CHAPTER XII: THREE OF A KIND

A SANTHARIAN NOVEL

 
Darkling Abroad   
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Introduction. Viresse is greeted into the small dark elven community with a degree of hospitality, but an edgy tension looms over all she encounters.

 

iresse entered the clearing with an interested eye. Her eyes ran over all the trees whose homes were on the surface or just above, and shrubs - the groomed gardens that cultivated the berries for wine. There were a few tended fires around the clearing, casting the golden fiery glow that Viresse always found intoxicatingly beautiful no matter the circumstance. Some had small quarry roasting in the spits above them, but one had a massive deer, which was difficult to move as three young elves were pulling heavily on the crank to just turn it over.

One woman walked through the clearing, clutching a black bundle - a very pale, dark haired baby with elegant pointed ears and a very cute face. Viresse smiled, she hadn't seen an elven baby in so long. Elves had such difficulty in reproducing... to see a baby or to have one was a great time for rejoicing. Viresse couldn't help but smile as she cast her gaze across the darkened clearing - other than how earthbound and un-citylike it was, it was just like home.

A robed elf walked toward her. Viresse was unsure if it was male of female, the cassock hid any distinguishing features, and its hair was long and flowed much like a female's, though a strong jawline and heavy brows indicated otherwise. Its eyes were dark and they seemed to absorb all sources of light in them. It reminded her of very high-ranked Sevari men, but Viresse was unafraid of this elf, something about it seemed to emit an inner peace, something that calmed Virese, even though she knew that this person was an Eophyrhim. A murdering hunter - as she had picked up from those that had mistaken her as one.
 

"Cór'jeín 'artanhé, móh 'styrás..." it said.

"Cór'jeín 'artanhé," Viresse answered.

"It is a beautiful night for a hunt, yes?" It continued, looking around the clearing as it took a spot beside Viresse.

"It is," Viresse answered. She herself was not hunt-oriented, but knew that they were. She answered as she assumed they wanted her to.

"Well. Welcome to Av'jeín. I am Cár'neán Sifl, Hunter-Cleric of the Eophyrhim."

"And I am Vir'es'fa'sáh'íl'drén'salén'maachán." She bowed her head at the Hunter -Cleric.

"That's quite a name, Viresse of the Gate of the Quiet Sleep. Pray tell, where do you hail from? The North?" Sifl began to walk around the clearing, and Viresse followed.

"The East. Nybelmar," She answered.

Sifl looked over its shoulder at Viresse. "Nybelmar? I didn't know there were dark elves there." He continued to walk, heading toward the large spit with the deer.

"There are two tribes in Nybelmar - they reside in the center of the continent, in a ancient forest called the Crystalwoods. I hail from the Ifér'hém tribe... my surname defines me as being from one of the eight tribes that control the Sevari gates, Capital of the Coór'hem nation," Viresse outlined. She wondered if she was talking about herself too much.

Sifl stopped at the spit, and called the three young elven men there toward itself. The three came as called, and bowed their heads deeply before regarding Viresse with dark, enthused eyes.

"Viresse... - These are three of my apprentices, well trained in the Hunt, and becoming great apprentices in the matter of the clerical aspect. Terquan... "

The first young man stepped forward. He had a long strip of bangs that cut across his face - creating a uncomforting illusion that his pale face was cut in half. She smiled kindly, but was uncomforted by his appearance - as if she had seen him before. He was clad in a tight black jerkin with translucent sleeves and had the hint of scarring upon his forearms.

"Tristen... "

The second took a step forward. His head was mostly shaved save for the crown o´f his head. What grew there grew straight up and out of his head. His face was smudged with soot, he looked boyish and yet threatening at the same time. She felt a weird connection to him as well, but she could not put her finger on it. He too was clad in black - but he was dressed in a more odd fashion. His arms and shoulders were clad in the same translucent fabric, and had odd inkwork embedded into his skin across his shoulders and arms. The black of his garment didn't actually begin until under the pits of his arms - giving a bodice-like look to his outfit. It was unusual, and Viresse hid her unease with a smile.

"...and Taluen."

The last elf came forward. He had the classic elven look - long hair braided back away from his face. High cheekbones and an elegant air, though he was Dark Elven. Viresse found him attractive, but found no connection to him - not like the more apparently rebellious pair before him. He was dressed in a straight black jerkin with long sleeves and leaf embroidery all upon it.

Sifl continued to speak. "Contrary to popular belief, they are not related - just born during a time of great prosperity among the Eophyrhim."
 
Viresse looked to the young men. They were handsome specimens of dark elves. She pondered why exactly she was introduced to them - perhaps Sifl hoped that she would find a connection among them. Viresse was amused at the idea... in fact, she kind of liked it.

"Cór'jeín artanhé, Viresse," the three said simultaneously, and bowed deeply toward her. She was faintly pleased. They seemed well-mannered. It was almost attractive that all three acted as one. She bowed back, "Cór'jeín artanhé."

Sifl nodded slowly at them, as an effect to dismiss them. All three stared at Viresse for just a few secodns longer, then returned to the spit to cook the deer. Sifl gestured her on past the clearing, and into the woods.

Homes were alight with the warm glow of hearth fire and torches. Elves in the home were chattering and talking loudly - the night had just begun - therfore meaning that the day for Dark elves had just dawned.

"So, Viresse. What has brought you all the way from Nybelmar to the Paelelon?" Sifl asked, and then reached a particularly large tree. There were two round windows that were at the base of the tree, emitting a cozy, friendly glow. Sifl wandered around one side of it, and Viresse saw that the residence continued beneath the tree and extended into the earth. Sifl held an arm out as a gesture to enter and Viresse went inside.

Upon entering, Viresse descended a few steps and found that thought she was beneath the tree, she could stand fully. The residence was cozy, with pillows and blankets strewn about the floor, and several small bookshelves. What caught her interest the most was a small altar.

It had the decomposed skull of a deer. The antlers were intact - which made it all the more impressive. Surrounding the skull were small bones and vertebrae of smaller animals. Candles were lit and they flanked the skull and filled the room with a sweet smelling musk.

Viresse stared at it for a few seconds. She had never seen anything like it. It scared and intrigued her. She wanted to turn away, but it interested her greatly. She blinked slowly, and found herself crouching before it to observe it better. She knew that the altar was the embodiment of the Eophyrhim - hunting, death and chaos.

"It helps us meditate before the Hunt," Sifl stated, and took a seat on a cushion behind her. The Hunter-Cleric watched her for a second, then attempted to break her concentration. "As we were saying..."

"Yes..." Viresse said, and finally broke away from the altar. She took a few steps back and sat down beside Sifl. As she tried to rememeber what Sifl had asked, she realized that she still didn't know at all if Sifl was male or female. She thought about that for a second, but shrugged it off. She then recalled what it was that Sifl had said.

"I am a writer for the Santharian Copendium -- a great book chronicling all the wonders of Caelereth. I was sent by the Sage Artimidor Federkiel to mainly research corpseberry wine, but I do plan on staying longer to research the Eophyrhim and the Paelelon as well." She looked away from Sifl and back to the altar.

"Well - I shall let you know that it is good that you are a dark elf - I know for a great fact that none others would allow such thorough and intrusive research from a human or even another elf," Sifl finished, and reached for a jug set in the bookcase nearby. Sifl uncorked it and took a small sip, then tapped Viresse, which broke her concentration yet again. "Speaking of corpseberry... - This was just given to me a few days ago- meaning it is quite fresh, not like anything you may have drank outside teh Paelelon."

Viresse took the jug and took a small sip - and gagged. It was sweet, but it seemed as if there was a fair amount more poison than she had drank home at the Compendium. She handed it back, and tried to spress her coughing fit.

"I'm sorry," Sifl said, and set the jug back, a look of surprise, shock, and perhaps even amusement across its pale, elegant face. "I forgot that I had a higher tolerance than you..." Sifl patted her on the back, then took another jug out of the bookshelf. It had a clear liquid. " Here is some water - drink a fast gulp, then take a second gulp and rinse your mouth. If you begin to have breathing difficulties, let me know."

Viresse took a quick sip, then rinsed her mouth as she was commanded. The taste disappeared very easily with the wash of the water, and she then paused as she tried to detect if there was any breathing difficulty. She noticed none, so she handed the water back and thanked him.

"I'm really quite sorry about that," the elf said, though with a hint of a smirk."But you may wind up getting that around here." Sifl noted, then sat up, looking very serious. "You look like a dark elf. And we will treat you as such. But you are a different kind of dark elf, and that will confuse people. Some will understand - many will not. So, please. Be wary of your words and what you say to some ofthe lower class. If a mob arises, no one will help you." Sifl sighed. "But of course, I'm sure you've thought of this."

Viresse nodded slowly, though in all honesty, she had thought about the differences between the Eophyrhim and the Ifér'hém, but had never seen it as much of a barrier. at least they were all dark elves. But as Sifl had just brought up, the difference may just as well be between her and humans.

Sifl raised itself off of the cushions, and reached out a hand to help Viresse up. "Have you eaten?" Sifl asked.

"No - not in a few days," she answered. She fet a little ashamed by that fact.

"Well and good then. The boys I introduced you to usually share their meals with me, and earlier today they dragged down that deer. Now, I fully intend to take my fill of it, and you as my guest are welcome to join me." Sifl smiled and began to walk toward the door.

Viresse followed him. "I may be your guest, but you are theirs. Shouldn't we ask them  if I can eat as well?" She said that statement with a hint of a joke in her voice.

Sifl chuckled. "My Lady, the boys are smitten with you. I doubt you need to ask them anything." Sifl looked over its shoulder at her, a smile across its face. Viresse smiled back.

They made their way back to the clearing, Viresse and Sifl discussing the process of creating vinterberry wine with the corpseberry. Viresse momentarily wished she had brought her journal, but decided that while it would be quite professional of her as write, it'd be quite rude to have her attention averted to an inatimate object while she was a guest at someone's dinner. She would have to at least wait until people were comfortable with her before she stopped acting like a guest and more like a copendium writer.

The three boys she had met earlier were still in the clearing, working to remove the cooked deer off of the spit. It was still relatively hot, so two of them - Terquan and Taluen holding the poles gingerly while Tristen carelessly, if not recklessly clutched the whole of the deer in his hands. Viresse winced- it must be burning to hold it that way.

"Boys...-" Sifl called, and the three averted their attention for a second to acknowledge Sifl. Then they looked to Viresse, and while each one effectively held their cool, they all seemed to become openly nervous. Terquan glanced only a second before turning back around and attempting to move the spit, Taluen stared a little long and wound up being jolted into movement by Terquan, and Tristen smiled, but then realized what he was doing and effectively realized that he was burning his hand and removed it quickly from the deer.


Viresse snickered quietly to herself. While this was amusing that three elves were enamored with her, she worried at what expense her writing would come to. Would they be intrusive? Would they stalk her - or would they simply entertain her momentarily for her stay? She didn't intend in the least for anything to happen - that whole Rube thing had easily knocked her off of that circuit.

The three boys had laid out a fine rug across the earth near the spit, with a large jar of corpseberry wine. It made the area warm and cozy to sit at, while still being able to enjoy the night. Viresse and Sifl took a seat near the fire - their backs facing the spit. The three brough the deer over with a hefty struggle, then set the beast before Viresse and Sifl. Terquan sat down first, followed by Tristen, and Taluen stood for a few seconds, as if he was waiting.

"Did you forget something?" Viresse asked.

Taluen looked down at Viresse and smiled. "No, not really. Someone else forgot something." Taluen looked back up, as if waiting again, then whistled a single, shrill note.

Tristen audibly sighed. "Can't you just make them wait? They always get scraps anyway." He went to reach for the deer, and Terquan slapped his hand.

"Every hunter gets his fair share. And we'll all wait until all are present," he said with an air of authority. Viresse was slightly amused by the slapstick. Their friendship made for weird nuances, and the fact that they were dark elves made it all the funnier. Viresse had been away from the dark elven culture for too long - she was too used to the bland human ways.

There was a yip in the darkness, like a dog. Another sounded behind it, and the sound of the earth being drummed reached Viresse' s ears. She looked in the direction of the sound and saw two elegant hounds, with coats of dapple grey thunder around the root of a tree. Taluen dropped to his knees as the dogs jumped all over him and showered him with dog slobber. Viresse chuckled.

Taluen turned away from his dogs for a second, as they still eagerly greted him. "Viresse- these are my hounds, Bane and Strut. They're good hunters, but they're still young for dogs, about two years." He calmed the dogs with a single word- they sat and looked at Taluen in cheerful anticipation. The smaller one kept looking to the deer. Taluen sat down next to Tristen, still speaking calm words to his hounds to keep them from fidgeting.

Terquan turned to Tristen. "Now that we're all here, You can eat now." He reached over to the deer to pull a piece of meat, but was slapped on the hand by Tristen.

He glared mockingly at Terquan, a smirk dancing at the corner of his mouth. "You didn't kill it. I get first. "

Sifl made a clicking noise with his tongue and got the trio of young men's attention. "In all honesty, my squires. I believe the Lady Viresse gets first. She is a guest."

The trio bowed their heads and nodded. "Forgive us, Sifl."

Sifl smirked, it seemed he liked to tinker with the boys as such. Granted they were learning lessons as Sifl did so, but it seemed Sifl enjoyed doing it more than they realized. Or maybe they did realize, which made the boy's relationship even stronger, and thus their respect for Sifl as their teacher. "I'm not insulted, my boys. Perhaps you should say sorry to Viresse."

The young elves looked up at Sifl, then to Viresse. As if they were all one, they bowed their heads and spoke in unison. "Forgive us, Viresse."

Viresse smiled - she now knew why Sifl liked to toy with these boys as it did. They catered to the whim of Sifl, and after some time, it could be as more of an amusement than a hard day of work. She nodded a thank you. "Apology accepted." Viresse then reached and pulled a strong neck muscle from the charred carcass that lay before her.

Then Tristen took a piece, followed by Taluen giving his dogs the insides of the deer, which he threw a few peds away from the rest of them. The two instantly began fghting over the prime pieces, which they began pulling and growling over. Viresse watched for a second as she chewed thoughtfully on her piece of meat. The texture and cook of the meat was perfect - easy to tear but still with the flavored taste of the wood and the char of the flame.

"Miss Viresse." Sifl said, and Viresse returned mentally to the group. She looekd to Sifl. "Would you care to tell the boys what exactly you are doing here?" He finished his statement, then took a bite of his meat.

Viresse swallowed, then looked to the three. "I come from Nybelmar."

Terquan furrowed his dark brows. "Where is Nybelmar? " he asked, then tucked the long strip of bangs behind one of his pointed ears, to make it easier to eat. Without that dark strip, Viresse found Terquan possessed an interesting face.

Most elves had a long angular nose, while Terquan possessed a short, flat one that seemed to turn up. His eyes were beady but inquisitive, while most elves had wide eyes. And his mouth was wide with slightly larger than normal lips, while even she possessed the tight-lippped small mouth that seemed to be the traits of elves. But his features fit him - especially with the black strip of bangs that cleaved his face - and continued to fall in his face as he chewed.

"Nybelmar is to the west of the Santharian continent, across the sea," Viresse said. "My tribe is the Ifér'hém. I live in a large city called Sevari - the capital of the Cóor'hém nation."

Terquan looked up. "Whoa. Like a dark elven Fá'áv'cál'âr ?"

Viresse smiled. "Yes. Very much so." She looked to the three, who wore looks of awe and joy on their faces.
 
"Do you hunt?" Taluen asked, and reached for a sinuous part of the flesh and threw it to his hounds. they fought over it for a second, but the smaller one got a good portion of it and tore the sinew.

"We don't really hunt in Sevari... The great amount of our battles are against one another for power." She sat for a second as the three let the idea sink in.

"That's kind of odd. Don't you all like each other?" Taluen asked. "Where do you get your food from?" Tristen asked.

"Well, we do like one another, I guess. But the relationships we have are much more formal and - well for lack of a better word, stuffy - compared to the relationships I have seen so far here." She paused for a second. "Some hunt, but not many. Most people just eat what they want when they want it. Which means that, well, some people will eat anything."

Tristen jumped up. "You don't hunt? You have no idea of the joys of bringing down your own beast and consuming its flesh?!" He became very animated all of a sudden, arms flailing and exaggerated movements, very out of place considering his harsh exterior. "It's the greatest blessing!" He looked at Terquan. "Isn't it?" Tristen didn't wait a moment before he began talking again. "Listen-Just imagine - you're thundering through the woods after the biggest buck you've ever seen - and I mean a whole twelve pointer! - and he's taking dives through the trees like you wouldn't believe! And I'm on his kickers like there's no tomorow, there isn't any way this big boy's getting away from me!

And he takes this crazy leap over the Vitter creek - clears the whole thing! And all I can do is just kick off at the bank and hope to Coór it's this buck's day to die! And I cleared it! I didn't think in any night of my life I'd clear that creek - I've never even thought of trying - but I did! And something must have happened to the buck as he landed, because the next thing I know - I'm on top of him! So I grab for my dagger and I'm ready to sink my knife in his flank, and he kicks me! Right in the ribs! Oh- there's nothing like getting kicked - nothing at all! And all that kick does is make me angry- and wound up- there is NO way this buck's getting off the hook after barreling me in the chest with his hooves like that!

But anyway - he's having problems getting up - maybe he broke a leg during the jump I don't know, and I take that chance to sink the knife in him - this massive scream comes echoing out of his throat and he starts thrashing and kicking like his life depended on it, and in all honesty it did! But I've got a good grip on my dagger and I'm just thrashing about with him - flailing my free arm with my nails extended and shredding his backside like he was a milari scratching post! The flailing's rattling my spine and I'm sore like all Coór, but I'm getting this buck - and the pain is making me insane over this buck - he was going to be mine, even if I died!"

Tristen finally began to calm down, his gestures decreasing steadily as he wound down the story. "Taluen's hounds took a few minutes to catch up to me, they still need a bit of training but as soon as they found my buck they began ripping into him at the right spots... One at the jugular and the other at the gut. They made a huge mess, but they stopped ripping when I told them to, which was good training on Taluen's part... And he began to stop flailing, and soon he stopped trying to run- he just gave in. And that stillness - you know it - just as something is dying, as it gives in and lets go of this world-  I felt that. I was lying across him, with my handstill on my dagger, and I felt him die. I felt him die, I felt when his body stopped breathing, I felt when he actually ceased to live...." A smile that seemed holy and angelic - as if Coór itself laid a touch upon him - crossed his face, and he calmed. "It was the most fulfilling thing I've ever done. He then looked over at Viresse. "And that's how I caught dinner."

"Ha, but who helped you get this basticht carcass back to Av'jeín?  Taluen quipped and Tristen quickly whipped his way. They stared at each other for a second, and Taluen bared his teeth, like a growling animal. Quickly Tristen dropped to his level and they leaned into each other, pressing foreheads as they growled into each others' face. After a few seconds of raised tensions and on the threshhold of a fight, The pairs' expression changed, they grinned brightly and shouted in each other's face, then Taluen pressed hard against Tristen and tossed him down into his seat. Both were laughing heartily at each other, and Viresse cocked a brow.

Obviously these dark elves were quite young - they couldn't be over a hundred. They were far too silly and childish to be any older than that. She reached out and pulled another piece of meat from the deer and chewed, and took a small sip of the corpseberry wine as it was passed around the intimate circle that sat and ate.

For the rest of the meal, she kept silent unless asked a question, where she replied promptly. Viresse was far more involved watching the trio interact with each other than she was at talking about herself. In some small way, it would buy her some respect and even some safety if they didn't know much about her.

Granted, they did act like young men. Almost like humans, save for their point of view. Compared to humans they were both more respectful and more morbid. They spoke of blood and hunting, and killing - and also of elders and ancient stories and even of the future to come. They were rooted in the Eophyrhim culture, and they seemed as if they would have it no other way.

Viresse's mind drifted to the Hounds who had escorted her to the Paelelon. She began to compare herelf to them. They did not want to be a part of the Paelelon, but still had a great sense of respect for their home and their people, and knew that the way they were raised, no one would understand, so they bonded together to cope. And cope they did, in a way that Viresse saw few people do. They spoke without words.

Viresse thought of herself. Coór'hém did travel, but not much. And as she thought of the conversation and watched the playful comeraderie between the dark elven boys, the more she thought about her yearn to be away form her own tribe. She wanted to be like an Eophyrhim. She wanted to be happy with who she was, like these people were.
 


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