A light rain had made the old dirt road muddy and slick. Despite this, the scaly cat-like felsabre had no trouble thumping deftly along the worn trail. Off the faded road, hidden by the ever present mists, creatures of shadow and fog gave the road a wide berth, its current occupant keeping even their ancient hunger at bay.
Noting the reaction of the mist creatures, the felsabre’s rider wondered for a moment if he should have chosen a different mount for that day. The fel was part of him, be didn’t even notice its presence any more, but by all accounts, the one he sought would be unhappy with it.
Nothing for it now, he thought, and no matter anyway, there was fel enough in his gaze that the cat was but icing on the demonic cake.
He crouched to let a frond of low-hanging bamboo pass over his head, and then he saw it; the old log house set deep in the forest. It sat beside a still pond, and the mist creatures also gave it wide berth. Swarms of fireflies danced around, as if on enteral patrol. He pulled back the reigns, just slightly, just enough to let his mount know what he wanted. She slowed quickly down to a walk. She raised her head and sniffed the air twice, then padded forward slowly. Coming fully through the shrouding mist, he spied the one he’d come to see. A figure stood to one side of the structure, with a large uprooted tree trunk before her. Stripped of it’s bark and branches, it stood as if waiting. The one before it studied it carefully, as if trying to see the shape underneath. An ear twitched, and she turned.
A kal’dorei female, tall and lithe, wiry muscle corded underneath pale magenta skin. Her violet hair was short, but longer than when last the rider had seen it. She was dressed in simple clothes, trousers and shirt, with sandals on her feet. When she realized the identity of her visitor, she turned fully around and then bowed low.
“Forosuul Silverthorn. I thank you for coming.” She stood up straight and added, “I was unsure if you’d received my message.”
Still mounted, he nodded, replying, “I did. I came as soon as I was able.”
Will you join me inside?” she said, gesturing to the door of the house. He nodded, but cast a curious eye on the upright trunk. “Master Bruised Paw used to stand here when welcoming visitors,” she said, by way of explanation. “He will do so again.” She then went indoors. Choosing not to pursue further answers, he shrugged and slid from the back of his felsabre, whispering in its ear as he did so. The demonic cat bounded off into the bamboo to amuse itself. Then he followed the woman into the house.
Inside, it was as he remembered it. Bed, weapons hanging on the walls, a stove, and a table. The woman had moved in and changed almost nothing. As was customary here, he pushed the boots from his feet, setting them by the door. On the central woven rug were two cushions, he lowered himself onto one. The woman stood by the small table, preparing her tea service. She did so with rigid ritual precision, murmuring to herself as she did so. His keen ears picked up the substance of her mutterings.
“You ask forgiveness,” he said, mater-of-factly. She hesitated slightly in her ritual motions, then nodded stiffly. Again, he said no more, and simply waited.
Eventually, all was ready to her satisfaction, and she brought over the tea service, lowering herself gracefully to the opposite cushion. She laid out cups and poured the tea with the same deft precision. Once poured, she gestured to the two cups, indicating he should choose one.
Smiling wryly, he picked the one on the left, saying, “Reassurance against poison in the tea.”
“Just so,” she replied, taking up the second cup and sipping its contents. “None of my other visitors commented on it. I wondered if they understood.”
“Eli did, but she is too polite to say anything. The others likely did not know what you were about.”
Grinning, he replied, “Aye. She plays rough but she has courtly manners ingrained into her. She won’t admit it though.”
“You know her well?”
“Very. We fought and worked side by side for many years.” He looked thoughtful a moment, then added, “Well, many years as humans might see it.”
“Hmm.” She watched as he took another sip of his tea, waiting patiently. He smiled at her impassively until she asked, “Aren’t you curious about why I asked you to visit me?”
Grinning, he answered, “Of course. I figure you’ll tell me when you’re ready.”
Narrowing her eyes slightly, she said, “It’s about Master Bruised Paw.”
Looking surprised, he replied, “Is it? I thought you wished to speak to me about my House.”
Shaking her head, she answered, “Nay. That matter is immaterial until others are dealt with.” As she spoke she rose and walked to the bed. Reaching over it, she removed a simple sword from a rack that adorned the wall there. Turning back, she returned to her cushion and knelt. Her visitor had gone stiff, every muscle ready to spring. Her lip curled ever-so-slightly, almost mocking. She said, “Am I so frightful?”
Relaxing despite himself, he laughed and said, “I’ve seen how you move. I’d be foolish not to make myself ready.”
“I mean you no harm. The sword is for you.” So saying, she held it out, laying the blade across her forearms. He simply looked at her, confused. “I killed Master Bruised Paw. Unjustly. Murdered him, if you want to put a fine point on it.”
“I am aware.”
“I give you the option of carrying out justice for him.”
Forosuul was shocked to silence. This was the last thing he would have expected. His host simply waited, eyes downcast, arms outstretched with the sword bared across them. Finally, he replied, speaking slowly and deliberately, “I am not a magistrate, Estelæth. Or a nobleman. Nor anyone who metes justice.”
“Very well. You may call it vengeance if you like.”
“Vengeance can take many forms. Your death is not required for this one.”
Looking confused, Estelæth could only stammer, “But…what…”
“Put that thing away, Estelæth.” Frowning, the woman obeyed, setting the blade to the side. He went on, “Tell me. When you came for Master Bruised Paw. Did you ambush him?”
“You didn’t sneak up on him? Try to trick him?”
“I did not!”
“Then how did you kill him?”
“I challenged him honorably! And I defeated him easily! My skill…” Her voice trailed off, becoming uncertain.
“You won. You beat him. You. A student. Defeated him. Easily, as you say.” She nodded, still looking confused. “He was the finest Master of the art in generations. Were he alive today. I do not know if I could beat him.”
“He allowed you to kill him.” Estelæth’s jaw dropped open at this. Clearly the thought and never occurred to her. “Master Bruised Paw was very deliberate. He did little by accident.”
“But why? Why would he want to die?”
“I didn’t say he wanted to die. Maybe he just thought it was his time. We’ll never know. But he must have seen something in you. And I will not dispute his wisdom.”
Sighing heavily, Estelæth said, “What, then of your vengeance? What form will you give it?”
Forosuul stared at her evenly. He did not speak for a long time, simply holding her eye. For her part she returned his gaze, unflinching. After a long time he seemed satisfied and nodded, saying simply, “You will live. You will serve me. And you will find a way to cross the gulf that separates you from your granddaughter.”
“Serve you?” she questioned. “Not your House?”
Smiling slightly, he replied, “Maybe a little of both. For now, we will keep this quiet. I may call on you from time to time and ask you to do something for me. Until then, stay here, meditate, find your place. And find time for Niire.”
“You have s strange notion of Vengeance, Forosuul Silverthorn.”
“Living is harder than dying,” he said sagely, before narrowing his eyes and asking,. “Why the fel do you do that?”
Blinking in confusion, she replied, “What?”
“That name thing. Always saying the full name. You do it every time. Why?”
“Oh. Uh….It is just good form, good manners. You don’t address someone familiarly unless you are close to them.”
“I know a lot of really old kal’dorei, you know, none of them do that.”
Shrugging, she answered, “It is the old way. Ways may have changed. I have not.”
“Hmm..fair enough. I was merely curious. Maybe someday we’ll be on a first name basis.”
“As long as I serve you, that will not be true.”
Throwing up his hands, Forosuul laughed and said, “Kalithil is going to love you.”
Looking more confused, she asked, “But…why?”
“Because he is an ancient bastard who loves people kissing his ass,” he said, behind a huge grin. As he finished speaking, he rose to his feet suddenly. “I have places to be. I’ll stop by from time to time.”
Still reeling and confused, Estelæth could only reply dully, “Very well.”
“Think on what I said. If Niire visits, make time for her. For now that is enough.” So saying, he strode out the door and let forth a whistle. A deep growl sounded from the bamboo jungle to the east, and his felsabre bounded from the mists. Swinging into the saddle, he looked at Estelæth once more and nodded, then wheeled his mount around and thundered away.
Estelæth watched as he rode away, until his form was swallowed by the ever-present mists. After he was gone, she breathed deeply and gazed around.
This is a good place to live, she thought.