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Welcome once more to the annals of this fevered mind and thank you for taking the time to once more journey with me to lands both dark and fabled. If you enjoy this, please be on the lookout for further postings and, if you are feeling exceedingly generous, please visit my Buy me a Coffee page here. Enjoy!
With the wind rushing in his ears and the smell of the swamplands below him strong in his nostrils, Stentis, Enforcer of the Mentrethis Thieves Guild, slowly made his descent, the massive raven he rode guiding itself towards the bleak landscape below.
With a distasteful eye, he scanned the approaching vista. There wasn’t much to look at.
Miles upon miles of flatland stretched below him, marked by numerous murky pools of differing depths. The desolation was broken occasionally by stunted outcroppings of stone, worn smooth by centuries weathering the gusts of humid air channeled over them by the rising white-chalk cliffs to the east and west. Of trees there were none, nor, for that matter, were there any signs of habitation.
He hated it.
Hocking a lugey behind him, he narrowed his eyes upon a tiny, dark figure loitering near the base of an approaching stone outcropping.
‘Must be my contact,’ he thought. ‘Sooner I find my quarry, the better, best to not linger in such a gods-forsaken place.’
As he neared, the figure towards which he flew gained shape, slowly but surely morphing from a roughly human-shaped blob to a curvacious woman clad in tight leather armor that appeared to be worn more for show than utility as it left her whole midsection, an ample glimpse of cleavage, as well as almost the entirety of one shapely leg, exposed. Said exposed flesh was lightly tanned and tight with corded muscle. A mane of long, wild auburn hair framed her impish features, her eyes feline, narrowed, her lips curved into a confident smirk. At her hips she wore a pair of wickedly curved daggers, the hilts of which she gripped tightly as she observed his approach.
‘One nice thing to look at in this shithole and she probably wants to kill me,’ he mused, chuckling humorlessly to himself.
Gripping tight to his raven’s reins, an act done merely out of habit as the creature needed no guidance from him, he braced himself as the bird landed heavily directly in front of the woman who, to his surprise, did not so much as twitch as the beast’s massive talons dug into the earth before her.
Impressed despite himself, the Enforcer slid from the saddle, his soft-shod boots making little indentation beside the deep divots left by his mount.
As soon as his weight left its back the raven ruffled its feathers, arched its neck, and cawed loudly. He winced as its call echoed throughout the marshlands around them. This done, it stretched its massive, dark wings once more and took flight in a whoosh of humid air that sent the ends of his cloak flapping.
Watching it depart, Stentis could not deny the sinking feeling in his gut. The bird was, after all, personally trained by the falconers of his guild. Despite his hands on the reins it knew its mission keenly. For it to depart so abruptly, and to make a commotion before doing so, meant only one thing, that his return was conditional. He was to fulfill his mission or no other bird would be sent to retrieve him. Also, that his guild wanted the entire marsh to know he had arrived, and that hell followed with him.
“Greetings big boy,” the husky tones spoken by the woman with whom he was now alone, broke him from his reverie. Turning to her, he took her in once more, his gaze slowly tracing every inch of her physique. What he saw did not overly surprise him, though he could not deny he was intrigued.
She truly was a beauty, he noted, though the multitude of scars he saw crisscrossing her exposed flesh told a tale of trial and tribulation to no doubt defend herself from those who wished to take that beauty by force. Her stance, seemingly simultaneously relaxed and coiled like a tightly wound spring, suggested skill and he had no doubt in her ability to wield the twin daggers at her hips. These contacts his guild set up for him were, more often than not, double agents of one form or another. Were this one to prove as such he did not relish the idea of crossing blades with her.
Once his gaze leveled with her own, he saw that she also had been sizing him up and he noted with satisfaction the slightly raised eyebrow of appreciation before she met his eyes and her gaze became a mask of detached bemusement once more.
“Welcome to the Marshes of Chelembir,” she said, offering him a slight, sarcastic bow. “I don’t know if this place has ever seen such a grand entrance, nor played host to such a well-dressed…man before.”
The slight pause she had before the word “man” was not lost on him. It was something he had grown used to in his work for the guild, and a reason why he had had such a difficult time climbing its various ladders.
Stentis was, after all, only half “man”. This blood had been gifted by his father, may he writhe in one of the many hells for all eternity. His mother, on the other hand, had been an elven pleasure slave entertaining at one of the city’s higher-end brothels and he did not wish upon her any lesser of a fate.
The High Priest who ruled the city in which he had been born had decreed elves to be vermin requiring eradication. This hadn’t stopped him, however, as well as the majority of the city’s hierarchy, from indulging in the offerings of the city’s many brothels, most of which were stocked primarily with elven pleasure slaves of either sex. Despite this, he drew the line at children being conceived due to activities conducted within said brothels, as well as anywhere else within his domain were there to be one or more elves involved in the conception.
Due to his holiness’ decree, Stentis had been marked for death the moment he came out of his mother. Taken by secretive agents to no doubt be thrown down some well or another, he had instead ended up in the care of the city’s thieves guild, though caring was far from any definition he would have used to describe his upbringing.
Given his mixed heritage, he stood just barely over five feet and had taken to wearing a cloak, its cowl more often than not drawn to disguise the gentle point of his ears, as well as the deep terracotta hue of his flesh. His hair, he had shaved close to his scalp. Given his line of work, it would not do to have hair in ones face when engaging in knifework in the tight corridors of a back alley. His eyes were almond-shaped and a dull green in color, his body compact and lithe. All in all he was of the perfect form for his field, the one thing that had offered him advantage against his foes, as well as his fellow thieves, and most likely the soul reason why he had been spared the descent down the well.
“You are Utika,” he said, pointedly making it a statement rather than a question. “You have worked with my guild before. Such work bore fruit, I am said fruit. The guild knows you can be trusted as a guide, I need a guide. That is the beginning and end of our relationship here and I will endure no prodding into alternate matters. I am here in search of someone. Should you prove useful in my search, you will be rewarded. If not…”
He trailed off, allowing the silence to stretch threateningly between them.
“If not?” She drawled, twirling a hand lazily in a mocking entreatment for him to continue.
“Then you will be of no more use to my guild,” he finished in a predatory growl, taken aback by her gall. It had been a long time since any had dared speak to him in such a manner.
To his even further chagrin, Utika laughed at his response. And it wasn’t any chortle or girlish titter, but a full-fledged, hands-on-hips, throw your head back, genuine, laugh.
Despite his annoyance at her unbridled response, something within him stirred. It had been ages, if perhaps ever, since he had heard someone genuinely find humor in a situation. His was, after all, a world of sneers and snarls. To hear mirth unhindered by disdain was…beautiful.
As quickly as this emotion came, however, he shoved it back down. However sincerely funny this woman found his pronouncement, she still was of his world. Perhaps she had merely learned to fein true emotion. Perhaps this is how her last kill ended up dead. For she was a killer, of that he had no doubt.
Crouching slightly, Stentis drew aside the flap of his cloak to reveal the dark robes he wore beneath, held together at the waise by a red sash. Through this sash had been thrust his katana, and it was upon the masterfully crafted hilt of his blade that he threateningly placed his hand.
At the sight, Utika pulled herself together, though a slight twinkle remained in her eye.
“Come on, Enforcer,” she bade him, shaking her head and turning her back on him to trudge past the stone outcropping behind her and towards the looming edifice of the eastern chalk ridgeline. “Night will fall soon and you do not want to be out on the marsh when it does. My village isn’t far. Be sure to bring that attitude with you, it’s been awhile since the tavern has had a comedian shadow its threshold.”
‘Sooner I find my quarry, the better,’ he thought, allowing his hand to slip from his katana. Glancing up at the stone outcropping, he shook his head and made to follow the strange woman.