A bardic short story

TeaniTeani Shadow MistressSwedenMember Posts: 2,236 ✭✭✭✭✭
edited May 2013 in Harpy's Head Tavern
Seeing all the RP logs floating around had me thinking... I'm not sure how many of you actually read the things people submit to the monthly bardic contests. Since December, I've been working on a little story about a young girl named Edaline, submitting one chapter each month. As it progresses, I'm likely to have her encounter new characters, but so far, only two from our community have been featured. 

Spoilers are not cooperating. You'll just have to cope.

Chapter 1: Just a starter, getting to know the main character, her family and their community
Chapter 2: A small accident changes the course of their adventure. Things are still just getting started.
Chapter 3: Theme of the month was historic event. We get a small peek back at when Morgun came to life.
Chapter 4: Edaline meets a maniac in the forest, burning down everything in sight!
Chapter 5: A sneak peek at how Vampires can be.

The beginning of an adventure

The water had receded, catching animals in small pools along the beach. Raya carefully treaded the rocks collecting food and keeping an ever-watchful eye on her daughter doing the same. The small beach was a perfect place to this sort of gathering, even though a slight unease came over Raya as she gazed at the high cliff wall on the other side of the water. Over that ridge lay the rest of the world, one she had only heard of in legends. A world that was hostile and ignorant, nothing like the place they had called home for generations. She looked at her daughter, Edaline, as she jumped nimbly from stone to stone gathering oysters and crabs in her small basket, along with pretty rocks and shells. She had been born on the isle, never knowing the corruption of the rest of the world, only the tales, but she was too young to understand them yet.

Soon their baskets were full and as they headed back to the woods by the shoreline the little girl said, ‘Mother, why do we stay here? Why can’t we go to the other side of the water?’ She turned her eyes towards the huge mountain cliff on the other side of the narrow strait. Her mother looked as well and then blinked at the sun rising over the cliff.

‘Because ‘tis too dangerous to scale that wall, my dear.’ She turned to her child only to see a concentrated frown on her forehead as the eyes wandered over the cliff side.

‘I could do it, if I had time!’ Edaline exclaimed enthusiastically and her eyes twinkled at the thought of unknown adventures waiting for her at the top.

Her mother tapped her shoulder and said, ‘And leave your mother to take care of our harvest all by herself? Not to mention all the scrapes you would get from the rocks that I’d have to see to before making supper and cleaning the hut.’ She shook her head disapprovingly and urged her child on homewards. ‘No such silly ideas, child. Go on now.’

Edaline muttered a quiet, ‘Yes, mother’ and angrily stomped into the woods. Raya cast one last glance towards the top of the cliff before she hurried after her daughter, reminding herself to speak to the Elders about this later.

.~*~.~*~.~*~.~*~.~*~.~*~.~*~.

It was warm inside the meeting hall, as it was full of people. Raya and her husband Doxon sat close to the center waiting for the Elders’ call for order. The doors slammed shut and as Elder Dyani stood up the crowd settled down to listen. He turned his eyes to Raya and said, ‘I understand Edaline spoke to you about scaling the cliff?’ At her nod the Elder sighed and shook his head. ‘We do too little to remind them that the peace they have here is a bliss. There is little room for honest people like us in the world, who simply want to live in peace and care for one another. That is why we settled down here, is it not?’ Many nodded their heads in agreement and a quiet whisper ran through the hall before Dyani raised his hands to continue.

‘We chose this solitude to preserve that sense of honesty, because we could no longer stay in a world where people tried to find ways to avoid it, because it is too easy for corruption and artifice to find their way inside the mortal mind.' He paused for a moment and sighed, 'Our mortal minds are complex, as we were touched by spirits of the Five. We have a responsibility to keep ourselves in check so we don't destroy everything about us. There is no need to grasp for power, no need to trample on others to gain status. We all know those things are not important!’

A few shouted their approval and it took a long while for the crowd to settle down again before Dyani could go on. As the people fell silent he bowed his head and recited, ‘To each and all, the same opportunities are given. The honest mind will always prevail.’ Turning his eyes back to the gathered people still bowing their heads in prayer, he continued, ‘They were not ready for the truth, so we left them to preserve our beliefs. Perhaps if we had stayed, they would have disappeared.’ Quietly nodding at his own words, he said ponderously, ‘Perhaps it was wrong of us. Perhaps it is time to see what state the world is in now. Who will go?’

Someone shouted an objection right away, saying they should not jeopardize their solitude for the sake of those who could not understand and other joined in, protesting wildly while others tried to melt away into the shadows and disappear from sight. Dyani raised his arms and eventually order was restored. ‘It might be necessary, because without knowing what is happening out there, we will be unprepared for what might come to us in the future.’

Doxon rose and nodded towards the Elders and said with a clear voice, ‘I will go.’ He said nothing more, only stood still waiting for a response, while his wife tugged at his robe. Dyani nodded once in return to the man, who without further words bowed and left the tent with the small woman at his heels. A heated discussion followed, where people shouted their approval or disapproval loudly inside the meeting hall and Dyani and the rest of the Elders were forced to see to the small riot, leaving it up to Doxon to prepare for his upcoming journey.

.~*~.~*~.~*~.~*~.~*~.~*~.~*~.

Doxon glanced at Raya as they walked home in silence. She had not said anything to him about his sudden decision, but her jaws were clenched together, she walked briskly and her fingers were almost white from gripping her shawl. As they entered their home he stopped in the doorway when she continued inside to check on their daughter in the back room. Their home was simple, but it was home and it had been a peaceful and safe haven for so many years.

Raya returned and shot an angry glance at her husband, but waved for him to be silent as he drew breath to speak. She walked over to the pottery and started cleaning things that didn’t need cleaning and Doxon decided to wait for her to start talking.

‘What did you plan on telling our daughter?’ she says after a moment’s vigorous scrubbing. Doxon looked around the room, as if he was searching for an answer among their simple belongings and then he sighed. ‘I don’t know, Raya. I just understood that someone had to take the step and before I knew why I was standing up.’

Raya dropped all she had in her hands and spun around to face him. ‘And you didn’t think we’d want to have a say, husband?’ She sighed and looked towards the back room. ‘We have to tell her in the morning, even though you might be here for a few days still. Give her time to adjust.’

Her husband hesitated for a moment before he said, ‘You don’t think she will try to follow, do you?’

Raya looked at him, her eyes veiled with sadness and worry and she shrugged her shoulders. ‘She might’ she said softly. ‘Unless she is kept busy.’ She turned around again and grabbed a plate and started scrubbing it slowly. ‘Maybe it is better if you leave and return as quickly as possible with the information the Elders need.’ Her voice trembled but she kept her back straight. Doxon crossed the floor and embraced her, held her close and whispered reassuring words of him returning as soon as possible.

As he gathered up a few necessary things into a simple pack she had made for him, she said, ‘I will talk to her tomorrow, my dear. I will tell her our story. I believe I can keep her attention for a while answering all her questions.’

.~*~.~*~.~*~.~*~.~*~.~*~.~*~.

Behind the cracked door to the back room, Edaline sat with her arms wrapped around her knees, still breathing heavily after running home ahead of her parents. She had ducked in through the back window, careful to restore the net covering before throwing herself below her wornout blanket in her cot to feign sleep. Her mother had only seen her faint silhouette in the moonlight, not noticing the slight tremble as she tried to calm her breathing. As soon as her mother had returned out to the main room, she had followed to listen to their discussion. 'My father means to scale the cliff!' she thought. 'I have to go with him. What an adventure it'll be! Him and I, exploring the world to report back that it's time to leave this dull place.'

Hearing her father make ready to depart in the night, she mumbled an oath her mother probably didn't know she had picked up, then scrambled over to her little cot. She pulled out a small pack from underneath it, stuffed her blanket inside and moved over to a chest by the back wall. Making as little noise as possible, Edaline secured a small tinderbox, and a piece of bread for the road, tucking it next to her blanket.

The sound of footsteps on the gravel path outside alerted her to her father's departure. She tossed her pack over her shoulder, crept out through the window, and pulled the netting in place before scurrying off in the direction of the strait. 

She caught up with her father at the foot of the cliff, as he stood there, gauging the best route for scaling it. Even though she kept in the shadows and tried not to make a sound, he spoke out without turning to face her. 'You might as well come out and watch my steps as I go up, child, so you don't fall down and get yourself killed doing it on your own.'

Embarrassed at getting caught, but excited that he hadn't sent her home immediately, Edaline crossed the beach to stand next to him. 'How did you know?' she asked and looked up at him with a frown. He continued to scan the cliff face, and responded, 'Because you inherited your curious nature from me.' Chuckling softly, he wrapped an arm around her shoulders. "Don't worry, dear. I'll take care of you and teach you all I know. We'll make your mother proud.'

Back in the hut, Raya put the pots and pans away before retiring to the bedroom. It didn't take long for her to notice the empty cot where her daughter had been last time she checked. Instead of crying out and chasing after her beloved daughter, she simply sat down next to the cot, resting her tired head in her palms. 'So foolish, but at least they are together. May the good forces be with them and watch over them both. Hopefully they get the adventure they have been longing for.'

Cold rain and adventures

The fire crackled and fizzled, barely staying alive in the light drizzle coming down from the heavens. Situated in a small hollow, it was somewhat sheltered from the wind, and the branches from nearby beech trees should have protected it from the worst of the rain if it hadn't been for the storm shifting them around, making them creak ominously. There was a steady patter of raindrops falling on the leaf-covered ground, which seemed void of other plants due to the relatively thick canopy. Edaline lay huddled on top of a pelt of some kind, blanket wrapped tightly around her and head resting on her small backpack. She sneezed and rubbed her nose against the thick wool.

"At least the air is fresh." The words sounded loud in the quiet forest, even though they were barely more than a whisper. She looked up at her father, who was sitting only a few feet away. He smiled at her and leaned back against the log he had pulled up to the fire, eyes scanning the surrounding forest. How could he be so cheerful? It was freezing, she was soaked to the skin and hungry. Still Doxon sat there acting as if the drops falling on his face didn't mean anything. And could he even see anything out there? Edaline blinked her eyes and sat up slowly, holding on tightly to the blanket.

Dawn was approaching, but the stormclouds dimmed the coming light. She drew a deep breath and realized he had been right. The air smelled fresh, and there was something else. Bread! Her eyes popped open and she looked at Doxon. He only chuckled, unwrapped a package beside him and pulled out a golden-brown loaf. She could feel her mouth water at the mere sight of it. He tossed half of it to her and she caught it nimbly, tearing off a big bite without pause.

"Hah! You look like I've been starving you." He grinned at her, reached out and ruffled her hair gently. She sneezed again, small crumbs falling into her lap as she squeezed the bread in reflex. "We've only been traveling for two months, child. Are you sure you are up for this?" His kind eyes held no small amount of concern as he looked at her.

She nodded her head and swallowed. "I'm alright, it's nothing more than a cold, father." However, she pulled her blanket tighter around herself and inched closer to the fire. With a small frown, she looked down at her piece of bread. She sat quietly for a while, as if pondering something. When she finally spoke, her voice trembled slightly. "When will you be bringing me along into one of the villages?"

At first Doxon blinked in surprise, then he looked embarrassed. His sneaking off alone to gather information had been his way to keep her safe from possible corruption. The wilderness had its dangers, but he didn't know the state of the world well enough to trust the people in it. "How did you figure that out?" he asked, taking a bite from the loaf as he waited on her response.

Edaline snorted a little and held up the bread. "I've tasted your bread, when mom was too sick to help with the food. You could never have baked this, not even if you'd had a proper kitchen to work with." Her father stopped chewing, looking down at the bread in his hand with a strange set to his jaw. For a moment Edaline thought she'd made him upset, but then he burst out laughing.

"Well, I guess you're right about that, child. Cooking was never my strong suit." Shaking his head, he glanced a the girl wrapped in her wool blanket. "You always were very perceptive. I'm sorry if I snuck away, child, but I'm still wary about the people. They seem nice and all, but..." He let out a long sigh, looking at his daughter's sad face, her nose red from being rubbed at constantly, cheeks blushing in the cold morning weather. "Alright, it will be quicker to pass through the village than to go around it anyway. But you stay close, you hear?"

Excitement shone in her eyes as Edaline nodded her head and he looked up at the creaking branches above. "It's probably a good idea to get out of this weather anyway and get a good warm meal under a solid roof. Help me pack, child, and we'll be on our merry." Suddenly, the cold seemed to bother her less. She finished her breakfast in quick order and helped pack their few belongings. Despite the drizzle, her step was light as they made their way through the woods towards the small village. 

.~*~.~*~.~*~.~*~.~*~.~*~.~*~.

"The village will look nothing like home." Doxon cautioned, glancing at his young girl. She just nodded and smiled, keeping her eyes forward just as she had all morning, as if she expected to see the village appear around the next knoll. "It's larger, more people, lots of noises, but if you stay close, everything is going to be alright." He paused and frowned. He sounded more like he was trying to calm himself down than her. How was he going to explain all this to someone who had never left the quiet surroundings of a remote island off the coast where no one had been looking for decades? Maybe they had sheltered their young ones too much after all.

Edaline was skipping along the trail next to him, hands gripping the straps of her small pack which held only her own blanket, a tinderbox and a small pouch with a few sovereigns in it. He had managed to make some gold by selling meat to farmers mostly, since he never wanted to leave the girl alone for too long. Perhaps now he could help with some leather work, which was his specialty. He sighed and turned his eyes forward, squinting slightly in the morning light. The clouds still darkened the sky overhead and the persistent rain kept turning parts of the ground into a treacherous mudpits.

"It's going to be fine, father." she said, as she heard his sigh. She looked at him with eyes full of innocense. "I'll be good, I promise." She received a smile in response, though she could tell he was still worried. So she turned her attention to her surroundings instead. The trees didn't shelter them as much anymore, as the trail kept getting wider and wider. On one side, the ground sloped down into a water-filled trench. The other was as flat as ever, showing a misty landscape with small shrubbery and tall trunks.

"I'll hold you to that, little one." Then he turned his head, nodding it up the trail. He seemed just about to say something when all of the sudden part of the trail gave way and he disappeared down into the deep trench with a loud splash followed by a pained grunt. Edaline yelped as she saw him disappear underneath the surface, then held her breath as she waited for him to come back up. She stood frozen in place and it seemed like an eternity until she saw his head emerge from the muddy water.

"Father! Are you alright?" she exclaimed, as Doxon sputtered out water, hair plastered to his face, and tried to grab hold of something to hold on to. He didn't respond at first, but simply winced, wiped a wet hand over his face, clearing it of some water, but mostly spreading it around. Eventually, he managed to grab hold of a root and looked up at Edaline, who stood a few steps away on solid ground. "I just hurt my leg on something at the bottom." He said, waving a hand around in the water to find his balance again, then mumbled, "This trench is far deeper than it looks."

Pulling her pack off, Edaline moved a little bit closer, carefully testing the ground before putting her weight down. "Do you need help to get up?" she asked, her little face full of worry. Doxon noticed her careful moves and felt proud that he hadn't needed to caution her on approaching. "You're too small to pull me up from here, dear. I'd only drag you down with me." He frowned a little, then looked up at her and said, "You'll need to get help though, because I don't think I can get up on my own. My leg is worse off than I thought and I don't have any mending salve left."

"Mending salve?" asked Edaline, looking puzzled. Her father nodded his head. "It's something used to help heal up torn bodies. You need to run into the village and see if you can get some for me, child. It's not far at all. You'll be able to see the first house at the large pine tree over there." He pointed up the trail, then continued explaining, "There's a farmer living there and I sold some rabbits to him yesterday. Ask him if he has some mending salve, or if he can spare some time and come help me get out of this water, alright?"

Edaline nodded her head and slung the pack over her shoulder. Not daring to go close enough to touch her father, she settled with a smile and a nod before dashing up the trail as fast as her legs could carry her, mud splashing around her feet. Doxon sighed and shook his head. This was not how he had wanted her first contact with the village people to be, but the farmer seemed a descent man.

.~*~.~*~.~*~.~*~.~*~.~*~.~*~.

She ran through the mud, rain pouring down over her as the sky opened up and the trees withdrew. Passing the pine tree, she saw the farmer's house through the hazy rain and set off across the open field. Even though this would be the first time she spoke to a stranger, she only had her father in mind. As soon as she came up to the house, she stopped to catch her breath before knocking. She heard someone move around inside and it didn't take too long before she could hear the latch move and door cracked open. A large burly man stood in the firelit doorframe and a whif of a stew puttering over the fire escaped through the opening. His bushy eyebrows shot up in surprise at finding a small, mud-splattered child out in the rain. 

Sensing the warmth from inside, Edaline realized just how cold she really was and started trembling almost uncontrollably. Her teeth clattered so she could barely form the words. "Sir, my father. He's... hurt, fell in a trench.. beyond that... pine over there. Needs mending salve." The farmer shouted something over his shoulder and a large woman appeared just as he ushered her inside. "I'll have to hurry before the..." He glanced down at the shivering girl, then back up at the woman. "I'll hurry." he repeated, grabbed a heavy cloak, then disappeared out the door. The matron made small clicking sounds with her tongue and pulled Edaline up to the fire, helping her off with the pack. She hurried off to fetch a blanket and when she returned she promptly placed Edaline in a puffy chair with the dry warm blanket around her.

Feeling really warm for the first time in two months, Edaline didn't pay much attention to the woman's constant prattling. By the time she returned with a bowl of stew, the girl was fast asleep, arms wrapped tightly around the pack she had refused to let go of. The farmer's wife, put the bowl on a nearby table and chuckled softly. Then she moved quickly over to the window to keep watch over the road for her husband, who would hopefully return soon with the child's father.

Adventures from times past

Edaline wiped her brow and glanced around the kitchen area of the small cottage. Almost done, she though. Only a small part of the floors left to scrub. The owner of the place, Breeden, was out hunting in the rain. Even the farmer's wife, Londra, had braved the weather to find some vegetables for dinner, leaving the child alone to tidy things up. It's nice of them to let us stay while father is recovering, thought Edaline. Her eyes trailed to the cot where her father was resting, his broken leg resting on a pile of worn-out blankets and bound to a few branches to keep straight.

Suddenly the door slammed open and Breeden stumbled in, scowling and with rain dripping from his heavy cloak. Edaline jumped at the sound and almost tipped the bucket by her side. Looking up, she noticed blood trickling down his hand, leaving a trail on the newly-scrubbed floor. "Damn trees to have a will of their own," the large man cursed as he moved over to drop a single pheasant on the work bench next to the hearth. "Half a day and this is all I get?" He shook his fist at the door, thought better of it and clasped it around his wounded arm. The girl gave him somewhat frightened look, which he noticed and attempted a soft chuckled. "I'm not angry at you, child."

"What happened to you? Did you trip or something?" Edaline dropped the rag into the water, springing to her feet in case he'd need her help. She had a curious air about her, one that brought forth her youthful innocense even more. The question brought a laugh to the old man's lips and he shook his head.

"If by trip you mean feet getting tangled up in roots and branches, then by all means, yes." Seeing her puzzled expression, he sighed and moved over to the fireplace. "Well," he started, trying to find the words. "This forest is not quite what it looks like."

"Oh," Edaline said, but he could hear from her voice that she didn't understand. Since she had been working hard with her chores all day, he decided she had earned a break and a story. He removed his cloak and hung it on a peg near the fire to dry and waved her over as he sat down in one of the chairs. "Leave the cleaning for now and I'll tell you a little about it." Edaline hurried over and sat down on the floor next to Breeden, looking up at him with eyes shining with happy anticipation.

.~*~.~*~.~*~.~*~.~*~.~*~.~*~.

"Let's see where to start then." The farmer leaned back in his chair, resting his hands in his lap. "Back in the year 113 of the Midnight Age there was a village called Thera not too far from this place." Breeden paused for a moment, grinning at Edaline. Noticing a smile fleeting across her lips and her eyes locked on him, he nodded to himself before continuing with his story, knowing his audience was with him.

"The trees around Thera had been given life, something the village priest was none too pleased about. You see, he knew that the village stood right on their turf, in what was once the Morgun Forests. The priest, I can't remember his name, rallied the people and lead them against the Trees, hacking them down or burning them to the ground.

However, not everyone was against the trees being awake. People from Duiran, came to fight the flames with water and ice, standing side by side with the Elder Oak himself." Edaline frowned up at Breeden and he paused long enough for the girl to ask her question.

"But trees can't move. Only if the wind blows. How could they fight?" It was obvious the girl didn't believe in the story, but at the same time intrigued by the idea of living trees. Breeden chuckled and raised his large hand.

"They could fight alright. They pulled their roots up and walked around, using their branches to down their attackers until none stood but the priest. The Oak had ordered the man to be left unharmed, and even though he was the only one left fighting the trees, he kept going. At least until he stumbled upon the Elder Oak on his own. That's when the large tree snatched him up." Breeden made a grasping motion in Edaline's direction, almost making her jump backwards, so involved was she in the story. "And then carried him away to give him a stern talking-to."

.~*~.~*~.~*~.~*~.~*~.~*~.~*~.

Edaline swallowed and watched as the farmer leaned back in his chair again. "What happened then? Where did the village go? Is it still there? Is this Thera?" The questions would no doubt have kept coming if the farmer hadn't interrupted.

"This is not Thera. It's just a simple farm on the outskirts of an old, mean forest. There is no village anymore." Breeden chuckled and his eyes grew distant as he collected his thoughts to continue. "Thera was empty. Those who hadn't fought and died had fled to the large city in the south called Enorian. The Elder trees - Oak, Beech, Pine, Willow and Maple - decided to reclaim their old lands and took up root around Thera, and allowed nature to have its way, slowly causing the old village to become no more than a memory. What's left today is the Black Forest called Morgun."

Breeden looked down at the girl on the floor, his face turning serious. "Now, that fighting woke up other bushes, like the poisonous hemlocks. They're none too bright, really, and being awoken so quickly and all the excitement around them probably made them snap even more. After things calmed down, they started lurking around, desperately trying to find more people to prey on, and when none ventured into the forest, they spread up on the highways.

They didn't care much who they attacked, which soon became a problem for the people of Sapience. The forestals attempted to push them back to no avail, since the silly bushes couldn't understand much. Eventually the Elder Oak was approached and asked to help bring them under control. The Oak ordered them, very sternly, to never leave the confines of the forest, and they were not able to stand against one of their Elders. Instead they snuck off into the greenery and waited for unsuspecting folk to step too close."

"So they are still out there?" Edaline asked, looking at the old man for confirmation and he nodded back at her. She shifted uncomfortably and glanced at the door. Breeden followed her gaze and nodded again.

"Sometimes they come as far as the edge of that field out there, and when I'm hunting, or gathering firewood, they sneak up on me from behind and lash me with their branches." He rolled up one of his sleeves and showed arms sporting several scratch marks and old scars. "Their thorns are poisonous, goes right to your brain, it does, causing you to feel all stupid and not quite know what you're doing. I always carry some goldenseal flowers with me, it tends to help get my mind straight again. And if you get caught by their thinner branches, you can always writhe free but it takes some hard work."

.~*~.~*~.~*~.~*~.~*~.~*~.~*~.

Nodding her head, Edaline glanced up at the serious man's face, then narrowed her eyes. "Are you joking with me, sir?" she asked, certain now that the old farmer was pulling her leg with talk of trees walking around and talking like normal people.

"He's not, child." came a weak voice from the cot. Edaline spun around and met the eyes of her father. "We both have scars from those bushes. If my leg hadn't been broken I might have been able to fend off the one who attacked me. Luckily I was rescued." He offered a weak smile at his girl and nodded to Breeden. "And I understand it's all thanks to you fetching help." His daughter squealed with joy at the sight of her father awake and rushed over to the bedside.

"Are you feeling any better? They didn't have any salve, and the weather is too bad to go get some from the market, but they... -we- have done the best we can to keep you comfortable." Edaline prattled on and her father tried his best to assure her he was indeed feeling better. Finally Breeden put a stop to it, standing up and pointing at the unscrubbed section of the floor.

"Leave your father to rest, girl, and he'll be up and about before you know it. Finish that scrubbing while I get started with some preparations. Londra should be in any moment now to get started with dinner." Edaline nodded her head, then gave her father a careful hug. He kissed her on the forehead and shooed her off. He gave the farmer a grateful smile before dosing off again, getting a little bit more rest before food was on the table.



Post edited by Teani on
Moirean

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  • TeaniTeani Shadow Mistress SwedenMember Posts: 2,236 ✭✭✭✭✭
    Adventure takes a turn
    [spoiler] Edaline meets up with a maniac who has decided that burning down the entire world is a good idea. Thanks to @Haven for allowing me to use his craziness in my story! [/spoiler]

    A crisp, northeasterly wind rustled the naked branches where small buds showed a promise of spring not too far off into the future. The air no longer smelled of snow, but the breeze was still chilly and the ground still hard from winter's cold grasp. Trudging along a small animal track, Edaline took in the now familiar surroundings. Her arms were loaded with firewood she had gathered in a grove skirting the dark forest. There was something off, but she couldn't quite put her finger on what it it could be.

    As she adjusted the bundle of firewood, Edaline let out a small grunt. After another few steps, the girl stopped, letting go of her load so suddenly that the branches bounced on the ground before settling down. Raising an arm, she examined her wool coat and coarse tunic where one of the branches had torn through both layers and scratched her skin. She cursed and dropped her arm down again, kneeling beside the sticks to pick them up again. This meant she'd have to stitch it up later that evening, since the farmer and his wife had decided to go to some market and spend the night at an inn. Her father was still not well enough to walk properly due to an infection in his leg after breaking it, but he could rummage around the small cot at least enough to manage dinner for the two of them.

    With a soft sniffle, the girl wiped her nose and that's when it struck her. There was a strange smell in the air, something pungent, bitter. Frowning, she looked about herself and tried to discern where it came from but could find no nearby source. Everything seemed quiet and peaceful. Almost as if...

    .~*~.~*~.~*~.~*~.~*~.~*~.~*~.

    There was a loud cracking sound somewhere close by and an enraged voice cursed out loud. The girl crouched down further and peered through the shrubbery in the direction of the noise. That's when she noticed the flames. 'Fire! Of course, that's where the smell comes from,' thought Edaline. Fearful that someone might be caught in it, she got up. She barely made it to her feet before she saw a man rushing towards her, eyes gleaming with madness, shouting "SAVAGES!!" from the top of his lungs.

    Despite the early spring weather, the man was wearing only a white, sleeveless top and black pants. He had a deep tan and black hair standing on end, matching the wild look in his eyes. These suddenly snapped into focus as Edaline appeared next to the small shrug she'd been crouching behind. Before she had time to draw breath, the man had taken three quick steps to her, slammed his hand against her chest, tangled his fingers in her coarse coat and shoved her to the ground.

    Edaline let out a soft 'oof' as she struck the ground, and all air left her lungs. Rather than letting go, he kept hold of her clothes, kneeling down beside her. A flickering motion in the corner of her eye drew her attention and as she turned to look, her eyes widened. Staring in horror, she saw that the man's hand was black from the elbow down, ending in claws rather than nail-tipped fingers. What made her gasp, however, was the fact that it was also ablaze.

    As she watched the flames lick his fingers, she felt him give her an ungentle shake, pulling his face close to her own. Forced to look at his eyes, the girl swallowed, feeling the fear building up inside as he narrowed his eyes. Contorting his face, the burning man let out a low grunt before releasing her and backing away. Without giving any explanation or even helping her up, he cast a glance over his shoulder and, noticing the fire building up, he once more screamed the word "SAVAGES!!" with a voice that easily rivaled the roaring of the flames. Then he bound off, spreading havoc in his wake as he reached out and touched this tree and that, snarling incomprehensibly, and most likely to himself rather than anyone listening.

    .~*~.~*~.~*~.~*~.~*~.~*~.~*~.

    Choking back tears, Edaline sat up, holding a hand to her chest and breathing heavily. A puzzled frown marred her face as she followed the stranger's erratic route through the forest. Suddenly she realized what direction the man had come from. The farm... her father! She scrambled to her feet and she saw a wall of fire building up between herself and the quickest path back to the house. Her own distress suddenly forgotten, she cut between two boulders out of the grove, searching for a way around the inferno.

    Racing over brambles and rocks, she moved through the forest and eventually managed to get close enough to see the place that had been her home for the last few months. Smoke billowed from the roof, flames licked the walls and part of the house had already collapsed. Even though there was little left to feed the fire, it kept raging all across the field, making it impossible for her to reach the house or notice any signs of her father being alive.

    The flames crept closer to her, the warmth making her skin blush, and yet she stood there, crestfallen. Only when the roof came crashing down, sending a shower of sparks towards the sky, did the young girl flinch. The heat dried away her tears as soon as they appeared and a nearby ash tree creaked ominously as the flames started licking the slender trunk. Edaline started backing away, coughing from the smoke. Sadness evident in her eyes, she gave the house one final glance before fleeing the fire.

    Vampires and their coffins
    [spoiler] Another contributor to the storyline; @Kallah. Thanks for letting me portray you like a snob! [/spoiler]

    "A coffin?" The voice asking the question sounded indignant. There was a long pause in which nothing could be heard aside from the light rasping of a pen against paper. "A coffin." the woman repeated, this time more as a resigned statement, a hint of frustration. "Why do they expect us to sleep in coffins? A four-post bed, now that's comfort." Edaline chanced a quick glance round the corner of the counter she was hiding behind.

    "It's tradition, Your Imperial Highness." The old clerk stood in front of a pale woman wrapped in exquisite silks, wringing his hands. Next to him, on display, was one of the finest coffins available in the store. Carefully layered, the coffin's sides ranged from dark ebony at the bottom to walnut, maple, oak and light birch, ending with a beautifully carved ivory lid at the top. The corners were inlaid with precious metals and a ruby sat at the center of the bone-white lid. The inside was clad in soft, red velvet, cushioned for comfort and decorated with crimson droplets, embroidered along the upper edge.

    "You will not find so fine a coffin anywhere else on the market." said the man, sounding quite confident, placing an affectionate hand on the corner of the coffin. "Crafted it myself." The woman glanced at the thing as if it were nothing but a pile of firewood brought in to be thrown on the hearth. "Well, it's red. I don't want it." she said, turning away from it towards the counter. Afraid she'd be noticed and in some way offend such a high personage, Edaline ducked back again, dipping her brush in a bucket of water. However, she didn't dare make a sound, so scrubbing the floors would have to wait until the visitor left. Leaned against the wall in front of her was a mirror, showing her the reflection of the shop clerk, and behind him, his young scribe.

    "Would Your Imperial Highness prefer another color, then?" The owner of the shop managed to keep his voice level and smooth, despite trying to please this particular customer for a few good hours. However, Edaline, who had been helping him out for several weeks now, could tell it he was on the verge of snapping. There was a slight vibration on his tone that betrayed him, making the young girl wince and glance down at her bruised arms.

    There was a light swishing sound as the lady's skirts moved across the floor and soon she came into view at the far end of the shop. Edaline kept perfectly still, studying the woman. She was beautiful, breathtaking even, with pale ivory skin and long, crimson-streaked silver locks cascading down her back. Her dark clothes contrasted her fair complexion, making her look even more radiant. "Something more... cheerful. But not yellow. I don't like that. It reminds me of the sun." She wrinkled her nose, curling a lip up to show one of her sharp fangs. "Nor pink. It's just not right. Too close to red anyway."

    A soft sigh came from the clerk, and the girl saw him rub the bridge of his nose as the woman wasn't looking. The vampire didn't seem to notice, but kept talking, expecting the man to listen. "Green is for forestals, grey is too depressing, purple... There is that shade of violet that is pretty nice." She paused for a moment, but then shook her head. "No, no purple."

    "What about orange, Your Imperial Highness? That's cheerful." The suggestion came from the youth tending the books. The lady spun around and gave him a look of pure disgust. "Orange? You propose to bury me surrounded by that hideous color? That's just... Eww, it's yucky!" There was a long silence as the shop owner turned around to glare at the young man, who cringed pathetically, then fled into the back room. The lady paid him little heed, tossing back her hair as she went back to pondering the more important matter of choosing a proper color for her coffin's interior. "Blue." she stated after a long time.

    This brought back the old man's attention. "Yes, Your Imperial Highness. Blue would suit you well, I think. Something royal, with silv..." He was cut short as the woman raised her hand. "No, I want sapphire, and no silver." As if the deal was finalized, she swept towards the exit. "I'll pick it up in a month, and if it's not made for comfort, you won't get paid."

    As soon as the woman had left, the old man let out a string of oaths, then stomped over to the counter, slamming a fist against the top with such force that Edaline jumped even though she was sitting down. "Taper! Get out here, you fool!" the man yelled, then turned and leaned on the counter top. Seeing the girl's head on the other side, he snarled and rounded the corner in a few quick strides. "And you, get to scrubbing those floors or you'll be back out on the streets before morning comes." The foot caught her in the ribs and she winced, unable to move for a few seconds. "Get to it!" he growl at her, and thankfully the scribe chose that time to return, sparing her a second kick. She dipped the brush again and set to cleaning the floor, thinking to herself, "At least I've got a roof over my head. At least I have that."



    Kallah
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