Reunions in Dark (via chat with Veshenga’s player)

The sounds of conversation quickly faded, as Vale and Veshenga left Balehk and Taeva to fend for themselves. After only a dozen steps, the thick stone walls muffled their words to nothing. Or perhaps they had rapidly run out of things to talk about. Vale did not seem concerned as he gestured at various places that had been in a wrecked state the last time Veshenga was there. He was beaming like a madman.

“That one was tricky. One of those fireballs Balehk’s woman threw dug a short sword five inches into the stone. But we dug it out, patched it, and it’s almost good as new.”

Veshenga managed to keep up with him. Restoring the fort had obviously been a labor of love, this was the sort of thing Vale did. His steps were fast, his excitement was infectious and Veshenga soon cracked a grin.

“Shayliss? The girl has a mean throw,” Veshenga chuckled and followed him further on the tour. A half dozen more such repairs appeared at the end of the Shoanti warrior’s gesture, each paired with a reminder of the terrible battled that was fought in these halls less than a year before, now nearly completely erased by the diligent work of the rangers. It was odd revisiting the fort this way, the unrelenting work had nearly masked the signs of struggle, loss, victory, and carnage. Veshenga shrugged her cloak back from her shoulders, and leaned against one of the walls as Vale turned to her.

“I’m not boring you, am I?”

A sly, but warm smile stretched across her lips, and she shook her head at the inquiry. “Not at all. I am amazed by the work you and the Arrows hev’ done and in such short time.”

“Then I’ll show you my new favorite spot,” he grinned, and turned, heading north without any further explanation. One of Veshenga’s narrow brows arched over a quizzical blue stare.

“Favorite spot, eh?” Veshenga could not deny sticking close to a grin like that. She kept up with him as they wound through the fort. He appeared to be making for the storage closet, and then kept going. He walked down the set of stairs that had been a secret entry into a fort once occupied by ogre invaders. Every now and then he would hear the smallest laugh from her, obviously excited about this adventure. It was refreshing, considering most adventures were soaked in blood, painful, hard to shake. At the end of such adventures, Veshenga felt like a drink, but on this one? She felt like a child again, when she would run through the woods with her friends to secret hideaways. Some by the lake, some under willow trees or among thick, arched roots.

They moved through the basement prison, now refreshingly wight-free, and Vale slowed down to carefully, quietly push open the secret door into the caves. Veshenga tread softly after him, her breath softened. She was present and silent, and stuck close to him as a shadow would. It was as warm and damp as she remembered from the previous visit, and the smell of ozone and distant flashes of lightning made it abundantly clear that the cave was still infested with the shocker lizards. Upon seeing the lizards, a startled smile lightened Veshenga’s features, but she kept herself from making any sudden noise.

“Now I’m never going to be as good with the little guys as you or the Cap… Commander,” he said in a low town, and then reached for a box hidden in a crevasse high up the wall, “but I’ve got my tricks.” Reaching into the container, he pulled out a handful of some kind of treat and flung it ahead into the pile of lizards. As they were fed, Veshenga snickered and shook her head. Small contented sighs quickly began to come from the pile.

“Clever, very clever,” she watched from over his shoulder. “Next thing I know you will hev’ them doing tricks.” She grinned up at him. “Maybe jumping through hoops? Dancing?”

His teeth flashed white in the shadows as he reached into the box and pulled out a candle and a striker. He delicately lit it and nudged the door closed. It became the only light in the darkness.

“Nah. I like these guys right where they are. They do their thing. I just want to make sure they let me do mine. C’mon.” He attentively shielded the candle with his hand so as to not disturb the lizards, then began to cautiously skirt the area they filled as he made for the far reaches of the caverns.

“Right behind you,” Veshenga confirmed, and journeyed further with him. That little light sat golden in the palm of his hand as the wax shimmered just beneath the wick. Even in that tiny brilliance she could see the fingers of the engineer. Not the digits of a noble; smooth, cool, and unused. These were rough, callused, warm fingertips she could not forget. Veshenga kept the thought to herself, buttoned it shut behind a bit lip. She pressed on, the candle light was a floating star in the blackness around them.

It did not take long to reach what would have seemed to be a dead end, a wrong turn, if not for the old, soft-looking blanket hung on the wall. The end of the corridor was small, barely big enough for two people to sit in. Vale handed Veshenga the candle as he spread the blanket across the rough cave floor.

“Here,” she said, and took the offered candle, “I got it,” she shielded the fluttering flame, the miniature radiance suddenly anxious now that Vale’s hand was gone. The candlelight settled, and the warmth against her palm was relaxing. Her eyes began to roam, the blue gaze coasted along the walls. Adventuring left her with the habit of checking every room she entered. Check the corners, know the exits. Eventually, her gaze settled on Vale again. Veshenga smiled fondly as he lay the blanket down, and she made a gesture as if to ask: May I?

She took a seat on the sprawled blanket, still conscious of the candle in her hand. She leaned back on her elbows, and extended her head back. The wild dark locks, some braided, some beaded, some free, spilled down from her shoulders to brush the blanket. She smiled, her face upside down. “Out with it – you missed me, didn’t you?” She played the reunion serenely, but the moment she had seen him she wanted nothing more than to embrace him.

The big man gingerly sat down next to her, snugly, winked and then blew out the candle.

“Quite a bit,” he said in the darkness, humor in his voice.

It took only a few moments for Veshenga’s half-elven senses to adjust. Smell came first, the scent of the extinguished candle fading to reveal Vale, breathing next to her, leather and stone charmingly covered with a quick scrub and a clean shirt. All he had time for on their unannounced arrival. Next was sight, or, moreover, the lack of it. The utter blackness of the cavern daunted her eyes’ attempt to account for even the faintest light. Finally, the absolute silence revealed its secrets; a thousand small creaks and vibrations running through the rock.

Vale whispered, “You hear it?”

She found him in the dark, her head rest against his. “I do,” her voice trailed into the black that had enveloped them once the candle was put out. There was more she wanted to say, but a moment like this deserved only a tender silence. She listened to him breathe and the floor shiver. Her eyes shut, not just to help her adjust to the darkness, but the rhythm of his breath was enough to let her drift in this instant. Soon, he felt her stir from their sweet stillness, heard a quick breath escape her. Her question was teaming with contained laughter. “What is that anyway?”

“Near as I can figure, this is the heart of the fortress. If you could draw a cutaway of the place from every angle, draw the direction each block of stone would go if it wasn’t stopped by another one, most of the lines would go through here. Thousands of tons of stone bearing down on this one point, then rushing over us like a river. Every time the wind blows, or someone moves, or the slightest thing happens to shift the fort, you feel it here.”

Veshenga gave a mirthful cry. “That’s amazing, I would hev’ never figured this out. Never,” she shook her head, the guffaw echoed around them. She reached for him, blindly, her fingers strayed across his cheek hesitantly until she was sure she would not poke an eye, or put a thumb up his nose. “You are incredible,” she said tenderly, and bowed her brow along his temple. He felt her smile, even if he could not see it. “But you knew that,” she smirked playfully.

His arm wrapped around her in the darkness. “I’m glad you like it. I wanted to turn that all into a metaphor about how I feel, but I couldn’t find the words. It’s just my favorite spot. And now my favorite person’s in it.”

She cradled his face, her fingertips were her eyes for now. “Not long before I came here, I thought of everything I would say to you. Everything. Now,” she kissed him, “all I want is to stay here, I don’t want to go,” he would hear a sad chuckle close to his mouth, she shook her head. “When we make it through this, I’ll be back again. You know this, too.”

“That’s what you guys do. You go straight through problems, like an arrow. Plus,” he chuckled, “I’m not cut out to organize a resistance movement to a magical god king, so you guys better take care of it.”

“Hey,” she exclaimed, “I hev’ this handled ! This would not be the first magical god king I hev’ hed to take care of,” she paused. “Okay, this may be the first.” She did not want to think about the struggle she and her friends would face. “Take this,” she unclasped the opal that usually hung low from her neck on a thin chain. She took his hand. “I want you to hev’ it.” The chain coiled on his palm and she folded her fingers over it. “Now,” she eased him onto his back, “I believe there is something we need to take care of…”