Book II - Chapter 42

Chapter 42

 

[Dren]

 

It was an awkward sort of silence that held the room in place. As if holding the tension one might find in plucking from a bowstring, or perhaps a very poorly tuned lute. On one side of the table, he sat quietly. On the other side, Imra waited.

Intimidating.

That was the best description Dren could give.

Imra wasn’t exactly sitting, and it didn't seem to Dren that she was really sleeping, either. Instead she was much like a statue, only alive, and rather scary. The Elf barely even seemed to breathe, cross-legged on the chair with her arms folded. 

Then again, Dren knew that he, himself, wasn't much better. He didn't dare to move much either.

Earlier he’d tried, on the excuse of going downstairs to listen in on conversations like Eveth had, but he’d found his suggestion vetoed. Aggressively. Since then, he’d settled to sitting very still himself, and… waiting. In silence, no less: something normally impossible.

What made it worse, was that Imra happened to be an almost perfect mix of unknown variables.

For one, she wasn’t human: she was an Elf, and therefore something he’d only ever read about or heard in old stories and fables. Sitting across from him was a person of the forests: a being whose ancestors once controlled the Northern and Southern continents across the oceans to the West. Dren had always wanted to fly and visit those. The Northern Continent especially, to the coastal cities and maybe even the inland fortress city of Soma. He'd been told  that one could see the Great Northern Forest from a distance, on a clear day.

One ticket on a low-class seat to gain passage was worth thirty gold though, and by his own count that was a rather large number of rat tails to collect.

Truly, a shame.

But besides that, another thing that made Imra impossible to ignore was that she was a Tamer, which happened to be a subject Dren had always possessed interest in. Of noble birth himself, he’d known more than just a few distinguished families that dabbled in the practice. There were some circles in his youth who were taught to raise certain breeds of domesticated Hell-hounds for hunts, and he’d always thought it would be enjoyable to have a companion like that. If not for the small fact that the Church considered all monsters demons Dren would likely have tried.

Not that taming a monster was some sort of simple feat, but still. he could have done it. Of course, the reason he hadn't was simply because the chance to do so had never properly presented itself. That's all... of course.

So, in summary: if silence was normally difficult for Dren, this silence was even worse.

He'd been infamous for driving away many of his family’s tutors when he was a younger, by never ceasing to ask questions. Bothering them about histories, or literature, or the noble arts and all manner of accompanying details. One of his mentors had called his capacity for useless trivia insatiable, and even after he’d been shipped off to the monastery to be trained: remaining quiet had never been his strong suit. No matter how many monks forced him to complete extra chores or repeat his prayers for several additional hours, Dren had remained known for his habitual inclination towards speaking when he shouldn't.

Still, all that said: there was one more reason, though. The third and final stroke of fate, as it were, was the fact that Dren happened to be a young man just past his sixteenth summer, and he found Imra to be rather pretty.

So, of course, it was all but inevitable he’d eventually open his mouth, and the question really, was how long it would take for him to try. As it turned out, this happened to be almost exactly three hours.

“Imra, I was wondering-”

Across the table, a pair of eyes opened with what Dren could only interpret as barely withheld rage.

“-If you’d like to talk.” Dren finished, more quietly than he’d started.

The stare didn’t change and Imra didn’t reply, but she didn’t lunge across the table in a sudden act of violence either.

Dren reasoned that he could have done worse and elected to continue.

"You see, people often talk when there's nothing else to do." He ventured. “And I’ve been wondering a few things.”

Still nothing. Just those eyes, watching... waiting...

He thought it was much like a cat might watch a mouse, after its appetite had been sated. Silently debating if it was really worth the effort.

"What made you come to this continent?”

Nothing.

“Elves haven’t lived here for a long time, so you’d have to have crossed the ocean.”

Nothing again, his baited hooks of conversation utterly failing to nab a bite.

Dren persisted.

“I guess I’m just wondering, what made you come all this way to join the Farstrider Guild?"

"God."

Ah, finally- an answer. Dren grinned.

"God?"

"Yes, God."

"That’s very interesting."

It was interesting. On two fronts, no less. Imra had not only replied, she hadn’t murdered him. Dren took this to mean he was getting somewhere.

"You said before that your God was the Basilisk, didn't you?"

"Yes."

"What makes that creature a God?"

“He is a God.”

“Well yes, but why do you think that?” Dren urged. “Because it can heal wounds?”

Imra’s stare narrowed in response to the question.

“Why does it matter?” Her expression had turned stormy.

“I’m just curious,” Dren replied, quickly reeling to save. “It’s just that I’ve never met a God before.”

That seemed to work. The stare softened, somewhat.

“But you pray to one.”

“Well yes, of course I pray to the Lord of Light, but I’ve never met them.”

“You follow a God you can’t see, and you wonder at mine?” Imra let out a short laugh, “Humans are so strange.”

“You don’t need to see a God to believe in one. It’s not something you need to see.” Dren defended, “If you have faith, the Lord of Light will speak through the forms of prayer.”

“Ah.” Imra paused, thoughtful. “My God speaks, often. I do not need to pray.”

“It speaks?” Dren asked, “You mean when it hisses?”

“Not always.” Imra lifted a finger, tapping against the side of her head. “Speaks inside.”

“Inside your head?” Dren had never heard of that. “With words?”

“At times.” Imra shrugged, folding her arms once more. “Too much, I see… like dreams? Of impossible things: of towers that touch the clouds, of language I do not know. Godly things.”

“Hmm.” Dren sat back, considering that. "So, the Basilisk told you to join our Guild?"

"Yes."

"Did it say why?"

"Sign of fates."

"Signs... of... fate..." Dren struggled with this one. "Like a... prediction?"

"Yes, the Great One believes there is purpose."

"Ah... hmm." Dren bit his tongue, unsure of what to say to that. "Do you know what that purpose is?"

"He has not told me."

“Hmm… did it say anything about me?"

"Mostly the same as the rest." Imra glanced upward as if thinking deeply. "Several times he said them, to be sure I would listen." She shrugged.

"Really, things about me?" Dren perked up, surprised. "What did it say?"

"The Great one instructed me not to kill you, maim you, torture you, or bring any other form of harm to you." Imra listed the possibilities on her hand, stopping and recounting as if she'd forgotten something. "I was also told not to let you escape."

"... Oh."

"But he also said you were brave." Imra cross her arms closed her eyes with a nod. "You and the woman with stolen gifts. He said this, though I think he did not know I was listening." She opened her eyes with a fierce smile. "But, I always listen."

"Ah, well I'm glad. you- I mean your God, thinks so." Dren looked away sheepishly with a cough to clear his throat. "Alem always says that being an Adventurer means you have to be brave. When you need to act, there's no choice but to act."

"He is dark skinned, but with no hair?" Imra asked. "Large weapon... hammer?"

"Yes, you broke a kitchen chair over his head."

"Oh, yes. He is quite strong for a human." Her smile suddenly seemed less fierce, and more feral. “Tell me, do you Cursed-Blood have Gods who also speak with words?” Imra asked. "My people do not speak with humans in the forest, unless it is with spears, but I have always wondered this."

"If we have Gods that talk?"

“Well, maybe... there were some pagan beliefs, a long time ago."

"No?"

"Now, there's only one human God, though, I guess it depends on who you ask- and he doesn't exactly speak like you say your God does. The Lord of Light shows his form in miracles." Dren explained. "So, just because I haven’t seen the First King in a physical form doesn’t mean his presence isn’t felt. When I’m in need, that’s more than proof enough for me.”

“You know of miracles?” Imra looked surprised as she unfolded her arms again, resting her hands on her knees. “Truly?”

“Well… yes.” Dren replied, uncertain. “Of course, I’m a Paladin.”

Across the table, Imra didn’t seem convinced.

“What kind?” Her accent slurred the words slightly, “I wish to know what miracles your God brings.”

Somehow, it seemed Dren had caught her attention.

“Well, there’s all sorts. Barriers, auras, healing-”

“Those are stolen gifts.” Imra shook her head, waving the words away. “Not miracles.”

“Stolen Gifts?” Dren rubbed at chin, uncertain. “No, they’re called lesser miracles. We just channel them through Faith. The God of Light lets us use them, though ask a Mage and they’ll probably tell you otherwise.”

“Mmm… fine. Perhaps they are like miracles, but they are limited, yes?” Imra tilted her head, “They cannot do...” She paused, as if searching for the word and not finding it. “They cannot do the impossible.” She finished.

“The impossible… I don’t understand.” Dren replied, truthfully. “Maybe alone and rushed they might be weak, but with time and while working together, a dozen trained Paladins can do great things. They can infuse weapons with magic, or enact powerful barriers. They can even heal horrible injuries.”

 Imra seemed to consider this.

“There is power in that.” She admitted, finally “But there are limits, yes?”

“Well certainly, there are always some limits. Every barrier can be broken eventually, any weapon can be dropped or lost, and healing can only do so much.”

“They cannot heal death?”

“Heal death?” Dren coughed at the notion, eyes wide. “Of course not, it’s forbidden to even attempt it!”

“So, your God can not heal death.”

“No!” Dren had stood and raised his voice before he’d even realized it. Imra eyed him, unimpressed, as he awkwardly returning to his seat. “No, death can’t be healed. Not even a full congregation of masters can fix something like that.”

“Ah… so it is.” Imra pulled off her ragged cloak as she slid off the chair to stand beside the table. “I have proof of my God then.”

She began removing the odd leather-like armor on that covered her chest, and much to Dren’s horror: everything underneath it.

“What are you doing?” Dren asked, blushing as he covered his eyes with one hand. “For Light’s sake, stop!”

“You are uncertain, so I am showing proof.” Imra replied calmly, ignoring his reaction. “Look.”

“Are your clothes back on? I'll look then.” Dren asked, sliding his fingers apart ever so slightly. "

They absolutely weren’t. He blushed a darker shade.

“Look.” Imra repeated. “You wanted proof. I have it.”

Dren lifted away his hand slowly.

Imra waited with her thin armor and undershirt held in one hand, as her other pointed towards her side. The tip of her finger rested on the tip of something, right beneath her ribs.

There was a scar present.

Somehow, despite all temptations to do otherwise, Dren managed to stare at it.

On Imra’s skin, there was a nasty shape. Dren had seen its like before: the type a sword or dagger might bring about if one where stabbed awkwardly enough to have the blade rotate. From its placement and size, Dren could only imagine as a wound it would ordinarily be fatal without some sort of intervention- but that wasn’t what was strange about it.

What was strange was that it was... silver?

Jagged and thick as it was, what caught his eye was that the scar itself almost looked as though it were made of polished steel or… iron. Her skin had taken on the shade of metal.

“Twisted earth.” Imra said, finger tracing the wound. “This is death, which cannot be healed.” Her hand lifted away, settling to her chest. Dren followed it, before forcibly covering his eyes again. “It is also proof.” He heard her state proudly.

“Light help me.” Peeking from between his fingers Dren watched as, carefully, Imra pulled her clothing and armor back into place, and once again took a seat across the table in the same meditative posture.

Somehow, she didn’t seem the least bit concerned.

Slowly, the red on Dren’s face faded while the conversation settled to silence once more. Looking up, Imra had settled back with her eyes closed and her arms folded. Glancing to the door, shut and barred tight from the outside, he could still see a faint glow from the small rune Eveth had carved the night before.

“Do you think they’ll be alright?” He asked. “Out there, I mean?”

“Yes.” Imra replied, eyes still shut.

“Are you sure?” Dren asked, quietly. “Yesterday I was… well, I was scared. I don’t know if I’ve ever been so scared, and I wasn’t even the one who got hurt.”

“Battle is not for everyone in the tribe. Some do better if they take on other roles, there is no shame in this.”

“All I can remember is the blood, the shouting, those axes…” Dren shuddered. “There were so many of them. What if they’re attacked again, will they be alright alone?”

“The Great One has had many enemies, and he has survived them all.”

“And Eveth?”

“She will be protected.”

“Those were mercenaries, though. They had to be! They had quality weapons, armor…” Dren stopped, realization dawning. “I think that’s why Eveth was so demanding this morning: someone must have paid them to kill us. They'll be searching!”

He eyed the door again in new light, as if expecting it to break open any second.

“Human squabbles, they are not a concern.” Imra shrugged. “I will protect you in the God’s absence.”

“But what of the others? Alem, and the rest of the Guild? If we were attacked, how do we know they’ll be safe?” Dren watched as Imra rocked her head side to side ever so slightly, considering.

“We cannot.” Imra replied finally. “But…”

“But?”

“But it is as you say.” Imra nodded, before closing her eyes again. “To have something you can’t see.”