A loud crashing chased her through the woods. The silver-haired archer ran for her life. She did not waste her time in turning to see what chased her. Her willow bow strung across her back with her quiver. They hit her hard in the back with every sprinting step she took. She ignored the pain and ran until she spotted a subtle change in the landscape. She wasted no time in quickly darting towards the odd colored grass. She slid on her knees and scraped it back, panting heavily. She lifted the heavy wooden trap door. She jumped down into the lit shelter, letting the door slam above her. She landed on her feet from the six foot drop. She could hear the monsters angry blood curdling screeches and wails as it clawed at the door above her. She stood watching the dirt fall through small cracks in the thick wood as the door held up to the monster's vicious clawing. Soon it fell quiet and she heard the monster lumber away, giving up on its prey. She released the breath she had been holding and walked over to a small round oak table sitting on the dirt floor in the middle of the burrow. She slung off her bow and her quiver. She looked back and saw a small wooden ladder that had been kicked down from the last person to stay here. She looked at her arrows, noticing a couple of them had lost their fletching on her mad dash. She pulled her long hip-length silver hair over her right shoulder as her bangs fell over her left. A silver bar with two pointed caps was pierced through her right eyebrow. She turned to go strike a fire in the fire pit. Sitting by the dug-out dent in the ground was a quartz rock and a steel striker.
"Perfect," She muttered, her smooth voice was marked by a dark undertone as memories flashed through her mind. She sat there thinking as she always did as the flames sparkled in her silver eyes. She knew why she was doing this, all the wandering she did. She knew she would never be able to settle in any place. She knew she would never be able to rise to any sort of status, despite her wisdom and strength. The monster that chased her into this burrow was not the first one she had encountered, and she would be damned if she would ever be felled at the hands of one of them. She despised those creatures, she tracked where she encounters them, trying to piece together where their master was, and how she could destroy all of them as well as their dark master who had already caused her so much pain in her short life.
She pulled, from a pocket in the breast of her leather vest, a small leather book and pen. She wrote down the information about her latest encounter, along with a few other notes about her day. She heard a small rustling from inside the cave. She turned slowly as she prepared to lunge for her bow. She saw two small eyes glittering in the shadows. Slowly a small stray dog crawled closer hesitantly. It was a white and grey husky with sparkling blue eyes. She put down her book and reached into a small pouch around her waist and pulled out a few squares of cooked meat from her hunt today. She tossed one to the dog, of which he gobbled down earnestly. He perked up his ears and stood up a little straighter. She could tell this dog had probably been abandoned here by its owner. He was thin, his coat was raggedy, and he was short on affection. He was tall for a husky, she estimated him to weigh around eighty-five pounds. He walked over to her and sniffed her outstretched hand and then licked her face, sitting close to her and enjoying the heat of the fire. She smiled slightly. She did not take too kindly to humans of any kind, but animals, especially dogs, were a different story altogether. She kissed his nose and he whimpered with apparent happiness.
"What, your master abandoned you?" She questioned him. His perked ears swiveled back and he lowered his head. She rubbed between his ears. "I won't let you stay here," She said softly as she stretched out in front of the fire. The dog curled up beside her, snuggling up against her back. She smiled as she started to doze off. "Dean," she said suddenly. The dog lifted his head and barked. "Your name," she said, rolling over and petting his head. Dean licked her face and curled back up. She wrapped an arm around him and his comforting presence soon lulled her into sleep.
She awoke the next morning to see a sliver of light filtering in through the door in the ceiling. She quickly remembered Dean as he lifted his head and stared at her with warm grey eyes expectantly. She chuckled to herself.
"Don't look at me like that, I am not your master," she said, petting between his ears. He whimpered and licked her face. She sighed. "Dean, please I will get you out of here but you will have to go on your own." She said, trying to convince herself as she looked into his big watery pale blue eyes. His fuzzy pricked ears slowly flattened and he whimpered again. She sighed, standing, trying to avoid his pleading sweet eyes. She slung her quiver and bow across her back and flattened the ashes in the fire pit. She walked over and picked up the ladder and leaned it up to the wall. She climbed up the ladder and lifted the door, turning and seeing Dean carefully stepping up the slanted ladder steps and making his way up behind her. She crawled out and Dean gracefully jumped out behind her. She closed the door behind her and gave a quick look around. Dean looked up at her, his bushy curved tail wagging slowly. She headed off towards the east, the dog at her side.
"Okay, you can hang around, just keep quiet, I need to hunt if you want to eat, okay?" She said, rubbing between his ears. The two traveled in silence through the unmarked forest for a couple of hours. She had woken later than she expected, and the sun was already at its crest in the sky. Dean froze stiffly, his ears pricked forward and his nose sniffing the air. She drew her bow and crouched. Her silver eyes scanned the area, and then she saw what he was looking at, a lone doe had stopped its nibbling on some ferns to look around. From her quiver on her back she pulled an arrow. She knocked it on her string and aimed silently towards the doe as the deer lowered her head once more. A sudden loud thrashing in the leaves behind her caused the doe to startle and run off. She spun around quickly, her arrow now aimed at the offending creature. Dean growled fiercely and started barking. Sprawled out in the leaves before her another girl quickly scrambled to her knees from where she obviously just fell. The archer lowered her weapon.
"What are you doing," she snapped, glaring at the dark haired girl who now looked nervously between her and Dean with wide green eyes.
"I-I was watching you," she said timidly. The archer raised a pierced eyebrow. The girl wore a tight black t-shirt and some fawn leggings. On her feet she wore plain black boots. The archer's silver gaze cut the girl down as she crouched in the leaves.
"Watching me," the archer said plainly. "I see." She turned and started walking away through the woods. Dean was reluctant, but followed behind. Her charcoal vest made a soft swish as her arms slid across it. The archer's own black leggings caught on a small branch and with a swift shake of her leg she dismantled the twigs. Her brown suede moccasin boots maintained a velvet tread across the soft freshly fallen leaves. The girl jumped to her feet and trotted after her. Dean growled softly, his ears flicking back for a moment as he looked nervously at the strange girl.
"W-wait, where are you going?" She said. Her soft pleasant voice was a little too high. The archer glanced over her shoulder, her long, straight, hip-length silver hair cascading over her shoulder.
"Hunting," came her simple reply. "I need to feed my dog." The girls eyes fell to a brass medallion fashioned on a leather choker around her neck.
"Um, what's that?" She mumbled. The archer's fingerless-gloved right hand flew to her neck, eyes widening for a moment.
"Nothing," Once more she turned to leave. This time the girl reached her hand out and grabbed the archer's quiver strap. Dean snarled and his neck fur rose. The archer froze in shock, her eyes widened with surprise.
"I-um, I'm Sierra," the girl stuttered. The archer relaxed and turned to face her once more. Dean relaxed slightly.
"Well, Sierra, since it appears I won't be losing you anytime soon, I am Valkyr, and this is Dean. Pleasure to meet you," the archer's voice was still just as void of emotion as ever, and Dean still looked hesitantly at this new human. Sierra averted her bright green gaze, her wavy dark brown bangs falling over her right eye as the rest of her long waist-length hair fell around her shoulders. Valkyr cocked her brow once more. "What is this not what you want, to be my shadow? Because that is as it seems,"
"N-no I just... find you intriguing," Sierra said. She swung her leather rucksack from where it hung across one shoulder and pulled out a faded leather book with some scrollwork on the cover. She flipped through the blank soft pages until she came to a sketch. She held it up to Valkyr. Valkyr's eyes lit up as she gazed upon herself on the page. The girl had captured her so well, her dark eyebrows furrowed in concentration as she crouched in the brush, her arrow knocked, waiting to pierce the heart of her prey.
"This is well done," she said, the slightest hint of praise in her voice. Sierra smiled slightly.
"R-really, thank you," Sierra said, her eyes brightening. Valkyr couldn't help but smile slightly. She silently turned and continued on her way.
"It isn't every day I come across a human in these woods," Valkyr said as they walked in silence. She chose to ignore the girl's noisy clomping. Her eyes drifted to Dean. "Dogs either, he is a recent addition as well, you two are in good company." The three walked in silence for an uneventful long amount of time. Eventually Sierra piped up with a sudden curiosity.
"I thought you were just hunting for your dog," Sierra questioned suddenly. "How often are you out here?" Valkyr cut her a glance.
"I was hunting when you came across me, but I travel along these woods on a daily basis," Valkyr saw Sierra's eyes widen in shock.
"You aren't afraid?"
"Why would I be?"
"You have heard of the Clan..." Sierra was cut off by Valkyr suddenly stopping and placing a hand on her shoulder. Dean cut his eyes at Sierra.
"Silence," Valkyr growled, her silver eyes narrowing. She crouched behind a large fern nearby. Sierra hastily followed her lead. Dean laid down beside Valkyr.
"Is it a deer?" She asked excitedly. Valkyr shot her a piercing glare.
"I said silence," she snarled. She looked around once more and then turned to Sierra.
"If you wish to get us both killed, try saying that name again. Now is not the time. I know everything that resides in these woods. I have seen all the monsters out here. Battled them all, I have not. However they are not a group I wish to meddle with," She whispered. Her gaze looked up to the now rapidly setting sun. "Now, come, we must find shelter before the sun sets, we will just have to go hungry for today." She leapt to her feet and began sprinting swiftly up a nearby hillside. She slowed as Sierra struggled to catch up. She ran her hand across a layer of ferns until her hand disappeared into the foliage. A small smirk crossed her face as she pulled the long ferns back to reveal a small hidden cave.
"How did you..." Sierra looked at her in shock.
"I know everything about these woods, come, hurry," She said, crawling through the small entrance into the much larger den of the cave. Dean was quick to crawl in behind them and trot ahead of them. It was bare except a bear pelt laying a few feet in front of a small fire pit. She stood up tall and swung her quiver off of her shoulder and walked over and dropped it on the pelt. "Normally there are more supplies here," She mumbled to herself. Dean circled on the pelt and then sat down, curling his tail around himself and looking up at Silver.
"Is this where you stay?" Sierra said. Valkyr looked up sharply.
"You ask many questions, girl. What is your age?" She suddenly asked. Sierra's eyebrows rose at the sudden statement.
"Me? I am sixteen, my birthday is in a couple of moons," Sierra said shyly. Valkyr looked at her curiously.
"I am freshly eighteen," Valkyr replied. "No, I do not reside here. I travel. I wander," she picked up a piece of quartz and steel, a ball of dried grass and tinder placed on top of a small pile of hemlock twigs. She struck the steel against the bright white stone until sparks flew over the little grass bundle and it began to smoke. Holding the bundle above her head, she blew softly until it burst into flames. She continued piling twigs and sticks on the small fire.
"Do you not have a home? Oh I'm sorry that was another question," Sierra ducked her head, the flames reflecting off of her eyes. Valkyr's gaze stayed on her pale face for a moment.
"A home need not be a place you reside," Valkyr said, turning her attention back to building the fire. The smoke rose high out of a small vent in the top of the cave. Sierra could see the stars just beginning to show through the small opening. "However, I should ask you the same thing, how can you just leave your home to follow me?" Valkyr asked. Sierra sat up a bit taller, pulling a small dagger from a sheath hidden around her waistline. Its double bladed edge glinted in the firelight. Its leather hilt fit perfectly in her hands, which were also covered in leather fingerless gloves.
"I know I act very innocent and weak, but I have been living off the land a while now as well, I do not travel though, I had a small shelter back near where you were hunting. I was searching for berries when I noticed you," She said, her sudden openness catching her off guard and she returned once more to being shy, absentmindedly looking at her dagger in her hands.
"I apologize for intruding upon your territory then I suppose," Valkyr replied plainly. "What of your family?" Valkyr was caught off guard by the sudden snarling laugh that escaped Sierra.
"My family died in a fire when I was twelve, it was their fault," She growled, her green eyes darkening sharply, her wavy bangs falling in her face once more as her lips pursed. She flipped the dagger in her hands before putting it back in its sheath. Valkyr's eyes widened at her sudden darkness, looking up at her for a moment before returning her gaze to the fire.
"I see even the brightest flowers have their thorns," Valkyr replied simply without looking up from the warm fire that was now blazing. Sierra looked up at her, her eyes lightening a small bit. Sierra said nothing as she looked back down at her hands. She swung her rucksack off her shoulder and pulled it open. Valkyr's eyes slit over to watch her. Sierra pulled out her sketchbook and began sketching in the firelight. Valkyr wasn't sure why, but she couldn't tear her stare from the firelight that danced across her eyes. Sierra glanced up and raised an eyebrow in curiosity. Valkyr looked down at her hands.
"Do you have any supplies?" Sierra asked suddenly without looking up from her sketch.
"Other than my archery supplies, no," Valkyr sighed.
"Do you have any money to buy things?" Sierra looked up at her, her eyebrows furrowed.
"No, no I don't," Valkyr said, pulling her long glimmering silver hair over her shoulder. "You don't need money when you wander through the forests of Minos," She said softly, running her hand over Dean's soft pelt. "I suppose I will need to go buy some food though, now that I have been unsuccessful in hunting." She commented. Sierra laid down her book and stretched out by the fire.
"The first town, Grovesburg, is just east of here I believe," Sierra commented. "At least from my hideout I know it is,"
"That is true. I will try to kill a deer to trade for coins in the morning," Valkyr sighed. Dean had fallen asleep beside her. Sierra looked to be fading quickly as well.
"Goodnight," Valkyr murmured. Sierra smiled, not opening her eyes.
"Goodnight, see you in the morning," she mumbled. She lifted her head suddenly. "Are we going to town tomorrow?"
"We shall set out at dawn, I will wake you," Valkyr said.
"Wonderful," Sierra let her head fall back on her rucksack. Soon her breathing softened and slowed as she fell asleep. Valkyr smiled slightly, almost enjoying some human company for a change. She quickly shook her head and her smile disappeared. She knew better. She stared into the fire for a long time before she finally lay down to rest, and it wasn't long before she fell into sleep, her arm around Dean.
Valkyr opened her eyes to see the embers of the fire from the night before had died. She sat up and walked to the small entrance of the den, stepping lightly as not to wake Sierra. Dean lifted his head.
"Stay, boy," She ordered the dog quietly. He lay his head back down and thumped his tail on the ground. Valkyr tentatively pushed back the ferns to peek out, making sure there was no danger before exposing herself to the sun rays that were just beginning to break over the horizon. She stretched her arms up as she breathed in the chilly morning air. She looked around at the autumn scene before her. She sighed softly to herself as she walked back in to get her bow and quiver and then headed out for her morning hunt. She padded quietly through the soft ferns until she stopped at the soft sound of something moving along the brush. She crouched behind a large fern and knocked an arrow. She peered over the broad leaves of the fern she saw the scruffy neck of what looked like a wolf. She smiled slightly to herself. A fine pelt to bring back and sell, she thought. She stood up a little to get a better angle. The scruff she had seen belonged to a huge black creature that crouched over the dead body of a doe. It was then she smelled the rancid scent of the creature's musk. Its hulking muscular shoulders rippled as its strong arms tore the meat from the doe with its four inch black claws. Its bald demonic head eagerly swallowing the chunks as they flew to its gruesome mouth, which was armed with long black fangs and vile lavender spit, which Valkyr knew was deadly poisonous. Its four slanted beady eyes narrowed as it swallowed only to widen once more to greedily stare at its kill. It suddenly froze in its eating to slowly turn its head around. Its small flat nostrils flared as it sniffed the air. Its foul mouth turned up in a grin, its dark purple tongue slithering out to lick its slobbery poison over its sharp teeth. It stood up to its full, heavily muscled height of over ten feet tall. Its powerful hind legs easily held its thick upper body on its three long clawed toes. Across its body was a thin layer of greasy black hair.
Silver's eyes widened as she quickly crouched down. It had smelled her. While its eyesight wasn't anything to guffaw over, she knew very well its nose was nothing to question. She quietly scampered behind another fern a few feet away from the monster, trying to get downwind. It turned sharply, following her movement. She cursed quietly to herself. She knocked her arrow once more and shot it off about fifteen feet to the left of her and the monster. It sharply turned in the direction of the noise and with an ear splitting screech it bounded on all fours in that direction, leaving Silver time to quietly scamper back up the hill and disappear through the ferns. Dean leapt to his paws, barking and snarling at her sudden entrance before relaxing when he recognized her. Sierra jumped up, startled.
"Valkyr, what's going on?" She asked, her eyes wide. Her hair was in wild curls around her shoulders as she frantically ran her fingers through it to tame it.
"Get up, now, the Clan is here," Valkyr growled. Sierra sat up straight as a board.
"What! No, tell me this is a joke," Sierra exclaimed in a sudden hush. Her eyes became more panicked. "Please tell me you suddenly have a sense of humor," she whispered. Valkyr glared at her.
"We have to head out, now. Get your things, we must go," She walked over and grabbed the rest of her arrows she had left. Valkyr ran softly to the entrance. It had grown quiet outside the entrance, and she hoped the monster had run off. She slowly pulled back a fern and looked around. She scanned the entire area, and was about to wander out when a rock tumbled down the hill from above. She felt her blood run cold. Dean growled, his ears swiveling back. She slowly looked up to see the beast perched ten feet higher on the hill, its nostrils flaring as it had already caught her scent. Valkyr slowly retreated back into the cave and pressed her fingers to her temples.
"What, what is it?" Sierra said, her voice shaking.
"Shush, it is sitting above the entrance, it followed my scent trail," Valkyr watched as any color that was left drain from Sierra's face.
"W-what are we going to do," she said. Her voice was barely above a whisper.
"We can sit here, and wait for it to leave, but we both know the Members don't tend to stray from their prey's trail," She said, beginning to pace in frantic circles. She suddenly froze and darted to the fire pit. She sifted through the ashes until she came to a few coals that were still burning. She picked them up in her leather palms and dropped them on the bear hide. She dragged it quickly to the entrance and began fanning them
"What are you doing it will catch fire!" Sierra asked, her panic level rising, clearly thinking Valkyr had lost her mind.
"I'm setting a fire, the smoke will repel the monster long enough for us to run east to the trails that run near this camp." She said, the pelt setting ablaze. She quickly began fanning the smoke out of the entrance. She wrinkled her nose in disgust at the smell of the burning hide, but kept fanning harder. "What are you waiting for, help me!" She snapped. Sierra quickly fell to her knees beside her and helped fan the smoke out of the entrance. She began coughing as the smoke started to turn back into the cave as the fire ate up the oxygen.
"Why isn't it going out of the vent?" Sierra exclaimed.
"The position of the fire pit is located perfectly under it, that's why it worked so well. It doesn't work with the fire over here..." Valkyr's words were drowned out by a sudden scuffle from above and an angry scream of the monster. They could feel the vibration of it running away. "It's headed south, let's go," Valkyr stepped around the burning bear hide and ran out of the ferns. Sierra and Dean were hot on her heels as they slid down the small hill and ran to the east. Valkyr ignored any obstacles, leaping over fallen trees and maneuvering around branches swiftly. Sierra took a little more time but managed to not get left behind. Soon Valkyr slowed down from her frantic sprint and stopped. She stood still, listening to the area around her. She turned and looked back towards where the monster headed. It was nowhere to be seen.
"I think we have lost it. We must hurry and find the trail. Can you jog the three miles to the town?" Valkyr turned to Sierra. Sierra gave her a sheepish look.
"I can try, just don't go too fast," She said, her fingers twirling a long piece of her wavy hair. Valkyr nodded and turned and began to jog towards the trail that was ahead of them. She leapt out onto the dirt trail and began jogging in the direction of the next town.
"Do you know the name of the town we are about to enter?" Valkyr asked, not slowing her pace.
"I think... I think it might be... Grovesburg..." Sierra panted. Valkyr turned to look at her over her shoulder. The girl was several feet behind her. Valkyr slowed her pace.
"What, am I going too fast?" She asked, her voice showing a hint of concern.
"Yes... just a little bit," Sierra breathed. She jogged up to Valkyr's side.
They managed to jog the first mile and a half, but soon Valkyr noticed Sierra couldn't keep jogging any longer. They slowed to a walk. Sierra's stomach growled. Valkyr felt a sudden pang of guilt.
"I'm sorry I wasn't able to catch you a proper breakfast," She said, her voice low. Sierra looked at her surprised.
"No, I completely understand, really," She said. She couldn't imagine what would have happened if she had been the one to discover the monster. "Please, do you know what they are?" She asked after a few moments of quiet walking.
"They are men who foolishly followed in the path of King Andis. Have you heard the legend of him?" Silver turned to her. Sierra shook her head. "I see. He was the king of Minos many years ago. He ruled for several years until he grew tired of just being king. He sought to create a perfect army. He wanted to conquer not only Minos, but also Ellisdale and Thule, and even expand his empire to the Valley of Sowen as well. He sent out a notice, inviting men to join his elite branch of the Minos Military. Not many men qualified. He finally ended up with around two hundred men enlisted in his classified branch. Soon, these men just seemed to disappear one by one until finally the entire branch just faded away. King Andis seemed to return to his old self, until one day, one of the servants who dressed him noticed something odd. He had begun developing black patches across his body. She inquired about it and he erupted into a rage and struck her. Before he got worse the servant who discovered that left and she hid somewhere out in the Mountains of Ellisdale. Other people started noticing a change in his behavior and appearance. His normally blue eyes changed to a dark purple and his dark brown hair turned sheer black. He would sit on his throne just glaring at the people around him and yelling about his men, all he would speak of was his perfect men. 'The time has come!' he would bellow out over and over.
The worry did not ensue until one of the recruited men's widow claimed she saw a demented form of her husband outside the window. She ran through the town shrieking about it. She claimed his face had turned black and his eyes were not the same. It wasn't long until someone claimed her to be mad and shot her. However the daughter claimed the same thing a few weeks later, except she said she saw a monster instead,"
"The Clan are the recruited men?" Sierra questioned. Valkyr nodded.
"When they left to go to their 'elite training' they were experimented on and tortured until King Andis was pleased with his mutated specimen of a soldier. The successful ones had black skin and purple eyes. Their strength rivaled even the strongest plow horse and their senses were keen. They could even kill someone with a single bite, because their saliva was poisoned. However, along the way to developing the perfect formula for the mutation process, there were many failures. Many men died, and many became something the scientists did not expect. They became hideous monsters. Have you seen anything like the monster that was out there today?"
"Yes, I have seen a glimpse of one before," Sierra said, shuddering. "It was horrifying,"
"Yes, those are King Andis' failed experiments. They are the ones that survived, at least. From what I know, they tried to contain them, but eventually they became too much to handle as the mutation took over their entire being. Several of the failures broke free and ran off into the forests. They occasionally appear in towns, however it wasn't long before the townsfolk found out they are repelled by smoke and fire,"
"I had heard that, that's why the town's walls have fire pits along the outside of them that are maintained at all times," Sierra piped up.
"Exactly, and speaking of which I can see the smoke of the town ahead, do you think you can jog the rest of the way?" Valkyr gave Sierra a glance. Sierra nodded and they took off, their pace a little more eager to reach the safety of the town. The guard stepped out in front of them at the entrance.
"And who might we have here, a young lady and you?" He grumbled, shooting Valkyr an odd glance.
"We are just travelers seeking refuge in this town. We are running from one of them." Valkyr's voice lowered and the guard nodded.
"You saw one? I didn't think they would be this close to the town," He said, a hint of worry in his voice.
"We scared it south with a fire, but it was only three miles west of here," Sierra stated.
"You're both lucky to be alive, well, she is. You may enter," Valkyr nodded, ignoring his comment, and they proceeded through the gates. "The gates close at sundown. Be sure you're in the walls if you want protection through the night," the guard added, calling after them. Silver headed down the dirt path that ran down the center of the town. She spotted a hanging sign for an inn.
"Do you have any coins," She looked to Sierra. "Our brave story of scaring off a Fluke won't earn us a room for the night. Sleeping on the streets could earn us a good flogging by the guards," Valkyr growled.
"I might have enough; it depends on how much they charge. I only have fifteen coins in my coin purse at the moment," Sierra said, pulling out her small leather coin purse. Valkyr sighed.
"I hope it is enough," Valkyr mumbled. After ordering Dean to stay outside, they walked into the inn. It was loud from a group of boisterous men gathered around the bar. Valkyr strode over boldly and leaned across the wooden counter. She waved her hand at a large man who stood laughing with the other men as he cleaned a glass.
"Hey, give me a minute girl," The man behind the bar growled at her. Valkyr narrowed her eyes.
"I need to speak with the innkeeper," She snapped, her eyes glinting. He gave her a slight glare and then raised an eyebrow.
"If you're looking for a room, we probably don't have a room a filthy creature like you could afford," he chuckled, causing the drunks behind the counter to burst out into laughter as they shot Valkyr looks of disgust. Valkyr could feel her temper slowly ticking away with every drunken laugh.
"We have fifteen coins and nowhere else to stay, now do you have a room?" She demanded forcefully. The man laughed.
"Fifteen coins wouldn't buy a room for your kind! Move along little lady," he laughed. Valkyr opened her mouth to protest when Sierra grabbed her arm.
"It's not worth it Valkyr, let's just go." She said. Valkyr reluctantly turned after shooting a seething glare towards the innkeeper. As they opened the doors to the inn a young man was flung right at their feet. A group of teenage boys laughed as the boy slowly got to his feet, wiping blood off of his lip.
"Guys, knock it off," He said, trying to sound tough, but to Valkyr he sounded just as pathetic as he looked. Dean growled at Valkyr's side, but she placed a hand between his ears, calming him. One of the guys stormed over and swung back to knock him back down. Valkyr kicked out her leg, hitting the offending boy right behind the knee, causing him to collapse. Just then, she gave him a hard chop right below the jaw, sufficiently knocking him out. She whipped out her bow and knocked an arrow in one fluid movement, aiming at the group of boys.
"Cease, as he requested, or I will take care of you myself, you wretches," She snarled. A tall boy with scruffy sandy blonde hair stepped forward. He seemed to be the gang's leader.
"Please, your just a..." he started to sneer, however he was cut short by an arrow whizzing past his neck, grazing his shoulder and embedding itself in the pole behind him. Valkyr put her bow away just as swiftly as she had drawn it. His blue eyes widened. "Guys come on lets go," he said, trying to scoff, but Valkyr could hear the fear in his voice. The gang scampered off and disappeared into an alleyway. Valkyr turned to the injured boy. He had shoulder length black hair, eyes a rich forest green and a splash of freckles across his cheeks. He was around five foot eight inches tall, two inches taller than Valkyr and four more than Sierra. He lowered his gaze to the ground.
"What, embarrassed to be rescued by a woman, boy?" She snarled. She shouldered her way past him and walked on her way. Dean followed at her heels. Sierra reluctantly followed, not trying to get in the middle of the quarreling.
"Wait, you are just going to leave?" He called after them. Valkyr ignored him and continued walking. "Do you need a place to stay?" He tried once more. Valkyr stopped and turned to him.
"What could a boy like you offer," She snarled.
"I am eighteen, I am a man not a boy," He said bravely, puffing out his chest. Valkyr scoffed.
"A man would not be beaten by the likes of that band." She stated. The boy's chest fell. He wore a tattered cream shirt under a suede vest, baggy brown pants and worn brown leather boots.
"They have always been that way. They don't care who you are, they will take everything from your pockets and leave you battered for the fun of it."
"And the guards do nothing?" Sierra questioned. The boys eyes lingered on Valkyr's face for a moment before he looked at Sierra.
"The lead boy's father is the head guard. No of course not," he snarled. Sierra grumbled to herself.
"That is despicable and dishonest, that can't be allowed," She spat. Valkyr chuckled softly.
"This is how humanity works, Sierra. I'm sure those boys pay a portion of the bounty to the guards to keep them from doing their jobs," Valkyr grumbled. The boy looked to Sierra.
"You have a lovely name, Sierra. And who might you be," He looked to Valkyr. Valkyr's eyes narrowed.
"Valkyr is what I call myself, boy." She said dryly. He smirked.
"It is fitting, for such a warrior like yourself," He said smoothly. Valkyr maintained her hard glare. "The dog?"
"I call him Dean,"
"And you are?" Sierra asked.
"I am Thames Harrison. Born and raised here in the town of Grovesburg," He said, running a hand through his softly curled hair.
"And if you don't mind, we would really love to accept your offer of a place to stay," Sierra added.
"Of course, follow me," He said, turning and walking along a smaller path off of the main road. Valkyr shot Sierra a glare, but followed Thames quietly to his small cottage. From inside the light plucking of a mandolin could be heard. He pushed the wooden door open and they all stepped inside. The main sitting area was small and connected to the kitchen. The wooden boards creaked beneath their feet. A woman sat by a small fireplace in a rocking chair playing the mandolin. Some old copper pots and pans hung over the mantle and there was a pot in the fire with what looked to be soup. The woman turned and sat up, flattening her white apron with her hands, which were calloused and dirt stained from years of working. She was thin, her face especially, which was also stained with dirt. She had soft blue eyes and long brown hair in a braid down her back. She wore a loose green peasant top that had many patches in it. Her long slate grey skirt fell limply to her ankles.
"Thames, who have you brought with you, and especially why would you bring her here?" The woman asked, her voice was soft, however laced with concern. She motioned to Valkyr with a dark look in her eyes. Valkyr's shoulders tensed. She could tell this woman was smart.
"Mother, please. They saved me from the gang; I, in return, offered them shelter for the night. This is Valkyr, and this is Sierra, Dean is the dog. Valkyr was the one who stepped forward first. She struck fear into Frock's eyes, and made Apollo take an involuntary nap." He replied calmly. He towered over the short woman; she was about five foot two inches tall. She reached her hand out for Dean to inspect. He gave it a few sniffs and then a quick lick of approval.
"Leave it to a Sylvin like her to try and be a hero," The woman muttered.
"What, mother? What is a Sylvin?" Thames asked. Before the woman could reply, Sierra stepped forward.
"Might that be why people have been acting odd towards you, Valkyr?" Sierra questioned.
"If we all have not taken notice yet, I have silver hair and eyes as well as an unnaturally pale complexion," Valkyr snapped irritably, her pale lips pursed. "I am not of the Human race, but instead of a rare race called the Sylvins. Unfortunately, my race is not especially noted for their kindness, even to other Sylvins. What we are known for however is our skill in combat and hunting, and the occasional Sylvin has been known to be gifted in magic arts." Sierra looked at her almost in awe, and Thames looked slightly intimidated. The woman smiled slightly.
"And proud ye be as well," She crossed her arms over her chest. "I have not seen a Sylvin in years since the mass execution eleven years ago," Thames furrowed his brow as Valkyr's eyes darkened.
"I don't remember that," He said, his eyes clouded with confusion.
"You were too young, boy. That is a story I will allow Valkyr to explain if she feels it may be necessary," She looked to Valkyr, her attitude towards her changing to one of respect.
"I think it not to be mentioned now," Valkyr said simply. The woman nodded in understanding.
"You two look exhausted and starved, come sit and I will bring you some soup, and some meat for Dean," She said, motioning them to a few wooden stools sitting by the fire. Valkyr took her seat furthest from the fire and the rest of the stools, Dean curled up happily at her feet, his tail steadily thumping the wooden floor. Sierra and Thames sat in front of it, their stools closer to each other. Odd, Valkyr thought. It wasn't long before the woman brought them stone bowls filled with vegetable soup, with what looked like either beef or chicken floating amongst the mix. She placed a small tray of what appeared to be cured beef before Dean. He tore into it immediately.
"Thank you kindly, ma'am for letting us stay," Sierra said softly in between bites of food.
"Anytime dear," She said with a kind smile. "I am Willow Harrison, Thames' mother."
"It's truly been lovely meeting you," Sierra said, taking another mouthful of soup. Thames sat eating his quietly. Valkyr ate hers sparingly despite her hunger. She shot glances up at Willow occasionally, wondering about why this woman trusted her.
"You're such a sweetheart. And pray tell what brought you to partner with a Sylvin, and what brought you here?" She asked, sitting down and resting her chin in her hand.
"Well, merely curiosity. I had never seen anyone like her when I came across Valkyr hunting near my small camp in the woods just a few miles west of here," Sierra responded, picking up a roll from the tray that Willow had brought. She took a bite and then continued. "I was going to help her get some pelts to sell here in this town for some clothes, but then we ran into a..."
"Sierra," Valkyr interrupted her. She shot her a glance that told her not to mention seeing the Fluke.
"...large buck that we lost soon before we decided to head into town before the night fell." Sierra caught herself. She looked back at Valkyr, who had relaxed once more and continued eating her soup. Willow gave them both a suspicious glance but did not question it.
"You must be thoroughly exhausted then if you chased a buck around the woods all day. Once you finish your dinner, all I have is some extra bear pelts lying around for you to sleep on, I hope they will suffice,"
"That will be fine, let Sierra sleep on a bed if she may, I will gladly sleep on the floor," Valkyr said, standing, her bowl empty.
"Oh I am fine, really Valkyr," Sierra said, looking at her confusedly. Willow smiled warmly.
"She may take the guest bed we have for her then," Willow said. She looked to Sierra as she stood. "No use arguing with a Sylvin, they are stubborn," She said with a light laugh, a flash of sadness crossing her face for a moment. She cleared her throat as Sierra stood and followed her to her room further back in the cottage. Willow brought a thick black bear pelt out to Valkyr.
"Thames, go get some rest," She said to her son. He nodded and stood up, stretching. He then slowly walked back and went in a door across from Sierra's. Once his door was shut, Willow turned to Valkyr.
"Why do you trust me if you know about the Sylvins," Valkyr said immediately. Willow sighed and her expression dimmed.
"Thames' father was a Sylvin. Thames is mostly human however. The only thing that shows his blood is he has silver flecks in his eyes." She said looking down at the pelt in her arms.
"I suppose your husband was taken from you during the genocide," Valkyr looked into her eyes. Willow's eyes filled with tears.
"Yes, they would have killed Thames, but I had him sent away a month earlier in anticipation of the execution. He went away to his grandmother's in Ellisdale which is why he has no recollection of it. He barely remembers his father as well, so I don't think he recalls his father's silver hair and eyes." She said simply.
"How did you meet a Sylvin?" Valkyr asked.
"There used to be a large population of them in Grovesburg before. Grovesburg had the largest amount of deaths as well, notorious for its large execution rate."
"I thought it was Thule that had the worst executions?" Valkyr questioned, her thin grey brows furrowing.
"No child, true Thule is a larger city, and had much worse executions, it was not the largest. It is just well known for the large amount of spectators who arrived, finding the tortures before the executions to be entertaining," she spat with disgust. "My husband was ripped from this very cottage and killed in the middle of town along with the rest, tied up and thrown down in a large fire pit, and set ablaze," Her voice quavered. "I did not watch, I couldn't, but I could hear their screams. They echoed through the town as they all died," Valkyr reached her long fingers out and touched the woman's cheek lightly.
"It was not fair, but he would not have wanted to see his love cry for him." Valkyr said softly.
"I know, I have been strong for very long. It is impossible to stay strong forever," She said, taking Valkyr's hand in hers. "Thank you," She said softly, laying out the pelt in front of the fire. "Sleep well," She said and walked back to her own room. Valkyr slipped off her quiver and bow, laying them on the cobblestone that was laid down in front of the fire place. She stretched out on the bear pelt, the firelight dancing across her eyes. She remembered the sounds. She knew what Willow was talking of. However she did not have a choice but to watch her family and friends deaths. She shook the images out of her mind and rolled over, soon slipping into a deep quiet sleep, Dean laying by her side.
The next morning, Valkyr awoke to a loud banging against the door, and Dean barking. She leapt up and grabbed her bow instinctively. Willow came dashing out of her room in her long dressing gown, her hair loose falling down to her waist. She clutched a small shawl across her shoulders. She removed the bolt from the door and opened it. A guard stepped inside, two others behind him. He turned immediately to Valkyr, who was now restraining the dog.
"We need her," He demanded. Willow's tired eyes widened. Valkyr leapt to her feet, picking up her bow and knocking an arrow, aimed perfectly between the guard's eyes.
"It is illegal to kill the Sylvins now you may not take her!" Willow exclaimed, rushing to Valkyr's side.
"We are not here to execute her you may rest your fears, Willow," The guard's tone softened as he looked to Willow. She was tense, but she seemed to relax slightly, trusting the guard. Valkyr did not lower her arrow. She saw out of the corner of her eye Sierra had appeared from behind the doorway to her room and was watching in silent terror. Thames burst out of his room and stood in front of both women.
"Why do you come this early then," Thames growled. The guard looked to Valkyr.
"You should know why we are here," The guard said to her. Valkyr furrowed her brow.
"Because of what we saw," She said suddenly. Her eyes narrowed. "Why should I trust you won't kill me," She growled. The guard reached his hand to his sheathed sword.
"If I wished to kill you it would have been done by now. Now come with us," He said simply. Valkyr lowered her arrow. "Your companions must come as well, for we do not know what you may have shared. Willow looked at Valkyr.
"What have you not told me Valkyr," She snapped, her voice slightly panicked.
"We did not tell you for your own good; however it appears that was pointless now. The guards may be trusted," She said, picking up her quiver and slinging her bow across her back, not taking her eyes off the guard. She stepped forward and he reached his hand out to grab her arm, but she shot him a quick glare. He lowered his hand.
"All of you will have to go speak to the Magistrate of Grovesburg, Titan Steel." Valkyr walked out without question.
"Dean, stay." Valkyr ordered. With a whimper, the dog reluctantly sat.
Sierra followed silently. She was confused, as was Willow and Thames, but they trusted Valkyr's judgment.