The moon had set, and the sun hadn’t yet risen. The world bathed in the dark blue wash of twilight. The chill of the spring air pierced like a knife. I had been awake for nearly an hour. I had already gone through my katas, and now I sat on my knees in the centre of the small room waiting for Wyanet to wake. My hands sat folded in my lap. I took a deep breath through my nose, filling my lungs, then slowly let the air escape through my mouth.
A wave of darkness rushed over my tranquillity and I stood on the shore of a small lake close to where I spent my childhood. The air was hot and sticky. The sun scorched flesh without mercy.
“I didn’t expect to find you here,” A voice as deep as the ocean and more beautiful than a harp said from the trees.
I didn’t reply.
I stepped through the sand, almost losing my sandals. I placed my hand on the surface of the lake, sending ripples across its placid surface. The water was cool, and begged me to dive into it face first. I looked up from the water. On the opposite side of the lake sat a tiger as white as snow with stripes the colour of blood. It had emerged from the forest and come down to the water’s edge.
The tiger lowered his head and lapped at the water. He never took his eyes off of me. The ripples from the tiger’s tongue met the ripples from my hand and tossed the surface of the lake. He beckoned me to him without speaking. I strode into the lake. Before long the water rose up to my chest. The mud on the lake bed sucked at my feet, begging me to stop.
The sun hid itself behind angry grey clouds. The lake surface before me had started to freeze over. The heavy warmth of the air was gone, and massive snowflakes drifted down. The vibrant summer foliage of the trees vanished, leaving only frigid skeletons in their place.
My mind screamed for me to go back. I pressed onward. The tiger grinned.
A blinding flash of light cut through the clouds, banishing the cold. “He is not yet ready to learn your truth!” A woman declared, her voice sweet like honey and comforting like a mother’s embrace.
My head got pulled under the water, I gasped for air.
I opened my eyes. Wyanet stood in front of me with an empty water bowl in her hands. She had already bound her chest and braided her hair. Icy water ran down my face and dripped off my chin. It was still twilight but the horizon had started to glow with the threat of morning.
“We need to leave.”
Wyanet set down the water bowl and tossed me a towel that I snatched out of the air.
“We’re skipping our bill again?” I inquired.
Wyanet finished stuffing a rucksack, pulled on a simple white shirt and strapped on her leather breastplate. She looked at me and sighed. “Yes, but when we get paid, we are going to come back and settle our debt.”
I pulled on my shirt and tightened my sash. “We’ll need to avoid Ineni.” Wyanet handed me my sword which I tucked into my sash and covered it with a black travelling cloak.
“How are we going to do that?”
I looked out the window to the muddy ground thirty feet below. “Are you afraid of heights?” I asked.
“No, why?” Wyanet replied.
I turned away from the window. “Do you trust me?”
Wyanet gave me a worried look, “Why do we not go out the front door?”
“Ineni is more than likely already awake and working in the tap room. This is the only way.”
Several seconds passed every one of them excruciating. “I trust you.”
“Good, then you’ll need to do exactly as I say.” I grabbed Wyanet’s spear and threw it through the open window. It sliced through the air and buried itself in the middle of the road. “Next, I’ll jump. When I land, toss down the other gear. Then you jump and I’ll catch you.” I climbed onto the window sill and pushed off.
The wind whipped my hair and cloak about. At the last second, my training took over. My feet squished into the ground, I shifted my momentum, and rolled forward onto my shoulders. I was back on my feet a second later. I pivoted around and caught Wyanet’s Rucksack and shield as they tumbled through the air. I placed the rucksack on the ground beside me and braced to catch Wyanet. She had climbed into the window and clumsily pushed off the sill. Wyanet flew as well as a chicken.
I rushed forward and caught Wyanet before she hit the ground. She collided with me like a stone thrown from a catapult. We both tumbled to the ground. I gasped for air as what I had was forcibly removed from my lungs by a 120-pound woman using me as a breakfall. There was a laugh from the shadows beside the tavern. Wyanet pushed off my chest driving me deeper into the mud, and sprinted to retrieve her spear. I scrambled to my feet and got in a low defensive stance.
“That was a pretty amazing show.” Kalista’s nasally voice half whispered as she detached herself from the shadows. “I’ve skipped out of Ineni’s before, but I’ve never jumped from a third-floor window.” Kalista came close enough for us to clearly see her. Instead of the scandalously low cut shirt, she had been wearing the night before, she now wore a dark green tunic that hugged every curve of her body. On top of that, she had on a dark leather gambeson that, when synched up, would be just as tight as the tunic. Kalista’s entire head, with the exception of her eyes, was wrapped up in a dark green hood and muffler.
“We are going to come back and pay,” Wyanet replied, still tense.
Kalista pulled down her muffler. “Don’t worry about it, darling. I owe Ineni at least a hundred dragons, and that’s just from the winter. He can’t make you pay.” Kalista pulled her muffler back into place. “Let’s get going. There is an angry farmer looking for a sexually devious Tiefling who had sex with his daughter last night.” Kalista brushed past us. Wyanet gave me an annoyed look. I shrugged my shoulders.
We walked through the town in silence. When we entered the forest, the sun had started to crest over the horizon and cast long shadows. We continued on in silence for another hour, birdsong keeping us company.
“How much did old Clas hook you for?” Kalista asked as she pulled her hood and muffler down.
“Who is Clas?” Wyanet responded.
Kalista stopped dead in her tracks and stared at us in disbelief. “How do you not know who you are working for?”
“He never gave us his name,” Wyanet said.
“We don’t actually even know where we are,” I added.
“Merde!” Kalista exclaimed. “How do you not know where you are?”
“We’ve been on the road since we met. We don’t stay in one place for too long.” I answered.
“We avoid the paths that the colonizers make. It is faster and avoids their settlements.”
“Anyway,” Kalista insisted, “how much are you being paid?”
“Fifty dragons.” Wyanet interjected, “We should keep moving.”
Kalista let out a long whistle. “Old Clas must be getting desperate. He only offered the Elf girl twenty-five.” We started hiking again. “That’s a tidy sum. What are you going to do with it?”
“I don’t know. I guess we’ll pay Ineni, but after that.” I shrugged, “We haven’t really thought that far ahead.”
“You’re welcome to spend it drinking with me, eh?” Kalista winked at Wyanet.
We fell back into silence and continued to hike until noon. We stopped in the shade of an oak tree and sat down for lunch. Wyanet pulled a loaf of hard crusty bread, some chunks of elk jerky, and a few handfuls of dried berries out of a small pouch that hung from her rucksack. Wyanet offered some of the food to everyone. Kalista threw off her gambeson and plopped down excitedly producing a deck of playing cards. A massive grin split her face.
“Let’s play a game while we eat.” Kalista shuffled the cards and fanned them out to Wyanet and I. “Everyone draws a card. The person with the highest value card loses, and they have to tell a story based on the suit of the card; If you draw a heart, you tell of love, a diamond for a story of fortune, clubs for a story of victory, and spades for a story of loss.”
Wyanet and I gave each other reserved looks, then each drew a card. Kalista drew a card for herself and set the rest of the deck aside.
“On the count of three, reveal your cards.” Kalista smiled like a little girl. “One…”
We all held our cards close to our chests.
Kalista’s dark eyes flickered with mischievous intent.
We held out our cards. Kalista held a two of clubs. I had the seven of spades, and Wyanet held the queen of hearts.
The story will continue, April 18th
Written by: Sweeney
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