A horde of shouting tavern-goers--filthy, and hurling bits of food--had formed a ring around a pair of brawling men. Skeletons more like, thought Sevastian, pacing back and forth as he observed them. These maggot-eaten drifters. Sev wouldn't be surprised to learn they took their naps in graveyards, on the off-chance they didn't wake up afterwards.
I've never been partial to skeleton crews, Sev thought, snatching a tankard from a nearby patron. Not sure what I expected from this litter of city slum-pups. He drained the tankard in a single swig, grimacing at the taste (or lack thereof) of the Citadel's finest ale-water.
"Enough," he barked, hurling the empty tankard into the center of the ring. The brawlers broke apart, looking dazed.
"Godless twigs," Sev growled. "Shove off. Maybe I'll call on you someday when I need kindling for a fire."
The two fighters wilted, melting back into the crowd. Sev limped forward.
"Is this all you've got?" He shouted, staring down the crowd. "Is this all the proud slums of the Citadel have to offer?"
Just then, the tavern door opened, and a figure materialized against the night. What now? Sev thought, craning to look over the crowd.
The tavern door creaked open and sound hit Ciel like a force of wind. The smells weren't as terrible as some parts of the city she had visited, but they certainly weren't nice smells. Ciel crinkled her nose for the briefest moment before stepping into the chaotic tavern. Taking a moment to observe the tavern, her eyes met with gray, steady eyes. The commanding and intimidating man seemed to expect something from the doorway she had just walked through, but Ciel was almost certain he wasn't expecting someone like her. Ciel held his gaze just a moment longer before steadily continuing to survey the tavern's slum-life.
A crowd gathered to form a circle where two bony men were just exiting, shoulder slumped in dejection. It took only a few seconds too long to realize she had poorly picked a place to eat and rest. But she was inside already, and her body was tired, though she showed no outward weariness. With determination, Ciel adjusted her hood and stepped around the circle to the bar where she then perched on one of the few free stools. Before ordering anything, however, Ciel turned to watch the man with the gray eyes and the people around him, just to make sure they would give her no immediate danger.
The people of the surface never ceased to amaze her, which was only fitting since she had killed thousands for their ignorant bliss and safety. Their outward shows of violence both disgusted her and intrigued her. Most seemed to need to prove something, or perhaps to earn coin. Few in this tavern seemed violent by nature, and even fewer seemed strong enough to be deemed warriors. Not that she would be considered a warrior by their standards. It was simply ... intriguing to watch.
Her eyes wandered expectantly back to the man with gray eyes who stood with demanding presence.
It took Sevastian a moment to understand what he was seeing.
The woman's paleness struck him first, and not in any pleasant way. If a plague victim had given the darkwatch the slip... Ah, but no. A ribbon of the woman's hair--long and white and lustrous as silk--tumbled out of her dark hood to hang against her cheek. Not the White Plague, then. But what? Was this an albiness? A Karrian Snow Shade? Something else?
Undoubtedly something else, Sev concluded, catching a glimpse of the woman's eyes. There was something of the Water Women in them, something luring, something abyssal. And the scales speckling her cheeks spoke the same.
But the colors, and the markings... Sev felt his brow furrow as he watched the woman traverse the crowded tavern. In all his travels, in all his myriad maritime maraudings, Sevastian had never seen a Naiad with looks akin to this one's. There was a glow to her. A brightness. An outward manifestation of a powerful soul.
And Sevastian wanted to understand it.
"Oi, pale face!" he shouted, shrugging out of his heavy coat. "Come have a dance with me. Show us what you're made of."
The tavern patrons fell into a hush, whispering amongst themselves. "...have a go at a woman?" Sev heard one say. He tossed his coat onto a table, smiling.
Vayne sat at the bar area of the tavern, listening to the limp-legged, pirate-looking man taunt the skinny, fragile men. Then, when the woman walked in, when he challenged her to a duel. He pulled his right hand out of his crossed arms and signaled to the gaping barman. "Do you have any mead?" He asked. The man shook himself out of his trance and walked over to Vayne. "Yes, but you hardly look old enough to be drinking an alcoholic beverage." Vayne glared at him. "Would you please repeat that." "You do not look old enough to drink this beverage."
Vayne stood up, pushing his stool back. He shot his right hand up, and darkness flooded out of his palm, encasing his hand. "I will ask you one more time, old man. May. I. Have. A. Mead?" The old man froze. "O-of c-course, sir." Vayne saw out of the corner of his eye that the commotion had stopped. He allowed a smirk on his face. The barman came back and put a tankard of mead in front of Vayne. He lowered his arm, and the darkness disappeared. And now, I will watch the drama unfold. Well, the drama that hasn't unfolded yet.
... Pale face? Ciel thought almost incredulously, her eyes widening a fraction. Usually her odd looks kept people from her, if they noticed her at all. But, this man, this weathered, raucous man not only noticed, but provoked her. Ciel smiled her best Naiad smile, but her eyes remained somber with only a touch of amusement. Her hand gripped her bo staff a little tighter, unsure of how to best handle this odd situation. She didn't want trouble, but she didn't want attention either. If she was forced to unleash her power here to avoid such trouble, she would only reap attention. Ciel was stuck.
From her peripheral, Ciel felt more than saw a darkness unfurl and threaten only a couple stools over. A faint twitch revealed her only reaction, but Ciel knew she had definitely walked into the wrong tavern. Slowly, she stood, held up by her bo staff, and met the wolfish man's eyes. Left without much of a choice, Ciel stepped toward the center of the tavern, where men and scantily clad women stared, hungry for a fight.
"I am hardly a fit match for such sport," she shook her head delicately and chuckled softly, trying to appear weak and, well, womanly. "He, on the other hand--" Ciel gestured toward the dark little boy drinking mead, "may be more suited to this task, hmm?" Her voice was calm, but commanding--a voice used often to address her people. That seemed like a lifetime ago. No, she couldn't yet risk obvious use of her power, particularly if it was only for her own benefit. After all, death awaited soon, either way.
Thank the goddess for a scapegoat. Sorry young one, she thought, staring invitingly toward the unnerving boy. Perhaps when all were focused on the fight, she could slip away. That was her hope, anyway.
"He, on the other hand, may be more suited to this task, hmm?"
He? Sevastian craned to look where the woman was pointing, but all he saw was some dark-haired brat in a feathered cloak.
No, not a feathered cloak. Were those...?
The door of the tavern shattered. Men in silver cloaks poured in, swords drawn, shouting orders. The Queensguard.
"Gods above," growled Sevastian. Tavern-goers frenzied around him, screaming and scrambling to escape. He drew his sword, trying to make sense of what was happening. Since when do these princesses patrol the slums at night?
"He, on the other hand, may be more suited to the task, hmm?"
For goodness sakes. Vayne thought. I'll stay seated as long as I possibly can, that man doesn't look like he would appreciate what humors me. Just then, the door burst open, and silver coated beings walked in, shouting. Now this, I can work with.
Vayne slammed the rest of his mead and stood up. He turned and walked straight up to one, craning his neck back to meet their eyes. "What is so important that you have to burst into a tavern to get some sort of recognition?" Two guards went to Vayne's right and left. Wonderful. Now we can begin. Vayne burst open his wings as fast as he could, making them go as high as they would. They slammed into the faces of the two guards on his sides. He drew his hand back and hit the guard in front of him in his stomach, making him stumble back. "So," he said, "how would you, 'pale face', and you, pirate man, like to help me have some fun?"
If it were possible, Ciel paled a little as the silver coated men burst into the tavern with swords drawn. They can't be here for me, can they? Am I that obvious in such a large city? She didn't think so, but she wouldn't take the chance. Both the wolfish man and the winged boy reacted defensively, one drawing his sword, the other attacking without hesitation. She, on the other hand, quickly jerked her strawberry-colored scarf up, securing it around her face in an effort to hide her features. Her hood threatened to slip off at her fumblings, and she quickly pulled it down farther, allowing it to shadow her face.
"So," the feathered boy said, "how would you, 'pale face', and you, pirate man, like to help me have some fun?"
Ciel's eyes flicked upward, head still down, meeting the boy's livened eyes with her sharp ones. She nodded subtly to him, then stepped backward, attempting to blend into the chaos. She would be more effective if few knew what she did. Ciel made herself smaller, carefully beginning to make her way toward the darker parts of the tavern. As she walked, she began to summon her power, making her very blood feel as if it were on fire, and not in a pleasant way.
Some of the attacking men stepped forward in reaction to the feathery boy's attack, and she released a portion of her power. The men stopped, and some even collapsed, their muscles suddenly too weak to move as her acidic power ate away at their energy. Adverse to killing them, Ciel simply impeded their progress, buying the people some time to escape. As her power worked on the men, her body began to fail her. She leaned heavily on her bo staff as roiling, electric pain washed arbitrarily through her body. Her power was stable, but it cost her dearly to affect so many of the men--and she hadn't even stopped them all.
"What is so important that you have to burst into a tavern to get some sort of recognition?"
Bold boy, thought Sevastian, twirling his sword. He widened his stance in preparation, counting the shouting Queensmen as they ran. Twelve? he thought, brow furrowing. Why so many? And here, in the slums after sundown?
They can't be here for me, he thought. I--
"...the white woman!" someone shouted. Captain Ferron. "And alive, gods damn it! Not a scratch on 'er!"
Sev froze. "Pale face?"
A guard charged forward, sword drawn, face ruddy. Sevastian threw up his blade and caught the blow, muscles cementing against the man's armored weight. Clenching his jaw against his leg's protestations, Sevastian thrust forward, plowing his shoulder into the guard's chest and sending him reeling.
His leg screamed in pain. Ignore it, he thought, searching the chaos for a glimpse of the Water Woman.
There. Sevastian saw her. She was still near, standing close to the winged boy.
"So," said the boy, catching Pale Face's eye, and then Sevastian's, "How would you, 'pale face', and you, pirate man, like to help me have some fun?"
Sevastian felt his eyebrows raise. A very bold boy, he thought, grinning brilliantly. Like any good pirate captain, Sevastian was always ready for a brawl. But Pale Face was in some sort of danger. He needed to...
She was gone. Sevastian blinked, twisting to look around. When had she left? Had they taken her? "Bird Boy!" he shouted, trying to catch the lad's attention. "We need to--"
White hot pain flashed across Sevastian's back. Vision blurring, he whipped around and thrust out his sword--a Queensman lurched backward, black blood dripping from his blade. No need to guess to whom it belonged.
Gods damn it all, thought Sev, bracing himself for the guard's next attack. "Bird Boy!" he shouted over his shoulder. "Get Pale Face and get out!"
Bird boy? Vayne though, pausing after he took down another soldier. He looked behind him and realized his wings were still extended. "Oh." He said, not meaning to say it aloud. He lowered his wings and turned around, looking for the woman. His searching was interrupted by a blade skimming his shoulder. He looked over and saw one of the soldiers had tried to bring his sword down, but had been interrupted by one of the scrawny brawling men. He nodded in his direction as a sign of thanks, then looked down at the soldier knocked over.
He walked up to the soldier struggling under the weight of the armor and crouched by him. He took his hand and grabbed the soldier's head, pushing it into the ground. He ripped of the helmet and peered into his eyes. "Attacking an enemy when they're not paying attention is just plain rude. Except when I do it. That's when it's funny." He drew back his free hand and swung his arm into the soldier's face, killing him.
He stood back up and resumed his searching. He just couldn't see her in the mess. Then, he realized he was standing in the exact middle of the tavern. He scolded himself for his stupidity, then turned around. There she was, appearing to be preparing for a rather powerful attack. Well, sorry, but you won't get to kill any of these idiotic soldiers today. He ran straight towards her and grabbed one of her wrists, looking in her eyes. "We need to get you out of here. Whoever these people are, they are looking for you. Will you follow me?"
Her power continued to work on the few men she targeted, but it wasn't enough. The other men continued to wield their swords, one landing a blow on the wolfish man--for that was what she named him in her mind--and one almost hitting bird boy. Still more cut down what few people resisted, and she felt the soldiers' eyes beginning to look toward her.
Oh no, she thought just as someone grabbed her wrist. Instinctively, Ciel released her power on the men to use it in a different way, but before she could target again, bird boy met her eyes. Relief momentarily washed through her, making her feel guilty.
"We need to get you out of here. Whoever these people are, they are looking for you. Will you follow me?" Ciel blinked, understanding his words, but not understanding the why.
"Why are you--" her words froze in her throat as a silver coated man came at bird boy from behind, his eyes staring hungrily not at his target, bird boy, but at her. Without thought, Ciel released the power still painfully simmering in her veins. The man's sword ripped free from his grip, swinging at its master. The poor soldiers eyes widened disbelievingly as the sword came down on him, cutting him from shoulder to hip. He fell, a cry on his lips. Her power reluctantly returned to her, its job done.
Stumbling from the new use of her power, Ciel nodded distractedly to bird boy, "I'll follow you." But as she let him pull her toward the door, Ciel knew she couldn't leave the tavern in its current state, for it was because of her the soldiers had come.
I need to end this. Or equalize it, somehow... "Swords," she whispered, stopping after a few steps. More soldiers noticed her fleeing, but she ignored them, hoping bird boy could hold his own. She had something else to do. Turning, her eyes found the wolfish man in the chaos, then found his sword. Making sure to target all swords drawn but wolfish man's sword, Ciel implemented her power.
Horrified cries filled the tavern as the soldier's weapons--and accidentally some of the other tavern goers' weapons--grew too hot to hold. Some tried to fight through the heat, and the smell of burning flesh filled the tavern. Swords dropped with clanging sounds, adding to the brawling cacophony. As the swords dropped, so did Ciel, her knees crumpling beneath the cloudy weight of pain. Still, she stubbornly held onto her power. This pain was nothing compared to the life she once knew.
"They warned us of your strength," an unfamiliar, accented voice said from behind her. She turned her head, and from her peripheral, she could tell the silver figure blocked the doorway, sword hand singed. Now, hopefully, the playing field is at least leveled, she thought tiredly.
Quick parry, two steps back, thrust, feint, a side swing at the neck. Cold sweat blurred Sevastian's already blurry vision as he danced with his assassin, feeling (strangely) both numb and overly-sensitive at once. He did his best to ignore both the chaos of the tavern and that within his own body; his leg had become a useless log, his back was split with gnawing heat, and for the love of the gods, would these banshee barmaids ever stop their screaming?
Then, in the corner of his eye--the Water Woman. She was running. Sevastian turned to look.
Something smashed against his ankles--pain overcame his every sense as his back slammed against the floor. Idiot, he thought at himself, vision black, lungs burning as he struggled to regain his breath. He felt something sharp touch the skin of his neck--steel. "The Queen thanks you for your sacrifice," someone said.
Heat. Sevastian cried out as the sword against his neck turned to fire. Someone else--the one who'd spoken--began to scream as well, and in an instant, the heat was gone. With his returning vision, Sevastian could just see the outline of a man clutching his wrist.
Now was not the time to wonder. Up, he ordered himself, sweat dripping from his face as he lurched to his feet.
The Water Woman had collapsed, and a Queensman was blocking the door. "Boy," he shouted at the winged youth, "The door." With what strength he still had, he crouched and lifted the woman from the floor.
A bit overemphasis I think, but I can put up with it once I'm out alive. Vayne thought to himself. Either out of jail, or out of this tavern, both work. Both are easy, too.
Vayne shifted to the man picking up the woman, then to the door, where five guards waited to kill the ones fleeing. Fun fun fun. He thought to himself. More death! He ran at the group of guards, letting darkness flow out of his palms, which were pressed together behind him at the moment. He pulled his hands apart a few feet in front of the guards and tackled one, killing him with his immense dark magic. He rolled over off of the guard to see the four remaining guards, swords drawn, surrounding him while he was lying on the ground.
Now what to do here? He thought. He let his head fall to the side, and saw that one of the guard's greaves was loose. Bad mistake. He thought. He rolled over toward the guard with the loose boot. He pushed himself sideways so his head was facing the guard's greaves. He reached out and yanked one of the guard's boots with both of his arms, knocking him over. He rolled over again so he was on his back, and threw the greave at one of the other guards.
He pushed himself up and stood between the two guards. Then, he had a twisted idea. He ran to one of the guards and pushed the sword out of his hand. He put his head against the middle of his chest, his hands by his head while still on the guards chest. The guard, obviously too confused to react, stood there frozen. "Do you hear that?" Vayne asked. The other guard attempted to stab Vayne, but, for whatever stupid reason, the guard he was hugging signaled him off. "Hear what?" the guard asked. "Your heartbeat." Vayne said. "I don't like it. It should stop." He shot darkness from his palms, killing the man.
The other guard fell to his knees and started begging to live. Vayne bent down. "I don't spare people." He looked at the mortified look on the guard's face and smiled. "But this is the first time it has ever happened. I like it." He grabbed the guard's arm and pulled him up. He looked up at the guard's face and signaled with his hand. "Shoo shoo now." The guard sprinted out of the tavern. That solves that. He thought. Now we wait for the man with the woman. He stopped for a second. That just sounds weird.
The wolfish man surged to his feet, and before Ciel knew what was happening, she was lifted from the ground and into his arms. Her bo staff almost fell from her grasp in the process, but she managed to keep a hold of it. Ciel looked up to the wolfish man who was obviously in pain and exhausted. Her eyebrows knit together with worry, but a commotion at the door distracted her. The dark one tackled both with force and with magic, taking down many of the guards quickly. Ciel turned her head from the fight, not because she couldn't stomach violence and blood, but because she was distraught at the tragedy she now caused simply by being in the tavern.
I can still do something, she whispered to herself, looking up at the wolfish man. Carefully, Ciel touched the scorch mark on his neck, then began to again summon her power. From her brief sight of his back, she knew healing would take too long, and at the moment time was running short. So Ciel settled for taking his pain away with her power, something she had longed to do for herself, but something that was paradoxically impossible. Still, she could take away his pain at the least.
"I'm sorry," she whispered to the man as she sent her power into him. Her power intelligently sought out and nullified his pain, specifically targeting the wolfish man's back, the scorch mark, and his hobbling leg. Ciel felt momentary empathy for his pains that only added to her guilt. She knew what it was like to be physically handicapped. In turn, her own pain increased, muscles burning, bones throbbing, and mind dulling under the pain.
Through clouded vision, Ciel watched a guard flee, and she felt relief that he, at least, was spared. She had lost track of the Captain in the chaos, but the way seemed clear now. Still holding on to the wolfish man's pain with her power, Ciel pointed weakly toward the door, eyes sad. "Quickly, please. I cannot hold onto your pain for much longer should more soldiers arrive."
"My gods," Sevastian breathed, watching the winged boy unleash his... fury? insanity? both? on the guards by the door. The boy's power was... Well, Sev hardly knew what to think of it. Then again, in this chaos, one found it difficult to think of anything.
The Water Woman said something. With some difficulty, Sevastian tore his eyes from the spectacle before him and looked at her.
His heart wrenched. Such sadness, he thought, struggling to look away from her pale, shimmering eyes. He opened his mouth to ask what she needed, but before he could say a word, she touched his neck. His breath caught in his throat.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, eyes glazing over.
"Why--" said Sev. He paused.
Something was... happening.
A pleasant, prickling warmth bled over his skin inch by inch--he shivered, violently, and released his pent up breath in a rush. What is this? he thought at the woman, expecting her to somehow hear his silent question. He hardly noticed his pain leaving him, though he did notice the woman's weight lessening in his arms.
"Quickly, please," she said. Her voice was weak. "I cannot hold onto your pain for much longer should more soldiers arrive."
Sevastian stared at her, uncomprehending. Hold on to my...? How could anyone hold pain? "Right," he finally said, shaking his head. He would figure out what was going on later. Right now, he needed to focus.
The doorway. It was clear. Time to go, thought Sev, breaking into a run.
The cool night air lay in sharp contrast to the sweltering tavern, and the moonlight cast the surrounding slums in silver. Sevastian looked around, searching for some way to--
Horses. The Queensmen's. They were tied up in a line along the tavern's face. The chaos had thrown a few of them into a panic, but most--likely war horses--seemed well-tempered enough to use. Sevastian approached one.
"Careful now," he said, lifting the Water Woman onto a dark mare. Can she stay up there on her own? he wondered.
He'd ride with her, to be safe. "Boy," he shouted, swinging up into the saddle. "Come! Quickly!"