CHAPTER XIV: QUESTIONS, QUESTIONS...

A SANTHARIAN NOVEL

 
Darkling Abroad   
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Introduction. Another dream of the forest causes Viresse to ponder what truly occurs in the woods of the Paelelon... and her encounters with two of the other elves makes her believe that even here, all is not well.

 

he was in the forest again. She was getting ill of this dream. Every time she was here-somethign weird happened that made no sense to her. Why did she keep getting these dreams? And when would they go away?

She heard a noise behind her, and turned around.

And it was Rube.

Her jaw dropped. When she was with him, all she dreamt of were elves, and now that she was among elves, she dreamt of Rube. Would oddities ever cease?

"Didn't I leave you behind?"

"It wasn't my choice to come here. Do you really think I'd even attempt it?" he asked.

"... Maybe."

"You're only partially right," he said. He looked like Rube - but he was far too tame. It almost annoyed her.

"How?" she asked.

"I went to Elsreth, right after you. I think I may have even seen you," he noted. "But things - didn't go my way. I ran into a wrong crowd, and - ..." He looked around. "Surprise, surprise."

"But why are you here?" Viresse asked.

"For the same reason a lot of people are."

"They don't let humans into the Paelelon without an escort. They don't let anyone  in without an escort. This isn't making any sense."

He blinked. "Ask Tristen what they hunt."

Viresse rolled her eyes. "They hunt what's here."

Rube took a step forward, his eyes burning intensely.

"Ask them what they hunt for the Arvins Festival."
 


Viresse again awoke with a start. But the last time she did that, she had smacked her head and then killed a man. This time, she was nestled into a cozy pillow, and didn't have to kill anything unless she wanted to.

She rubbed her eyes, then looked toward the direction of the altar, for it was dark. The candles were out, and there was no light entering the small quarters under the massive tree. She'd have to tell Sifl about its candles.

She arose from her sleeping area, tried to straighten it up and exited the tree-home. She looked around. She must have slept in, for things were already quite lively. People were bustling about with their days - some were already returning from hunts, a few ladies were pinning up laundry so it would dry tomorrow.

Viresse didn't know where anyone she knew was. She'd be on her own for the evening until she recognized someone. Viresse walked a few steps- and gasped when someone walked up beside her and took her arm. She quickly looked over, and found Tristen, with a bright smile on his face. He lead her toward the clearing, keeping a slow pace that allowed for conversation.

"Good evening..." he said in an carousing manner. He seemed thouroughly amused with his trick, and his smile continued to radiate across his face while she answered.

"It's decent - but I warn you - do not sneak up behind a Cor'hm - they will turn about and stab you in the gut so quickly you don't even know you've been stabbed until you've lost your continence - and your life." She smirked smartly at him and set her hand on her dagger, then patted it lovingly.

"Well - I thought you were Ifer'hm!" he said smartly.

Viresse's eyes widened. "Well - the Ifer'hm are a small tribe integrated into the Cor'hm. We are different tribes but live together. "She nodded her head once, as if that answered the question.

"So what makes you different than some Cor'hm, hmm?" he asked.

"Well, for one - we cook our meat. Two, we feed our own children. And three, we dress better." She smiled. "And that makes us superior in every way that matters." She was totally lying on the last comment, but Tristen did not have to know that.

"Cor'hm don't cook?! How..." He paused as he thought of it. "...how perfectly delicious!" He smiled and laughed. "You eat where you catch! What a brilliant idea!"

Viresse smiled, and knocked her shoulder into his - tossing him a little off balance, and he took her with him. They careened across the path, almost colliding into a woman with a basket full of corpseberries. Both Tristen and Viresse apoligized with giggles in their voices and smiles on their faces, as they continued to walk.

Viresse was momentarily reminded that she had to ask Tristen about the Arvins Festival, but at the moment, she was enjoying herself and pushed the thought aside.

"So... Tristen," she said teasingly.

"Yes?" he said in the same tone.

"Terquan tells me you enjoy hunting."

He laughed loudly, causing several elves to look in his direction. "I do - I don't think I've met a single person who doesn't." He looked at her out of the corner of his eye. "Don't you?"

She looked down as she walked. "Not so often - I don't really know how."

Tristen stopped dead in his tracks and relinquished her arm, and looked her square in the face, a hint of a smile playing at the corners of his mouth. "You don't know how?! How terrible!" He took her arm again and continued to walk. "Well, we will have to show you. It's not all that hard. You look for tracks. You follow the tracks, and eventually they lead near an animal. And as soon as that animal knows its hunted it either stays very still, or runs!"He took a small jump and began to run a few peds, dragging Viresse along behind him.

"And if they run, you chase them, and if they fight you move in until you can hit them easy or they run. Fight or flight. It's not that hard at all, just tedious at times."

"How often do you catch something?" she asked.

"Well, that depends. You have a better chance of catching something in a group than you so alone - but some people, like Terquan, totally skew that dynamic." He sighed. "About one in ten, I guess."

"So, Terquan is a good hunter," she stated, with a note in her voice that implied a question.

"When he hunts, he is. He's always off doing something else - I kind of know what but I don't care cause it's his ass either way." He looked toward the ground. She seemed to hit a nerve.

But Viresse was curious. "What does he do?"

Tristen continued to look at the ground. "He has another teacher." He lifted his head, in almost a sign of arrogance. "Not many heed him, but sometimes those that are looking for an extra boost in their game go to see what he has to say - and sometimes... things change."

Viresse looked to the ground. "Sorry."

Tristen turned to her and forced a smile on his face. "Hey, it's all right. You didn't know, and besides - if I lied to you about it it'd be stupid of me. Because then I'd be lying to myself."

He relinquished her arm again and took a step back. "Well, it was nice walking with you," he said and grinned.

She smiled back. "You know, I've heard you're nuts. In a bad way," she said. "I don't see that."

He smirked, his face cruelly twisting into something sinister and unfamilar to the young man she was talking to. "You've never been hunting with me. Things will change when that happens. Just you see." He bowed his head again - and the face of the young man who she had enjoyed a cheerful pleasant conversation with just moments before returned to the surface. He made a small wave at her, and departed.

Viresse stood for a few seconds, watching him leave. He was odd. Very friendly. But odd. She was thoroughly confused - how on earth could he be so civil, and such a maniac elsehwere. Well, she didn't know him so well, she couldn't judge his character from such a small meeting. She shrugged. She'll pick it up eventually - and then she can be scared. Right now, she felt a little enamoured. Which wasn't so bad, but never very good.

She was alone again. She looked around the clearing, trying to see if there was someone she knew. She also remembered her point of being here - for research. But again her thoughts drifted to her lack of familiarity among the people. She didn't feel right just showing up and being intrusive without letting people know her first. They would be more candid if they knew her.

But Viresse was getting deeper than she had imagined. Was it because they were dark elves? She suspected it was. But she was sure Artimidor would understand - at least she hoped he would. He was a bright man, surely he would. Why not? Everyone needs a vacation sometime. And Viresse was just going to take it easy the next few days - then get into the swing of things. It just made sense that way.

Viresse shook off her thoughts and looked around the clearing for a familiar face, and found one just across the way.

Taluen was sitting near the fire, his hounds Bane and Strut flanking him as he cleaned and sharpened his dagger. He didn't seem too heavy in thought, in fact he looked kind of bored, so Viresse walked over and sat down beside him.

"Bored? "she asked, and scrated Bane around the ears. Bane quickly set his head in Viresse's lap and rubbed his head against her hand to receive more scratchings. Viresse complied, then looked back to Taluen.

"Well, not really, just busy work. You can't really double-job weapon cleaning, Cor knows I've tried."He laughed to himself, then set down the whetting stone and showed Viresse his palm - it had a deep rut in it that definitely looked like a scar, but the center was discoloured. She shook her head slowly and Taluen retracted his hand. "But I can talk okay while I'm doing this, but I have to stare at it pretty hard. So I don't lose my concentration."He honed his knife against his whetting stone with a calm precise rhythm. "I don't usually need my dagger - Bane and Strut are great hunters, and when I'm hunting with Tristen he likes to do the kill. But I do keep it on me - just in case I need it."

Viresse nodded and watched his rhythm and then noticed that she ws scratchcing Bane in the same rhythm. She smirked to herself. "Who's the best hunter out of all three of you?" she asked.


"Well, that kind of depends. Bane and Strut are great at pursuit and tracking. Tristen is just a monster when it comes to the rough and tumble - I don't know if you've noticed, but Tristen's got a thing for Pain..."

Viresse smirked. "Oh, I've noticed. Are all of the Eophyrhim like that?" She paused for a second. "Not to mean that you're not like that..."

Taluen smiled. "No - I'm not anything like Tristen when it comes to hunting. He's in his own world when he hunts - which can be kind of frightening because he gets so wound up and it takes forever to calm him down." Taluen looked to Strut, who began fidgeting in her sleep. "Not a whole lot of us are. But Tristen's an amazing hunter - some compare him to Dimeye or Gaulivan. He intends to win the Arvins festival this year, and I don't doubt he can do it."

Viresse looked at Taluen in a confused manner, and the name rung a bell. "The Arvins Festival?"

"Yeah. It's a forest-wide hunt where anyone capable of dragging down a deer is allowed to join in. They bring quarry from all over Santharia just for us to hunt. And the one that wins Is considered blessed by Arvins and becomes an honorary Hunter Cleric." He nodded slowly. "That's how Sifl became one. And that's why we like Sifl so much. Sifl isn't stuffy or arrogant. He's just a  hunter with knowledge who isn't afraid to share it."

"Speaking of Sifl... "Viresse said, with a lilt in her voice that implied a question.

Taluen shook his head and laughed heartily. "I can't tell you, we don't know eitehr."

Viresse nodded, and laughed along with him. It was good to laugh - the dark elves around the Paelelon didn't laugh as much, even considering their close ties. It was weird. She shrugged it off and sat quietly for a few moments.

"What about Terquan?" she asked.

"What do you mean?" Taluen asked back. He finished honing his blade, wiped the oils off with a soft rag then sheathed it at his hip. His full attention was at Viresse now, and she shifted uncomfortably.

"I mean... how is he at hunting?" she asked.

Taluen shrugged. "I'm not really sure. When we all hunt together he seems to restrain himself - when in a group, Tristen and my hounds take down a fair deal of game. But when Terquan goes hunting by himself - which he does quite often - he comes back with some great quarry. Sometimes it's just a tarep, but there's not a single scratch on it. And when he brings home elk - which he does - they're huge and mauled all around the neck like he started hacking at it and wouldn't stop." He paused a second.

"Terq is... have you heard of bare-handed hunting?"

"No." Viresse answered honestly.

"Okay... Well, bare-handed hunting is basically hunting without weapons. Not even a dagger. Some can't do it at all, and some are amazing at it. Terq - he's really good at it. And that gets him a lot of respect. But a lot of people fear it too. Because that's the closest anyone can get to Cor, Queprur and Arvins at any one point. It's like being near a living god..."

Taluen shook his head for a moment. "Not to say that Terq's a god. He's just - very different. To the point that no one can explain. "He paused, then leaned close to Viresse to whisper in her ear.

"He's hiding something."

Viresse nodded. "I know." When Taluen gave her a puzzled look, she explained. "I've lived most of my life around people with hidden motives and secrets. I can tell."

Taluen nodded. "He seems to think no one notices, but he can't hide it from us." He raised his hand, a finger extended, and the look in his face changed from amusement to caution. "But please, be careful with him. He's not a nice guy. Not at all."

Viresse leaned back, and looked at Taluen. This time she wore the confused look. "but isn't he your friend?"

Taluen nodded slowly. "He has been. My entire life. But something happened to him on a hunt - or something - that made him dangerous, and now... I don't even trust him." He turned his face toward the fire and watched the flames. "I shouldn't have told you any of that," he said, and hung his head.

"No, it's okay. I needed to know. And I'm glad you were the one to tell me. If Tristen had said it, I wouldn't have believed him. And if I heard it from Terq - I think I'd simply blow it off." She looked at Taluen and smiled. "But you're civil. It makes sense to hear it from you."

"You know. I get that alot," Taluen said. He stood up, and his hounds quickly jumped to their feet. Taluen held out a hand, and Viresse took his invitation to help her get up. He nodded slowly. "So. Be careful. And if Terquan really worries you at any point, tell Sifl. Sifl will let you know everything you need to know." He looked at his hounds. "We have to go meet my mother for dinner, so I hope I will see you around."

"You will," Viresse said, and watched as Taluen departed.
 


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