SotF: The Vigilants of Stendarr

  • V

                Falrielle looked out the boarded window and winced – the last light of dusk was still too bright for her eyes but it was to her relief, growing dark for the torchbugs have come out to play. The thin rotting walls of the shack provided little refuge from the haunting marsh as tentacles of ghostly mists and mosquitoes crept in through the cracks. The Vigilants had plenty of time to prepare.

     

                Falrielle turned back to her companions who were gathered around a fire pit in the centre of the empty shack. It was extinguished for they could not risk a fire but it served another purpose.

     

                The Vigilants bowed their heads down in respect as Falrielle recited the three prayers of Stendarr. She prayed for strength, for they do not hunt an easy prey. She prayed for purpose, for in the face of death they must not quake. She prayed for mercy, not for the Vigilants but for their enemies for the Vigil shall show them none.

     

                As the Vigilants opened their eyes, they each drew their weapon. Gideon drew an ornamental sword, polished to a mirror sheen nary a scratch nor a chip on the blade. An heirloom of his House and he named it ‘Seasons’. Sven too drew a sword, an Imperial sword at that that had seen much action in the war. Also an heirloom of his family but it had no name.

     

                Falrielle did not have a sword. Instead loosened and threw aside the sheepskin bag that covered the head of her weapon of choice: the mace she called ‘Bite’. Bite’s head had several notches, scratches and dents and his ashen shaft bore many splinters and chips – his battle scars. An old friend indeed, the weight of Bite in her hands put her at ease.

     

                The Vigilants held their weapons over the fire pit as Falrielle readied a leather canteen. After a quick prayer, she doused their steel with holy water.

     

                They then lowered their weapons and sat on the ground. Falrielle opened a small chest she kept in her travel pack and removed five vials. Gideon cursed.

     

                ‘Initiate,’ Falrielle said. ‘Understand this.’

     

                Sven nodded.

     

                Gideon took a vial filled with a whitish concoction, broke the seal and downed its contents in a single gulp. He closed his eyes and winced, breathing heavily before looking at the grimacing Initiate – his pupils were slits like a cat and he gave him an ear-to-ear smile.

     

                ‘What Brother Gideon drank was a potion known as “Cateye”, a mixture of Lady’s Mantle, Viper’s Bugloss, Nightshade and extracts of wolf eye,’ said Falrielle. ‘Cateye will allow us to see in the darkness. I don’t need it because my ears are enough. Worry not, the effects are temporary but you will feel a slight headache after drinking it and your eyes will need a few minutes before the light stops burning.’

     

                Sven reached out and took a vial of Cateye from Falrielle’s hand. The young Initiate looked at the label, blinking and taking deep breathe before he broke the seal and downed the mixture. The boy snarled and gritted his teeth. Then he stopped and slowly opened his eyes. His pupils were slits.

     

                ‘Now,’ said Falrielle as she distributed the remaining vials. ‘This is the Dead Man’s Kiss.’ Gideon groaned.

     

                ‘Make no mistake: the Dead Man’s Kiss is a poison,’ Falrielle continued. ‘A tool in an assassin’s kit that has claimed the lives of many kings since it was first brewed. Four drops in a cup of wine will strangle the victim’s throat and heart and with five they will cry blood.’ Sven gulped. ‘Yes, we will drink it for in very controlled doses, the Dead Man’s Kiss has another effect – our hearts will slow and our lips are kissed by death but we will not die.’

     

                ‘You see Sven,’ said Gideon. ‘Vampires use more than their eyes to find their prey.’ He pointed at Sven’s chest. ‘They listen to the beats of your heart, they smell your blood in the air, they taste your every breath and the Dead Man’s Kiss masks them.’

     

                Falrielle nodded. ‘If you choose to drink this, there will be a pain like no other but don’t give in. Should you faint, there is little I could do here. All you need to do is sit and breathe…. Now, Gideon.’ Falrielle and Gideon clinked their vials together in a toast. She looked at the Initiate in the eye and said, ‘May we never get what we deserve,’ and downed the vial.

     

                Falrielle sat motionless with her eyes closed, her attention only on her breathing. It began rhythmic and relaxed, every breath calculated and in control then Falrielle felt a sharp crushing pain on her chest and her throat. She clenched her fists as her breathing became raspy and tense like she was drowning. Then she opened her eyes as cold beads trickled down her forehead. She turned to Gideon and saw that his face was chalk white with his veins appearing as dark tracings. She then turned to the Initiate, the brave boy fighting the urge to run in terror. She could hear him quivering in his boots.

     

                Falrielle raised his vial. ‘The choice is in your hands.’

     

                The boy took the vial and stared at the vial. Falrielle wouldn’t blame him if he didn’t drink it but if he didn’t she must leave him here – taking him with them would be a danger to all of them. Falrielle had not been completely truthful with him; even if he did fainted, a bezoar would be enough to neutralise the poison of this dosage but she had to know, she had to know if he would take a leap of faith.

     

                And he did.

     

                then popped the cork and drank the potion in a single gulp. He closed his eyes, breathing as he usually would before he suddenly clenched his chest, coughing and gagging as he keels over. Falrielle’s hand twitched as it rested on a pouch on her belt but she fought the urge to open it. She had to trust him, she had to take a leap of faith. For a few seconds she couldn’t hear him breathe nor did she see him move. She flipped the pouch open before she heard a gasp.

     

                The Initiate had regained control.

     

                ‘We leave in an hour.’ She picked the panting Initiate off the ground, his clothes soaked with sweat. ‘If you wish to take a nap, a piss or make some other preparations: now is the time.’

     

                Gideon crawled to a corner and dozed off, snoring. Falrielle sat crossed legged, facing east away from the setting sun and closed her eyes and chanted a simple mantra. Breath and focus.

     

                ‘Mentor?’ said Sven. Falrielle turned to the Initiate. ‘The other day at the Crabber’s Den. What happened there? What did you drink?’

     

                ‘That was medicine.’ She turned back to face the east, placing a hand on the handle of Bite.

     

                ‘Medicine for what?’

     

                Falrielle could feel a sad smile contorting on her face. ‘That is a story for another time. It is not tale of Olaf One-Eye, I’ll tell you that… Perhaps I’ll tell you when you’re a Vigilant. Perhaps.’

     

    VI

    They laid in the mud so still that insects, snakes, and other wildlife slithered and crawled over them paying no heed to their presence. The mist grew thicker with every hour that it eventually smothered the light of the stars. The song of the marsh too seem to grow louder with every passing moment; an orchestra of crickets, mosquitos, frogs, and other less pleasant creatures that call this place home.

     

                Falrielle’s legs grew weary from the stillness but she was used to the feeling to ignore their complaints. She was positioned on a hill overlooking a field. Sven was close to her, she was to keep watch over him while Gideon was a little further to the front on lookout for their query.

     

                Every now and then the young Initiate turned towards her and Falrielle gave him a reassuring nod. The Nine bless him, she thought. He was still young and so eager to prove himself, she shuddered; it reminded her of herself when she too was an Initiate. She quickly suppressed those thoughts for she knew what she needed her focus on was on the mission. Sven too had better learn this lesson sooner than later.

     

                Falrielle’s ears perked up, something moved in the waters.

     

                On cue a fireball erupted in the distance. The pair jolted on reflex and Falrielle smirked, Gideon always had a flair for the theatrics. Soon pillars of fire burst around the perimeter illuminating their field of battle. Falrielle could see a look of alarm on Sven’s face as he signalled that he counted four Bloodfiends mucking about in the marsh. For herself she could not see them but she could smell them.

     

                Wordlessly, Falrielle gave the order for the pair to descend down the hill keeping low to the ground like a Sabre cat on a hunt. Falrielle hugged the ground, slowly and carefully pushing away the reeds as she stalked forward. She knew she did not have to worry about making noise, Gideon’s over engineered fire runes would cover them but old habits die hard.

     

                In the light of the flame, she could make out shadows of the Bloodfiends. Four huddled together, heads raised fruitlessly sniffing the air. The Dead Man’s Kiss worked as intended, their scent was masked but Falrielle had to concede one thing: even she had trouble finding Sven. Every now and then she had to stop to find where the young Initiate had gone only for him to be right behind her. The boy had talent for sneaking, she thought.

     

                The first two were easy. Falrielle managed to pull one to the ground and crushed it’s skull before it even knew she was there. Sven was not so delicate – at the last moment, the creature turned and Sven answered by sticking his sword through its back. The creature howled and sputtered but the damage was done, the pack was alerted.

     

                Falrielle darted forward making use of what little surprise she had left. Her first target was one of them in a tattered robe. It snarled defensively as she swung her mace. Feinted high then struck mid, caving its chest and knocking it down. She finished it quickly by wrapping her legs around its neck and twisted.

     

                Sven followed her lead and charged but the Initiate was too slow and his sword missed. The Bloodfiend retaliated with a flurry of wild slashes. Sven kept his sword up, parrying and deflecting each blow with the grace and poise of an amateur but it was just enough. The Initiate was skilled enough to not die but not enough to win the fight.

     

                Falrielle charged and ducked low at the last moment, seizing the vampire by the waist. The creature struggled, seemingly paying no heed to the elf as it continue swinging its arms at Sven. Falrielle heaved with all her might, lifting the creature and fell backwards. For a moment, the world glowed orange and was upside down and then in another dark and wet. She rose, wiping her face to the sound of Sven burying his sword into the creature while roaring to compound that fact. Falrielle squeezed her hand and felt Bite’s reassuring handle on her palm.

     

                Falrielle’s ears twitched.

     

                A ghostly figure emerged from the mist. It bore the form of a woman in a loose white dress with skin so pale they seemed almost transparent. Her hair however was raven coloured and it reached to her waist. Falrielle’s nose caught a whiff of her scent: jasmine flowers. Sven saw her too and raised his weapon in preparation for a charge before Falrielle stopped him.

     

                ‘Stand back, Sven. This one way above you. It is no Bloodfiend,’ said Falrielle.

     

    ‘Mentor?’ Falrielle could her Sven tightening the grip of his sword.

     

    ‘Fall back and go help Gideon,’ said Falrielle. ‘Watch his back, that mage is bound to exhaust himself soon if he keeps this up. I’ll handle this one.’

     

                Sven nodded and did as he was bid, sploshing in the water as he disappeared into the glow. He complied a little too quickly, Falrielle thought. She turned her attention back at the woman.

     

                ‘So, not a Bloodfiend yet they listen to your every beck and call. What am I to make of that? A Vampire Queen? A Queen of the Damned; a bit overdramatic don’t you think?’ Falrielle walked to the woman with Bite resting on her shoulder. The woman however said nothing.

     

                ‘Don’t suppose I’ve run into a Volkihar, Stendarr be willing?’

     

                The woman shook her head. Falrielle could feel her bones vibrate.

     

                ‘How about an Alp? Still no?’

     

                She shook her head again.

     

                ‘That would make you a- ah.’ Falrielle stopped herself and sighed. ‘I don’t suppose that I can say anything to make you leave without a fight, can I?’

     

                The woman in white shook her head again. Falrielle shrugged and reached her free hand into one of the pouches in her belt.

     

                ‘You know, it’s been awhile since I’ve fought a Bann. So forgive me if I’m rusty,’ said Falrielle. The vampire bent low. ‘Enough talk then, let’s go.’

     

                The vampire jumped forward and took a deep breath. Falrielle anticipating this chucked a handful of cherry bombs, ignited with a single spark of her fingers. The devices detonated on impact sending a cacophony of bangs and flashes that shook the very air in her lungs. The elf leapt, swinging her mace downwards but missed if only barely – the vampire while stunned was still alert enough to dodge Falrielle’s attack. The Vigilant used her momentum and spun her mace in a fluid motion, renewing her offence and this time landing a comforting and sickening crunch on the vampire’s arm.

     

                The Bann howled and swiped a hand, Falrielle disengaged. The creature retreated into the mist and slowly, her shadow changed. Her dress seemed to disintegrate as bat-like wings erupted from her back. Her soft dainty hands transformed into menacing talons. Her posture from upright and regal to bent and feral.

     

                A Queen of the Bloodfiends indeed. The Bann shot up in the air and screamed.

     

                Falrielle threw a hand forward and spread her fingers into a warding symbol. She focused her mind to imagine a brick wall; a barrier between her and the vampire. She told herself that the creature would not break this wall and she held her breath. From the tip of her fingers, a faint disc of light materialised. Right on time. The water, mist, smoke, and reeds danced and Falrielle herself recoiled, her shoulders shuddering from the blow.

     

                The wailing Bann dove towards her with an opened toothy jaw. Falrielle reacted, jumping aside and eyeing a set of claws that so narrowly missed her neck. Their eyes also met at the pass, Falrielle could finally get a good look at the Bann’s terrible visage: not a maiden but a deathly face with a grin, a grin far too wide to be natural filled with needle-like teeth. Before the Vigilant could retaliate, the vampire blew past by her and veered up in the air.

     

                Falrielle kept her mace spinning, readying Bite for an attack as she kept her attention at the circling creature. Thrice the Bann dove for an attack and thrice Falrielle repelled the vampire but neither could find an opening for a decisive blow; the most either could give were close calls and for the Bann, a deep scratch at Falrielle’s breastplate that sent her stumbling.

     

                The Vigilant stopped spinning her mace and rested it on her shoulder. The vampire hissed and attacked anew, beginning with a scream that Falrielle barely reacted with a ward and charging at the Vigilant as swift as an arrow let loose from a longbow. At the last moment, Falrielle jumped backwards and swung the mace upward like an uppercut of steel, her wrist straining at the weight of Bite’s fist.

     

                She missed. Falrielle had miscalculated and paid her mistake with a slash across her cheek – if she was a heartbeat slower on moving, she would of have lost an eye as well. The Vigilant spun, bringing her weapon to the fore but the agile creature dodged again. It laughed as it flew into the mist.

     

                Falrielle looked up and saw nothing, the mist and the smoke hid the sky well let alone an overgrown bat. The Vigilant rested Bite on her shoulder, closed her eyes and listened. Listened. She heard the fire cackling. She heard steel ringing. She heard roars and snarls. She heard… leather wings.

     

                She turned around and saw the Bann, floating so silently and gently that Falrielle guessed that the creature hoped to take her by surprise. If nothing else, the Bann was too surprised to stop, uselessly fluttering her wings as momentum took its course. The Vigilant moved aside and in her place a silver-studded cestus clocking the Bann in the jaw, sending the creature careening through the mud.

     

                The Vigilant flexed her hand, the blow was harder than she anticipated. She muttered a curse under her breath – another wound reminding her that she was getting old. Falrielle strolled over with Bite practically bouncing in her hands, like his master he too was eager for blood.

     

                Before the Vigilant could raise a hand, it was too late. The vampire let out a horrible shriek. It hit her like a battering ram, knocking the wind out of her and sending flashes of pain through her body. She flew backwards and landed with a thud.

     

    Falrielle could taste mud and blood on lips. She opened her eyes and immediately regretted it; her vision was filled with dizzying circles of black, white, and red. She was convinced that someone had jammed spikes in her ears and the only coherent thing she could hear was the sound of bells ringing.

     

                Falrielle squeezed her hand only to come up empty, she had let go of Bite as she flew through the air. She grumbled as she pulled herself up only to fall back down for the world swam under her feet. Then she saw her.

     

                The pale maiden approached the Vigilant. She was again in her white dress but bloody and dishevelled this time and her left arm hung with a limp. Her footsteps however were still so graceful and dignified that she seemed to float. Falrielle could feel the hairs behind her back stand on end as she instinctively grasped a familiar hilt on her boot.

     

                The Bann stood over Falrielle and smiled, baring her fangs. In one quick motion, the Bann bent down and lifted Falrielle by the throat and squeezed like a vice. Falrielle coughed and wheezed as the vampire opened her jaws and grew closer, savouring her first bite and stopping when she noticed that the elf was smiling.

     

                Falrielle drove her knife in the creature’s neck and twisted. Surprised by the attack, the Bann’s grip loosened, dropping the elf. Seeing her opening, Falrielle gave the vampire a swift boot to the gut sending the creature keeling over. She threw her arms over the vampire’s neck like a python constricting its prey.

     

                ‘Told you I’m a bit rusty.’

     

                And snapped.

     

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Comments

3 Comments   |   Karver the Lorc and 2 others like this.
  • SpottedFawn
    SpottedFawn   ·  February 6
    Cool chapter! Falrielle continues to impress. I didn't recognize most of the creatures in this chapter, but it was enjoyable anyway!
  • Sotek
    Sotek   ·  July 19, 2018
    Slowly catching up. Nothing wrong with hunting vampires. 
  • Karver the Lorc
    Karver the Lorc   ·  May 5, 2018
    Witchery abound. Very nice. :)