The Color of Memory (via chat with Veshenga’s Player)
It had been a few days since the retaking of Rannick. After a long day of cleaning and burials, most of the rooms on the ground floor were livable again. As Veshenga walked down the hall to her room, she passed the Captain’s quarters and could not help but notice the woman was sorting through a trunk at the foot of the bed, and a flash of color. Familiar, somehow. Until then, Veshenga had been considering a warm drink, a long bath, a good hunt. Just a few of her favorite things she looked forward to at the end. Secret little wishes that she tried not to think on for too long, as there were more important people and things to concern herself over – That was when the color caught her eye, and Veshenga turned. She strode closer to the captain, knocking on the foot of the bed as she would a door.
“Need any help, Captain?”
She glanced up, having apparently not noticed anyone. In the few days Veshenga had known her, the Captain had never displayed much emotion beyond a stoic facade in danger of crumbling at any moment. But, for a brief second as their eyes meet, Veshenga saw a flicker of relief mingled with sadness. Then the Captain composed herself once more and stowed the… scarf, perhaps… back in the trunk.
“Oh, no thank you, Veshenga. I was just sorting through my possessions. Fortunately, the ogres hadn’t gotten to them, yet.”
Veshenga smiled softly, not bothered by the few stray braids that stumbled along the side of her face. Her voice was as subtle as her smile, she nodded to the color tangled in the nest of the Captain’s belongings.
“I… do not mean to pry, but that is a lovely garment. A woman in my caravan had a skirt like that… reminded me of butterflies, now it reminds me of home.” She winced and rolled her arm, working out a stitch in her shoulder’s muscle.
The Captain nodded, moved the skirt back out gingerly, hesitantly. Veshenga had the impression that this was something that the Captain had never shown to anyone in the Fort, perhaps she only showed it now because of a shared Varisian history and an unexpected conversation. As it was pulled free, Veshenga certainly made out the pattern that she spotted, confirmed that it is, as she said, exactly like the one worn by one of her “aunts.” One of the women Danel seemed closer to than anyone else in the tribe. The pattern was similar to her tribe’s, but obviously a different pattern. “I don’t know why I still keep it… my days of dancing are long over… It’s more than useless to me in my duties. Sentiment, I guess.”
There were few Veshenga confided in regarding her own brand of homesickness. There was no terrible fit that branded her marime, or a death that drove her into a self-pitying journey. The parting was amicable, the love still there, and times like this were hard to come by. Times where there was someone else who missed home on the road as much as she did.
“I know what you mean,” a brief pause, and a smile to keep the two girls from getting a little too sentimental maybe. “You fight wonderfully, I am sure you were just as fine a dancer,” Veshenga watched her, blue eyes studied. “Maybe when this is done, you find your caravan again?”
She shook her head, kneading the skirt without realizing it as she struggled to hold back the emotions. “They’re dead, I’m afraid. And I am, too. When you come to the Black Arrows as I did, it’s better to think of your life as over. This is just penance before you go on your way. Kaven never got that, and look what it did to us. Even if there were anything out there for me, I agreed to stay with the Black Arrows until they put me in the ground.”
Veshenga’s brows furrowed. She was focused on the Captain, though the familiarity of the colorful skirt in her hands was a formidable challenge. Still, the Varisian girl did not sway from supporting the Captain whose own abilities had kept not only her remaining fighters alive, but Veshenga’s own allies as well.
“You’re a very brave woman, to do what you have done, to still persist in doing this. I,” Veshenga reached down, and held the Captain’s hands gently in the folds of the skirt. “I am sorry about what happened here. I speak for me, though my friends are a dedicated bunch, I will do what I can – anything, I can.” A suddenly bright smile flit across her features. “You are family after all!”
The Captain smiled, a bit, but did not seem convinced.
“I appreciate the thought, but I see by your colors that you’re from far away. One of the tribes near Riddleport?”
Veshenga chuckled and sat back, her spine lining the wall of the bed’s foot board. A stray silver coin splashed with blood was retrieved, and flipped idly along her fingers.
“Yes,” she confessed. “Bordering Mierani forest. Have you been there?” She shook her head, painting the memories of the trees, the rocks, and so many skies in stages of day, night, sunset and sunrise. “Beautiful place. The snow is magic,” she covered the bloody coin with her other hand, swept the fingers away to reveal a clean one now. “Melts away in the spring to show such loveliness.” In truth, she had turned the coin to present the clean side to the Captain, the bloodied side now faced Veshenga. She sighed. “Though maybe it is just sleight of hand,” she flicked the coin away, watched it roll. “And you?”
“Near Korvosa. There are many villages there with Chelish immigrants, more money than sense and happy to see a show. It’s a good performing country, or at least it used to be,” she said, bitterness crept in, “though the risk is greater than the reward, I assure you. Their Hellknights await any opportunity to punish us and the Shoanti for being the original owners of this land.”
“My father spoke of Korvosa very rarely, he said he used to ride with tribes beyond the borders. This was before I was born,” Veshenga shrugged, her fingertips idly played with the hem of the colorful skirt between them. “He is not sure he can ever go back.” Veshenga went oddly quiet, her look was very serious. A figure so usually grinning, winking, and celebrating was suddenly so stoic, calm, and her tone was firm. “What is rightfully yours should be delivered to you, if you are not in possession of it already. I see why my father grieved for our Korvosan familiars… Such a situation is,” she waved away the rest of her comment, her own disgust at the idea of the Hellknights’ behavior overcoming her speech.
“I’m simply grateful to Lamatar for saving me from their execution. For giving me the opportunity to make up some of my debt before I visit Desna’s door. The Hellknights are arrogant fools, but so was I, back then. Had I simply submitted myself to their lunacy, perhaps there would still be a tribe out there for me. I hate them, but I don’t blame them any more than I blame the traps you sometimes find in ancient tombs. Some infernal Chelish bastard made them the way they are and then let them into the world to snap shut on anyone they think fits their code… even when they’re wrong.”
“I understand you, of course, but I am still glad you did not submit, that you did not bow. Beside, we would not even be having this conversation would we?” Veshenga chuckled, trying to bring that smile back to the Captain’s lips. Maybe it would be better to change the subject? She was not sure exactly how to proceed. The personal life of the Captain was beautiful and complicated, a mixture of so many things. Veshenga related to her, though her life had not known such upheavals. Not to her knowledge, anyway. “How long have you been serving with Vale?” Veshenga smirked, her question the first bit of dialogue spent not eye-to-eye with the Captain.
She shook her head, a little caught by the switch in topics. “A few years. He’s here by choice, which baffled me for the first few months. I’ve known few better men, though he’s a bit strange. All wrapped up in his machines and studies… a bit like your friend Balekh. I guess sometimes Shoanti get like that when they leave their own tribes. I’ve never asked him why.”
“Mm,” she nodded, and listened, and to herself she smiled. The question was already a major shift from what they had been discussing, so she did not want to totally broadcast that the description of the Black Arrow that kept to himself charmed her.
What nagged at her ever so slightly was the story of Korvosa. Something about that place, much like the skirt, was a flash of color, a memory she could not put her finger on completely. It made no sense. She had never been to Korvosa, in fact her father insisted on this point. “We should move out for the hills soon. I know I cannot do much once we have parted, but while I’m here,” she met the Captain’s gaze again, a sincere lock, an earnest not, “I would like to do all I can. If that means… anything, anyway.”
“You’ve done a lot. I think your friends feel that we’re ungrateful. It’s hard, losing everyone you’ve ever known… harder twice. It’s just as hard watching a band of skilled warriors wander through and solve the problems that made you look a fool, almost killed you. But, for now, I don’t think we can ask anything more of you, save perhaps word of Lamatar’s fate. Though, I fear, your own path takes you all the way into the hills. We may need to stay here, wait for reinforcement from Magnimar, unless we can prove a clear and present danger from the remaining ogres.”
Veshenga’s empathy could only stretch so far. She truly could not imagine what the Captain and Vale had been through. Though seeing fellow rangers stretched, mangled, torn to pieces and arranged with some twisted finesse turned her stomach. She brushed a stray tear away, and cleared her throat.
“Let this be proof enough.” She stood, and held her hand out to the Captain.
The Captain puts the skirt away, and allowed Veshenga to pull her up, shaking. “You’re a good young woman. May Desna guard your path.”
“And Erastil yours, sister.” The Captain was pulled closer, she drew her arm around her shoulders and embraced her tightly. “And find a way to dance again,” she smiled, and pulled away from the embrace. The flash of color still danced in Veshenga’s mind as she moved off. The memories teased and beckoned the girl’s curiosity. There was still much, much work to do, and someone else she needed to see.
A Voice in the Wind (by Balekh’s Player)
Balehk stood in the northernmost tower of the Fortress Rannick, keeping watch on his shift in the early morning. Rain still drizzled in from the north, but it was no longer possessed the howling fury that had threatened the dam. He listened to it, as he did in his youth in the mountains, but the wind did not speak. Shamans among his people knew that all the natural elements had a voice: the crackle of flames, the slosh of the waves, the grinding clatter of stones, and the whispering dance of the winds. Listening to, and interpreting, that dance is what Balehk was raised to do.
It was the gift that Nethys supplanted.
It wasn’t that the Tamiir-Quah had exiled him. Not exactly. But without a totem, he could be no Shaman for his people, and the Shoanti would never accept one of the outsider gods as their totem. So Balehk was invited to walk outside of his homelands for a time. He was not, and would never be, invited to return. Nethys did not offer the guidance and companionship of the Shoanti totems. His god was not a personal god. Magic was like the weather, it would provide gentle rains and bounty for some, and crush other beneath it’s storms. Nethys encouraged the people to learn to guide those dark clouds, but he would not save even his own followers if they stumbled and lost their way. Nethys did not care, beyond that magic would be used.
These dark thoughts weighed heavily on him as the senseless wind snapped around him. The Theurge snapped back, growling out a word of power and flinging coruscating energy into the zephyrs around the fortress. The power dissapated, striking nothing. Balehk heard a creak on the ladder and spun. It was Vale.
“Is anything the matter?” he asked.
Balehk shook his head, “Nerves, nothing more.” He turned back to his watch, but he didn’t hear Vale go back down the ladder.
To a stranger, the large warrior could not have been more different from the theurge. Vale was all thick, corded muscle, where Balehk had thin limbs and an almost elfin delicacy to his features. The weapon Vale tossed about so casually in battle would have staggered Balehk to carry, and there was more raw knowledge in the scholars head than the ranger would likely learn in the rest of his days. In one thing only were they the same. They were both very far from home.
“Tell me of your tribe,” the big man asked, “to pass the time.”
Balehk sighed, and glanced back at Vale, “My homesickness is that obvious, huh?”
“Not to most people, perhaps. But everyone in this fort is feeling it right now, in their own way.”
“Then I’ll tell you about the mountains. I miss them. These flat southlands have too much sky. I’ve been away so long that I’d be as helpless as a newborn among the rocks back home, but from time to time I yearn for it anyway. The wind would sing through the crags, high pitched. The cold would bite at your bones if you were slow, and wolves would bite at your bones if you stopped moving. Our lands were not easy, by any measure of it, but they were ours.”
Vale didn’t ask why Balehk didn’t just return. If he couldn’t, then he couldn’t, that was what mattered. A heavy hand gripped his shoulder. “I’ll keep watch. Go be with your woman till the sun rises.”
Balehk nodded, so tired he could collapse, “Tomorrow will be a better day, perhaps. Less windy, at least.”
He climbed down the ladder back into the fort.