, waiting.
~~Quite a history for one so small and young.~~ Kelton thought to himself as he listened to the changing stories, then added his own voice to the discussion as he stepped fully into view. His breast plate bore the insignia of the watch, but also a strange herald of a diving hawk. Around him was an aura of peace and confidence which seem to drain some of the tension from the air. Even Kit quit shivering. "Milady Samantha, Quig bears you no disrespect, nor your kind any ill will even though your face says you believe otherwise. Milady, it is not your rule or authority my good friend is questioning, but your use of it. Please allow me to introduce myself. I am Kelton Wolfbane, a simple paladin in the service of the Order of the Hawk, and you have already met Quig of the noble ogre clan Gret'intag. I already know both of you, Miladies, but....." he added, kneeling before the child and smiling gently, "this little one I do not know. What is your name?"
"Kit," she answered timidly, looking from Kelton to the woman standing behind him at the entrance of the alley.
"A fine, noble name, Milady. If it please m'lady, allow me to tend to your injuries." The holy warrior closed his eyes and bowed his head, now deep in prayer. A soft blue-white glow encompassed his hand and with the softest of touches, he rested it upon the girl's bleeding shoulder. The magical glow flowed from him into her, and a gasp of surprise escaped her tearstained lips. When he lifted his hand, the queen's claw marks were gone as if they had never been. He gently wiped the tears from her face and asked, "All better?" She nodded and he smiled warmly, moving a few strands of her light brown hair back into place. "Your mother has been worried ill. You were supposed to meet her at the church," he said, waving to the woman who, in the glow of the lamplight and sudden revelation, looked like an angel to the small child. "Go to her quickly. I must speak with these ladies."
"An' don' ye be strayin from the path nither or bein' runin about this time of night ither or I willin' be tanen your hide next time I catch ye!" Quig forcefully interjected as Kit raced with tearful relief towards the safety of the hazel-eyed woman.
Kelton watched closely as the woman swept the child into her arms and smiled gratefully back at the young paladin before hurrying off towards home and hearth. His heart swelled at the reunion and the good he had done. No thanks was necessary. It was a paladin's life to serve those in need and to uphold the law. ~~"For the deeds done without thought of reward are the true bread upon which feeds the soul and makes one stronger."~~ Kelton thought, remembering the words and teachings from when he was but a lowly squire in the Order's service.
Standing, the warrior turned toward the two vampires and announced in a voice clear and without question. "I sense no evil within the child. She is neither Claw or demon and I personally am appalled by your actions here. We must defeat the darkness around us without becoming it ourselves. Our tactics should never mirror the enemy we are forced to face. Why, next thing you will probably want to grab some poor thief from the streets without benefit of trial or sentence, whisk him into your castle to be tortured and broken, and then turn him by either power or spell into your puppet to throw against the Claws. If you do such, are you truly any better then they are? Please, Miladies, think carefully on my words this eve and reflect. Now, if you will pardon us, we have our rounds to return to." His message given, he bowed politely, first to the queen and then to Triana, before following Quig back out onto the streets.
Rage flickered the Samantha's emerald eyes. Oh no, righteous and goodness were wonderful powers and ones to be upheld. But so was her word and deed, strong as iron and sworn to protect her city in whatever means necesary. If that included drawing on the darkest parts of her soul, she would do it to save her people.
"I think," she stepped after both Paladin and ogre, "that you forget yourselves." She skirted in front of them with grace and speed. "You may be *appalled* at my actions, dear Paladin, but you are not who the responsibilty of this city lies upon. I swore upon taking Dominia's throne to watch this city and its inhabitants. Should you decide to take such a presumptuous tone with me, I suggest *strongly* that you remember that."
The paladin may be good, she remarked to herself, but he was young. His power no where near matched her own and his experience fell short from hers by a few hundred years and nearly the same amount of joy and tears. Something was not right about the situation. She was entirely sure of that, though she could not pinpoint it.
"Since you see so fit to criticize your Queen, to criticize the motives of your ruler, and to insult me in front of my people... to suggest that I would harm the girl when you and the guard all know *quite* well that I am neither child-killer nor abuser, is an afront to me and to the city I govern."
Her smile was cold. "Have you forgotten how much destruction the thieves guilds have rained here? Have you forgotten the fires and the stench of burned flash and the cries of the wounded and the wails of the mourning?" The images seemed to flit through their minds as she spoke. "Have you forgotten that terror? You question my *speaking* to a child to find out, oh and let it please the dark and Light gods that I could, to find out who caused that?"
She was deathly tired of being argued with in matters that concerned Stormpoint's safety. "In payment I think a change of duty is in order. Report to the dungeons. A few weeks guarding and cleaning those halls should keep you on your toes and mindful of the fact that the child would not have ended up there. Then again, neither would you, had you respected my decree. And by my word, gentlemen, if that child does turn up to be part of a thieves guild, you'll be spending more time in the dungeons, and I *highly* doubt that I shall be as leniant to those who have aided and abetted the escape of a criminal."
The Lady Samantha Jeanteau du Cheval, Queen of Dominia, Princess of Darkendale, 5th Generation vampiress, and childe of the ever-famous Brat Prince nodded once and melted back into the shadows. If the two guard members did not report to their new duties, they would very quickly find out just how angry she could be.
Blah Blah Blah...... Triana yawned through her fury. The appearance of said Mother was so totally transparent she could barely hide her anger. She wasn't paying one remote bit of attention to the two Moronic Guards who had the nerve to mouth off to the Queen. Backing out of the illuminating street lamp Triana leaned against the building. Watching Sam she smiled at the Queens words. Her fangs glistening in the darkness.
~I think you need to speak to Ogrek, seems his minions don't have to respect you anymore.~
Bowing slightly in the dark she caught the Queens eye.
~ As always My Queen you have my loyalty and respect.~
In the blink of an eye she was gone along the roof tops not even bothering to look for the "Mother and child" who had disappeared into the night.
Kit couldn't believe that the creature that held her in the alley, that tore the flesh from her young and frail arm, was the queen. She had heard that the queen was beautiful, but the thing that stared at her with hate-filled eyes and dripping fang was neither beautiful nor regal. True, both of the watch members had treated her as the queen, but she wanted to believe that they were simply fooled by the creature's power. Quaralyn, however, assured her that it was the Lady Samantha, and something in the woman's face made Kit believe her. Had she been older, Kit might have recognized the look as disappointment, but she was too young to understand such things, and fear still held an icy grip on her heart.
Though the familiar warmth of the guild and the company of her friends comforted Kit, the memories remained, and they crept stealthily back into the forefront of her mind when she was alone in the darkness of her room. Sleep didn't come for several hours, and when it did the memories grew bolder and she could feel anew the tight grip of the two vampires on her throat and shoulder, and she shuddered beneath the wrathful gaze of their cold, dead eyes. That they would have killed her, she had no doubt, and she awoke screaming as she remembered the way they had fought over her, like two great beasts fighting over downed prey with tooth and claw. She screamed louder and nearly leapt from her bed as something moved in the darkness of her room.
"Shhhh, Kit, it's all right. You're safe now."
It was Quaralyn. Kit didn't know how long she had been in the room, but the direction from which she came suggested that she had been sitting in chair by the corner, watching over Kit as she slept. Kit was grateful for her presence, but scared at the same time. It wasn't the same fear she had in the alley, not a fear of the nightmarish creatures that lived in Stormpoint's vast nocturne, but an older and more pervasive fear, a fear that by her failure she would lose the only home she knew. Would Quaralyn tell Striker how she was caught in the alley, how she froze and cried like a small child? And what would he do when he learned? Striker didn't tolerate failure, especially not when it subjected others to risk. If he threw her out, where would she go? Or would he throw her out? Now that she thought about it, she'd never heard of anyone actually leaving the guild. At least, not alive anyway.
Quaralyn must have sensed the new fear which gnawed away within her. "Don't worry. Everything will be all right. I won't let anything happen. All right?" Kit nodded, wiping the tears from her eyes, and Quaralyn smiled gently in return. "Good. Now, you get back to sleep. I'll be right here. Things will look better tomorrow night. I promise."
Somehow Quaralyn's promise and presence made Kit feel better. It may have simply been the reassurance, or it may have been something more, but whatever it was she was able to relax, and when sleep came again, it was long and peaceful, unplagued by either dark fiends or the grim shadows of self-doubt.
Night had long ago fallen on the city, and the gaslights lining the cobblestone streets of the merchants' district had burned low. In the combined darkness, no one noticed one shadow, blacker than the rest, slipping quietly through the closed and empty Kuriosity Shoppe.
Inside the shop, Quaralyn silently wandered the rows of shelves that ran the length of the store, briefly examining each as she passed. Though they housed several unique items, none of them held Quaralyn's interest. She was looking for something in particular, an item with certain necessary properties, and was sure that there must be at least one within the shop. As she searched, she remembered the way Kit had screamed in fear when she awoke from her nightmare, and the look her face still held in the light of day. Closing her eyes briefly to shut out depth of terror she had seen in those young eyes, she resolved that she would not leave the store until she found something to the help the girl.
When the shelves failed to yield her quarry, she turned to the cabinets lining the walls, searching both their display tables and storage compartments. It took her three cabinets to locate the object of her search, and a small smile of satisfaction rose on her lips as pulled out a silver amulet with an amber-colored stone. The amulet glittered ever so slightly in the moonlight as Quaralyn held it up for inspection, then quickly dropped it into a soft leather pouch. Rising quietly to her feet, Quaralyn slipped out of the shop the way she had come, and faded unseen into the shadows she called home.
Quig bristled. '"The dungeon, eh? Our Queen? The last I knew 'is Lordship had yet to be taken a bride. Well, we'll see wat 'ees got to say about 'er highness reassignin' 'is subjects." His mind spoken, Quig stormed off towards the docks and Ogrek.
Kelton shook his head as his ogre partner headed down the street, and sighed heavily with the knowledge that his words to the vampires had fallen on deaf ears, or perhaps on ears incapable of understanding them. As a paladin, it was within his ability to feel good or evil intent from people. From the distraught mother, for example, he had sensed he had sensed a great goodness, surprising in its intensity, but all he had sensed from the vampires, all he could ever sense from them was the darkness that had embraced them.
There had been many voices amongst the Orders against the an alliance with these creatures, but Lord Ogrek's words were able to quiet them. Perhaps Ogrek was wrong? Kelton had seen the look that the Queen of Dominia carried, and the carnage she spoke of many times before. He had served on the northern border against the Troll barbarian tribes that roamed the frozen wastes, raiding the civilized lands around them. And during that time, he had seen that same look on the faces of lords, commoners, fathers, sons, men and women who had fought and lost loved ones to the Trolls. They had stared so long into the abyss that they knew nothing else, and had themselves become no better than the foe.
The image of the queen and her friend burned into his mind again, with that same look, and he could hear her voice as she said she would protect the city. ~But who will protect the city from you?~ Kelton wondered as he returned to his rounds. Ogrek would not be happy with Quig awakening him in the middle of the night, but Kelton had little doubt that this reassignment would not stand.
She watched them go, a mixture of anger and saddness on her face. It was always back to the same old argument. It was forever the prejudice against her curse. she knew the paladin saw nothing but dark when he looked at her. He refused to see the love for husband and child and friends, love that could only be good because love in its essence, was never evil.
He refused to see that she was wearing down under the constant strain of running this kingdom nearly by herself. Sable had his duties, but most of the decrees and the paperwork and the governing of Stormpoint, Dominia, and at times even Darkendale, found it's way to her. She may have accepted her post willingly, but that did not mean that she did not tire under the durress of a thousand questions asked every night by members of all three kingdoms.
The alliance had forged one unified city out of three lands. There was no separate ruler for the people here.
But lately she was the only one around. She'd shut down the castle in Dominia, allowed a magistrate to take residence there and he only passed the information to her.
Samantha walked slowly back through the city streets, unobtrusive in the folds of her black cloak, like the old days in Rhydin when she was simply Samantha Jeanteau and not "Her highness" or "Her Majesty" or even "Lady."
She glanced over her shoulder at the departed Paladin. Let Ogrek come running, she'd handle it as she had a thousand other things. She'd let the guards keep their duty though. There would be no more division between whose subject was whos. It was ridiculous enough as it was.
Samantha looked up into the night sky. "Oh mon amour... " she sighed softly, knowing he may not even hear her now. "How I do miss you."
The Vampiress walked until dawn threatened. Then she sat by the fountain, watching the water sprites. She called upon the Agma to protect her and the child within, as it did unfailingly. She watched the sunrise in silence.
© 1999 Stormpoint Writers Guild
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