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    One of the Good Ones

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    One of the Good Ones

    Post by tuck on 07/06/12, 08:50 pm

    Kallista watched the sun slipping down towards the horizon and felt her heart sinking in her chest. She’d been walking down this dirt road since sunup, having outstayed her welcome at the farmer’s barn she’d been living in for the past week. They had told her that the next town was only a few miles down the road, but after walking for the entire day with no food or water, she had yet to see any sign of the settlement. Whether she had taken a wrong turn, or simply been misled by the shifting terrain, she couldn’t be sure, but she knew that something was wrong, and now it was getting dark.

    To make things worse, she had a feeling that the road she was on was one of the lesser used routes, as she had only seen a handful of travels all day, all of whom had eyed her horns and pink skin suspiciously before giving her a wide berth without stopping to acknowledge her.

    She had been far too intimidated by them to try asking for directions.

    As the night slowly fell on the forested wilderness she grew increasingly anxious. Being out after dark in the shifting woods was never a good idea, especially alone, but there was nothing to do but keep walking. At this point, it was far too late to turn back, and there was nowhere safe to find shelter; she didn’t even have any way of starting a fire.

    She continued on, keeping her hand on the hilt of her sword. At least she still had that comfort, not that it would do her much good against most of the things that lived in the shifting lands.

    Finally, as she rounded a bend in the road, Kallista’s cat-like eyes picked out two faint points of yellowish light in the gloom ahead and she sighed with relief, managing to channel a bit more speed into her aching feet as she headed towards them.

    As the lights got closer, however, she saw that there was something strange about them. They were faint and steady, not flickering like the torches or candles of a village would be, and they seemed to be moving, coming towards her at a steady, bobbing pace. She wondered if it might be mage light or some other spell cast by a fellow stranded traveller heading towards her, but something felt wrong about that, too. As they came within a few dozen yards, she could see that the orbs were not being carried by anyone or anything. They were merely bobbing along, almost as if they were being blown upon the chilly night wind.

    She quickly drew her sword and moved to the treeline, suddenly not wanting a closer look at the ghost-lights, but also not willing to leave the relative safety of the path. The lights, however, continued moving at the same steady pace, advancing quickly on her location. As they came upon her position she could see that they were heading directly for her, despite her best attempts at hiding. Seeing the futility of her attempt to obfuscate, she stepped out of the treeline, sword held at the ready.

    The two glimmering orbs stopped a few feet in front of her and casually bobbed in place, as though they were examining her, trying to decide upon... something. Slowly they encircled her, one on either side.

    “What are you?” she asked astoundedly.

    Kallista’s eyes darted back and forth from one orb to the other, her heart racing in her chest. The orbs didn’t seem immediately aggressive, but they also seemed keenly interested in her. Finally, one of the orbs started to shine slightly brighter and Kallista felt a tingling in the back of her mind. It was a sensation unlike any she had ever felt, as though wispy fingers were tracing their way through her thoughts, caressing her innermost memories and dreams.

    “Are you... what are you doing? Is that...” she started, but her words were cut off abruptly as the fingers in her mind clenched suddenly shut in an iron, vice-like grip, plunging her into an abyss of agony.

    She screamed in pain and lunged forward instinctively, her sword slicing straight through the glowing orb, but the metal seemed to have not even the slightest effect on the creature, and within moments both orbs were flashing a bright yellow as her mind exploded over and over again in a roiling mass of pain.

    Kallista screamed again and swung wildly, but her aim was being affected by the mental assault, and even the few slashes that connected seemed to pass through the orbs without doing much, if any, damage.

    Finally, Kallista’s mind was unable to handle the constant barrage of psychic lashes, and she fell gracelessly to the hard ground. As she slipped into unconsciousness, the last sound she heard was a shout, but in her tortured state, she couldn’t even discern whether or not it was her own.

    -----------------------------------------------------

    Kallista awoke with a start to a bright yellow light near her face. She cried out, instinctively reaching for her sword, but unable to find it. In a moment of blind panic she shot up to a sitting position and immediately regretted it as a firework display erupted behind her eyelids, sending shockwaves of pain through her head as she fell back to the ground.

    “Shhhh...” a nearby voice said, “It’s ok... you’re safe.”
    A cool hand pressed against her forehead and she felt a gentle, calming energy radiate through her body. She grimaced as the pain began to recede and hesitantly opened her eyes.

    Sitting next to her was a tall man, or what she assumed was a man. His features were somewhat obscured in the flickering light of the nearby fire. He held her head gently as she caught her breath.

    “You had a close call”, he said after a moment, his voice slightly gravelly and worn with travel, but still gentle, “I barely got to you in time. Those things were about to finish you off.”

    She reached up slowly and put her hand over his, feeling the callouses on his fingers, the coolness of his skin.

    “What... what were they?” she asked hoarsely.

    “Fell Taint Wisps” he replied, “Dreadful things. Normal weapons barely hurt them. Very dangerous to lone travelers. You’re lucky to be alive. Someone is watching out for you, girl. Lady Luck was good enough to send me to your aid just in the nick of time. Fortunately those wisps are vulnerable to psychic damage, otherwise I may not have been able to drive them off.”

    The stranger leaned back slightly and the firelight revealed a lean face, worn and stubbly from days of travel, but with a boyish charm underneath it. He was a human, or at least he looked it, and he couldn’t have been more than twenty five, though he sounded older. Underneath his hood, pale golden hair framed his ruddy features.

    “Lady Luck?” Kallista asked, still somewhat dazed.

    “Avandra.” he replied with a smile, “It’s what my order calls her. She watches over us all from afar. She sets us to our destinies and guides our steps.”

    “Avandra...” Kallista said, nodding slowly. That name she knew.

    “Rest now.” the stranger said, “There’ll be time for questions in the morning. The fire will keep away most of the creatures around here, and I’ll stand watch for the rest.”

    Kallista wanted to object. She didn’t want yet another person risking their life for her, especially one who had already saved her once, but she had barely opened her mouth before he placed a finger gently on her lips.

    “No arguing.” he said, firmly, “You need rest. You’re no good to anyone in this state. Doctor’s orders.”

    Despite her hesitancy, Kallista found herself slipping quickly back into unconsciousness as the fatigue and stress of the day overtook her. The warmth of the fire held her in its embrace and within moments she was falling into a deep, dreamless sleep.

    ------------------------------------

    When she again opened her eyes, the first thing she saw was the sun, already well above the horizon. She looked around and saw the smoldering remains of the campfire, but no sign of the stranger who had rescued her, save for an old, beat-up backpack and the tattered bedroll that she was laying on. She sat up carefully, but the pain in her head was gone and she felt rested and refreshed.

    She got up quietly and made her way to the backpack, where she found her sword lying on a nearby rock. It had been cleaned, oiled, and sharpened, and she picked it up carefully, as though it might bite her. After a moment she slid it back into its sheath and sighed, unsure what to do now.

    She turned her attention to the backpack, hoping to find out more about her mysterious benefactor. It was made of rough leather and decorated with several coins, all of them punched with holes and strung onto its surface with wire like scales. Opening the flap she peered inside, but found only a few basic supplies. Flint and tinder, a whetstone, rope, fish-hooks, various other odds and ends, and a dog-eared copy of a book called “Treatises on the Lady of Fortune”.

    She pulled the book out and opened it, but before she could start reading she heard a rustling in the brush nearby and she quickly shoved it back into the pack, flipping the lid shut.

    “Didn’t anyone ever tell you it’s rude to snoop?” the stranger’s voice said as she whirled around to see him emerging from the woods with a small basket in one hand and a freshly skinned rabbit in the other. He wore loose traveling clothes over light chainmail armor and a thick green cloak to keep out the cold and the dew. On his hip hung a large canteen and a longsword in a well-oiled scabbard. A small shield was strapped across his back, and around his neck hung another small coin on a leather strap. It was decorated with three horizontal wavy lines.

    “I’m sorry” she said, unsure what else to do.

    He laughed. It was a light chuckle that seemed to come easy to him.

    “Don’t worry about it. There’s nothing in there I wouldn’t want anyone to see. As they say, my life is an open book. And not a very interesting one at that.”

    He set the basket down and picked up a nearby charred stick, using it to stoke the embers of the fire and feeding it a few dry twigs. Kallista saw that the basket contained an assortment of wild berries, freshly picked.

    “I was beginning to think you’d sleep the whole day away” he said casually as he resurrected the dying flames, “You were really out of it last night.”

    Kallista stood awkwardly, not really certain what was expected of her.

    “Thank you.” she said, finally, “For saving me, I mean. And for watching over me last night.”

    “Not a problem” the man said with an easy smile, “I would have done the same for anyone, much less a beautiful young woman like yourself. My name is Damun, by the way. Damun Holdt. What’s yours?”

    “Kallista...” she said, but caught herself before giving her surname. She knew her people were reviled throughout these parts, and she didn’t know if the Sinsinger name might bring more trouble for her.

    “Ummm.... just Kallista.”

    “Well, Just Kallista” Damun said with a smirk as he laid out the skinned and gutted rabbit on a hot, flat rock to cook, “What were you doing walking the road alone after nightfall? Not that I should talk really, but at least I have stupidity and gallantry as an excuse.”

    “I was on my way to a village near here. Treva, I think it’s called. Some farmers told me it was this way, but I think I got lost.”

    Damun laughed as he wiped his hands and stood up.

    “You sure did. Treva is about half a day’s travel Northeast of here. Or at least it usually is. The paths in this area aren’t always reliable. They change more or less at will. I can’t believe they would have sent you out alone without knowing the area.”

    Kallista shrugged.

    “They weren’t really... very happy with me. There was an incident with a barn.”

    Damun laughed yet again.

    “You’ll have to tell me all about it. For now, though, you should eat. There’s berries over there and the meat will be ready soon.”

    Kallista nodded and hesitantly grabbed a handful of berries, sitting down opposite her host near the fire.

    “Why did you help me?” she asked after a few moments.

    Damun raised an eyebrow.

    “What do you mean?”

    She shrugged.

    “I mean... why risk your life for me? You don’t even know me. I’m not of any value to you.”

    Damun looked genuinely confused.

    “Well... because that’s what people do. We help each other. Or at least, it’s what good people do. The ones who care.”

    Kallista nodded.

    “And you’re one of the good ones?”

    Damun smiled.

    “I like to think so. I’m a priest. A cleric of the Order of the Lady. We’re a small sect, but we move around a lot. We go out on the road and help others who need help.”

    “That sounds dangerous.” Kallista said, munching on a sweet and slightly sour blueberry.

    Damun shrugged.

    “It can be. We try not to be stupid about it. All of us are trained in survival and combat, just in case. As we like to say, ‘Trust in the Lady, but keep your sword sharp.’”

    He patted the longsword hanging at his belt to emphasize his point.

    “Speaking of which”, Kallista said, “Thank you for taking care of my sword as well.”

    Damun merely smiled at her as he used the stick to turn the rabbit over so it would cook evenly.

    “Where are you heading?” she asked.

    “Right now?” he said, “Anywhere, really. As I said, we wander from town to town, trying to do what we can to help people. I just left Highmark a few days back. Very strange place. Crowded. Noisy. I prefer the open country, myself, even if it is much more dangerous. Although, truth be told the city hides just as many dangers behind its facade.”

    “I’ve never been there.” Kallista said.

    “Oh, you really should sometime. It’s worth seeing at least. Just be careful. Keep your wits about you, especially in the lower districts. It can get kind of rough at times.”

    “Maybe I will someday.” she said, nodding somewhat absently.

    “If I may inquire” he asked pleasantly, “What awaits you in Treva?”

    Kallista thought for a moment.

    “Nothing.” she said, finally, “Nothing at all.”

    Damun paused from poking at the coals and looked up at her with a concerned expression.

    “Would you...” Kallista began, “Could I come with you?”

    Once again, Damun raised a puzzled eyebrow at the tiefling.

    “With me? You barely know me. I don’t even know where I’m going.”

    “Neither do I” Kallista said with a shrug.

    Damun smiled.


    -----------------------------------------------------------


    The pair of travellers arrived at the nearest town, a tiny hamlet named Orange about an hour before dusk. It was a settlement, though, and that meant it was safer than the open road. It even had what passed for an inn. Damun talked with the innkeeper for a few minutes while Kallista gazed in wonderment at the interior of the establishment. It was a small, simple place, made mostly of logs and brick, but it was the first she had ever been in, and she watched with interest the various patrons who were sitting at tables and couches drinking ale and playing cards.

    Damun returned shortly with a smile on his face - he always seemed to have a smile on his face - and informed her that he’d managed to get them a room for the night.

    “I don’t usually stay at inns. Barns and temples are free, and readily available, but I thought you could do with a real bed tonight.”

    Kallista nodded.

    “Thank you again”, she said, “I’ll pay you back. Somehow.”

    Damun simply waved her comment aside.

    “Nonsense. The innkeeper’s son has a broken arm. I told him I would heal him in exchange for a room for the night. I would have done it for free anyway, of course, but he doesn’t have to know that.”

    Kallista grinned. Damun looked astonished.

    “Why I do believe you just smiled! Will wonders never cease?”

    Kallista laughed lightly.

    “Yes, I can smile”, she said, “I just haven’t had much reason to lately, I suppose. Besides, you smile enough for the two of us.”

    Damun laughed.

    “I have been accused of being irrepressibly jolly at times, but I find there’s always some reason to smile. Even if it’s just that I’m still alive.”

    -------------------------------------------------------

    The rest of the evening passed uneventfully as Damun quickly and efficiently went about splinting and healing the innkeeper’s son's arm before retiring upstairs with his companion. The room was small, but it had two beds and a fireplace stocked with wood. Soon they had both turned in for the night and in a few minutes Damun was snoring lightly in his bed.

    Kallista, however, could not fall asleep so easily. Ever since leaving Bael Hexott she’d had difficulty sleeping, and tonight was no exception. She lay in bed, her first real bed in weeks, and stared at the wooden rafters of the room, pondering.

    Damun had yet to ask her anything about her past. As far as he was concerned she was a person in need, and that was enough. Her past didn’t seem to matter to him. That suited her fine, for the moment, but she knew that if she kept travelling with him she would need to tell him something eventually. If she stayed, she’d have to tell him the truth.

    He deserved it, she thought. He was kind to her. He had saved her life and asked nothing in return. That was not something she had ever really encountered before. In Bael Hexott, if someone saved you, you owed them.

    Besides all of that, her very presence put him in danger. It was only a matter of time before her father came looking for her.

    Quietly, she pulled aside the covers of the bed and put her feet on the cold wooden floor, moving silently across the room to where he lay sleeping. Slowly she crawled onto the bed, moving herself on top of him.

    He stirred beneath her, his eyes blinking open blearily.

    “Wha...” he murmured, “Kallista? Are you...”

    “I’m fine”, she said softly, leaning down to press her lips to his. She felt him resist at first, but soon his lips parted and their tongues intertwined. For a moment they stayed locked in an embrace before he gently began pushing her away.

    She looked into his eyes and saw confusion, but also need. Hunger.

    “What are you doing?” he asked.

    “Repaying you.” she said simply, running her hands along his bare chest.

    “Stop”, he said, “You don’t have to....”

    “I want to.”

    Her hand moved lower, trailing along his stomach, and then lower still, feeling the bulge rising in his sleeping shorts.

    “Kallista...” he began, but she placed her other finger softly over his lips, cutting him off.

    “Shhh...” she purred gently, “Just lie back. Doctor’s orders.”

    Damun wanted to protest further. He wanted to tell her that as much as he wanted this, it wasn't fair to her. She didn't have to do this. But he found that he couldn’t seem to concentrate with what she was doing to him. The words simply wouldn’t form in his throat.

    “Avandra help me...” he whispered, and then he surrendered to her caresses.

    --------------------------------------------

    When he awoke in the morning, Damun saw through the open window that it was already midmorning. He thought back to the events of the previous evening and smiled tiredly, reaching over to put his arm around Kallista, but finding the bed beside him empty.

    He sat up quickly and peered around at the room, which looked even shoddier in the bright morning light. There was no sign of her. He dressed quickly and headed downstairs, looking hastily around the common room, but still not finding her.

    “Have you seen my companion?”, he asked the innkeeper, “Tall, red skinned-girl? Horns? Tail?”

    “Oh, yes sir.” he said with a smile, “She left not an hour ago. Told me to give you this.”

    He handed him a small sheet of paper folded in half. When Damun opened it, he felt his heart sink.

    I’m sorry, it said, simply, You deserve better.

    He sighed and sat down at the tavern bar, holding his head in his hand.

    “Shit”, he muttered.

    Somehow, he no longer found it quite as easy to smile.

      Current date/time is 18/11/17, 07:54 pm