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  1. There came a moment when the young Rukhai woman appeared as though she were about to slide off from the back of the giant direwolf to stand upon her own two feet on the ground. That urge seemed to pass with her friend's suggestion that she not. Her cerulean-eyed gaze fell to the forest floor in their immediate surroundings. She could already see blood and muck staining the fur around Jaeger's paw, and the forest floor where he stood certainly seemed positively saturated from the battle. But there was something else entirely too. Here and there could be seen smaller puddles of a strange inky blackness, too dark to be blood, even in the shaded mid-day under the forest canopy. The air was still foul from death and battle, and likely would be for days to come. Even so, when she turned her nose to the air and sniffed a few times, the pungent aromas of blood and violence were laced with another scent, one that was both unfamiliar and foul enough that it made her nose wrinkle and her expression to sour. She reached up with an arm to cover her sensitive nose a moment later, wondering just how long it would take for that foul stench to dissipate. What has been smelled would undoubtedly not be un-smelled any time soon. "Bleh! I couldn't agree more, Irlana." Her gaze then shifted, attention again focusing on the man who, apparently, was the sole survivor of the encounter. "Reinhart? Hell Fire Company?" Her ears perked upright and her head tilted slightly in one direction, a thoughtful expression flashing across her delicate features for brief seconds. She had heard both of those names somewhere before, which wasn't too terribly surprising. The Hell Fire Company was a band of mercenaries, if she wasn't mistaken. Her travels had taken her all over the region and, being as keen of stories and folklore as she was, it didn't take long to hear about the somewhat legendary band of fighters, though admittedly her knowledge started and ended with their name. They were not the most public bunch, but the general consensus was that while they were small, they were fierce. And they had this much trouble with the Skullfort Tribe? Suddenly the grimness of the situation seemed to settle upon her, her expression turning a note more serious. "I have a room at the inn back in town. We can return there to regroup, and Mr. Faust can tell us all about what exactly happened here today before we bring news back to the village." She could only agree with Irlana's plan. It seemed to make the most sense, and she certainly didn't have any better ideas to offer. "Think you can make the trip, Mr. Faust? I'm sure Jaeger could be convinced to play nice long enough to give you a lift back to Briaré." The wolf let out a little untrusting growl, low and quiet, but menacing all the same. It was silenced when her hand found that specific spot behind his left ear and she began to scratch and scritch the big baby. "Oh hush, you! Behave, ok?"
  2. It didn't take long before the familiar trees of her homeland surrounded her on all sides once again, for the dire wolf was swift as the wind and sure of foot through the forest underbrush. His nose easily picked up on the familiar scent of Irlana which acted like a steady guide through the forest, even through the plethora of other scents to be found. As good as Nitala's sense of smell was (a fact that was both blessing and curse as the smell of blood and rot grew ever stronger in the wind), she simply could not hold a candle to Jaeger's. And as a result it took very little time before she was able to spot the first signs of battle and conflict between the trees. A broken arrow shaft lodged into a tree had blood and ooze dripping from it, and she began to see bodies on the ground, strewn about. Some of them were goblins, and that did not surprise her to see. The goblins of the forest had always been problematic. They raided small caravans or individual travelers, often times stealing treasure or capturing hostages, or worse still! Yet despite their foul nature they were always tolerated in moderation. They served their own purpose within the ecosystem of the woodland, and they never became overly aggressive. Until now, however, it would appear. Some of the other bodies she saw as they whipped past were human; men in armors of leather and chain with sharpened swords and strong bows. It became quite apparent abruptly to the young Rukhai woman that something was horribly wrong with this scenario. An armed force of this size should have had no problem dispatching a small band of goblins. Yet the body counts were so disproportionate! Her eyes had been wandering, taking in all these details as Jaeger sprinted through the thickest of it. But her attention was soon drawn back forward as the dire wolf let out a howl that echoed through the trees. And it was straight ahead that she saw something, or at least someone, that made sense around here. Irlana was standing in the distance, her arrow drawn and bow bent, ready to let loose. And there was another near her, to whom her weapon threatened. He was not familiar, but it was immediately apparent he was no goblin. The hairs of her tail bristled and her ears slowly lowered against the top of her head, both signs that she was now on edge and alert for any sort of danger that might still be lingering. Jaeger launched himself over the half-fallen tree and came to a halt alongside Irlana, just a few feet away. His front paws adopted a wide stance allowing him to lower his head and shoulders, ready to pounce. And a low and threatening rumble of a growl began to resonate as his fangs bared at the man still on his knees. Nitala too let her eyes pierce the stranger covered in blood and mud, her sharp blue optics dancing from beneath the thin veil of wavy red bangs to take in as many details as she could. She was surprised to find he was a half-elf, and yet she did not recognize him. Her people worked closely with the half-elves of the forest and she'd grown up knowing many of them, most of all her best friend Irlana. Yet he was a stranger to these lands that Irlana did not seem to know or trust any more than herself. Slowly her form straightened upright from her forward riding position, though she did not make any move to dismount. After a second her gaze finally fell away from the stranger and instead landed on Irlana, whose face and features were a welcome respite from the tension she'd been feeling slowly building in the air about her. It brought a smile to her face despite it all, albeit a thin-lipped, rueful and slightly lop-sided smile. This was not how she had wanted to reunite with her friend after so much time had passed. But, all things considered, at least she wasn't too late. And with the tension in the air almost as thick as the rotten, pungent scent of death and blood, it was her voice that finally cut through it like a knife. "Boy troubles again, Irlana?" she teased.
  3. It did not take long out in the mid day sun to really gain an appreciation for just how much the once humble little hamlet had boomed, and just how much more expansion seemed to be planned and on the horizon. Nitala had spent scarcely more than an hour wandering the market streets, counting the new vendors she didn't recognize, cataloging the new faces, their names and peculiar scents and wares from towns and territories she'd not even heard of. And in that time she'd learned of Briaré's plans to become a trade center for the whole region, not just the local population. It was exciting news for one such as herself. And the prospects of being able to benefit from not only new trade of goods, but also trade of stories and folklore from new and faraway lands, all while staying closer to the lands of her home and thus having more time to catch up with her friends and family, it was all entirely too perfect to be true! And so an hour later, filled with good cheer and a perfectly pleasant outlook on her immediate life, Nitala decided she had seen enough expansion. The time had come for her to find a quiet little spot where she could relax and work on her new ballad. The town square was particularly bustling, and the apple trees near the center where she loved to climb and play as a youth were simply no longer quiet and recluse enough for her purposes. The edge of town was alive with the sound of construction and woodworking, and so to find true peace and quiet she had to once again venture outside of Briaré itself. Fortunately, though, just up the river a short ways there was a nice little wooded thicket. Children would sometimes play and swim in the gentle river waters during the summertime here, as the trees were thick enough that their branches hung out over the river bank and provided an excellent bit of shade from the sun. There were no distractions to be found today, however, and those same branches now served as her perch. The strumming of her lute would be heard, gentle, melodious, perfectly complimenting the rustling of leaves in the wind and the soothing trickle of the river's flowing waters. And through it all her voice could be heard on the breeze, soft but vibrant and melodic to experience. "The wind draws a sigh in cold dark months, when autumn is spent and waning. When snow from the highest mountain tops, floats down from the sky, cascading~. The lands become seas of soft, pure white. The lakes become frozen, unhindered. And she has laid claim to all in sight. Her name, the Lady Winter~." Moments of pause intersected the pleasant singing and playing in which she would stop to scribble a note down upon a small parchment in a notebook, adding lyrics, or cross referencing bits of lore and story she had gathered in her travels. And so it went for several long minutes when something different caught the attention of the young feline woman. A peculiar, albeit faint scent in the winds caused her nose to twitch and her ears to perk upright atop her head. Those brilliant blue orbs lifted from the page she had been scribbling in on in favor of looking off towards the distance. The wind had shifted direction subtly while she played and sang, now blowing gently out of the north from the woodland borders that marked Elven territories. But there was more than just the earthy aromas of oak and pine that blew past her now. There was something mixed in with it. Subtle, yet distinct. It was the scent of blood in the air, of that there could be no doubt. But for her to be able to smell it, subtle though it may have been, from this distance? How much blood could possibly have been spilled? And if it was coming from the forest, then.... Nitala hastilly put away her note book, tucking it back into her satchel and cinching it shut tight. The lute that sat merrily in her lap was hoisted up in a hand and with a forward shift of her weight she allowed her lithe figure to succumb to gravity and slide down off the tree branch. She landed deftly upon her feet, but scarcely a moment passed before she was sprinting off, heading out of the wooded thicket to follow the river northward towards the forest. Her mind was suddenly racing with concern. The forests were home to many creatures. Animals, Elves, Rukhai, and Goblins. And while they all managed to live in relative harmony with one another (at the very least, the Goblins did nothing to bring the fury of the woodland protectors down upon them), But the strength of the scent of blood from this distance could only have meant a conflict had brewed within the forest, and many people had been killed or slaughtered. She could only hope that it wasn't her loved ones. Or at the very least that she was not too late to help. She made her way along the river bank as fast as her booted feet could carry her, but the rolling hills between the town and the forest made for uneven terrain that slowed her progress down. She moved as swift as she could manage on foot, but even with her grace and agility it'd take her longer than she'd like to reach her destination. And who knew exactly how far into the woods she would have to go? But just then another sound caught her attention, perking those triangular feline ears atop her head upright. It was the familiar howl of a wolf. But it was no ordinary wolf. And when it howled a second time, much closer now, Nitala felt her spirits begin to lift. And then a full blown smile raised the corners of her lips upright when those sharp blue eyes caught site of a silhouette cresting the next mound in her path. With it came another familiar scent that she recognized immediately and filled her with a renewed vigor. "Jaeger!" she cried out! The Dire wolf's attention turned to the source of that voice and almost immediately his direction shifted to sprint headlong at her. The giant wolf launched itself at the lithe woman and to the casual onlooker it may appear as if she were about to be attacked! But the giant beast landed at her feet and almost immediately rolled onto his back in anticipation of a hug and belly rubs. And he would not be disappointed. She landed on her knees beside him and wrapped her arms around his furry neck in a big, warm hug. For a brief second the scent of blood on the air was forgotten, her nose filled instead with the scent of her long-time friend which conjured up a thousand pleasant memories from her youth. "By the Gods, what are you doing all the way out here on your own?!" she asked the wolf while her face was still buried in his neck. Jaeger was excited and energetic, as he often was when Nitala was around. But this time it didn't seem to be in anticipation of treats, or even simply because it had been so long since they had seen each other. There was an urgency to the way he moved, an importance. He quickly scrambled back up to his feet and towered over her for a moment. Those big eyes pierced her own and his body shifted to show off the ribbon that had been tied to him. Her blue orbs glued to that red ribbon immediately, and understanding started to flow through her mind. "This is Irlana's. But if you're here then she..." In brief seconds her gaze became distant while she pieced the puzzle pieces together. If Jaeger was here with Irlana's ribbon, then that meant her half-elf friend had sent the wolf towards town with a message. The smell of blood again came to her, and almost immediately she was up on her feet at the wolf's side. "Let's go, Jaeger!" she commanded the overgrown pup as she took a handful of his fur and launched herself up onto his back. "Bring me back to Irlana, swift as the wind boy!" With another howl that pierced the air they were off, sprinting northward back towards the forest, the young feline riding snugly upon the dire wolf's back. Gripping the ribbon in her free hand, the young Rukhai could only hope that whatever the case, she would not arrive too late.
  4. If there was a more perfect day to be found along the vast and winding countryside a person would be hard pressed to find it. The sun was out, the sky was blue, and the breeze rolled through the hills like a gently lapping breath of refreshment. It was a playful breeze, the type to tease tresses, dance with dresses, and help the spirits of the commonwealth soar. And it brought all the wonderful scents and aromas of summer with it. It helped to carry the scent of the sweet grass in the fields, as well as the earthy, full aromas of the forests just beyond the northern most borders, and of the river's crisp freshness that tied it all together. And for the small village of Briaré that sat nestled comfy and cozy along one of the river's many great, wide bends, the summer's breeze also brought the aromas of commerce and civilization! Bakers lured customers to their shelves with the scents of their freshly baked goods. Merchants that dotted the main market roads through the town square had carts and kiosks full of exotics from all over the land. Everything from spices to herbs, fruits and vegetables to luxurious foreign pelts and furs, it all mingled together to create a curious melting pot of scents. Nitala let her head tilt back and her nose turn up to the air. A deep, slow inhale of breath through the nose let her enjoy all of those peculiar and wonderfully diverse scents. From where she stood on that well worn dirt road just outside of the town's main arches it was easy for her to see just why this human settlement was such a growing hub of the area. The river that wound through the country skirted close to the edge of the forest that marked the boundaries of Elven territories, and it provided a useful means for the Elves to conduct trade of certain goods with their human neighbors. The town was also poised near the edges of the great plains; a massive expanse of gentle rolling hills and seemingly endless fields of grass that marked the easiest path towards lands to the east. And grow the town certainly had! The last time she had passed through those arches before her was only a few months prior, but in that time she could spot at least half a dozen new buildings that had sprouted up around the outskirts to expand Briaré's borders like weeds in a field. The roads inside the town's borders, or at least the main street that ran straight through the center, had been replaced and updated. Where once was a dirt path there now featured a cobblestone corridor, wide enough for three horse-drawn carts to fit abreast one another and still allow for foot traffic on all sides. The humans had even started construction of a gated wall that would provide the townsfolk with a layer of defense and a sense of security from the wilds. All in all it was a far cry from the sleepy little hovel the young woman remembered from her youth. Another refreshing breeze passed her by as she stood there in nostalgic bliss. But the teasing waft of aromas set her back into forward motion. At first glance she would appear to be like any other traveler who would walk that cobblestone street today. She appeared to be a woman of her early 20s (in truth she was closer to her mid-40s), her figure slender and adorned by a verdant two-piece outfit. The top was a simple garment that wrapped her upper arms, leaving her neck and shoulders completely bare, and stopped short enough to expose a healthy and toned midriff. The bottom was an ankle-length skirt to match. It was held low around her hips by a simple brown band and was worn loose with slits up the sides of her thighs to allow more freedom of motion. A simple leather strap around her neck held an elongated pink crystalline structure that sat against the modest swell of her breasts, and a green band wrapped around her forehead and helped keep fiery windswept bangs out of her face. A brown satchel slung over her shoulder carried her travelling essentials, and another strap that crossed diagonally across her chest connected to two ends of a stringed musical instrument that sat upside down against her back. But this was where the human-like characteristics ended. Upon closer inspection one would take notice of a few peculiar qualities. For one, her head of short, wavy ruby locks was topped by a pair of triangular appendages of the same hue. They rose and fell almost as if of their own accord, twitched in the breeze and even rotated towards particularly loud or interesting sounds. They were feline ears, and they matched the long, soft, and prehensile feline tail that swayed and flickered behind her as she moved. Those deep, oceanic blue eyes had telltale inhuman markers as well. The black pupils were vertically elongated, adding a certain wild spice to her gaze wherever it fell, and glimmered with energy and good nature in the midday sun. She was not, in fact, human. She was of a race known as the Rukhai; forest dwelling cat-like people of whom little was known outside of the Elvish realms. And as such she was a bit of a rarity. Few of her kind ever ventured outside the forests, even to towns like Briaré that bordered so close to the woodland outskirts. And in the midst of the market's bustle her booted feet carried her towards a familiar old wood building towards the heart of town. A heavy wooden sign hung over the entryway door and had a weather-faded painting of a pond filled with water lillys upon it. It was a little pub and Inn called the Little Pond Pub, and it was one of her favorite places in town. A bell chimed over her head when she opened the heavy wood door and stepped inside, catching the attention of an elderly human man perched behind a big oak desk. His beady dark eyes glanced up from the book he'd been reading and a big hearty smile immediately appeared upon his face. "Well if it isn't my favorite nomad!" His voice was big and loud despite his small and unimposing stature, not that there seemed to be anyone else around at the time to bother with volume. Still, that smile upon his face was infectious, and she found the corners of her own lips curling up to match it while she was walking towards the desk he occupied. "Back in town again, are ye? It's scarcely been three months since last ye visited. Don't tell me ye'v gone and lost that wanderlust 'o yours?" "And spoil all of my fun?" Her voice was quite lovely and had all the telltale soft tones and quality of a singer. But in his presence there was a rough, almost playful edge that came with familiarity. "Not on your life, Gosmer." With a shift of her shoulder she set her satchel down upon his desk top and began to sift around inside the main pouch. A few silver coins were drawn from a coin purse tucked away inside and slapped down in front of the old man who was already busy writing her name down in the guest ledger for the evening. "Got a few new tales to tell for the crowds then, do ye? Should I be putting the word out for a performance in the tavern this evenin' then?" he asked, one of his big bushy eyebrows quirked over a beady eye. Her tail gave a quick, excited little flicker behind her and both of her feline ears perked a bit more upright, which prompted a raspy chuckle out of the old innkeeper. He had known the young Rukhai woman long enough to recognize some of her feline tells. "Right. Of course ye do. And of course I should! It'll be another fine night of drink and song at the 'ol Little Pond tonight!" And with that he placed an old iron skeleton key in her open, waiting hand, and she positively beamed back at the friendly old man. "You're the best as always, Gosmer! I'll see you later this evening." And with that she gathered her satchel, tucked the key away inside a pocket in the bag's interior, and was headed back out the door. The day was still young and she wanted to explore the new parts of Briaré, do a spot of shopping, and find a good, quiet place in the sun to write her next ballad.
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