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Harlequin, Ravenstorture and a now empty barrel (mature content)


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[I]Raeven took a deep breath and opened her eyes to the madness in front of her. An instructor, facing away from her, paced in front of ten thin, spidery men with well-defined muscles and a short dagger in each hand. The words of the instructor were lost to Raeven, as she prepared herself for the onslaught. Too soon for her liking, the instructor stepped away, the first man prepared himself, and rushed at her.
Raeven?s body tensed against the ropes binding her to the iron structure. She was bound so tightly she could hardly breathe. The first quick, deep incision was made and the man stepped back with the momentum of the strike. Too fast, the second man advanced. His strike was aimed at her face. It never made impact.

Raeven awoke with a shriek, her eyes breaking open to a wet, cold, foggy night. The shelter she had prepared that evening failed. She was freezing, soaking, and very, very tired. The horrid feeling of being pulled where you don?t want to go washed over her, the feeling that arises from waking suddenly and being pulled out of bed by a rabid caveman who?s just invented an axe and wants to test it out. She struggled to clear her mind through the freezing cold, her fingers lightly stroking the scar under her left eye.

Sighing resignedly, Raeven lay back down under the ruined shelter. She heard a crunch ? the fallen water behind her had already frozen into a sheet. Needles of ice slid into her back and melted before she could gasp.

Cursing loudly, she stood, throwing the useless shelter away. Raeven clapped her palms together in front of her chest and pushed them up, over her head, her mind suddenly clear against the fog of sleep and annoyance. Her arms high over her head, she pushed them out quickly and down to her sides. Immediately, the moisture from the air was sucked out of her skin, clothing and surrounding air. She was careful to keep her mouth shut and eyes closed tightly as not to dry them out with the charm. Fully dry, but still impossibly cold, she bent and picked up her belongings, holding them in the dry aura as it faded.

Then, wrapping her cloak around her with her satchel underneath, Raeven strapped her six-foot quarterstaff to her back and began running through the mud, wet foliage and glacial fog to rid herself of the chill. [/I][/font][/color]
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[font=gothic][color=crimson][I]Vyrim jumped down from the bridge way, the drop a little hinderence. The darkness and wet bothered him even less. After years living in this place, one more dank night wasn't going to faze him. At the centre of the forest stood a grove of huge trees, which were now conveniently lined with walkways anywhere between five and fifty metres above the ground, and a few larger platforms that could be called rooms. It was a strange house, but it served the ex-druid dristyrtk turned ranger well. Of course, the fact that the grove also housed multiples "bunkers" of assorted weapons, foodstuffs, and other supplies to last out a "seige" was incidental. The creatures in this region, as with most creatures actually, disliked those of his race, and many him particularly, quite severely.

He touched the ground lightly, the briefly exposed metallic grey skin of his wrists as he flexed his hands glinting in the moonlight. The leather gloves and long sleeved tight fitting, warm woolen shirt with leather overshirt serving to hide any other incidental flash. His hair, stark white, and two inches past his shoulders, was tied back, but still in plain view, but somehow not reflecting moonlight. His boots made no sound over the icy ground, as he made his way through the grove with the kind of nightvision only one subterranean could ever acheive. More than one creature, remnants of his druidic days in some cases, had warned him of approaching strangers, and strangers were rarely welcome news, even if it only involved him resucing them from the unsavoury critters about.[/font][/color][/I]
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[color=darkgreen][font=gothic][i]Raeven rushed blindly onwards, her body finally beginning to heat up. She stopped briefly, leaning against a large tree, to bask in her warmth and regain some of her breath - she had been running for over an hour.
Opening her eyes, Raeven noticed first that some creature - not like any she'd come across before - had passed by recently. She was hungry, and the sun was due to rise soon, not that the fog would let her know of that. The second thing she noticed was that the fog was certainly a lot thicker where she was, and warmer, too.
Pleased by this, Raeven dropped her pack, unslung her staff, and crept off in search of the recently passing meal.

Almost half an hour later, and she had yet found nothing. her trail, however, had led her back to the tree she was stationed at before. The fog hung like a dress around not one, but thirteen of the huge trees - an ominous site. Intuition told her to turn around and walk the other way quickly, but common sense told her she needed her pack.[/i][/font][/color]
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[font=gothic][color=crimson][I]Vyrim tapped her on the shoulder, sighing as she jumped and spun, yelping. They all did that. He lunged forward, pushing her hard against a tree and silencing her, before she could call down unwanted attention. Flighty, these newcomers were.[/I]

Vyrim: Unless you want something a lot more unpleasant than me doing this for a much different reason, I recommend the noise be kept to a minimum.

[I]His liquid, smooth voice, strangely harmonic, but set in a strained whisper, must have conveyed a certain sense of neccessity. The woman quieted instantly, attaining a statuesque stillness that was more leashed potential than fear. She was obviously the kind of person who could take care of herself out here, just didn't know she needed to. Happened very rarely, that option. Vyrim stepped back, hands spread in case she jumped him. She did nothing of the sort, her eyes glinting in the moonlight as she calmly looked him over. He grinned wryly and beckoned her to follow him. Moving to one of the easiest spots to access his "house", he fed her up, then leapt up himself. He lead her down one of the branching pathways, the route more than familiar to him by now. One of the few sheltered places, a small hut, appeared, on a tree of its own, with a metre wide platform around it. He motioned for her to jump the gap, only two metres or so. She did easily, and more to the point, confidently. Vyrim followed with long practiced grace. He bowed ironically, and gestured her into the rude structure. He sat at one of the two chairs, rough hewn collections of sticks really.[/I]

Vyrim: You really need an explanation of what's out here.[/font][/color]
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[color=darkgreen][font=gothic][i]Raeven again looked the stranger up and down, puzzling over his show of kindness. He certainly didn't look like the person to snatch you out of danger, invite you into his... um, 'home' and offer to school you in the dangers of the forest. She didn't like it one bit. Suspicion casting a squint in his direction, she stood and began calmly walking backwards, along the path, until she sensed the yawning chasm straight behind her. Turning, she leapt to the other side and sat on the rim of the plating, dangling her legs over the edge. Then, crossing her arms, she slit forward slightly so she was balancing on the edge. [/i]

Raeven: Explain your random act of kindness. I know what's in these woods - but I don't know about you. I don't know who - or even what you are. If your explanation feeds my suspicions, I'll leave. And the state my a*ss is in now, I am rather happy to do that.

[i]The man smiled ironically again, standing and walking after her slowly. When he too reached the gap, he vaulted over it and landed behind her sofly, the only sign of his manding the slight vibration of the wood. No sound. He faced away from her, if she were to escape she would have to do it now. Leaning forward again, she began to tip over the edge. The ground was far away - almost too far. She bent her legs in anticipation for the landing - but never made it. She never even made it off the ledge.

The stranger, not only grasping her around her very private, not-a-good-place-to-hold middle, was carrying her back into the small room and weaving a web over her brooding magic. She was no longer scared, she was angry, and somewhat humiliated her fifteen years of training had shown to nothing.

Seated and bound into a chair, they were back to square one. [/i]

Raeven: My name is Raeven, I'm a Raikishi Warrior.

[i]The stranger said nothing, and stared at her.[/i]

That was an introduction - you know, a polite gesture...

[i]Still nothing, just eyes burrowing deeper into her head.[/i]

Polite gestures are usually returned....

[i]This got her a slight twitch of the mouth. Almost there. Ah, f*ck it.[/i]

Tell me your name or I will hurt myself.

[i]At this, he smiled widely and arched his eyebrows at her. His eyes did not flinch.[/i]

Stranger: And what makes you think I care?

Raeven: I don't know, perhaps it was you dragging me out of pursuit of a perfectly decent meal to "lecture me on the dangers of the forest" so I don't hurt myself.

[i]He smiled, sat back, and began staring at her again - but this time, not just her face.[/i]

Raeven: Oh god, this would be right. Now it all makes sense. You nabbed me because you -

Stranger: You realise the creature you were hunting was me, don't you.

[i]Raeven fell silent and stared out the window, very, very annoyed.[/i][/font][/color]
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[font=gothic][color=crimson]Vyrim: The reason I "nabbed" you as you put it is because if I hadn't, you would now be dead.

[I]Raeven raised an eyebrow, obviously not believing him. He sighed, and took hold of her arm, raising her to her feet. He took her outside, and pointed at a certain darker patch on the ground. He absently reached out and snapped off a fair sized stick, and threw it. The patch grunted, unfurling into a rather large mammalian beast.[/I]

Vyrim: That's an ursine species, somewhat larger than your average grizzly bear, and a lot more intelligent. It can kill a human, or a grizzly, for that matter, with a single blow. Those claws that you can't see right now are harder than stone, and more than two inches long. When it stands on its hind legs, the creature is over ten feet tall.

Raeven: I think I could have killed it, had, say, my magic been left intact?

Vyrim: That creature is the main food source around here...

[I]He didn't say anymore, merely threw another stick, this one slightly larger. The huge creature let out a bellowing roar that shook the trees, and shambled off into the night. Vyrim shook his head. A few seconds later there was a deep whimpering sound, that cut off almost immediately.[/I]

Vyrim: They're intelligent, but not that intelligent. Thankfully, only two of the species around here are tree dwellers by choice, though a few others can and will climb given provocation. The two natural species live much higher up, and don't venture down very often. The highest point in my little structure is 74 metres off the ground. These beasts go down to 100 metres above the ground at the most. The ones that will climb trees aren't as large as our recently deceased friend, but are nastier in many other ways. I don't want them up here, which is why I had to get you away from any possible detection.

Raeven: Why don't they chase you up here?

[I]Vyrim grimaced, and lifted his tunic. Tracing his stomach was a long scar, visible as a black line against his luminescent grey skin.[/I]

Vyrim: They do. Just not often.

[I]He silently led her back inside, giving the room a quick but thorough scan.[/I]

Vyrim: You wanted an introduction. My name is Vyrim to all purposes. The rest of my name is somewhat impronouncable by any not of my race. I am a dristyrtk, a subterranean race of humanoids that tends to be quite brutal in its dealings with outsiders. I came to the surface an odd two centuries ago, we're long lived by the way, and spent the first half as a druid. Was eventually exiled from the sect for reasons I won't get into now. I wandered around for a decade or so, and ended up here, because of the nature of the place, I suppose the remoteness, and the fact that visits are very rare and I have very effective guards, makes me like it. I'm basically a ranger now.

So basically, you're with an demi-human being of a race known for brutality, who has been exiled from an honourable sect, lives in the middle of the darkest forest known that just happens to be filled with horrors, and has almost complete control over you. So hey, I guess the only question left is how has your day been?[/font][/color]
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[color=darkgreen][font=gothic][i]Raeven laughed and closed here eyes against the pounding headache that suddenly erupted in her skull. Vyrim noticed but said nothing. [/i]

Raeven: My day has been fine.

Vyrim: There are no need for formalities here, Raeven.

[i]Hearing him say her name jolted her, she hadn't heard it said since she was five. The trainers at the palace called her by her number, Thruik. She realised that she was near the point of collapse.[/i]

Raeven: Well, let me see - I ran away from the Raikisi Palace a week ago, and since then have been hiding in this forest. Haven't eaten since, as I've never lived out of doors in my life and I don't know what or how, every morning I wake up freezing cold and soaking wet, and I spend all the rest of my time trying to get to the other side of the forest - by running as fast as I can until I'm so tired I fall asleep where I'm standing.

Vyrim: You haven't eaten for a week?

Raeven: Yes. It's ok, I've done it many times before. Part of our training. We have to go for months without food sometimes. And sleep. The only thing I'm not used to is the lack of company...

Vryim: This palace, I've never heard of it.

Raeven: Good, I don't want to either.

[i]Vryim cast a questioning look at her, but she had fainted. Lying on the floor in a crumpled heap, her eyes remained open but her pupils expanded until they encompassed nearly the whole visible part of her eye. Things moved underneath.[/i][/font][/color]
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[font=gothic][color=crimson][I]Vyrim turned to the small amoire he had sitting in the corner, and drew out several heavy blankets. He easily picked Raeven up, laying her down on a straw pallet that was surprisingly comfortable, wrapping her in the blankets. She settled down almost immediately, her eyes closing slightly, though her pupils remained dilated. She rolled over, curling up into a tight ball, her face shielded. Life hadn't been kind. But then, who's life had been.

Vyrim sat back down, leaning back in the chair and stretching his legs out, absently pulling out a black bladed, exotic dagger and cleaning his naturally black fingernails, even more absently watching his acquisition. She shuddered slighly in her sleep, but didn't wake. He thought over his larder, a few hundred metres south of here in a deep, icy cave. More than enough food for two. He had a feeling she would be staying for a while, considering her present circumstances and situation.

He rose, stretching to his full height, pushing his arms up until his knuckles brushed the ceiling. He threw the dagger, impaling some hapless night insect with a sickening crack. He walked slowly over to the window, leaning on the makeshift sill, absently knocking a spider nearly a foot acros off its perch nearby. The creature spread its legs, flaps of skin letting it glide easily down to earth, where it attempted to scuttle off into the bush. A long, strangely pink tongue flicked out of the bush, and the spider was gone. A slight shifting sound was the only sound the bush made, then it too was gone. Shuffling off into the night, just like every other creature here. One of the largest beasts he'd found so far bellowed, a spine chilling scream, off in the distance. The forest was situated in a remote valley, and started up the side of one of the mountains that ringed it. Up that mountain, the larger, more dangerous creatures congregated. Vyrim had been there twice, and wasn't inclined to repeat the experience.[/font][/color][/I]
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"Raeven, you have failed. Go back to the beginning and start again. I will see you in twenty minutes or you will fail the couse, and your execution date will be set."

Raven bowed low and turned her back on the Instructor. The course she had just completed was fifteen minutes long from beginning to end, and it would take ten minutes getting back. She would have to sprint the whole way.

Holding back any emotion but anger and determination, she turned and began running. Blood seeped from the wounds on her arms - no doubt the thing that failed her. Leaping over monuments, walls, shrubs, and unexploded mines, Raeven ran as fast as she could without accidentally teleporting (and therefore disqualifying herself) to the beginning of the course. Muscled, battle-hardened warriors five times her size smirked from the sides.
As soon as she reached the beginning, she pivoted and began again. Leaping up the iron lattice as it closed behind her, she crawled the rest of the way over the wall with bleeding fingerpads, being careful not to break her three inch nails. They would save her life, later.

A flash, the sudden feeling of lying on a soft bed, and it was gone.

She was in the mountains again, naked, her skin black from frostbite gaining way over her healing methods. It was her third day in the snow, and she was nearly finished her task - to get herself down from the rocky precipice she had been set on.

An open pathway, sandstone, at the top of a thick wall. The edging was only a few inches high, revealing drops of a mile or two on each side. There was a man in front of her, holding a sword in each hand. One was blunted, the other sharp. The blunt sword was hers. The man threw it over the edge, where it crashed down over the steep walls and landed on a thick bed of rotting corpses, skeletons, and blunt swords.
Smiling, the man again returned to attack stance, and lunged at her. She managed to fend him off for another three hours, but collapsed after a sharp blow to the abdomen. She lost an ovary to that fight, it was the only thing that passed her.

Raeven awoke with a shriek, sitting up and blinking confusedly when she wasn't assaulted with icewater and cutting winds. She lay on a soft bed, covered in warm, dry blankets, alone in a room she had never seen before. Deciding to play it out for the while, she lay back and closed her eyes, listening intently for any presence of being.
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[font=gothic][color=crimson][I]Vyrim walked in the door, assorted weapons suddenly loosening themselves in their sheathes, though none fell to his hands yet. Raeven was awake, though not showing it. The fact that her eyes suddenly closed was pretty indicative.[/I]

Vyrim: I don't mutter incriminating secrets about myself while I work, so you can either give up the charade or actually go to sleep.

[I]Raeven's eyes opened slowly, her pupils a normal size. She sat up, shifting back until she leant against the wall. She eyed him curiosuly for a moment, then seemed to remember where she was. Vyrim sat down on the chair where he had spent most of the night, simply watching the window. Quite often a neccessary action, a few of the arenae, among others, occasionally got a litle bold. Especially when he had a "guest". This time he had simply been brooding though. Another thing that was quite often neccessary. In the few grey hours before dawn, he had gotten up, and done some very intensive stretching, before venturing out, down to his larder, making sure he had supplies. He hadn't drawn blood yet today, but he'd seen signs that multiple creatures were more than mildly interested with the surrounding area. He brought up some strange meat, most likely from one of the inhabitants of this place, and had it cooking in a small stone fireplace in the corner. Noting her look, Vyrim qualified.[/I]

Vyrim: I needed something to cook in, and some of the creatures don't like smoke much. There's more than enough for three or four, so you can eat as much as you like.

Raeven: What is it?

Vyrim: Remember that thing I showed you last night?

Raeven: You'd eat that?

Vryim: This is it's larger cousin.

[I]Raeven stretched, and slowly got up. Vyrim ducked back outside, and came back in holding a weathered, finely crafted longbow, strung, with a quiver of very long arrows. He pulled one out, exhibiting the huge broadheads on them.[/I]

Vyrim: It took four of these to the chest, but it has provided food for the past month.[/font][/color]
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[color=darkgreen][font=gothic][i]Raeven smiled politely, and stared at the fireplace, looking akward. Vyrim raised an eyebrow, but it went unnoticed. [/i]

Vyrim: Something wrong?

Raeven: Yes....

Vyrim (after a pause) : Well?

Raeven: I didn't know.... I...

Vyrim: What?

[i]Raeven blushed and turned away, sitting back on the bed and combing her fingers through her long, red - black hair. Vryim stared at her hard for a moment and walked over to her, sitting next to her on the pallet.[/i]

Vyrim: Tell me, I won't mind.

Raeven: Are you sure it's safe to... to eat?

Vyrim: Of course, why wouldn't it be?

Raeven: It's just that... that... well, I've seen flesh before, but...

Vyrim: But WHAT?

Raeven: I didn't know you could eat it!

[i]Vyrim sat silently for a while, staring at the floor. What kind of rock was she hiding under for the last however long? And how long was that?[/i]

Vyrim: You've never eaten meat before?

Raeven: Well, not exactly... not as food, anyway.

Vyrim: I'll leave that there. Look, you're going to have to trust me.

Raeven: Don't worry, I'll eat anything. It smells alright, anyway.

[i]Vyrim went back to staring at the floor.[/i][/font][/color]
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[font=gothic][color=crimson][I]Vyrim stood up, and drew out a piece of meat, spitted on a dagger. He handed it to Raeven, who sniffed it again suspiciously, touching her tongue to it and yelping when it was slightly too hot. Vyrim shook his head, drew out another piece of meat on another dagger that came from gods know where, and bit straight into it, not flinching in the slightest. Raeven glared at him, and determinedly bit into her portion, chewing it thoroughly before swallowing. She looked at it in surprise.[/I]

Raeven: It's....good.

Vyrim: Also neccessary. People tend to somewhat die when they don't eat meat. So I don't know how you pulled it off.

Raeven: I am a Raikishi Warrior...

Vyrim: Yeah yeah, I know. Doesn't mean you can ignore certain mortal neccessities though. And you get a lot of them from meat.

[I]Raeven was silent, and quite busy eating. Vyrim finished quickly, Raeven savoured her. He stood up again, seeming to have this strange need to keep busy and moving at nearly all times. He paced around, absently picking up his longbow and testing the draw several times. Daggers appeared, were inspected, and promptly disappeared again. He walked over to the window, peering out guardedly before he put his head out, scanning the still dark forest. There was less sound of activity, but that wasn't really indicative of anything. When your prey could see you coming, you had to sneak up on them. At night time you simply walked up behind them. Raeven at last finished her meal and lay back, seemingly unwilling to get up yet. Vyrim noticed, and told her he'd be back in five or ten minutes, and ducked outside. When he at last came back, he threw a sword, a smaller horse bow, a quiver of arrows and two long daggers onto the ground.[/I]

Vyrim: I have some things to attend to, traps to check, caves to clear out and what not, that are basically required to keep certain creatures underwraps.

Raeven: Hunting them down surely isn't the best way to cull the population.

Vyrim: That's not why I do it. The trapped creatures and the ones I chase out of the caves are basically the easy food source for certain others, which means those certain others don't go looking as hard.

[I]His voice was grim. Raeven noticed he's slipped a black leather brigandine on ontop of retreiving the weapons. He reached in under his tunic, drawing out an obsidian pendant.[/I]

Vyrim: If this doesn't get thrown through the door first, kill anything that comes in. No matter who or what it appears to be.

[I]With that he strode outside, stopping outside the door to pick up what appeared to be a ransor, a ten foot long, nastily barbed pike, and strap a few other weapons to his back. He sailed over the gap just as easily, a warning not to leave floating back to Raeven, then he was gone.[/font][/color][/I]
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[color=darkgreen][font=gothic][i]Raeven stood and stared after him as he faded in the fog, and sighed. Alone again. She had enjoyed the brief company, however... in fact, she had loved it, and it pained her to be alone again. Any kind of relationships in the Palace that weren't rank structure, opponent or team member (strictly hostile nonetheless) ended in messy executions. But she was used to it, at least. Hardened.

Thinking back, she remembered her way to this tree, and the places they had passed. Didn't remember details though - a serious crime in her view.
Not wanting to be caught unaware through lack of details of her surroundings (code of survival narnichk' draf), Raeven strode out of the room, crossed the platform, walked the pathway and stopped at an intersection. Choosing the left most path, she continued.

An hour later, she returned, some interesting things strapped to her thighs. Leaving the Palace with nothing but a stick was unwise, but at least she wasn't sorely missed.

Vyrim hadn't returned - and she was exhausted from her expedition, which had taken her up and down more levels than she could count. When she looked at the fire, she realised how long she had been gone - finding her way back was the biggest delay. Being properly armed, however, was a big plus.

Lying back down on the pallet, she tucked the blankets over her shoulders and undressed herself. She lay her clothing by the dying embers of the fire, opting not to dry them with a charm, as it would affect her state of alertness. [/i][/font][/color]
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[font=gothic][color=crimson][I]She started as the black pendant clattered on to the floor, Vyrim following it a second later. His brigandine was in his hand, his tunic off, a strip pressed to his stomach, where dark blood was showing. Very dark blood. But that was probably natural. His weaponry wasn't evident, and he appeared less than happy, muttering something about how the bastards didn't do that after they had the ransor in them for a second time. It wasn't obvious which bastards he was talking about, or even if aforementioned bastard was a singular entity or multiple. He sat down, throwing his brigandine into the corner, and dropping most of his tunic, throwing the first strip into the corner after his brigandine, pressing a fresh piece against the wound. He sat for a long moment, apparently willing to wait the wound out. Raeven stood up, making sure to keep the blanket with her. Vyrim noticed, took in her clothing lying on the ground, and raised an eyebrow, looking perfectly unconcerned. She opened her mouth to speak, and he pointed at the amoire. She rooted around in it a while before finding the bandages. She walked over and knelt down in front of him, gently but firmly removing the hands he had pressed against his stomach.

The wound was not large, only three inches long, but appeared quite deep. It looked like it was a claw mark of some sort, though why only one claw would be there was unknown. The blood was a deep, deep grey, the flesh luminescent metallic silver, like his skin in daylight. Given the circumstances, Raven couldn't really tell if there was any putrification, but there no was swelling around the edges of the wound, so she assumed it clean. She efficiently doctored and bandaged him, much to his surprise. When she was finished, the bandages tied off tightly, he felt them amount before giving her a smile of gratitude. His first words though, were nothing of the sort.[/I]

Vyrim: You left didn't you.

Raeven: Yes. I am no prisoner here though.

Vyrim: Good thing I decided to continue the whole circuit rather than stop when I got this.

[I]There was a moment of awkward silence.[/I]

Vyrim: You have my thanks.

Raeven: You don't sound used to saying that.

Vyrim: I've lived here alone for decades. What do you expect? The few visitors I've had normally end up thanking me. So, where exactly did you go?

Raeven: I appropriated some of your weapons.

Vyrim: I should have known you'd use something a little more exotic than a sword and dagger. Don't worry about it, I have plenty to spare.

Raeven: I wasn't intending to. So, what exactly happened to you?

Vyrim: Well. I was in the process of chasing assorted little beasties out of one of the larger caves when a creature known as a Stirge decided to show up. [I]En masse[/I]. A stirge is a blood sucking insect, just one the size of a large bird. While I was in the process of dealing with them, another little friend of mine decided to show up. At least it scared all the stirges away. They only live in the caves by the way, so don't worry about them suddenly flying in at night. Anyway, this little friend of mine is a creature known as a vagrith. It's basically a very large mixture of a cat and a rhino. The sword I was using to beat off small annoying insects bounced right off it. So I did a bit of running away, and refound my ransor, which was stuck in another beast at the time. Took me a while to get out. Anyway, the vagrith was charging towards me, I had the ransor on the ground, the butt over a hole. As it got close, I stepped on the butt, the ransor went up, the creature went onto the ransor, the ransor dug into the ground....You think the thing is dead. But it backs off, leaving the ransor and a few major organs behind. And goes for me again. So I pick the pike up, and stab it again, this time in the heart. It wrenches sideways, the snaps its head back, doing that. Then it has the grace to die. Thankfully, after that, there were only a few pit traps to deal with, and most of the things caught couldn't climb.[/font][/color]
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[color=darkgreen][font=gothic][i]Raeven looked over his entire body, finding nothing but the wound she had dressed. Looking at him suspiciously, she decided not to go out on another expedition alone. In fact, she decided never to leave the room again.[/i]

Raeven: I know you have no choice, but I would appreciate not being left alone again unless I am strongly drugged.

Vyrim: From your mentions of the Palace, I would think you weren't afraid of the dark.

Raeven: Living at the palace for fifteen years made me terrified of the dark.

[i]Vyrim rearranged his lithe limbs in the chair, peering at her. [/i]

Vyrim: How old are you?

Raeven: I'm eighteen.

Vyrim: You look a lot older.

Raeven: I am, in a few ways.

Vyrim: Tell me more about this place.

[i]Raeven stood and turned her back on him, dropping the blanket so it hing down to her knees. Black, purple, red and silver scars networked her entire back, arms, buttocks and thighs in a seemingly purposeful pattern. It looked as if to say something. Raeven wrapped the blanket around her again tightly and sat back on the pallet.[/i]

Raeven: This was done to me during my stay. Training lasts for twenty years - from the age of three to the age of twenty three. They are markings of my levels of training, expertise, and together they form a word. Or, at least, they would, if it was finished.

Vryim: What would the completed word say?

Raeven: Warning. It's something akin to the bright patterns on dangerous frogs.

Vyrim: What?

Raeven: Nevermind. I don't want to talk about it any more.

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[font=gothic][color=crimson][I]Vyrim nodded, and let the matter rest. He sank down on the floot, sprawled out really, unconcerned. The wound didn't appear to be bothering him much at all. Raeven was looking at the wall, but didn't appear to be seeing it. She looked pained, and not by anything physical. Vyrim decided that leaving the matter alone until she chose to talk about it was the best course of action. He waited a few minutes before breaking the silence.[/I]

Vyrim: When I was a druid, we marked our progress through several things. Either the creatures we could defeat single handedly, the creatures we could dominate, the elements we could control, or life force we could manipulate. Unfortunately for the last one, certain people got a little...enthusiastic about manipulating other people's life force in varous ways. A lot of those other people being less than willing females who suddenly had a change of heart.

[I]Raeven gave a questioning look. Vyrim shook his head, and raised his hand, fingers splayed. He brought them together, then splayed them again. This time a stream of crackling silver lightning linked them at each knuckle.[/I]

Vyrim: Elements were my speciality. I was very specialised too. Which, unfortunately, led to a certain disagreement with the people who decided life force was fun to play with. A very hot and cold argument, one could say. It lead to a portion of the Great Tree suffering a fair bit of fire damage. Of course, the Archdruids were happy that I'd gotten rid of the miscreants, but burning the tree was unforgivable. It was their fault anyway. I just took the fall. Actually, they did fall as I remember. But that was a little more physical. We also had warnings, as a side not. Those who fought beasts wore necklaces of teeth and claw, one ambitious fellow I knew had a belt made of basilisk skin. As I remember, he used to punch people, and people fell over. But, he couldn't unflex his fingers for some strange reason.... Those who dominated creatures tended to be accompanied by them, which lead to some interesting fights. I saw a battle between a dire tiger and a naga once. Very interesting. Those of us who played with elements often had some kind of elemental ornament. Mine was this...

[I]Vyrim closed his eyes a second, and his long hair stood on end. He opened his eyes, and black lightning crackled up between the strands, moving upwards then disappating, reforming near his skull. It also danced over his skin, shooting from one body part to another if they got to close.[/I]

Vyrim: Impressive, no. I remember this dwarf who had a great connection with the earth. He was also, being a dwarf, quite short. He used to have the earth form stilts for him as he walked. So basically he walked along quite normally, and the earth rose up underneath him like liquid, then seamlessly slid back down behind him, without ever displacing anything. Right up until a half-elf jester who happened to be staying with us was doing some acrobatics, and performed a backflip. Our dwarf tried it, and would have succeeded, but as his feet came up over his head, two columns of earth came up, and his entire body was somehow squashed between those columns and his boots. The boots were later thrown off the side of the Great Tree, where they still sit, on top of a two several hundred metre pillars of earth. They were thrown off as a prank, and the archdruids left them there as a reminder of how stupid certain actions could be.

Raeven: And those who manipulated life force?

Vyrim: Simple. They walked into a room and suddenly you found yourself standing up an bowing. They all did it, and thought themselves incredibly funny and original each time. Except for this one archdruid, who reputedly walked into a class, and suddenly all the students were engaged in....making up. None of them ever admitted it of course, but the archdruid was heard to have commented on spring flowers a few too many times in relation to his class for it to be coincidence.

Raeven: I thought druidism was aobut serenity and unity with nature?

Vyrim: Sure, maybe once we're all roaring drunk. Druidism is really about mastering oneself through mastery of outside life, somehow. Don't ask me how it works, but apparently it does. The students there were as concerned with power struggles, social politics and pranks than as with mastery, but it turned out that the archdruids were inevitably better at pranks than they were. Then they taught the tricks used, and that's how the students were instructed. It was basically a very large school of how to annoy other people. It worked surprisingly well.[/font][/color]
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[color=darkgreen][font=gothic][i]Raeven seemed to relax a little, and lay back onto the bed. Her blanket was pulled off one shoulder, and she stared at it, and in particular, a fat little nasty scar on the bulb of her upper arm. It was black, old, smooth, and shaped like a leech. She stroked it and it crawled onto her finger.[/i]

Raeven: The palace teaches all kinds of things.

Vyrim: I can see. How to attatch nematodes to your skin, impressive.

Raeven: Ha ha. Everyone in our land did their training in the palace, all who couldn't find an excuse, anyway.

Vyrim: Oh? Interesting place it must have been.

Raeven: Indeed. Excuses for not attending Raikishi training usually came in the form of suicide. Me, however, I joined by choice.

Vyrim: So you had a choice?

Raeven: Oh yes, the gifted do whatever the hell they want. I wanted to be a gifted warrior - they're the type who actually survive Raikishi. Not many do. I wanted to be a survivor.

Vyrim: And you seemed to do quite well... three years training left, if I'm correct.

Raeven: You are. I started with eighteen thousand other people my age. At my level, this year, there were only one hundred and sixy left.

Vyrim: Why did you run away?

Raeven: I failed a test... my execution date had been set. That's why people don't survive - if they do to badly, or don't pass a test the second go, they are killed.

Vyrim: Seems a waste of people.

Raeven: Not really, I mean, it's what they fed us most the time.

[i]Vyrim snorted, unconvinced.[/i]

Raeven: They rule and train through fear. Push us to our limits to weed out the useless ones, scare us into near death by feeding the flesh of those who didn't make it -

Vyrim: I thought you said you didn't eat meat.

Raeven: I don't. I ate manflesh, and meat and manflesh have nothing to do with one another.

Vyrim:...whatever. Continue.

Raeven: So I was doing rather well, but after you reach a certain point in training, they don't give you second chances. And testing is constant - you are expected to act as a Raikishi warrior the whole time you are in residence. Which, basically, means you don't walk past someone until they're dead.

Vyrim: I can see how functional your society must have been.

Raeven: You fight until an elder pardons you. That could be in hours or days. I don't know how we did it, that period lasts for a week and then we take vows of abstinence, silence, respect, and lifegiving.
It was the last one I didn't cope with - it asks you to bare your neck for anyone above you, and your life is theirs to grant or take away. Symbolises some sh*t or the other. I don't know. I couldn't take it, I ran through the third elder I came across. He, of course, just pulled the cone out of his chest and granted my execution date.

Vyrim: Of course...

Raeven: What was I talking about? Oh, yeah... my running away. Actually, to tell you the truth, I wasn't very good. Just determined.

Vyrim: I don't know anything about what you're talking about, so you could be lying. But you were talking about your gift...?

Raeven: Oh yeah, they taught me some tricks. But basically they taught me how to fight, how to survive, and how to accept defeat.
But believe me, the things that come out of that place...

[i]Vyrim thought to cast some criticising comment, but Raeven had fallen fast asleep. Again. The slug was nowhere to be seen.[/i][/font][/color]
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[font=gothic][color=crimson][I]Vyrim looked at her, settling down slightly, eyes moving over her exposed skin. Memory moving over the exposed skin he had seen previously...

He cut that thought off, slightly uncomfortable with thinking about her body while she slept, and he sat there staring at her. It slipped back into his head anyway, and not just for the strange scars. He sat silent and brooding for a few minutes, then jumped to his feet, trying to clear his head through action. He walked outside onto the platform, leaping over the gap and following one of the walkways down to one of his storerooms, that held several pallets. He dragged one up, keeping an eye out for assorted creatures the entire time. A few wandered past, two glared up at him, but none of them could reach the high walkway, and they knew better than to try.

When he returned, Raeven was still asleep. He lofted the pallet across the chasm, and followed easily. When he took the pallet inside, he made sure to lay it as far from the other one as he could. Even so, the gap was still very small. Vyrim sighed at that and lay down, facing away from the sleeping Raeven with steadfast determination, and made himself lapse quickly into sleep, not difficult considering the morning, his wound, and the previous night. His dreams were pleasant, but not exactly quiet.[/font][/color][/i]
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[color=darkgreen][font=gothic][i]Raeven, although tired, slept lightly due to her previous nap. She found herself to be awoken in the middle of the night - or day, it was hard to tell in the weather. Sitting up, she found the adverse creature that happened to be her host to be fast asleep two feet away, breathing very heavily. Wondering if something was wrong, she stood quickly and peered over his form. Glancing down, she saw that there was nothing wrong at all, and blushed, quickly walking outside to cool her face. Knowing not much about his kind, this human... trait... disturbed her. She had only learnt of such... parts of the anatomy... through classes. Those classes had nothing to do with reproduction, however, but areas of attack focus. She had never seen anything like this, only... rumours.
According to her Mentor, Frieath, this thing was frequent for men who enjoyed fighting women.

Did Vyrim enjoy fighting women?, she wondered. It was best not to find out. Turning back into the room, having decided to leave at once, she saw Vyrim, awake, sitting up, and staring at her suspiciously. She then realised she was naked.

Feeling scared, threatened and upset her stay had all been a trap, she crouched into a defensive stance, calling her strength to her fingertips and feet. [/i][/font][/color]
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[font=gothic][color=crimson][I]Despite his earlier alien behaviour, Vyrim's reaction to her aggressive behaviour was something she could relate to. His hands shot up in a strange openhanded stance, one that held his left hand extended, elbow only slightly bent, his right hand palm upwards just under his left pectoral muscle. Without moving his hands, he drew his legs up and pushed himself to his feet, his eyes never leaving hers. His stance was low, easy and confident. He was obviously skilled in hand to hand combat. Surely he was no match for a trained Raikishi.

Raeven sprang forward, her nails scything for his eyes. Vyrim's feet didn't even twitch. His left hand angled in downwards, deflecting her strike, then folded back up in a backslap that caught her across the face. Surprised at his sudden speed, she missed him sliding forward, the ball of his right palm striking the centre of her collarbone. It was a move that bought space, not damage, and Raeven knew it, and knew Vyrim knew she knew it.[/I]

Vyrim: I'll not hurt you, unless you force me to.

[I]Raeven shook her head, uncertain. Vyrim took a small step forward, hands lowering. Raeven took it wrong, and kicked out, following it up with two fast strikes to the chest. Disabling on a normal opponent, merely annoying on one as practiced as Vyrim. He fell back, pushing his fingers into pressure points on his muscles to undo the paralysation she threatened them with. She snarled at him, and lunged again. This time, Vyrim was more than ready. His left arm pulled back, right crossing over it, then deflecting up. He caught her wrist and twisted her around, catching her other wrist with his left hand. He pushed her hard against the wall, pressing his body up against hers to eliminate any possible leverage she could gain. He stood there a long moment, breathely heavily in anger more then exhaustion, acutely aware of her. And again, he knew she knew just how away of her she was.

At last he stepped back, releasing her hands. She spun, moving to attack him, only to find him standing there with his arms folded behind his back, head bowed slightly. She hesitated, thinking it a ploy, and feinted. Vyrim didn't move. She grew a little bolder, and slashed at his face with her nails. It raked a bloody swathe along his cheek. Asiding the slight movement of his head, he didn't react. Raeven stepped back, confused. Vyrim looked up, and caught her eyes.[/I]

Vyrim: I will not hurt you.

[I]He turned, walked over to her pallet, and picked up the blanket, throwing it over his shoulder. She made a small, hesitant noise of thanks, and he waited a minute or two before turning around. He sat down on one of the chairs, face in his hand.[/I]

Vyrim: I apologise.[/font][/color]
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[color=darkgreen][font=gothic][i]Raeven's head was racing... he fought her, and he liked it, but didn't want to hurt her... nothing made sense. She reminded herself that she was no longer in the Palace, and things were done differently. [/i]

Raeven: What... why?

Vyrim: Why what.

Raeven: You enjoy fighting me?

Vyrim: No, I don't actually. I don't dislike it, really, but it's not something I enjoy.

Raeven: Then.... why?

[i]Vyrim took his hand away from his face and looked out the window. The wound on his cheek had gone. She didn't know if that was her fault or his. [/i]

Vyrim: I wake up and you're standing there, looking like you were going to leave, and when you see me, you act like I'm an enemy. I wanted to show you I'm not.

Raeven: Everyone is an enemy.

Vyrim: No, they are not. Look, you mind telling me what you were doing anyway?

Raeven: Leaving.

Vryim: Why?

Raeven: You woke me up. You were dreaming of fighting, when I saw you awake I was scared. People attack all the time, and they don't need a reason.

Vyrim: Why were you leaving?

Raeven: You.... I don't know. I don't understand. If there is doubt or apprehension, about anything, cancel and withdraw... make the fight on your terms.

Vyrim: Fight? What fight? You're insane.

[i]Raeven seemed to know the meaning of that word all too well, and her pupils flared. She sat down heavily on the chair beside her and went limp. A tear ran down her face.[/i]

Raeven: I know. I am sorry, it is not my fault.

[i]Vyrim, too puzzled to speak, simply stood and walked over to her. Reaching to her, he struck at her temple. She passed out immediately and slumpt to the floor, hitting her head rather hard on the stove on the way down. Frowning slightly, Vyrim picked her up and lay her back in bed, swathing her in blankets once again. As he stood to go back to bed, she awoke and grasped his arm, holding it tightly. She closed her eyes again and fell back into slumber, but didn't let go. After a few minutes Vyrim's ankles started to suffer. Sighing angrily, he climbed into bed with her and rolled her onto her back. her body was excrutiatingly cold to touch, and Vyrim found sleep to be a long way off.[/i][/color][/font]
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[font=gothic][color=crimson][I]Dreaming of fighting? What was she talking about....oh. Vyrim understood, and decided that that kind of behaviour would be the kind of thing he would likely do something about if he ever came across. If he could get the location of this palace out of her eventually, perhaps he'd pay them a small visit, and show them how a druidic member of his race could get very, very annoyed. And nasty. For now though...

Raeven shifted slightly, and Vyrim gasped. She was freezing, and the blankets didn't seem to be helping. He rolled her onto her side, facing away from him, and moved in close behind her, wrapping his arms against the safe point of her stomach. He let fire run through him, slowly warming himself and the bed around them. She slowly started to lose her deathly chill. When he moved back slightly, she even moved backwards to remain close to him. She started shaking, and not from the cold. Suddenly, she rolled over, instinctively wrapping her arms around him, and weeping into his shoulder. He held her tightly, absently running his fingers over her scarred back. How strange that she should be so rough, and his skin abnormally smooth. He thought nothing of her body as she pressed against him, only of her grief. Her back warmed under his flame touched fingers, ands he slowly quietened. He pulled his head away from hers slightly, looking into her eyes. One hand came up, and he lightly brushed the back of his fingers over her cheek. Her eyes widened slightly, she obviously had no idea what he was doing. She became even more confused when he gave her a slight smile and whispered for her to go to sleep. He leant forward, and lightly touched his black lips to her pale skin. She looked up at him, her eyes wide and lost, then they slowly closed, as she went into a deep, normal sleep, her arms tightly around his torso.[/font][/color][/I]
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[color=darkgreen][font=gothic][i]Raeven awoke feeling refreshed and content. The fog had dissipated in the night, and the forest was wet and glistening in the morning light. She had no idea how long she had slept for.

Looking around, Vyrim was nowhere to be seen. She stood and dressed herself lightly in a black sleeveless shirt and loose, black pants. Tying her hair up in a bun, she stretched for a while in a ray of warm sunlight, reaching back whilst standing and grabbing hold of her ankles. That done, and a few other basic stretches and exercises completed, she walked out of a doorway to a platform overlooking a sheer drop, and sat down to meditate. The weapons she found the night before were strapped tightly to her thighs, and clanked lightly on the wooden flooring.

Her mind settling, she pulled her consciousness down her throat and into the pit fo her stomach. Straightening her back, she sat motionless for an indeterminable amount of time, the blood slowly draining out of her head and making her feel light. It was a short while before she felt she was floating off the ground - she probably was. No one had been able to tell her about it, though. The feeling was nice.

Listening to the forest around her, she navigated around the swirling leaves and songbirds, thousands of insects and countless more undescribable creatures and objects in this foreign land. For once in her memory, she was calm, relaxed, and contented.

The last vital drop of blood trickled into her legs and she lost consciousness, collapsing to the side in an excrutiatingly contented heap. A favorite pasttime of hers.[/i][/font][/color]
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[font=gothic][color=crimson][I]Vyrim returned sometime later, after his daily rounds of making large nasty things go away. When he found Raeven in a heap on the floor, he was somewhat concerned, but a quick check revealed she was merely unconscious. He'd work on why later. He picked her up and layed her on the bed, noting the smile on her face. She made a slight noise as he set her down, almost a scraping. Then something struck him hard from behind.

He stumbled forward, nearly tripping over Raeven's inert body. Currently unarmed, he spun anyway, to find himself facing one of the rarer creatures of the place. Somewhat insectoid, it was only about five feet tall, with clear membraneous wings protruding out of a chitinous carapace. It was black and green, long green lines down its flanks. The idea of warnings on frogs suddenly jumped into Vyrim's mind. The things arms, all three of them, had a hard, calloused edge that would easily break bone. A long winding tail whipped around behind it. Vyrim needed a weapon.

He inched back, running into Raeven's body again. His heel hit something slightly harder than he expected, and he remembered Raeven appropriating some of his weapons. Without taking his eyes off the creature, he reached down, fumbled around for a while, and pulled out a long dagger. Raeven's eyes opened, wide with indignation. She struck out without thinking, hitting Vyrim's legs. Vyrim fell, fending off a wild strike from the creature. Raeven finally noticed, and threw Vyrim off her. Vyrim hit the wall, wondering exactly how this could happen to him.[/font][/color][/I]
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[color=darkgreen][font=gothic][i]Raeven took a hard look at the creature for a second - this would be the first time she'd ever fought something that wasn't human. Reaching to her legs, she remembered her weapons had been appropriated. Or at least, one of them. Bringing it out, she sidestepped until the creature was between her and the door, waving it's arms around and generally looking stupid. It was faced half between her and Vyrim, who was in the process of sitting up and conjuring some nasty looking magic. Not wanting him to beat her to it, she turned her back and stood in front of the iron stove. The creature, seeing her back, advanced. Raeven placed her hands on the rim of the stove and jumped, holding on. Partially inverting her body, legs folded, she kicked outwards powerfully and connected with the thing's head - she watched from under her form.
Although it's head nearly snapped off, it seemed unharmed. She landed well and spun quickly, finding herself cornered in. Swearing, she chucked the weapon she still held into her right hand and slapped the creature hard in the face, driving the blade into what should have been it's soft underbelly at the same time. Unfortunately, evolution had taken it's course, and the underbelly was anything but soft. The blade clinked, and slid off. The creature was annoyed at the light slap.
Raeven darted under it's left lower quartile and spun, taking a look at the back of it while it manouvered itself to face her again. The body, although armoured, was flexible - the joints where the parts to attack. The thing lunged at her, hissing, grabbing at her face. She leant back and drove the weapon into the base of it's neck, giving it a deep wound. As it grabbed at her attack, she withdrew slightly and hacked off the hand that was going for her. A shrill scream erupted into the air and the powerful legs of the creature contracted, it's body angling to strike again. Raeven dropped to the floor in a crouch and bit hard into the bent knee, a surprisingly leathery but soft area of the body. It tasted rather good.
It's lunge foiled, the thing took the opportunity to knee her in the face, but Raeven rolled back on her feet and the strength of the blow only pulled at her neck as it bent. She dug her teeth in deeper and hit a tendon. Time to let go.
Slowly releasing the knee, she realised why it had not been raining blows upon her from above - Vyrim was wrestling with it's arms, which all seemed to be lacking in feet. Using this as a destraction, she leant forward again and, using the pointed section of the weapon, drove it in beween it's legs. It flinched, but did nothing. [/i][/font][/color]
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