The elf settled on the wooden table that was at the edge of the market, its normal use being a convenient place for folks to sit while eating what the market had to offer. It was twilight, and many of the vendors were wrapping things up to shut down, night being a risky business in this town.
Gemethyst took a bite of the apple she had swiped from someone's apple cart, and watched the people. A lot on her mind, she was a thousand miles away, though alert for all that.
Black mould ran along one of the businesses in a thick strip. It climbed to the roof, and then spores erupted in a delicate and fetid cloud. There was an unpleasantly moist chill in that slight shelter. A tendril of the mould meandered over the cobbles, touched at the tables. Soon, it was watching the watcher, a narrow and lanky thing, cloaked in wool that smelled faintly of decay, as if it had been left in the washing machine wet on a hot day. Oh, pretty pretty pretty.
Amethyst eyes had settled on stars above her head, but notably only to those who knew her well, she no longer spoke to them. What purpose, now she knew the man she's spoken to all these years had not not seen fit to answer? And now seen, he was clearly no longer hers. Sadness tainted the pretty eyes, as they slowly focused, her nose twitching slightly, for a fetid, rank odor had drifted into the area. Different than the usual, at least. Mold? Decay? She was uncertain.
Such things Gemethyst did know: oddity came before trouble. Her eyes moved about, seeking, seeking, peering into shadows that might hold secrets. Was he visible?
Keen eyes would see a skull like head wrapped tightly in burlap, but not whether or not the jagged jack-o-lantern grin was was painted on or if it was so wide and gaping. It moved slightly with its 'breathing'. Its eyes were open sockets, but from time to time, a pinpoint of light shone within them. Boney fingers in burlap moved, then the creature drifted along closer.
To sit on the end of the bench where the elf occupied and peer at her as if it had found a lovely flower. To destroy. Its ghastly grin widened.
The chill that flooded Gemethyst's soul was surely not just her imagination, was it? As her gaze settled on the figure, she took in the ghastly grin, the holed sockets with those eerie lights flickering within. Her backside on the table and her feet on the bench, she rose up as the creature settled, hands resting on dagger hilts.
Wary now, she studied the creature. No way was she going closer as it had beckoned, but it had moved far too close too fast for her liking as it was. She made ready to move and move fast.
"What is you seek?" she inquired, terse.
"What are the rules here, pretty-pretty-pretty? Surely you know the rules. Tell them to me." it responded, sweetly, it thought, its voice the twisting and crackling of wood wet and decaying past its cohesion. There was an eagerness to its posture, but it did not move from where it had sat so primly. Black mould gathered and spun from its feet in falsely pretty tendrils and spirals. "This is a new place. It must have rules."
Silver brows rose and lay upon her brow like mithril lace. A faint smile tilted heart shaped lips, and she nodded slowly, keeping herself ready to move should the need arise.
"All places have rules. Some can be broken, some cannot. It depends on your goals and who you intend to dance with, really. Different rules abound. Murder and mayhem are met with whatever justice may be swiftly thrown upon them, though it is ever a place that requires one to be as strong as one may in order to keep such things at bay."
"A bard's sylvan tongue. You say all, you say nothing. You say nothing except the rule is the strong. Perhaps that rule is broken one day. The weak prevails. What, what then?" rustling wet leaves in its whispering and eager voice. "Whichever justice, how interesting, interesting. Which justice for the crime? Justice that a sinner loves, that restores the wronged...? Tell me, tell me, tell..." Its voice faded, the jagged dance of its mouth falling still and open.
Gemethyst paused before responding, for the this one spoke with more silver than she had. Lovely head tipped to the side, a fragile bird in appearance. The dim twilight was slowly dying and the fingers of moonlight crept and spread, trying to illumine. And so it glissaded over the long braid she wore, and it gleamed like molten metal. A blaze of silver. A beacon? A warning? Who knew? Her lips firmed into a strange smile.
"In this place, the story unfolds differently each day. The ending is not known ahead of time, for much lay here that can alter events, even those god-written. Be careful who you anger, that is perhaps the right and true of the rule, hmm?"
"Wisdom, wisdom, wisdom," three times it creaked, the empty eyeholes narrowing until there was a spot of light within one, briefly spied and gone. "Have care, it is important ever to have care, each step will change the way of things. But not the rules. We live and we die with them in hand, even if there are no rules." Poor Gem, coming out for air, she finds herself discussing the very ways of Rhydin. "And you who have nothing to defend would speak only what you know to an innocent traveler, Pretty-Pretty-Pretty." Sly turn to the creaking and oozing voice, its head tilting to watch her from one eye hole. The cloak it wore seemed on the verge of falling into rags, but it never did. Damp and rotting, it held.
The elf remained in her tense position, like fine drawn piano wire, taut and tuned for immediate response. Another tip of her head at the return from the stranger. A faint thrill of alarm slid down her spine and pooled in her belly. Adrenaline spiked. "Why do you say I have nothing to defend?" Sharp as a dagger, that question. She had given a faint snort in there, too. It may have been at the 'innocent traveler' comment.
"To hear how you will answer, of course," it replied with a jack-o-lantern grin. Its fingers steepled. It made a mockery of a prayerful pilgrim resting upon the road.
A low rumble of laughter spilled from the wary thief, and she gave a slow head shake. "I am no fare for one who seeks to harm, and so I advise you accordingly. Be aware that there be some here who will protect those who might be prey."
"So there is much to defend, or nothing," it murred, creaking and crackling wetly with glee, perhaps. "Your rules are clear, Pretty-Pretty-Pretty. You breath, your heart beats, your flesh is hot and wet. Your feet upon the ground, your hair flows downwards. Soul lights within your eyes, and blood pumps within your veins..." A lovely little opus to the process of life, he gave. "You are not my prey, Pretty-Pretty-Pretty."
Comforting? Its eye sockets closed, opened, dotted both with white: pupils that faded.
"Who is King here?"
Gemethyst listened. She listened hard, thinking about what she heard. Yes, indeed, she was glad to not be its prey, for one such as it would make a formidable enemy, she was sure. Also messy. And damp. The opus was smiled at and appreciated, for bard ship should always be appreciated, no matter the source.
"Kings come and go, this place has no real king, and several who seek to rule. It is a mess, and if you seek to untangle the knot of greed, politics, and sweet lies you will perhaps be here for a far longer time than you ever intended." A faint laugh spilled like moonlight into the air. Fresh, sweet, and silvery. But she had more to say. "It better be for you that none of mine are also your prey, for I am one who *will* defend those."
"It also depends on what court you ask about. There are many about us."
"No King, no rules. None for me but those I choose to abide by." Slick as that patch of wet and rotting leaves that sent you skating unexpected down a muddy path and landing upon your ass. "Courts are artificial constructs where there is no King. Petty plays at power which come to no fruition. They rot upon their own vines."
Creak, crackle, plop, its tones. "Ah, so lovely lovely lovely you, silvered and bright, moonlight worshipped, stern knight of justice with no king or god," sleekly worded, watching her so very closely, "Defends. But you do not know what it is you defend against. Or why. I am a simple traveler, Pretty-Pretty -Pretty."
"Oh, I have a God." But there in her voice was doubt, doubt and chagrin and uncertainty. She was appreciative of this one's lack of like for rules, for it spoke to her heart. However, it was the whole good and evil thing that remained to be seen in this one. Or neutrality, even.
Slim shoulders rose up and she looked at it with all the earnestness of her spirt, and the goodness that resided therein. A vampire might cringe at it, so shiny was it.
"But what matters that, Traveler? One does need to know one has certain likelihood of succeeding before venturing to defend and protect. There is no honor in that."
How strange that a thief should speak of honor in such a way. But then Gem was not your typical thief. She smiled.
"One rushes to defend, to rescue, simply because there is a need for rescue."
"Is that so?" its smile hooked up higher, more jagged and dark. But it did not say what it meant by it, much as he seemed quite pleased to hear her words.
"Honor is a precious thing, Pretty-Pretty-Pretty. It is a cauldron of no worth where it boils rancid meat; it is a vessel of surpassing beauty where it boils the finest beef. It boils not at all for the cheat, for the thief, for the murderer and liar."
Its metaphorical finger hooked into a loose thread, and it pulled.
"But you, you one does not need to know! Shine within and without as if you are one of the blessed virgins who sweep low over the battlements and sweetly lead away the honored dead who have died dishonorably."
Okay, it took Gemethyst aback with that speech. Blessed virgins? Shame from ageless memory swirled and darkened her spirit, and she shook her head.
"Nay, sir. I am none such as that." She paused and looked up at the stars for a moment, before recalling she'd best keep her eyes on it, unknown person as it was. With eye sockets.
"There are different kinds of honor. At best, mine is the kind that has been scorched and bedraggled quite a bit, and it rests on my easier for being so rumpled and damaged."
She smiled at it, then, her eyes fixed on its dark holes. "You do not seem a simple traveller to me. Why do you ask what rules there are when clearly you do not care if they exist and do not intend to follow them even if they do?"
Its fingers splayed open, bone thin and unnaturally long. Its eye sockets narrowed into slots of leaping candle flame, its grin razor thin and sinister.
"Oh, so is it so, Pretty-Pretty-Pretty? I have already lain hands upon you, and I have not touched you yet." A creaking croon of voice. And he leered at her as if he owned her entire, but claimed only a touch upon her. It was not a lustful gaze, it was the gaze of the miser so jealous of his gold that he could teach it to sing his name. If it had one. Finally, its demeanor returned to what it had been.
"I am a simple traveller, Pretty-Pretty-Pretty, but my purposes will change once I no longer need travel."
The elf perhaps took a step back on the table she stood upon as those fingers, so bony and long, waved at her. The words were chilling and unsettling, of course. Her gaze grew narrow and warning was implicit in her gaze.
"I am not so easy to touch without burning the fingers of those who would dare. Mark me on this, sirrah." It was a quite warning, but very defiant, and yet gently given, like a sinister whisper in a dark room. She considered its last words almost solemnly. "Thank you for that, I will take it as a warning. What would remove the need for you to travel?"
As if it would just give up his secrets. But hey, such things had been known to be inadvertently spilled when folk spoke to her.
"I have no doubt that you would burn," it crooned, the rustling and rotting of leaves wet in his voice, "For you see, I may not pluck the luscious apple from the tree. I may only take the wind fallen, the withered offerings of a tree left untended and dropped to the snowy ground. The blossom fallen as frost blackens its promise."
Its index finger pointed at Gem, steady and still, towards her heart. It did not touch, but twanged at emotions she already showed: scorched and bedraggled.
"I am now here, Pretty-Pretty-Pretty. I follow a particularly deadly little sheep. I am what I appear, you see, but how often have you cut open a perfect apple to find a fat and loathsome worm? To find the flesh decayed and foul? I do not conceal what I am. I have come to find perfect apples plucked from their trees."
It tumbled out several things in a single line of metaphor, and cared not if she could pick through that basket of apples to find to which tree each belonged.
The elf considered those words. So many to recall. She tried to memorize it. She felt Jack ought to know about this one, though perhaps not. She was having such a hard time of late in figuring out that man. That fae. She did not know what pleased him anymore. She felt a little forlorn for a moment, as she watched it.
"You seek the fallen, it would seem, at least."
"It would seem, at least," it echoed with a jangling little laugh like snapping green twigs. "A poisonous apple, Pretty-Pretty-Pretty, is a horrible thing. For what is more wholesome and toothsome than an apple, pure and pure? You bite into it without question, you savor the juices, you sigh at the tang of almond, and far to late you find that tang is all. And you fall. Where is the Prince that shall waken you with his kiss?"
It could see clearly that his wall of words was beginning to overwhelm, even confuse, and only spoke more of them. Was she a windfall apple? It was certainly interested in finding out.
Gemethyst suddenly grinned, and it was sharp and clean, like a knife cutting rope with one, easy swipe.
"What need have I for a prince to rescue me? I rescue myself, it's much easier that way. No one to be disappointed, see?" With a light jump she leapt to the ground and sauntered right up towards it, one hand at her belt, fingers digging within, and the other still on a dagger hilt.
"What name do you want to be called by?" If she was overwhelmed it wasn't showing now. Her eyes were alive and gleaming with purple light.
"No Prince, for my Pretty-Pretty-Pretty?" dulcet in decay, it graciously arose to its feet and peered down at her, that grin so wide and jagged and cold. "Surely tis a sin against the fairy plays and stories told." A compliment, but probably not to a liberated woman. Suffrage was not on its agenda.
"You have manners, courtly manners, and manners of the hearth and circle. You may call me Wither. For that is what I am."
Gemethyst gave a slow nod, warier since it had stood up, and now towered over her. Of course, she was used to that, sadly. She didn't draw on it, for she had no reason to.
"A name that seems to suit you. I am Gem." No title, no last name. Just the one word to name her. "Though that is not what I am."
"No, you have shown me your name, thrice," it crooned, drifting backwards, away from her. Towards the damp and dark shadows where it bred more decay. "Pretty Face. Pretty Heart. Pretty Soul. We shall see. We shall see."
A farewell, it would seem, the being flowed into the darkness, though pinpoints of light where its eyes may be remained. "There is appreciation for your information, Pretty-Pretty-Pretty."
Though there were no rules of RhyDin, no King, Wither still, as it pointed out, must adhere to its own rules of existence. So, upon the table, there was three golden coins. Faerie gold, no doubt, struck with a man's face on one side, a cauldron on the other, each the size of a modern American nickel. The lights of its eyes failed, and it was gone.
A line of shelf mushrooms climbed their way up the corner of the slight alley where he had vanished.
The elf watched it fade back and away, wondering if she had done harm or no to the population of Rhydin. Hopefully no fruit would fall easily to that one's boney fingers.
"Huh." Wise comment given, there, she looked down at the gold coins. Considering them, she drew a cloth from her magical belt and very carefully wrapped them in it, careful not to touch it with her skin. Those were then tucked away for later inspection.
(Taken from live play with lovely Gemethyst)