And Then There Was Silence: Part Two
II: Wide Awake
Apsy and Ember are completely lost.
It's been at least an hour since the two left the burrows, and, though Apsy had managed to identify which direction was southwest using her natural affinity for recognising the position of Kreludor and its surrounding stars, the king must have either misdirected them or understated exactly how far away the crypts were. A small test, probably, or maybe he just wanted to be cruel. Most likely both.
Ember groans loudly for what seems like the hundredth time in the past twenty minutes. "Dude, can't you, like, use your fancy Werelupe skills to, like, smell where to go, or something?" she says, but Apsy ignores her and continues walking briskly, occasionally looking up to the firmament that arches over them to make sure they're still headed in the right direction.
A few more minutes, then Ember groans again. "I swear we've been through here already. Are you sure you can, like, read the cosmos or whatever correctly?" Again, she is ignored. Again, she groans. "Dude, just put your nose to the ground, I'm hungry and bored."
"Oh my gosh," Apsy finally snaps, "if you don't shut up, I swear to Fyora I'm gonna throw you into that nasty swamp over there." She points a clawed finger to a foul-smelling bog that lies stagnating beside a mountainside to their right. The surface of its waters ripples with the movements of several Sludgies and Slorgs.
Ember rolls her eyes. "Oh my gosh," she taunts, mimicking Apsy's prissy tone, "I literally don't care anymore, because I'm so stupidly bo-re-duh."
Apsy snorts. "Yeah, you should remove the '-ly bored' from that last sentence," she retorts.
"Oh, ha-ha, very funny." Ember crosses her arms angrily, but she can't fight back her smile. "Okay, that one was actually decent," she eventually giggles.
Apsy matches the laugh. "Thanks, I try."
"A-hem." Someone clears their throat loudly from behind Apsy and Ember. The foreign voice sounds exasperated. The girls both spin around, only to be met with curved blades carved from bone at each of their throats. A youthful-looking male Werelupe stands in the shadows, holding his arms outstretched, a sword in each hand which he holds strong against the girls' jugulars. "Who are you and what are you doing here?" he asks, sounding very irritated and very tired.
Ember looks the Werelupe up and down, taking in all the details of his appearance. He is tall and muscular, but slimmer than most of the other Werelupes she's seen in the woods so far. His fur is Crokabek black, but with cream-coloured patches here and there — his chest, a stripe down his back, the middle and index finger of his left hand, and a few curls of hair mingling with the rest of the ashen-coloured locks. His cheeks are freckled with snowy white. His hair is long, braided messily, and thrown over his right shoulder. A Werelupe fang necklace hangs from his neck. Ember is almost positive he is the one they are looking for. "Are you the prince?" she asks casually, seeming unafraid of the blade under her chin.
He looks her in the eyes. His irises appear to be a rich blue, but his bloodshot sclera dyes them a reddish-purple. He blinks slowly, sleepily, but his grip on his weapons stays firm. He answers Ember's question with one of his own: "I'm assuming you're the ones Father was meeting with this evening?"
Bingo. "Indeed we are," Ember says, giving him a sunny smile.
"Proof, please," the prince says, ignoring the human's confident response, his voice still weary, but his arms still strong.
When Ember doesn't respond, Apsy starts stuttering awkwardly. "Uh…" She looks to Ember with a glint of panic in her eyes, hoping that her mother will be able to come up with a way to prove their intentions.
Ember meets Apsy's gaze but looks indifferent. "You're the one who had this idea in the first place," she snipes. "You come up with something."
Apsy snorts angrily at her mother, then turns back to face the prince. His gaze is cool as Kreludite. Two seconds looking into his imperial eyes — at the authority and nobility that swims there — and she decides she doesn’t even want to bother trying to invent a response. She gives up immediately. She shrugs exaggeratedly, holding her hands up, feigning surrender. "Sorry, I got nothin'," she says, then slaps her hands down against her hips. "He just told us to walk a mile southwest until we found you at the crypts and that was all. No proof."
The prince tilts his head to the side as if confused, but then giggles delicately. His laughter is bright enough to be calming. "The crypts are southeast of the burrows, if that's where you started from," he says, "as well as, where we stand now, it's about a six mile walk."
Ember throws her hands in the air and turns around, groaning to the sky as loud as she can. Two Karrens fly out of the tree directly above her, screeching angrily at the sound. She tries to complain, but her frustration forces all of her words to fuse together — "Apsythisisallyourfaultohmygughhh…"
The prince snickers again, more loudly this time. "Leave it to Father," he says, his tired eyes twinkling, then he lowers his weapons — presses the two swords together until their carved hilts fit as one, then slides them into a wide scabbard that's hung from his left hip. "Don't worry, I trust you," he says, shifting his weight to one side and crossing his arms, "I just wanted to see what you would say if I asked."
Apsy rolls her eyes as Ember spins back around to face him. "Are the crypts even in shambles like he said they were, or was that also just a hilarious misdirection?" she says, her whole sentence coming out as an angry complaint.
"Oh, no, they're truly a complete disaster," the prince says. "I'm heading over there right now, actually. Were you two sent to assist us?"
Apsy politely says, "Yes, we were instructed to help you," at the same time her mother shouts, "Do I even care anymore?"
Again, the trees echo with the prince's sparkling laugh. He looks to Ember, who has buried her face in her hands and is yelling into her palms. "How in the world did you get out of that throne room alive?" he muses, and Ember peeks through her fingers at him. "You're too… animated for Father to put up with."
"Oh no," Ember mumbles, her voice muted by her hands, "you do that same pausey-thingy he does… I kept it together in front of him, but I don't think I can do it anymore…"
The prince confusedly tilts his head again. "The… what?"
"He, like, pauses when he talks," Ember says, dropping her hands and curling her fingers, gesturing wildly as she speaks. "He, like, will say half a sentence, then take a long pause, then… finish the sentence." She illustrates her point by mimicking the king's speech pattern. "Apsy, you noticed that, right?" — Apsy doesn't respond. Her glare is acidic — "Half a sentence, then the… rest of the sentence. And he always puts… emphasis on the first word of the… second half."
Apsy is now pinching the bridge of her nose hard to try to quell her frustration. I cannot believe Mum is disrespecting the Werelupe King to his own son…
"You just did the same thing," Ember says, directly to the prince again. "It's, like, funny."
"Hm," the prince hums, lifting a hand to hold his chin in contemplation, "I never really paid attention to that before, but now that you mention it… he totally does."
"So do you!"
"I guess so do I."
The two exchange snickers and smiles, then both look to Apsy, whose embarrassment has painted her cheeks bright pink. She didn't know what she was expecting to happen when she first saw the prince standing behind her, but it definitely wasn't him and her annoying mother bonding…
"Well," the prince says, tossing his hair over his other shoulder, "if you were sent to help me, then Father was right to send you the wrong way, since I haven't been to the crypts all night. He knew that, so he didn't completely mislead you. I apologise, though, that he made you walk so far."
"It's really no big deal," Apsy says, moving her hands to massage her throbbing temples. Her humiliation has left her with a headache. "Mum just really likes complaining about everything."
"It's true," Ember sighs.
The prince snorts. "Trust me, I've already noticed." The three all laugh awkwardly before he adds, "Anyway, what are your names?"
Apsy beats her mother to the response: "My name is Apsy, and this, unfortunately, is my mother, Ember."
Ember smiles wide and waves frantically — the gesture is pointless, but it's a habit of hers. "What about you, Mister Prince?" she asks, tucking her hands into the pockets of her black jeans. " 'Cause if you don't give me a name, I'll probably just end up calling you 'Dude' for the rest of your life."
Apsy purses her lips and shakes her head. The prince blushes slightly. He's not used to being treated like a normal person. He likes it. It's much nicer than people being scared or feigning respect all the time. "Please, just call me Kamen," he says.
"Okay then, Prince Kamen," Apsy says, finally managing to push her embarrassment to the back of her mind, "could you please escort us to the crypts so we may help you guys out?"
Kamen extends one strong arm and gives the two a humble bow. "I would be honoured, ladies. Please, follow me."~
Finneus tiptoes through the lush grasses of Illusen's Glade as quiet as possible, his footsteps crunching softly on fallen leaves and twigs. He's trying his best not to crush any of the beautiful fruits and flowers that bloom all around, but he's incredibly unsuccessful in his efforts.
It's late, but Finneus isn't the least bit tired. He's been spending all evening trying to figure out what he could possibly steal to prove his worth to Kanrik, but all of the known local treasures are either guarded by fierce monsters or hundreds of guards, or belong to other terrifying villains that would definitely not make Kanrik happy if they ended up at the guild's headquarters. Finneus eventually decided that, if he couldn't steal from a villain, perhaps he could steal from a hero?
The canopies where Illusen lives seem miles above where Finneus is now standing, but that's no problem for him. Flying is his one greatest advantage in this game of thievery. He checks his surroundings — left, right, left — then takes to the air with a flap of his wings. The motion causes the crumbled leaves below him to rustle and dance loudly. He cringes at the sound, but nothing else seems to stir in response. He's safe. For now.
Once he makes it to the quaint little treehouse built at the top of the branches, he lands delicately and silently on a balcony — landing is the one thing he can do stealthily. Once he finds his footing, he ducks into the shadow of the great tree's trunk, then — left, right, left — heads towards and over a narrow rope bridge that leads to where the faerie lies asleep.
The glade is dead silent, save for a small waterfall beside the faerie's chambers. The hush makes Finneus' footsteps seem all the more thunderous. Once he reaches the room, he checks behind him, then — left, right, left — he takes a few cautious steps into the room where the faerie sleeps. He tiptoes as quiet as he can, but a board under him creaks, and the faerie stirs. Finneus throws himself to the floor at ten times the volume of the sound that initially startled him, but, luckily, despite the series of loud mistakes, Illusen remains in her deep, peaceful slumber. Thank goodness.
Finneus slowly stands back up and surveys the room, unsure of what to steal. All of the items that are strewn about seem surprisingly boring — a neatly folded pile of identical dresses, a pair of laced slippers, a few simple earth charms, a dusty old faerie globe… Finally, his eyes catch something glowing a faint green that's propped against a vanity across the room from where he stands. His eyes light up as he realises it's Illusen's powerful staff.
His fluttering heart tells him to make a mad dash across the room, grab the staff, and get the heck out as fast as he can, but he doesn't allow those excited thoughts to take hold of him. He doesn't want to make too much noise in his rush to get the staff, so running is out of the question. Left, right, left, then, holding his breath, he tiptoes on, testing each step for sound before completely placing his foot down.
After what seems like an hour of silent sneaking, he finally reaches the vanity. The staff is gorgeous. It's wrapped with vines and daisies, glittering with faerie dust, and smells of fresh flowers and grass. Kanrik is gonna be so stoked! He looks over his shoulder at the sleeping faerie one last time, then, carefully, picks up the staff.
Just his luck, though, he knocks over a potion that was placed precariously on the edge of the vanity. It clatters to the ground and rolls in winding circles around the floor before eventually coming to a stop against one leg of Illusen's bed. The sound of the falling potion is as loud as cannon fire against the backdrop of the glade's silence. Finneus holds his breath and stares wide-eyed as, again, the faerie stirs… but she somehow stays asleep.
Finneus waits and watches Illusen for a few more seconds just to make sure she hasn't awoken. Then, when he is absolutely certain she's not awake, he breathes a sigh of relief, tucks the staff securely into his belt, then leaps out the nearest window, wings outstretched to catch the air and lower him gently to the ground below.
When he's descended about halfway down to the ground, out of the corner of his eye, Finneus sees something — someone — in the village below stir. He panics, not wanting to be seen, and clumsily, frantically, flaps his wings, eventually rising enough to land on one of the tree's thick branches and hide under its leaves.
Once he is safely out of sight, he peers down at the source of the movement. It looks to be a villager — a Gelert — heading home in the dark. The villager is walking slowly and quietly, probably not wanting to wake any of his or her sleeping neighbours. Looking closely, Finneus can see the chain of a gold necklace hanging loosely from the Gelert's neck, glinting under the bright light of Kreludor. Its glow gives Finneus another idea. The more loot the better, right? What harm could possibly come from bringing Kanrik a simple piece of gold jewellery as well? He silently flies from tree to tree until he sits right above the Gelert's head, and prepares to leap…~
In the darkness of the night, surrounded by the trees and brush of Illusen's Glade, it's almost impossible to see, save for a faint mist of moonlight. All lights within the homes of the villagers have been snuffed, and the glistening of the moonbeams on the surface of a nearby waterfall causes the glade to seem all the more obscure.
Slowly meandering in and out of the shadows, his sword strong at his hip, the assassin's mind is all but blank as he approaches the door to the home where this man Elias is supposed to live. The door is closed. The windows are closed. Locked, probably, but that's usually not a problem. Even the weakest teleportation spell can get someone into a locked house. Walking quietly and dedicatedly towards the home, the assassin pulls his hood back slightly to get a better view of the environment he's working with. It's a small cottage, surrounded by a broken-down fence, and has a decently large field of chokatos stretching behind it.
When he reaches the door, the assassin pauses, then focuses all of his energy on the spell that he needs to cast to get into the locked home. He takes a deep breath, sobers his thoughts, focuses on the forest's magic surrounding him… then something slams down on top of him from the sky — hard.
Though he was caught completely off guard, the assassin is professional enough to know not to make a sound in response to the attack. The small would-be assailant is flailing clumsily on the Gelert's back, trying and failing to pin him down. When the assassin finally frees himself and tosses his attacker to the side, he stands and takes a second to make sure his mind is calm and centred so he can retaliate effectively. Don't worry, this isn't a big deal, as long as the target remains asleep, he thinks. I just have to take care of this pest first, then I can get back to work…
The assassin had assumed his attacker was another person in his line of work sent to kill him — it wouldn't be the first time that has happened — so he can't hide his surprise when the small-bodied person leaps at him again, but reaches for his necklace…
When the delicate gold chain breaks in the thief's grip, the assassin panics. He grabs the thief's wrist with one hand and draws his sword loudly and swiftly with the other. The two meet eyes, and the thief gasps…~
Finneus realises the severity of his error the second he looks into the Gelert's face and recognises him as the notorious Nameless Assassin who once worked for the Darkest Faerie. As the furious Gelert lifts his blade for a kill, Finneus lets out a loud shriek of terror, and the assassin's eyes fill with dread. He looks around frantically as all of the lights in the village begin to turn on at seemingly the same time, and a commotion stirs up. His grip on Finneus' wrist loosens. His blade stops midair.
Noticing that the assassin is now distracted by the noise of the frenzied villagers, Finneus grabs at the opportunity to escape without question. He twists violently until the assassin's grip comes loose on his arm, then runs as fast as he can, still screaming hysterically.
The assassin curses under his breath as the light in the home of his target flickers on. He takes off running, half to stay out of his target's sight, half to chase after Finneus. Even though the Scorchio had a huge head-start in the chase, the assassin is far more nimble and familiar with the terrain. He catches up to the thief in seconds.
Looking over his shoulder, Finneus sees that the assassin is barely two steps behind him, his sword drawn and his eyes eager. Finneus shrieks again and rolls to the side as the assassin's blade comes down a hair's breadth away from his tail. He starts to desperately flail his arms and flap his wings until he manages to take to the sky.
The assassin quickly sheathes his sword and pulls several dark magic-infused daggers from his belt. He throws them at the scared Scorchio, but Finneus' bumbling flight pattern is too messy and unpredictable for the frantic assassin. The Scorchio manages to dodge all of the blades. Behind them, the villagers have all left their homes and are now gathered together, loudly trying to find the source of the screaming. The assassin hears someone from the village yell, "There's somebody over there!" and sees the people begin to swarm. When he sees Illusen begin to descend from the trees, her palms glowing with a strong earth magic, he accepts that he has no other choice but to flee. He looks up at the Scorchio one last time to get a sense of what direction he is heading — towards the Werelupe Woods, it seems — then, with a snap of his fingers, he disappears in a cloud of black smoke, leaving the villagers and Illusen all confused as to what in the world just happened.
To be continued…