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Author Topic: The Huntsman, the maiden, and the sword [History, world-building]  (Read 46 times)

Offline Snowflake

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Note: This is all strictly OOC, no one knows this information, because it happened so long ago, and for reasons that will become obvious if I ever finish this. It's provided purely as a historical, world-building piece. It is also still in first draft and incomplete, so is probably full of typos and grammatical errors.


The Vakdrimen forest sprawled out before them, dense canopies of vibrant, verdant colours that completely blocked any view of what was beyond them, the light diminishing until shadow and tree trunks were all that could be seen. The day was bright and early, but as they stared at the dense foliage before them, the trio felt a sense of darkness and disquiet.
“Bella, come - we still have a way to go.”

The entreaty came from a man garbed in the robes of the clergy, a long stave in one hand that he leaned on partially, a pack slung over his shoulders. He was middle aged, the lines of his years starting to show on his face, but he had a certain vibrance about him that deflected what should have been an older appearance, his close cropped hair hiding any grey that might have started to sneak in.
The woman he talked to was quite a bit younger, her expression one of slight irritation, her lips pressed in to a thin line as she turned to face him. She was long-limbed, rangy and lean, the plate that covered her torso flattening out her already slight breasts and giving her a more boyish appearance. Her dark brown hair, slashed through with blonde streaks, was tied up in a braid that made a crown around her head, giving her a regal appearance that combined with the intense look in her blue eyes, made her seem much more authoritarian. She spoke, and the authoritarian visage cracked a little, her voice high and almost delicate sounding. “Yes, I know, Caspar… I was just thinking.”

She pursed her lips again and stared at the forest before them, feeling almost sucked in by the magnitude of it, small and nebulous before the timeless might of a gathering that had been here long before her, and would persist long after she wasn’t even dust. Off to the right of the pair, another voice cut the silence, almost too cheerful in its rupturing of Bella’s brooding. “We have a lot to do, but if you are insistent on sulking at the trees, then I suppose the great Marath goes first!”

The man that the voice belonged to was garbed in a robe, but quite a different one from Caspar’s, bedecked in bright, expressive colours and embroidered with various symbols that may or may not have been writing. He was somewhere between the other two in age, short brown hair swept back, angular features and grey eyes. A steel circlet rested on his brow, with a single brown-red stone embedded in it, the facets catching the light as his head moved. As he advanced, he walked with a cane of gnarled wood with an intricate, twisting design around the length that hurt the eyes to study too long. “You know, traditionally, it is the people like me that are at the rear of the action. Come, battle maiden - for one wielding the sword of god, you are making a timid figure.”

Caspar tutted with disapproval, his gaze sharp at the man as he walked - it was meant in good spirit - they had gotten used to his odd mannerisms and humour on the road - but the tone with which he spoke of the sword, and teased Bella and her responsibility, rankled against the priest. Bella was aware of it too, and her expression flushed with embarrassment both for herself, and on behalf of Caspar as she nimbly hopped from her position and ran until she was ahead of Marath, her chin stuck up and out as she marched on, trying to look somehow imposing, Caspar’s voice trailing behind her in its scholarly, warning tone. “That’s enough Marath. The sword chose her, and it is a great responsibility to have such a thing… I also remind you we are not here to use it. We are here to…”

He trailed off for a time, and the weight surrounded them again, just as the trees did as they walked, all of them knowing full well what they were here for, and none of them relishing the possibilities. Even Marath reduced his exuberance a little in honour of the moment. “We are here to establish what has happened to the people of Vakdrimen, if anything, and enlist the aid of the Maestro Havelock..”

The unspoken addition to that statement was ‘And if he too has turned against us, to return as fast as possible and report it was so’. The people of the Vakdrimen were insular and didn’t often come to the other cities, but their skills had always been valuable, their ability to find herbs or to track down game, or a dangerous beast were second to none. They were the foremost trainers of animals of all kinds, too - there was not a beast that their guild could not break.
But recently no one had seen or heard anything from them, and there was rumours of the forest being tainted with an evil presence and mad beasts, so now the traders didn’t make the journey anymore. The awareness of those rumours crowded around them as they walked through the forest, at least having the luxury of a path to follow, the now defunct trader’s route.
The breeze threaded through the boughs around them and created a sound that might be pleasant, almost woodwind-like were it not for the ominous portent of the task they had been assigned to - instead the rustling and blowing seemed like observing beings at every turn. Once again, it was Marath that broke the silence, perhaps somewhat louder than was strictly necessary. “Come now, Caspar, I mean no disrespect, you know that. I’m just saying that us magely types usually do not lead from the front. The lovely Miss Moretti is both a second chair with the Battaglia, and carrying the blade that apparently, no defense can withstand. I’m just saying, let’s maybe act a little more like the part, rather than furtive victims, when our situation requires we arrive looking strong, undaunted.”

Bella’s ears burned as he spoke, feeling the weight of accusation even as she knew he didn’t mean it to be an attack on her. She hadn’t asked for the sword - she had wished it would go to anyone else, let them have the burden of the Skald’s presence made manifest in the world. They couldn’t though - at this point, few knew about the sword, and given its intended role, it had been kept secret as much as possible. The priesthood ordained Bella and bestowed her with the blade, and then as fate would have it, she was chosen for the mission to seek out the last Maestro that was unaccounted for. The blade that might fell their greatest foes, was being taken from the capital, where it would be no use… The weight of that felt like a mountain across Bella’s shoulders.
The journey was covered by a leaden silence for some time after that, the almost obnoxiously cheery whistling from Marath only serving to punctuate the lack of human life or activity around them. The wind blew; a few small creatures skittered invisibly up the boles of trees, but other than that, there was nothing - to Bella, that seemed suspicious somehow. Their journey was otherwise unimpeded by man or beast though, and by the time they stopped in a clearing to rest, she wished for any kind of impediment to break up this awful silence. She eased down on the floor where soft lichens mixed with cracked twigs like small bones, her expression seemingly stuck in a cast of severity as she fiddled with the hem of the tunic that peeked out of the bottom of the breastplate.  “We are not far now.”

Bella startled, a subtle reaction but one all the same, her head turning to peer in the direction as Marath ripped the silence to pieces in what seemed to be his go-to behaviour in any given situation. He was stood with one arm raised level with his head, a length of delicate silver chain hanging from his fingers like vines from a tree. Suspended from the chain was a curious bauble that Bella couldn’t identify - something metal, it seemed, but the design or its origin were not obvious from observation alone. The bauble swung in a lazy circle, coming to a halt briefly as if pointing away from Marath, before doing another circuit, the action repeated until he put away the bauble in the voluminous folds of his robe. “Magic?”
She spoke up as she unfurled her body from her position on the floor, rising to stand closer to the man, the faint smell of something bracing, but not unpleasant seemed to cling to him, she realised. He was quiet for a time, and just when she was going to leave under the suspicion that he was toying with her somehow, he spoke, and gave her pause. “I suppose, in the strictest sense it is, Miss Maretti. It is the most simple of tricks though; I could teach you this in a half-day and you would have mastered it. Magic - the kind you think of when you say the word - is something else altogether.”

She considered that, and what it might mean, feeling she had stumbled into some sort of great faux pas when dealing with people who practised magic, her expression twisting in to one of thoughtfulness as she dissected what he had said. From a few feet away, the warm, heavy tone of Caspar’s voice broke the silence, and her concentration simultaneously. “They love to perform, the magicians. I could have achieved the same thing by reading a map, Bella. Be careful to remember that sometimes magic is not what it seems, and certainly not as fanciful as it seems.”
He was sat down, stave laid down at his side as he went through his pack, pulling out a map for emphasis as he spoke, before returning it and rummaging around for something else, eventually pulling out number of densely wrapped parcels, none bigger than his fist. She recognised them for food parcels, and hearing her stomach complain with the sudden realisation of its need, she drifted towards Caspar, Marath’s voice following her, as he did himself. “True enough, but your map wouldn’t have gotten her to say or do something like an interesting looking display.”

She felt slightly betrayed as they both laughed softly at her expense, her face slightly coloured by the slightest scandalising that a person had ever been subject to. They shared out food and waterskins, and even talked a little as they ate, the oppressive atmosphere seeming to dilute a little as they rested and refreshed themselves. There was scarcely room for talking when Marath started talking, but she learned a lot as he talked about his time prior to this little adventure, and his desire to see more of the world and find more of its magic. She found Caspar fascinating whenever he decided to speak, radiating a sense of practical calm that she found admirable, enviable even - especially given their current task. He was not as forthcoming as the irrepressible Marath, but Caspar spent a little while talking about his time as a priest, and his being chosen for this task, seemingly sucked in just as much as she herself had been. Only Marath seemed to have any degree of volition in his choice being here, having volunteered when any esteemed magicians in the area had been consulted for this task.

When they resumed travel, Bella felt buoyed up by the rest, less apprehensive than she had been previously, the wind threading through the trees now seeming more charming than ominous - she wondered if she had built the whole thing up in her head until it had become the monster it was. She mentally chided herself for that, hands curled into fists as if to keep a tight grip on herself and her situation - she was a soldier; she wasn’t supposed to indulge flights of fancy or fairy tales. She had a job to do, and she had better pay attention lest they all suffer for it. The sense of resolve and positivity was not to last for long.

They walked for the longest time, negotiating vines and roots and dead trunks, scraping through sharp bushes and hedges that hid small things that hissed in protest at their passing. With minimal interference from anything that was not flora, they eventually waded through the foliage on to a dirt track where the trade route continued. From there progress was much quicker on foot, the flattened out path allowing them to cover ground that fighting through foliage would impede greatly, the path before them stretching off into the canopies of trees and off out of sight.


Offline Snowflake

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Re: The Huntsman, the maiden, and the sword [History, world-building]
« Reply #1 on: November 17, 2018, 12:19:10 PM »
The long and winding path through the forest eventually began to solidify before them as the tracks in the ground became more ingrained, suggesting the place they were looking for was nearby, when suddenly, it seemed to Bella, the settlement of Vakdrimen sprang out of the foliage at them.
The trees seemed to part, and in that great clearing was a place that seemed to blend in with the verdant landscape, everything made with much more wood than anywhere else she had been, the masonry present, but covered in creeping vines and outnumbered by weathered timber. There were numerous buildings spread before her, flanking paths that twisted and wound their way deeper into the village, many of the buildings having pens for livestock she presumed, the solid looking fencing tucked in at the sides of homes.

She realised there were barely any animals in them though, and barely any people around either, although it was hard to see anything in these densely packed clusters of houses. Bella was not entirely happy with this, it reeked of something wrong to her, something ominous, her earlier feelings of worry making her look to her travel companions to see their responses to the situation. Marath seemed curious, and a little quieter, but not as bothered as she felt she was, and Caspar was a silent monolith, leaning against his staff with both hands as he looked over the settlement. “This seems too empty… Some sort of event, or meeting perhaps?”

She voiced the concern, her expression hardening as she took a few tentative steps towards the village, peering this way and that to get a better view - the dark was starting to settle in the sky, the twilight blanket would surely not make this place seem any more homely to her. Sensing the others were waiting for her to make a decision, she stuck her chin up and out and with perhaps a little more confidence than was necessary she made her declaration. “Well, let us go and find someone, standing here will not get our job done.”

She stepped forwards, and was grateful when they followed suit, her unease about being with people she presumed to be untrained and liable to not have military mindset was somewhat soothed by their ready compliance - she didn’t anticipate a fight, but she couldn’t help but prepare for it. Their adventure further into the village revealed something that was not immediately visible from the outside - some of the buildings looked damaged, in poor repair that suggested negligence, or even active intent to ruin the structure. Some of the animal pens bore similar signs of damage, metal cables bent and twisted, wood splintered and snapped. “Hmmm, seems times are tough here in the Vakdrimen… But then, they are everywhere, aren’t they?”

Marath’s voice cut through the silence and made her twitch slightly, a grunt of affirmation from Caspar seeming almost thunderous in this unusual quiet. There was no secrecy needed, no mission from which the people here must be shielded, but still the group felt compelled to be quiet as they padded through the surreal silence around them, spying more seemingly empty and ruined houses as they went.
The stillness was unnerving to Bella - she was used to life, and song, and the noises of training and drills. This place, with its abject lack of soul and sound, was almost oppressive to her, trapped in a confined space even as she walked in the open air. They found themselves at what she reckoned to be the central thoroughfare of the village, worn paths wriggling out in several directions and off out of sight, around corners or behind buildings. Around them various buildings sprouted up, among them were what she believed to be a tavern and inn, and possibly a shop or other place of trade and service, a single sign hanging perilously from one of its two metal eyelets, the other broken, leaving it suspended in a slouch. The emblem or text on it was too scratched and marred for her to interpret.

She hadn’t realised how dark it had gotten as they explored the village, until she spotted a source of light off one of the paths to her left, turning with surprise to investigate it, Marath and Caspar following suit. They moved, pooling together into a more solid group as the light swayed and lurched, casting erratic shafts of light along the ground as it rounded the corner, attached to a box lantern of some sort, which in turn was clasped in the hand of a person.
Bella took a few light steps forward - they had found someone! Now they would be able to get some answers, and find out where the Maestro was, and ask why there had been so little contact until now. She was stopped dead though, by a forced cough, the boom of such a noise could only come from Caspar, and so she turned on the ball of her foot to regard him, her expression creasing in to a pouting frown as she wordlessly questioned him, his solemn shaking of his head extending her own frown. “I agree with him, Miss Maretti - something is off, I feel it on the air… I think we all did, but chose to ignore it. Something is wrong - I am sure of it now.”

They watched together as the figure swung the lantern to the right and followed it, bringing it to a heading that faced their direction, before slowly lumbering forward in a way that made Bella concerned the person was injured. Had there been an attack? Surely not bandits with the Maestro choosing this as his place of residence… The notion that a Virtuoso had attacked slithered its way in to her mind, and she shivered visibly at the thought.
She once again stepped forwards, but this time she felt the weight of a hand on her shoulder, Caspar’s hand falling on her as if someone slowly lowered an anvil there instead. Her expression was taut with frustration and anger - she was second chair! Her anger at his audacity was tempered rapidly as he gestured back the way they had came, and off to their right. People were emerging in the darkness, some with lanterns and some with torches. It was impossible to not notice the silhouette of pitchforks though, or the amber glint of steel in the light provided by the torches and lanterns that bobbed in nauseous motion.

She looked between the groups, and saw that more were appearing from other paths, from places hidden out of sight, and she felt anxiety start to gnaw at her stomach - perhaps they had been attacked, and this was a defensive reflex on their part, a simple mistake that could be easily remedied once they talked. The closer the groups got, the less she could trust her rationalisation though ‘they mean to harm us’, her intuition told her, her training kicking in, recognising the potential for a fight. “Arm yourself Miss Maretti, something is ill about this, and we may have cause to fight, in order to flee.”
The idea of doing so, despite Marath’s insistence, scandalised her - she was of the Battaglia, the militant arm of the crown and the defenders of its people; to raise arms against them went against everything she held important. But more than that, the Vakdrimen was the home of the Maestro - she would be striking out against the people and the chosen of the Skald itself, the holiest and most worthy of people. The sword at her waist was handed down by the divine, a gift to a people in need when some of the Tapestry’s greatest had turned their backs on the world - such a weapon was not for murdering the innocent and the sacred.

She felt the presence of her companions withdrawing from her, causing her to backpedal to keep up with them as they plotted their escape, the groups of people lurching along the roads seemed to expand, and pick up their stride as she and her companions ducked around a sharp corner. Bella’s head span as she tried to make sense of the situation, running in mental circles trying to create a scenario where this awful chain of events could unfold.
The thought fell to the wayside as a door to a nearby home was flung open with such force as to make the frame tremble, and a man spilled forth from the darkness beyond. Instinct had her reach for the sword, but her reticence held her back, the blade only partially drawn from its scabbard, yanking it up to defend herself. He was wielding some sort of club or cudgel, she realised, staring in dumb wonder as the wood of his weapon met the blade, and simply seemed to part before it, the top half shooting past her face with a whoosh as the sudden lack of the end of his weapon overbalanced the man and caused him to collide with her, the pair tumbling to the earth, punctuated by cries of alarm from Marath and Caspar.

The tumble was not graceful, and with him so close, she could not get the sword free, and would have no space to swing even if she could. He flailed at her wildly, shrieking like an animal, her arms raised to defend herself as she tried to squirm away from the assault, the stench of blood and death and grime was almost as much of an attack on her as the blows he rained down. He lifted his arms above his head, and she saw her moment, her jaw set as she lashed out and kicked him, connecting with his jaw and sending him reeling back away from her, giving her enough space to scrabble backwards and up to her feet.
The man recovered quickly, and she saw the manic gleam in his eyes, the raw, uninhibited hatred, and realised that Marath and Caspar had been right - something awful had happened to this place, and it was now playing out through its people. The man roared, and even with his broken weapon he seemed ready to continue this fight - were there more nearby? Her mind raced as she tried to account for all the variables, the sword finally coming free and held firmly in front of her with both hands as she watched his body for the slightest sign of advance.

The deranged man watched her, once again bringing imagery of animals to her mind, seeming to be figuring her out, waiting for something that she couldn’t identify, the sword feeling impossibly weighty in her hands. She heard a cry of surprise from Marath, and her glance sheared off to the side, to check her periphery - she cursed herself for her stupidity, realising the moment it had happened, what she had invited.
The man lunged, much more quickly than she had expected, springing forwards under the force of his own crazed state, forcing her to give ground, whipping the sword around in a tight arc to protect her retreat. He collided with the blade, and a great slash opened him from shoulder to waist, spraying blood and viscera with such force that it bounced as it hit the ground; he fell to the ground, utterly dead. Bella’s eyes widened in surprise and partial horror at the damage the blade had worked - this was the work of the Skald? The salvation of the people? She felt a new respect and fear of the weapon as she wheeled around to assist with whatever her cohort had encountered.

She found Marath, looking a little pale and shocked, a thin slice along his shoulder, his opulent robes frayed at the edge and stained red. Beyond him was Caspar, wielding his stave in a manner that she realised would give even her pause for thought - this was a man who understood combat. At his feet was a woman, a long knife nearby, giving her all the pieces she needed to understand what had transpired. Caspar seemed unhurt, albeit serious in a way that made pairing this man with the one she had conversed with previously, almost impossible. “The Great Marath lives to fight again - thank you Caspar. If I might suggest we leave,  and I say something witty later, that would be nice.”
The three of them nodded in unison and with only a moment passing, they were running again, following the path past several buildings from which light sources emanated, bringing with them a sense of fear, and people who burst from doorways and crawled through windows. They bolted around corners, ducked through alleyways that were only wide enough to go single file, and evaded grasping hands and crude weaponry, spilling out from a short path between two houses, only to find themselves in the village center again.

Bella’s pulse thudded in her head, her heartbeat spiking as she realised they were back where they started, the three shrinking back to the very center, back to back, her sword held firmly in front of her, ignoring the anxious cold sweat that ran down her brow. More of the villagers were gathering, rounding and moving back to the main road now, dimly hearing the awful noises they made as they surged towards the group. Marath’s breathing was heavy to her left - the magician probably didn’t do laps or drills, she realised -, and to her right she could hear Caspar muttering something, but the details escaped her. She had been caught out by distraction once before, shaming her position, shaming her organisation - she wouldn’t let it happen again. “This is foul sorcery, Marath, do something about it.”
Caspar’s voice cut through the din around them, and Bella fought the urge to join the conversation; she didn’t know magic, and while she wanted to know how to combat their situation, she couldn’t bring herself to let her attention lapse and risk another mistake, the guilt over such a blunder making her face flush. She was glad they could not see it. “This is not magic, Caspar - I would know if it was. This is something else, something worse…”

The thought did not seem to comfort any of them in the slightest, watching as the mass of people slowly seemed to grow - they could have been on Bella and her comrades well before this she realised. They were toying, waiting for numbers to do whatever they planned, or perhaps just maximising the fear for the sake of it… How had this happened? The question taunted her once more. “Death awaits you.”

The voice was clear even in the chaos, heavy with ominous intent, the three of them whirling around to follow the sound of the voice, from a building, but above them, eyes raised to the roof. There was nothing stood atop the roof, but for a moment, Bella was sure she had seen something up there, or someone, perhaps. Looking a little further up revealed a skyline heavy with clouds, pregnant with unease, the moon glaring down at them, stained a bloody red that made Bella want to squirm away from its attention, feeling she had never wanted anything in her life so much as to run away now.
But they had little in the way of options to escape, slowly taking up their position back to back again as the heaving crowds descended on them, baying and rattling weapons as the distance closed...


Offline Snowflake

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Re: The Huntsman, the maiden, and the sword [History, world-building]
« Reply #2 on: November 17, 2018, 12:19:46 PM »
The long and winding path through the forest eventually began to solidify before them as the tracks in the ground became more ingrained, suggesting the place they were looking for was nearby, when suddenly, it seemed to Bella, the settlement of Vakdrimen sprang out of the foliage at them.
The trees seemed to part, and in that great clearing was a place that seemed to blend in with the verdant landscape, everything made with much more wood than anywhere else she had been, the masonry present, but covered in creeping vines and outnumbered by weathered timber. There were numerous buildings spread before her, flanking paths that twisted and wound their way deeper into the village, many of the buildings having pens for livestock she presumed, the solid looking fencing tucked in at the sides of homes.

She realised there were barely any animals in them though, and barely any people around either, although it was hard to see anything in these densely packed clusters of houses. Bella was not entirely happy with this, it reeked of something wrong to her, something ominous, her earlier feelings of worry making her look to her travel companions to see their responses to the situation. Marath seemed curious, and a little quieter, but not as bothered as she felt she was, and Caspar was a silent monolith, leaning against his staff with both hands as he looked over the settlement. “This seems too empty… Some sort of event, or meeting perhaps?”

She voiced the concern, her expression hardening as she took a few tentative steps towards the village, peering this way and that to get a better view - the dark was starting to settle in the sky, the twilight blanket would surely not make this place seem any more homely to her. Sensing the others were waiting for her to make a decision, she stuck her chin up and out and with perhaps a little more confidence than was necessary she made her declaration. “Well, let us go and find someone, standing here will not get our job done.”

She stepped forwards, and was grateful when they followed suit, her unease about being with people she presumed to be untrained and liable to not have military mindset was somewhat soothed by their ready compliance - she didn’t anticipate a fight, but she couldn’t help but prepare for it. Their adventure further into the village revealed something that was not immediately visible from the outside - some of the buildings looked damaged, in poor repair that suggested negligence, or even active intent to ruin the structure. Some of the animal pens bore similar signs of damage, metal cables bent and twisted, wood splintered and snapped. “Hmmm, seems times are tough here in the Vakdrimen… But then, they are everywhere, aren’t they?”

Marath’s voice cut through the silence and made her twitch slightly, a grunt of affirmation from Caspar seeming almost thunderous in this unusual quiet. There was no secrecy needed, no mission from which the people here must be shielded, but still the group felt compelled to be quiet as they padded through the surreal silence around them, spying more seemingly empty and ruined houses as they went.
The stillness was unnerving to Bella - she was used to life, and song, and the noises of training and drills. This place, with its abject lack of soul and sound, was almost oppressive to her, trapped in a confined space even as she walked in the open air. They found themselves at what she reckoned to be the central thoroughfare of the village, worn paths wriggling out in several directions and off out of sight, around corners or behind buildings. Around them various buildings sprouted up, among them were what she believed to be a tavern and inn, and possibly a shop or other place of trade and service, a single sign hanging perilously from one of its two metal eyelets, the other broken, leaving it suspended in a slouch. The emblem or text on it was too scratched and marred for her to interpret.

She hadn’t realised how dark it had gotten as they explored the village, until she spotted a source of light off one of the paths to her left, turning with surprise to investigate it, Marath and Caspar following suit. They moved, pooling together into a more solid group as the light swayed and lurched, casting erratic shafts of light along the ground as it rounded the corner, attached to a box lantern of some sort, which in turn was clasped in the hand of a person.
Bella took a few light steps forward - they had found someone! Now they would be able to get some answers, and find out where the Maestro was, and ask why there had been so little contact until now. She was stopped dead though, by a forced cough, the boom of such a noise could only come from Caspar, and so she turned on the ball of her foot to regard him, her expression creasing in to a pouting frown as she wordlessly questioned him, his solemn shaking of his head extending her own frown. “I agree with him, Miss Maretti - something is off, I feel it on the air… I think we all did, but chose to ignore it. Something is wrong - I am sure of it now.”

They watched together as the figure swung the lantern to the right and followed it, bringing it to a heading that faced their direction, before slowly lumbering forward in a way that made Bella concerned the person was injured. Had there been an attack? Surely not bandits with the Maestro choosing this as his place of residence… The notion that a Virtuoso had attacked slithered its way in to her mind, and she shivered visibly at the thought.
She once again stepped forwards, but this time she felt the weight of a hand on her shoulder, Caspar’s hand falling on her as if someone slowly lowered an anvil there instead. Her expression was taut with frustration and anger - she was second chair! Her anger at his audacity was tempered rapidly as he gestured back the way they had came, and off to their right. People were emerging in the darkness, some with lanterns and some with torches. It was impossible to not notice the silhouette of pitchforks though, or the amber glint of steel in the light provided by the torches and lanterns that bobbed in nauseous motion.

She looked between the groups, and saw that more were appearing from other paths, from places hidden out of sight, and she felt anxiety start to gnaw at her stomach - perhaps they had been attacked, and this was a defensive reflex on their part, a simple mistake that could be easily remedied once they talked. The closer the groups got, the less she could trust her rationalisation though ‘they mean to harm us’, her intuition told her, her training kicking in, recognising the potential for a fight. “Arm yourself Miss Maretti, something is ill about this, and we may have cause to fight, in order to flee.”
The idea of doing so, despite Marath’s insistence, scandalised her - she was of the Battaglia, the militant arm of the crown and the defenders of its people; to raise arms against them went against everything she held important. But more than that, the Vakdrimen was the home of the Maestro - she would be striking out against the people and the chosen of the Skald itself, the holiest and most worthy of people. The sword at her waist was handed down by the divine, a gift to a people in need when some of the Tapestry’s greatest had turned their backs on the world - such a weapon was not for murdering the innocent and the sacred.

She felt the presence of her companions withdrawing from her, causing her to backpedal to keep up with them as they plotted their escape, the groups of people lurching along the roads seemed to expand, and pick up their stride as she and her companions ducked around a sharp corner. Bella’s head span as she tried to make sense of the situation, running in mental circles trying to create a scenario where this awful chain of events could unfold.
The thought fell to the wayside as a door to a nearby home was flung open with such force as to make the frame tremble, and a man spilled forth from the darkness beyond. Instinct had her reach for the sword, but her reticence held her back, the blade only partially drawn from its scabbard, yanking it up to defend herself. He was wielding some sort of club or cudgel, she realised, staring in dumb wonder as the wood of his weapon met the blade, and simply seemed to part before it, the top half shooting past her face with a whoosh as the sudden lack of the end of his weapon overbalanced the man and caused him to collide with her, the pair tumbling to the earth, punctuated by cries of alarm from Marath and Caspar.

The tumble was not graceful, and with him so close, she could not get the sword free, and would have no space to swing even if she could. He flailed at her wildly, shrieking like an animal, her arms raised to defend herself as she tried to squirm away from the assault, the stench of blood and death and grime was almost as much of an attack on her as the blows he rained down. He lifted his arms above his head, and she saw her moment, her jaw set as she lashed out and kicked him, connecting with his jaw and sending him reeling back away from her, giving her enough space to scrabble backwards and up to her feet.
The man recovered quickly, and she saw the manic gleam in his eyes, the raw, uninhibited hatred, and realised that Marath and Caspar had been right - something awful had happened to this place, and it was now playing out through its people. The man roared, and even with his broken weapon he seemed ready to continue this fight - were there more nearby? Her mind raced as she tried to account for all the variables, the sword finally coming free and held firmly in front of her with both hands as she watched his body for the slightest sign of advance.

The deranged man watched her, once again bringing imagery of animals to her mind, seeming to be figuring her out, waiting for something that she couldn’t identify, the sword feeling impossibly weighty in her hands. She heard a cry of surprise from Marath, and her glance sheared off to the side, to check her periphery - she cursed herself for her stupidity, realising the moment it had happened, what she had invited.
The man lunged, much more quickly than she had expected, springing forwards under the force of his own crazed state, forcing her to give ground, whipping the sword around in a tight arc to protect her retreat. He collided with the blade, and a great slash opened him from shoulder to waist, spraying blood and viscera with such force that it bounced as it hit the ground; he fell to the ground, utterly dead. Bella’s eyes widened in surprise and partial horror at the damage the blade had worked - this was the work of the Skald? The salvation of the people? She felt a new respect and fear of the weapon as she wheeled around to assist with whatever her cohort had encountered.

She found Marath, looking a little pale and shocked, a thin slice along his shoulder, his opulent robes frayed at the edge and stained red. Beyond him was Caspar, wielding his stave in a manner that she realised would give even her pause for thought - this was a man who understood combat. At his feet was a woman, a long knife nearby, giving her all the pieces she needed to understand what had transpired. Caspar seemed unhurt, albeit serious in a way that made pairing this man with the one she had conversed with previously, almost impossible. “The Great Marath lives to fight again - thank you Caspar. If I might suggest we leave,  and I say something witty later, that would be nice.”
The three of them nodded in unison and with only a moment passing, they were running again, following the path past several buildings from which light sources emanated, bringing with them a sense of fear, and people who burst from doorways and crawled through windows. They bolted around corners, ducked through alleyways that were only wide enough to go single file, and evaded grasping hands and crude weaponry, spilling out from a short path between two houses, only to find themselves in the village center again.

Bella’s pulse thudded in her head, her heartbeat spiking as she realised they were back where they started, the three shrinking back to the very center, back to back, her sword held firmly in front of her, ignoring the anxious cold sweat that ran down her brow. More of the villagers were gathering, rounding and moving back to the main road now, dimly hearing the awful noises they made as they surged towards the group. Marath’s breathing was heavy to her left - the magician probably didn’t do laps or drills, she realised -, and to her right she could hear Caspar muttering something, but the details escaped her. She had been caught out by distraction once before, shaming her position, shaming her organisation - she wouldn’t let it happen again. “This is foul sorcery, Marath, do something about it.”
Caspar’s voice cut through the din around them, and Bella fought the urge to join the conversation; she didn’t know magic, and while she wanted to know how to combat their situation, she couldn’t bring herself to let her attention lapse and risk another mistake, the guilt over such a blunder making her face flush. She was glad they could not see it. “This is not magic, Caspar - I would know if it was. This is something else, something worse…”

The thought did not seem to comfort any of them in the slightest, watching as the mass of people slowly seemed to grow - they could have been on Bella and her comrades well before this she realised. They were toying, waiting for numbers to do whatever they planned, or perhaps just maximising the fear for the sake of it… How had this happened? The question taunted her once more. “Death awaits you.”

The voice was clear even in the chaos, heavy with ominous intent, the three of them whirling around to follow the sound of the voice, from a building, but above them, eyes raised to the roof. There was nothing stood atop the roof, but for a moment, Bella was sure she had seen something up there, or someone, perhaps. Looking a little further up revealed a skyline heavy with clouds, pregnant with unease, the moon glaring down at them, stained a bloody red that made Bella want to squirm away from its attention, feeling she had never wanted anything in her life so much as to run away now.
But they had little in the way of options to escape, slowly taking up their position back to back again as the heaving crowds descended on them, baying and rattling weapons as the distance closed...