The Burning Sage's Demesne
Xyrella is an Aasimar cleric of Bahamut.
Standing five feet ten inches tall, Xyrella seems to exude a comfortable demeanor in spite of being sheathed from head to toe in overlapping plates of heavy steel. She is quick with a joke or a smile and is always handing alms out to beggars and the unfortunate. Some of them back away when they see that her eyes are an unrelieved violet with no white or pupil; a sharp contrast to the metallic golden perfection of her short cropped hair and flawless alabaster skin.
She serves Bahamut out of pure unrelieved love of all things good and true. The Dragon God’s philosophy of lifting the oppressed out of squalor by helping them to become stronger sings in her heart. She will speak of how his teachings changed her life for the better to any who want to listen but prefers to lead by example rather than proselytizing. With a strong, virtuous soul comes a strong virtuous life.
Xyrella stood on a high hill, looking down at the town where her brother was rumored to have been seen last. Or at least where the folk in the last town where he had been rumored to be had said he might be. It was the fourth lead she’d chased down and she worried the trail might be getting cold.
Radinnal always had been headstrong, and resented how the blood of the Gods had given her gifts while he was … well … normal. He never understood the burden of walking the path she walked; how it sometimes hurt to see so much injustice and not be able to change it all at once. Bahamut had taught her patience though, and given her the strength to persevere when she needed it. With a sigh, she heeled Gift, her trained war horse, into a small meadow. No need to wear all her armor when riding into town. No need to stir things up more than they were already.
She removed the heavy interlocking plates, careful not to scratch the purple enamled inlay along the ridges, and stowed it in her worn looking leather bag. Reaching into one of the side pouches, she pulled out a beautifully embroidered set of robes and shook them out. No stream was nearby so she settled for stripping down, murmuring a few words of divine blessing and conjuring several gallons of water to pour over her head.
Gasping at the cold, she wound the long cotton band around her chest and donned the robes that marked her as a Chosen of Bahamut, adjusting the Dragon’s head in pure platinum on its finely worked mithril chain before shaking her shining golden hair out. She kept it short, cut to just above shoulder length, but it was still a striking contrast to the alabaster color of her skin.
Gift whickered at her, shaking his huge head. He was likely wondering why he hadn’t had a bath too. “Soon dear, first I need to find an inn. I’m sure I can find someone who I can teach how to properly curry a horse as long as you promise not to bite someone’s fingers off again.”
The big horse cocked an ear at her. Sometimes she swore he actually could understand what she was saying. Well, in Gift’s defense the man had been trying to slip a halter over his nose, probably thinking he could steal him after seeing how docile the ugly gray was in her hands. That was a mistake he wouldn’t be making again.
She kept the sweeping length of her scimitar across her back and the vicious bulk of her heavy pick at her waist as she swung back into the saddle. It didn’t hurt to show the locals that she wasn’t helpless… besides, it would be past sundown before she was within the walls and she didn’t much feel like having to deal with footpads.
The town was a pitiful scene of squalor. Gaunt, hollow-eyed children were standing in doorways wearing threadbare rags and her fingers itched to hand out treats to the younger ones and sets of proper clothes to the older. She knew better though, that type of generosity often rubbed people the wrong way if not done in the proper manner. Gift pranced up to what passed for an Inn as though approaching royal court, making his steel shod hooves ring. He enjoyed showing off and didn’t care who he was doing it for.
“Haloo the inn!” She shouted as she dismounted with a flourish to stroke Gift’s ego. Maybe he’d behave himself.
A man with a spotless white apron over a brown smock opened the door. He took pride in his place, that was a promising sign at least. When he saw her, his eyes widened and then narrowed as he took in Gift and her weapons and then widened again when they met her violet gaze.
“Jed. Jed! Get yer worthless hide out here and take the lady knight’s horse!”
A rail thin boy with hunched shoulders came out of the stable at a run. He reached for Gift’s reins but Xyrella took them first.
“That’s not necessary good innkeep, I’m no knight. I like to do my own work, it’s good for the soul.” She gave Jed one of her stunning smiles, “I can always use help though.”
The youth wasn’t sure how to react, but settled for an unpracticed bow to her and a furtive glance at the innkeeper.
“I would like the best room you have available though, I have been in the saddle for days and a soft bed would be most welcome.” She tossed the man a small wash leather purse that contained enough gold to feed her and her beast for several days before leading Gift into the stable.
Gift made a show of being perfectly obedient until Jed reached out to loosen his saddle girth. Then her capricious stallion casually leaned over and pinned the unfortunate boy against the wall with his shoulder. Xyrella watched curiously to see how he would extricate himself from the situation and smiled in approval when he took a withered apple out of his pocket with difficulty and held it out to the horse on a flat palm. Gift sniffed it before accepting the offering and freeing his prisoner.
“You know your horses Jed.” She remarked, working on the stallion with a curry comb.
“Sorta.” He had removed the saddle and blanket and flung them over the saddle horse.
“Most men would have yelled or hit a horse who did something like that.” She said, raising a glittering golden eyebrow at him.
“Most’d lose a hand or so too. Can’t yell at a warhorse.” He replied, gently smoothing Gift’s mane. “I know I couldn’t even touch him if you weren’t here.”
Xyrella chuckled in amusement, “True enough all all counts. My name is Xyrella but most people just call me Xy.” She left a few silver coins on the edge of the stable next to Gift’s tack, “Thanks for the help.” She could see the words that she didn’t need to pay him dying under her violet gaze.
Once inside the Inn she met the Inkeep who hastily introduced himself as Klimek. Without taking her through the common room, he brought her to a tidy, windowless chamber with a sturdy bed, writing table and small closet. A steaming copper tub was positioned in front of a fireplace with banked coals.
A willowy serving maid was just ducking out the door and the silver coin Xyrella threw her direction nearly hit her in the chest before she saw it. Her eyes widened and she bobbed a curtsy before all but running down the hallway.
Xyrella looked at the retreating form of the girl, “Could you send her back up to scrub my back? I’m a mite stiff after a week in the saddle.”
“Of course.” He said after only a moments hesitation.
He might keep a tidy house, but he seemed to be the only person with a decent set of clothes… and he’d given her a room with only one door and no windows, his staff seemed more slaves than employees. Something seemed slightly off about him too; his features were too hard.
She was half undressed and frowning at nothing when a hesitant tap on the door brought her back to reality. “Yes?”
The girl stood uncertainly at the door until Xyrella smiled at her, “Come on in child, I won’t bite.” To her surprise, the poor thing winced and almost turned to run before looking her over again and nervously crossing the threshold.
“Please call me Xy, what’s your name?”
“I’ve been riding for nearly a week, it’s going to feel so good to have a proper bath.” As she unfastened the heavily embroidered collar of her snow white formal vestments her holy symbol fell free, swinging on its chain. Funny, she hadn’t remembered tucking it away. A gasp escaped Winry’s lips.
“Oh! Jed said you were OK Miss Xyrella but…” She glanced toward the closed door, “You really shouldn’t stay here Miss Xyrella. It ain’t safe.”
“One of the luxuries of following a God who is as powerful as Bahamut is that I don’t often have to worry about safety.” Not exactly true, but she had managed to survive this long, “He keeps me safe by teaching me how to take care of myself.”
“What happened to your eyes and hair then?” Winry asked, then blushed as though she hadn’t meant to ask.
Xyrella laughed heartily as she removed her chest wrap and draped her wide trousers over the back of a chair. “They say the blood of the Gods runs in my veins Winry, and it seems to get stronger with each passing year. The eyes I was born with, the rest has… developed over time. I see my appearance as a reminder of my responsibility to uphold the causes of righteousness and goodness in the world.”
“Is that so?” Winry asked as she lathered a long handled brush with soap.
“Yeah…” Xyrella was enjoying the hot water and the feeling of the brush was very soothing. Was that lavender in the soap?
“So is that why you’re here?”
“Mmmm? Oh, I’m looking for someone.” The girl was rubbing some kind of oil into her scalp, it was absolute heaven.
“I can’t believe your hair is so soft, it looks like metal.” Winry said, “So who are you looking for?”
“My idiot brother. He’s wandered off looking for adventure or some such nonsense and I’ve started to worry that something’s wrong. I mean he’s been gone for five years now…” Xyrella stretched and started to climb out of the water with a sigh of regret.
“So.” She looked at the girl while toweling her hair. It had a tendency to stick in the position it was in once it was dry and she didn’t want it sticking out in all directions. “What’s going on here? Was there an illness or something? I don’t see many adults, and all you youngsters look like you could use a few more square meals.”
“Nothing’s going on Miss Xyrella.” She said in a tired voice, her momentary familiarity gone.
“Come now; what hold does Klimek have over you?” She reached into the side pocket of her bag and withdrew a fresh chest wrap and as an afterthought a small package tied with twine. Setting the package down, she wrapped her breasts tight to her body before reaching once more into the bag and taking out a comfortable robe with Bahamut’s sigil embroidered large on the front. Winry’s eyes were wider now, that pocket only looked big enough for a handful of coppers.
“Here this is for you. It’s not much, but at least it’s in good repair.” She handed Winry the package and slipped the robe over her head. The girl was still holding it uncertainly while she fastened a wide belt around her waist.
“I can’t take this.” Winry said, tears welling up in her eyes.
“Nonsense. You don’t even know what it is! Look, it’s just a smock a pair of shoes and a sewing kit.” Xyrella said, “I won’t accept no for an answer. At least this way you can make some decent clothes for your little brother.”
Winry’s jaw dropped, “How did you know?”
“Just a guess. Why else would you be here, working for him?” The light in the room caused her shadow to stand out against the wall. Damn it, she hadn’t been watching the light of the lanterns. The wings that always showed in her shadow were clearly defined.
“You’re an angel.” Winry whispered, “An angel come to save us.” She grabbed the package and ran out of the room before Xyrella could say anything. Well, the cat was out of the bag now. No way to put it back now.
Deciding to face it now rather than later, she added her heavy pick to her belt and walked down to the common room. Time to face the masses and do what she could for them. Again.
“Hoooleeeyyy shit…” Every person in the taproom turned to stare as she walked in the door, and silent with the exception of the man who was too drunk to hold his tongue. “Where tha hell did you come from?”
“Klimek, get us a round.” She said, walking to the bar. “I’m thirsty, and I hear your ale is cold.”
“Klimek ain’t here, but that don’t matter. The ale here is piss warm.” A round of chuckles sounded in the room.
“How would you know how warm piss feels in your mouth Nardak?” Another voice asked and the chuckles went around again.
“Boys, no need to trouble yourselves trying to impress me.” Xyrella’s voice was honey pouring over ice, the emphasis on trying implying imminent failure. “I just want a mug of ale. I’ve been on the thrice blighted trail for over a week and it’s not like there are any alehouses between here and there.”
As usual, they suddenly noticed her hair first and then her eyes. That combination always seemed to stall most men’s libido. A full mug of ale slid down the bar, stopping directly across from her.
“By the nine hells, the lady just wants a gods damned beer you fucking letchers.” A statuesque woman wearing garb similar to Klimek’s stood behind the bar. “You serious about buying a round for these losers?”
“Yeah, why not? I’m gonna be asking for some information later so I might as well prime the pump.” She grabbed the ale jack and took a swallow. It was warm, but had a mellow bite that pleased her tongue. The alcohol content seemed to be low as well, which was good since she didn’t really have much of a tolerance. She handed over a small stack of gold coins from the purse on her belt that helped to balance the weight of the weapon on the other side.
“FIne. You’re all drinking at this lady’s pleasure, you’d better show her the respect she deserves.”
“Yeah, sure Lathia.” Normal chatter started up in the taproom again and Xyrella leaned against the bar, enjoying the company of people again for a moment before focusing back on the problem at hand.
“So, what’s going on here anyway? This town looks like it’s seen better days, except for this place.” She said, inclining her head toward Lathia.
“Yeah. King’s levy took a bunch of the men to some war or another and most of them didn’t come back. Fields didn’t get plowed, crops didn’t get planted, some ate their horses last winter to survive and now… so many without parents makes for hard times.”
“But your establishment seems to be doing fairly well?” She let the question hang for a moment.
“Well, we don’t cater to the villagers much. We take on as many as we can and pay ‘em with meals but it’s not much, and there’s only so much food we can spare without putting our custom at risk.”
“How many can starve before you put your soul at risk?” Xyrella countered.
“Easy enough for someone passing through to judge.” Lathia grumbled, “I said we’re doing as much as we can.”“I will do what I can to help these folk, as I’m sure you do.” She said, raising a glittering eyebrow, “But I cannot stay. I am on a mission of no small importance.” Turning to the rest of the bar she raised her voice.
“I’m looking for a man who would have passed through here perhaps four or five years ago. His name is Radinnal and he’s a bit of a showoff, I know if you’d seen him you’d remember him. He would have been carrying a large silver medallion with two dragons eating each other’s tails engraved on it.”
“Why’re you looking for him?” An anonymous voice came out of the room.
“He’s my brother, and I have reason to believe he’s in over his head. Again.” She said with a chuckle. “He went off on some bullshit he claimed was a great quest but really from what I could see he was just trying to justify his desire to travel.” Well that and he thought the Dragon Medallion would bring him power too, but she wasn’t going to get into his megalomania with a bunch of strangers.
“We ain’t seen anybody who could be your brother.” A slightly inebriated man sitting at a nearby table said, “I mean ya don’t forget someone who looks like you.”
“Our appearances are a bit different.” She said, “He’s taller, has red hair and green eyes, slender build, a neatly trimmed beard and tons of freckles.”
“You sure he’s your brother?” The drunk said.
“So you’ve seen him?” She replied, taking a step closer.
“Naw, I mean not that I remember.” He didn’t seem too drunk to lie convincingly but she couldn’t really tell if he was telling the truth. Before she got any further, the enraged scream of a horse shattered the evening’s calm.
In spite of wearing robes instead of breeches she was outside before any of the men inside had done more than stand up. That had been Gift’s scream or she was a gnomish necromancer. It was easy for her to see in spite of the moonless night and it only took moments to get inside the stables. A man lay motionless on the floor outside her stallion’s stall.
“Jed!? Where is that boy?” Klimek’s voice was loud on the other end of the stable, “Someone get a lantern!”
Before spilled lamp oil and hasty feet could result in a fire, Xyrella reached inside herself as she sometimes did in moments of stress to where that hidden well of sunlight rested and it sprang into her hair. Shit. No avoiding casting a shadow now, but no time to worry about it.
Jed was lying in the empty stall across from Gift’s with a large bruise forming on his jaw. A brush of healing magic brought him around and he stared wide eyed as she bent over the man sprawled in the dirt. To her relief she saw he had only lost the last knuckles off his right hand. They’d been bitten clean off by the war horse’s blunt teeth.
Xyrella murmured a healing prayer to stop the bleeding and the man gradually regained consciousness. Jed hadn’t moved from where he was sitting in the other stable. The men from the tavern hadn’t come inside and she thought she heard the steely rustle of a sword being drawn from its sheath. Gift whickered an apologetic welcome.
“It’s OK boy, you didn’t kill him at least.”
“Oh gods and saints preserve me I didn’t know…” The man still writhed on the floor, she hadn’t completely healed the damage Gift had done and it must still hurt terribly. “I didn’t know who he belonged to I swear I didn’t know I’m just so hungry.”
“You were going to EAT him?” It took conscious effort not to reach for the weapon on her hip.
“No Great Lady, I was going to sell him, or trade him for seeds.”
“Forgiving those who have wronged you is one of the tenants of my faith.” One that was being truly tested now. “I ask for something in return instead of calling whatever passes for a magistrate here.”
The men and women from the inn were starting to come inside now, those sober enough to see clearly were gaping at the flickering wing shadows that were large on the stable walls and at the scintillating river of gold that was her hair.
“Anything. Please, I just wanted to feed my children.”
“Feeding the children is your responsibility now. Any child that needs a place to stay or food to eat here in this town is under your protection. You must plant enough to feed them all. In their turn, they will help you to tend the gardens and care for each other.” With a sigh, she reached for the pouch at her belt. This was going to put a serious dent in her finances, but she couldn’t just leave these children to starve to death.
“But Great Lady, I have no seeds, no money and no animals.”
“He’s a criminal and a horse thief.” One of the men behind her said, “He ran when the King’s summons came instead of answering them like the others who were called. He doesn’t have children and he’s never done an honest day’s work in his life.”
“I will change Great Lady, please don’t let them take me.”
“I take it the penalty for stealing horses is death.” She said flatly, looking between her captive and his accusers. “Who is your magistrate?”
“We ain’t had a magistrate here for years.”
“If you don’t have a magistrate then how are you subject to the King’s law? Why did any of you go to the King’s summons?”
“BECAUSE.” A terrible voice sounded from the far side of the stable, “THEY WEREN’T ANSWERING THE SUMMONS OF A MORTAL KING.” Oh shit.
“By the power of Bahamhut, Lord of all dragons, Lord of Law, Upholder of Justice I command this undead filth to BE GONE!” The light from her hair blazed even brighter for just a moment and illuminated a dessicated, withered humanoid creature with stringy hair with over a dozen shambling, rotting corpses standing before it. They were mostly children, but there were a few adults there as well. Her heart sickened as she recognized several of the hopeless looking children she’d seen on her way into the village.
“I SAID GET YE HENCE VILE ABOMINATIONS!” She shouted, brandishing Bahamut’s sigil. A look of pure hatred crossed the Wight’s face as a golden aura from Xyrella’s holy symbol blasted its zombie minions into oblivion. When the aura continued to expand until it touched the monster’s feet, the hatred was replaced by fear and the evil creature burst into oily flames.
The room was quiet for a moment except for the crack of bone splitting under the force of divine fire. Gift whickered and nudged her shoulder. She hadn’t even realized that she had moved to stand next to his stall.
Klimek let out a breath he must have been holding, “Cor. I never did see anything like that ever in all my days.” He gave her a guilty look, “Your brother came through here. Was about five years ago just like you say… He recruited a few of our stronger warriors to join him in a quest to unravel the power of what he called the Dragon Amulet. I think they were headed for the Smoking Mountains in Unther.
“it was only after he’d left that we started to have the trouble. You know, first animals and then people disappearing at night. Somehow they never bothered the Inn though; it’s the only place that’s safe… but lately the monsters have been lurking around the door from sundown to sunup and we was afraid they’d break whatever enchantment was keepin ‘em out.” He stared at the floor.
She was suddenly too tired to deal with the staring and the expectations anymore. “If you’ll excuse me… ridding the world of those undead maggots has taken a bit out of me…” The glow of her hair began to fade gradually; she was bone weary and feeling lonely. Xy usually missed Teniariac Ralishka, the scholarly and ancient Gold Dragon she had learned Bahamut’s teachings from after banishing undead.
“Remember my child, these are physical bodies that have not been allowed to shed all of their souls after death. It is right and good to cleanse them with righteous fire and holy light. Learn to harness that anger you harbor for this abomination and it shall serve to heat the flames of your banishment. I would warn you that you risk exhausting yourself if you employ this technique too often, but you’ve never shown much interest in self-restraint so I won’t waste my breath.”
Xy sighed wistfully, missing her dragon mentor and her wry sense of humor. Well, there would be plenty of time to sort out what needed sorting out tomorrow.
“I’m going to sleep here with Gift tonight.” She said, “I want to keep him company.” Well and she wanted his companionship too, but they didn’t need to know that. She rolled herself in Gift’s horse blanket and used his flank for a pillow. Sleep came quickly and she didn’t notice Jed and a few of the other village children creeping into the stable and curling up on the straw just outside the stallion’s stall.
Xy was leading Gift by the bridle when they approached the walls of the city, he had thrown a shoe the day before and she had been walking since dawn. The huge double gates were open, but scuffs on the road and the shining, rust-free hinges suggested they were regularly closed. In spite of it being early afternoon there was still a substantial amount of traffic passing through them and the guards weren’t slacking off with their inspection duties.
“Knight, you’ll have to remove that helm!” A soldier in a heavy scale maile shirt under a guard’s tabard was walking down the line, trying to get those waiting to get in as ready as they could be.
Keeping Gift on the side where her shadow would fall, no need for anyone to notice that while trying to explain her presence in the city, Xyrella took her helm off with a sigh. “Thank you guardsman, is there any other protocol I will need to observe?”
He did a double take, first at her hair and then likely at the rest of her appearance. She knew her face was easy on the eyes in spite of the unusual color of her hair and eyes.
“No Lady knight. Just the usual, name, rank, reason for the visit, duration of the stay.” He paused, “You a King’s Knight? From the Purple Dragon Knights?”
Well, her armor did share their coloration even if the blazon on her shield was different. “Nay, I’m a disciple of Bahamut guardsman. Here on Order business.”
With that, he seemed to lose interest and turned to make his way back down the line.
It took the better part of a half hour to get through the gates and to a smithy where Gift could be re-shod. Thanking the Dragon Lord that she’d managed to find a small cache of gold and a few jewels in the Wight’s lair and been able to keep some of it for herself in good conscience, Xy paid the grizzled man with arms like tree trunks a bit extra. He raised an eyebrow at her in question.
“You earned it sir.” She said politely, “I know quality work when I see it, even if I don’t have the skills of a farrier myself. You wouldn’t be able to recommend me an inn that has high quality forage for my beast as well as myself would you?”
He eyed her again before shrugging and pointing down the road, “Sheaf and Sickle’s as good as you’ll find fer beasts here. Not th’ finest for people though Lady Knight.”
Huh. He had clear expectations of behavior of a female knight. Interesting. “I am no knight sir, I’m merely a pilgrim making my way through the world. The Blessings of Bahamut be upon you and yours.”
At the mention of a dragon, even one known for being a God and a good aligned one at that, the smith touched the Hammer of Moradin at his chest and made a gesture to ward off evil. “Thanks for your patronage Lady … pilgrim.” He said, and turned back to his forge.
Sighing in resignation, she patted Gift and made her way in the direction he had pointed.
Sitting down on a recently vacated stool with a sigh, Xy tossed a few silver coins on the bar. “Cider please, by scale and wing I’m exhausted.” The serving girl whose eye she’d caught scooped up one of the coins and and spun to fill a heavy wooden jack with the amber liquid. Xy flipped one of the extra coins towards the girl who caught it and stowed it in her bodice in a deft motion.
She had been all over the ‘town’ of Englestad over the last few days and had only come up with rumor and heresay. For a town it was nearly as large as some settlements that had been referred to as cities. She hadn’t wanted to ride Gift in the town proper unless necessary since he was a target for thieves which in turn meant she would have some explaining to do when he injured or killed a few of them.
From what she’d been able to gather, the town and some of the surrounding area were ruled by The Baroness Diege Hamira. Having traveled through it herself, Xy knew it was a fairly inhospitable place and wasn’t surprised by the tales of the Baroness having her hands full dealing with everything from gangs of Goblin bandits and Orc raiding parties to rumors of a Troglodite infestation.
Until recently, she’d had a lot of help from some powerful master of the Arcane Arts known to the locals by the dubious moniker of “The Burning Sage” who kept some of the most dangerous creatures at bay. Some said he had singlehandedly destroyed a mated pair of Green Dragons a few score years ago and others said he’d had varying amounts of help from others. An impressive feat either way.
He had been taking apprentices for quite some time, replacing them every five years. They’d taken to making somewhat of a festival of the event, and she’d arrived just a week before it was going to take place. Now that it was the day of the so-called Festival of Fire and excitement had reached a fever-pitch. There were hopeful magi from all over the surrounding area who all wanted to become Orestain’s next apprentice.
This all seemed too… perfect. First, Raddinal’s obsession with his ‘Amulet of the Dragon’ and now she had found a mage rumored to be a dragonslayer. Now, it appears this very powerful mage takes apprentices… if her brother caught even the slightest hint of this he would have bent time and space to be here. Literally.
The problem was that with preparations for the festival in full swing it was difficult to even walk down the street, let alone find one person among the throng. She had just returned from fighting her way to the front gates to ask the guardsmen if she could see the entry logs but they were so busy all they’d tell her is that she’d need a writ from the Baroness herself to check their books.
“Quite a crush eh?” The man on her left asked with a genial laugh, “By the Gods I didn’t think I’d ever make it to the bar!” He was a fairly good looking man, although a little younger than she generally liked.
She nodded absently and sampled her cider. It had a cinnamon bite that surprised her, glancing behind the bar she saw that many of the names of the menu items had ‘fire’ in them. Right. Festival of Fire. It wasn’t really what she wanted but getting a barmaid’s attention again would be difficult and she was thirsty. Xy realized the man was still talking.
“-going to pick me, I mean with my lineage and the potential that Master Jaka sees in me I’m sure to be the Burning Sage’s next apprentice!” He gave her a winning smile and leaned closer to her.
“So you’ll be gone for five years right?” She said, bringing her cider jack up between their faces to take a drink, “Are you sure you’ll be able to handle being without any companionship other than a hundred year old man for five years? I mean as a cleric of Bahamut I’m accustomed to meditation and isolation for long periods of time, but I wonder how someone as gregarious as you will handle it?”
He was smart enough to recognize her indifference and turned to hassle the woman on his other side, leaving her to survey the crowd again. She saw the Herald at the door and knew he was going to announce the time of Choosing was at hand. There was no point in trying to fight her way to the door… if Raddinal was going to show up, she’d see him soon enough.
After the Herald’s announcement, the taproom was emptied within minutes and Xyrella was one of a very few left. She finished her cider and stretched, feeling her vertebra snap and pop. Feeling eyes on her, she looked over and saw the serving girl staring at her. Damn it, with all the people gone the torchlight threw her shadow clearly against the wall and the capricious wings were lazily flapping. She blew the girl a kiss and sauntered out to see what the evening would bring.
Everyone was gathered in and around a large stage that had been erected outside the town wall. Apparently this was so that everyone could get a good look a what was happening now that the festival had grown in popularity. Xyrella took advantage of her slight form now that she wasn’t wearing her armor and slipped through the crowd, getting fairly close to the stage.
“Now the appointed time on the appointed day has arrived!” The Herald who was speaking used some sort of magic to amplify his voice, “Let Raddinal Kra’alin, apprentice to Orestain The Burning Sage present himself to choose the Archmage’s new apprentice!”
Xyrella stood in open-mouthed shock. Her brother was already the apprentice? This is where he’d been for the last five years? With all the confusion of searching for information and with the reception those folk in the last town had given her after learning who she was after, she hadn’t used his actual name here. Well at least she knew where he was now and she’d see him soon enough.
The crowd quieted down in anticipation, but nothing happened. Minutes passed and still nothing happened. Murmurs began rippling through the assembled people, but Xy could only focus on the stage. He had to come, he just had to… this was just his way of being dramatic. He always had loved attention and she had to admit he often had style. After some time, the people dispersed in disappointed groups, talking among themselves and only Xyrella remained.
“Hey. Do you want to get inside the gate?” A guardsman shouted from the wall, “We’re closing it for the night.”
She didn’t even hear him. Her brother was going to show up. He had to. She knew he wouldn’t though. Bahamut had told her that Raddinal was in trouble, possibly even in mortal danger. This was what he had meant. Tomorrow she would feel resolve and courage. Tomorrow she would be able to face this problem with a clear mind and a steadfast heart. Tonight she needed to worry, to pray and to be alone under the sky.
A knock at the door brought Xyrella’s head up. She had just finished bathing after her night outside the walls and was attempting to get her hair to behave itself.
“Just a moment.” She said, fumbling a clean robe over her head and pulling the laces over the chest tight. Well, she didn’t look her best, but it would have to do. “Come in.”
The door opened and a guardsman gave her a sharp salute, “I am here to see the Lady Xyrella Kra’alin at the request of the Baroness Diege Hamira.”
“At ease guardsman.” She looked closer at his insignia, “My apologies Guard Captain. I am not in exactly my finest fettle. If you would give me some time to compose myself I would be happy to accompany you to see your Liege Lady. How should I present myself?”
He furrowed his brow in confusion for a moment before she gestured toward her armor on its stand in the corner, “Full battle regalia is not necessary Lady Xyrella. As you are now is more than sufficient.”
Xy laughed in genuine amusement, “How little you know of the fair sex Captain. I will see to dressing and join you in the common room in… shall we say… a quarter hour?” She managed to herd him out the door and got herself primped and dressed properly. It had taken copious amounts of oil mixed with essence of Saffron to get her hair to lay down properly and a lick of magic to get her robes to hang properly, but after a close inspection in her mirror, Xy decided she was presentable.
The look on the men’s faces when she entered the Sheaf and Sickle’s common room was confirmation of her success. “Guard Captain, if you would be so kind as to lead me to your Leige Lady, I am ready to meet her.”
“If I may be so bold Lady Kra’alin; your beauty surpasses what I believed possible.” He said, offering her his arm.
“You are too kind sir.” She said, resting her fingertips on his wrist in a ladylike fashion, “By all means, lead on.”
“Guard Captain Melliar and the Lady Xyrella Kra’alin!” The steward announced, rapping his staff on the floor. The Baroness Diege Hamira was a strong, sturdy woman with a short cropped mane of bright red hair. She had a soldier’s stance and wore the garb of a dedicated archer. When Xy walked into the room, the Baroness met her scrutiny in kind.
The room was not the audience chamber she’d expected, but instead seemed to be more of an office or personal study. A tapestry depicting some battle or another hung on one wall, there were thick carpets on the floor, a rack of varying unstrung bowstaves and a large desk made of darkly stained wood strewn with maps and paperwork.
“Well met Disciple of Bahamut.” She said, extending a hand, “Is it true, is Orestain’s last apprentice one of your blood relations?” Good, she wasn’t afraid to get right to the point.
“Yes, Raddlinal is my older brother Baroness. I’ve been searching for him for some time now.” She replied, “I was planning on following him to the place where this so-called Burning Sage keeps himself today. Bahamut has been hinting in a not so subtle manner that my wayward brother is in a bit of danger.”
“With all due respect intended, I don’t think you can handle the trip to his keep on your own. I’ve had my hands full with Troglodyte raids for over a year now. I guess if there is some sort of problem in Orestain’s domain it would explain why they’ve been more active over the last few years.” She mused.
“You really think there is more than I can handle out there… Baroness?” Xyrella asked, remembering to add the honorific a tad late.
“Listen to me well you arrogant golden haired fool, it’s not just my men who have been fighting this infestation, I’ve been out there myself.” The Baroness hissed, fixing her with a narrow-eyed glare. “There are thousands of them.” She walked back behind her desk and this time Xy could see a noticeable limp. Her practiced healer’s eye could tell it was the result of a battle injury that hadn’t been healed properly.
“No offense intended Baroness.” She said, lowering her eyes, “I am just worried about my brother. I traveled here from the north and east; wild lands to be sure but I didn’t have any trouble navigating them. I was even able to rid one small berg of an undead infestation…”
“It’s not just the dangers of traveling the countryside Priestess; I only know of one man who knows the location of the Burning Sage’s stronghold. I’ve had men looking for him ever since your brother failed to show up at the Festival of Flame.” She said, frowning at a piece of paper on her desk.
“I also doubt you’ve seen anything like the mountains that surround this place. Surely you were able to travel the main roadways, but I keep them patrolled. That isn’t a luxury you’ll have once you get into the mountains. I just don’t have the manpower to keep those trails safe.
“Since you seem to be a capable woman I will ask you to assist me in this matter.” She gave Xyrella a stern look, “This is paramount to the survival of my city Miss Kra’alin. You cannot do it alone, but if you will but wait a few more days I will put together a group of candidates for you to review and I’ll find you a map that leads to Orestain’s stronghold besides.”
Normally Xyrella didn’t like nobility. They were a stuffy sort, more interested in their own skins and holdings than they were in anything else; but she could tell this Baroness was different. She led patrols herself, her injuries were testament to that. She cared about her people and was willing to risk much in order to keep them safe.
“Very well Baroness, I will undertake this mission on three conditions. The first is you send me with a local who knows the woodlands and mountains. The second is that I have final say on who travels with me, and that I lead this group.” She hesitated, pausing to look at the other woman.
“And the third?” She replied impatiently, leaning forward on her desk.
“That you call me Xy. Miss Kra’alin or Lady Xyrella or whatever is far too formal. I’m not a lady, I don’t really like my full name that much and my friends call me Xy.” She grinned, knowing how infectious her smiles were, “I’d like to think we could become friends Baroness.”
The Baroness’s mouth quirked in one corner. It could have been a smile. “Done on all accounts Xy.” She said, “In private, at least, you may call me Diege if you wish.”
Xy put her hand forward and clasped Diege’s forearm in a swordsman’s handshake. “Well met then Diege. You know where to find me when you need me; the Sheaf and Sickle is comfortable for my horse as well as for myself. The Dragon Lord bless you find the ones you seek soon.”