Author Topic: Promises in the Dark  (Read 305 times)

Haldreithen

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Promises in the Dark
« on: March 04, 2019, 06:44:13 PM »
((Note: Despite the title, it's not all romance, and it's not insta-romance. Though it hasn't been posted, Hal and Luin have known each other for a few years already. This thread contains some mild violence and adult situations, rated PG-13.))

Something was haunting the woods around the village sanctuary. The mixed races that called Anarven home had suffered some losses in raids made in darkness. They had drawn closer together behind the walls of their stockade, and Prince Arandir, their chosen leader, had sent scouting parties out beyond those wooden walls to seek out answers to the questions that plagued them. Who was attacking them? What was out there? Could they be stopped?

They were small scouting parties, generally no more than two or three in a group, so that they could move through the woods without much risk of attracting attention. One party in particular was made up of only two elves - one a refugee from Ilyethlin, who had once been a royal guard, and the other from Rathloren, also a refugee, who had been one of the founders of Anarven. Though the pair were originally from very different worlds, they enjoyed each other's company and worked well together, hence they were often paired up for missions such as this.

The shorter of the two, a redheaded female dressed in woodland green, paused in her tracks, her soft boots silent in the undergrowth. Sharp green eyes had spotted something nearby ... a smear of blackish blood on a broken shrub. She reached out, touching the smear with one gloved finger, raising that finger to her face to sniff and taste.

"They came this way, whatever they are," she breathed, her voice almost lost on the breeze.

The taller of the pair, a yellow-haired male, also dressed in brown and green in order to blend in with the woods, paused beside her to inspect what she'd found.

"Blood," the elf murmured. "But it does not smell familiar to me. Do you recognize it?"

She sniffed again thoughtfully. Only just an adult in the eyes of their kind, nonetheless Luinithlas had earned her reputation over the years since she had helped to found Anarven.

"It's beast," she murmured back to her companion. "But not orc or goblin, nor even dire. Perhaps it is the source of the snarling in the night."

"Whatever it is, it's been injured," the taller and elder of the two pointed out, though that much was obvious. "And it's fresh blood. They can't have gone far," he added, presuming there was more than one. While Haldreithen was the elder of the two and a seasoned guard, his companion had been in Rhy'Din longer.

"If it is beast, they will have sharper senses," Luinithlas said quietly. "We should approach from downwind, at the very least. A wide circle?"

He nodded at her suggestion. "Perhaps mixed blood," Hal, as he was known to friends, remarked. He had heard of such creatures. Though he was not sure what exactly they were tracking, there was no question that they were a threat.

"Together or split?" Luinithlas, or Luin as friends knew her, was not so cocky that she would take the lead in everything. She respected Hal's superior experience, especially in situations like this.

He didn't like the idea of splitting up, but he thought it might be best if they came at them from different directions.

"Split, but don't engage. We don't know how many of them there are, and we don't want to attract attention," he warned her.

She nodded, and couldn't resist flashing him an impishly confident smile as she stepped back and disappeared into the greenery around them. Not a sound gave away her position, and only the barest suggestion of movement showed which way she had gone. She knew Rhy'Din's forests like she knew her own heart.

He rolled his eyes and sighed at her cockiness, hoping it wouldn't get her into trouble. She was young, but not so much younger than him. He watched as she disappeared into the woods before moving in the opposite direction, careful to stay downwind of whatever they were tracking, as silent as the wind.

It wasn't far before the sound of pained snarling and guttural words made themselves known. The language was unfamiliar, issuing from mouths not made to form words in the first place - four distinct voices, though it was doubtful the entire group was speaking. Luinithlas crouched among the rocks above a cave she had found herself heading toward, peering down cautiously. Below her were gathered five gnolls, snarling and spitting, armed and haphazardly armored, and all of them bleeding from superficial wounds. The defense Anarven had put up last night had been spirited indeed.

Haldreithen arrived at the same place, but on the opposite side of the cave as his companion. He was close enough that he could see her across the way, crouched as she was among the rocks, though he didn't think the creatures would notice. He didn't recognize their language or know what they were saying, but he had a feeling they weren't likely to leave Anarven in peace without convincing. The question was how many of them were there? Was it just the five or them, or were there more? Were they scouts or hunters or something else? And what did they want with Anarven?

They might not get answers. Luinithlas heard the snap of brittle wood behind her, smelt the musk of bloodied fur. She whipped around, and there stood another of the gnolls, eyeing her with deep suspicion. She had nowhere to run to from here and only one escape route. Oh, well ... hopefully Hal wouldn't be too angry with her.

With swift movements, she nocked an arrow to her bow and leapt backward in a graceful flip, firing even as she descended into the midst of the gnoll's below. Her arrow sank deep between the sixth gnoll's eyes, ending him as a threat, at least. But now she was standing in the midst of the startled camp, and there were only seconds to decide what happened next.

What happened next was that a second arrow whizzed through the air, just missing Luinithlas to embed itself in the throat of the gnoll standing closest to her. All hell broke loose after that, the gnolls only startled for a split second before drawing their own weapons and turning on their foe. Hal loosed another arrow as he jumped into the fray, positioning himself so that he had Luin's back and she had his.

Back to back, the two elves faced the circle of gnolls, dwarfed by the hyena-like bipeds as they loomed over the pair. Luinithlas hooked her bow back into place, drawing curved daggers from her hips.

"Sorry," she told Hal over her shoulder. "Didn't have a chance to let you know what I was thinking."

One of the gnolls swiped at her, and she ducked under the outstretched claw, slicing upward with her dagger. Hot black-red blood sprayed over her as the beast staggered back with a howl of pain.

Haldreithen

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Re: Promises in the Dark
« Reply #1 on: March 04, 2019, 06:44:28 PM »
"You can make it up to me later!" he called back to her, driving an arrow into a gnoll's forearm as it took a swipe at him while he was switching weapons.

Rather than daggers, Hal preferred a sword with a sharp, curved blade, which almost seemed to sing as it sliced through the air. He had counted seven in all, though one was already dead and several injured, though injury only seemed to make them all the more dangerous. With what looked like an almost effortless slash of his blade, he took the nearest gnoll's arm off, the blade covered in black-red blood.

As Hal's movement turned him, Luinithlas turned with him, finding herself facing a different gnoll that glared at her from scarred eyes. She swore, taking the risk of leaping forward to drag both her daggers across the exposed throat, dancing back as she landed to see that one go down in a bubble of dark blood.

Hal was relieved to find his companion had no trouble holding her own, though he'd suspected as much. He trusted her with his life, after all, and had faith in her abilities, as young as she was, or he wouldn't have volunteered to partner with her. It wasn't only skill that was important in a partner, but trust. Just as Luin was finishing another, Hal was doing the same, coming around with his blade to slice right through the closest gnoll's chest and cleave him in two.

Four down, three to go, and finally a gnoll had a stroke of luck. Luin grunted as a heavy buckler was slammed hard into her side, knocking her off-balance to roll in the dirt, away from Hal's back, gasping for breath.

The gnoll that had knocked her down sneered and grunted with pleasure as it moved in for the killing blow, only to find an elven blade momentarily protruding from its chest. Hal kicked the bleeding gnoll into its companions to knock them off balance before turning to pull Luin to her feet.

Relieved to find Hal pulling her upright, she wiped the black blood from her face as she squeezed his wrist. Then she tugged gently, just enough to propel herself in a flip over his head to land back to back with him once again as the last three gnolls closed in.

Though he hoped none of it was theirs, they were both covered in gore now, most of it sticky black blood that reeked of gnoll. He found himself rolling his eyes a little at the flip she made in the air, though he had to admit it was effective. Back to back again, he didn't waste any time in resuming his attack. They couldn't afford them getting away and going back to whatever tribe they might to inform them of whereabouts of the settlement. The gnolls had been as good as dead before the first weapon had been drawn.

Lunging to finish off the worst wounded of the three, Luin swore as her first dagger became snagged in the creature's jagged armor, abandoning it with great reluctance to drive the second up beneath the ill-fitting breastplate and deep into the gnoll's chest. It slumped forward, before she could get out of the way, crumpling down onto the ground with the redheaded elf pinned beneath it.

Unfortunately for Hal, the two gnolls left were the biggest of the bunch, which kept him a little too busy to rescue Luin from underneath her adversary, just yet. As one of the two remaining gnolls lunged for him - the smaller of the two - Hal stood his ground, partly so that he didn't trip or trample Luin behind him. With one smooth motion, he drew a curved dagger from his belt and threw it straight at the gnoll, where it embedded itself in the middle of the creature's chest and into its heart. Its companion's death only seemed to enrage the remaining gnoll, who stood at least two feet higher than the elf and was brandishing an axe the size of a tree trunk.

Luin was pinned, but Hal's movement had drawn the gnoll into a slow circle around him, bringing it closer to her than was perhaps wise. She still had a hand free, and that hand still held a dagger. As the gnoll stalked past, her hand flashed out, the dagger bit deep, and the big creature howled in agony as it went down on one knee, its hamstring sliced through.

Hal wasted no time. As soon as the gnoll went down on one knee, he drew his sword over his head and quickly slashed downward to sever the creature's head from its neck. The look on the gnoll's face as it realized its fate was one first of pain and then horror before the head rolled away from the body, red-black blood gushing from where its head had once been connected to its body. So much for capture and questions, but at least, these creatures wouldn't be attacking the village again. The elf shoved the point of the sword into the ground momentarily while he turned to pull the fallen gnoll off his companion's back.

"Are you all right?" he asked her, looking concerned.

Luin groaned as the heavy body was dragged off her, rolling onto her back to blink up at Hal. "Not the most fun I've had in a while, but it could have been worse," she commented, throwing him a smile. "Not hurt, just ... filthy. You?"

"About the same," Hal replied, not only offering a hand but leaning down to wrap an arm around her and help her to her feet. He wasn't sure he quite believed that she wasn't hurting at least a little, but he didn't want to press the matter. "We need to make sure there aren't any more of these ... creatures roaming about," he told her. Yes, they were tired and filthy and they were going to start hurting as soon as the adrenaline wore off, but first things first.

Oh, she was aching, and there would likely be a bruise on her side, as well as in a few other places, but right now, aches weren't going to put her down. Hal's arm about her might, though, bringing warmth to her face and a faint grin to her lips.

"We should move on fast," she pointed out. "We're covered in their blood - if others of their kind find these bodies, they'll track that smell."

"Scavengers should take care of them come nightfall," he pointed out, but she had a point. They could burn the bodies, but the smoke might draw too much attention, and they didn't want any of the creatures tracking them back to the village. "There's a river not far from here. We can wash there and find a place to make camp for the night," he suggested.

Thank goodness spring was just around the corner and the snows were all but gone. It was not going to be a comfortable night for either of them. Luin nodded, glancing around at the carnage they had left behind them.

"I still don't know what these are, but someone back in the village might if we describe them," she said, straightening her shoulders as she sheathed her cleaned blades. "Lead on."

Only then did he finally let go of his hold on her, as though he was reluctant to do so or worried she wouldn't be able to stand on her own. "It's not far," he assured her, sensing her hurt, whether she wanted to admit to it or not. He tugged his blade out of the ground and stooped to wipe as much blood as he could off on the nearest fallen gnoll before sheathing the blade.

Haldreithen

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Re: Promises in the Dark
« Reply #2 on: March 04, 2019, 06:44:42 PM »
She nodded once again, drawing her bow and nocking an arrow as she readied herself to follow. It never hurt to be ready for an attack, especially in woods they now knew to contain hostile creatures.

He fell silent as he led the way from the cave and the fallen gnolls, footsteps making no sound as they moved quietly through the forest toward the river not more than a few miles away. He was acutely aware of his surroundings, of the sounds of the forest, one hand resting lightly against his sword's grip. It would be night soon, but that wasn't what worried him.

Luin followed him on silent feet, their woodcraft almost inbred rather than learned. Elves passed through forests like a whisper through a crowded room, sometimes suspected but rarely noticed. There was no sound of pursuit, nor any sign of another group of gnolls nearby. It seemed, for now, that everything was still.

He hoped wolves would find the remains and pick them clean by morning, but perhaps the creatures were too vile even for wolves. He found no joy in killing, and yet, he had sworn to protect the village and the people who lived there, and it was the creatures who had attacked them first. He had thought they'd be safe here, and now this. Was there never to be peace anywhere?

These were some of the thoughts that were going through his head while they made their way through the woods. It was a short walk to the river, not more than a few miles distant, both of them silent until the sound of water rushing over rocks was heard nearby signaling their arrival. "I haven't seen any tracks. Have you?"

"No," she said quietly, still scanning the area. "I've not heard or seen any sign of their passage. I don't think anything is close by, and with the sun going down, we should find a defensible place for the night ourselves."

"What would you suggest?" he asked, curiously. After all, she'd been here longer than he did and knew the terrain better. There was one place in particular he knew of, but he was curious to see if she'd suggest that same place.

The redhead bit down on a smirk, glancing over his shoulder to the rushing water behind him. It had a familiar scent to it. "There's a cave, about half a mile upstream," she told him, though she was sure he knew about it. "The entrance is concealed behind a waterfall, but the cave itself is dry. We've been keeping it stocked with provisions for anyone caught out at night."

"Another cave?" he asked, blond brows furrowed in feigned curiosity. "I wonder why the prince never told me of this place," he said, the barest hint of a smirk on his face, evidence of his attempt to tease her. Of course, he already knew about the place; he had even been there once or twice. "Lead on," he said, echoing the same words she'd told him, only a short while ago and waving her onward in front of him.

"Perhaps Carina never told him," Luin countered with a wicked tease of her own, shouldering her bow once again as he waved her ahead of him. Her grin was confident and cocky once again, certain now that he knew where she was talking about. "Which cave was it you were thinking of?"

Hal practically snorted in disbelief. "I doubt there is anything they do not tell the other. They are - how do the humans phrase it - thick as thieves?" He stepped back a pace to let her pass, drawing his bow as he took the rear. Though he wasn't expecting any trouble, it never hurt to be prepared. "Which cave was I thinking of?" he asked, as if she should already know the answer to that question. "The one we just came from, though I do not wish to spend the night there."

It was Luin's turn to snort. "No, it is not good to sleep with the enemy, even a dead one," she agreed teasingly, ducking through the brush that lined the stream, careful to avoid leaving wet footprints on stone or in the mud.

He followed along behind her, keeping his voice low and his steps light. They were not safe yet, nor would they be, until they found shelter in a secure place. "Do you know what sort of creatures they are?" he asked, once again remembering that she had lived in Rhy'Din longer than he had.

"I've never seen them before, but I've heard stories," she answered, setting her teasing aside to answer him seriously. "I think they might be gnolls, but I've never heard of those in these parts before. Something must have driven them into our area. If we're lucky, they're just passing through."

"You think there may be more of them, then?" he asked, turning serious. Though he enjoyed the easy camaraderie between them, this was not the time or the place for it, not while their lives and the lives of the villagers might be in danger.

"As far as I know, from what I have been told, they're pack animals," she murmured, as the sound of rushing water grew louder ahead of them. "Seven does not seem large enough for a pack, though it is certainly large enough for the attack on Anarven last night."

"It is large enough for a hunting party," Hal reasoned, following the sound of the rushing water. If that was the case, there were more of them out there somewhere. Would they come looking for their pack mates or presume the worst?

The waterfall rose out of the gathering gloom ahead of them, the sound of water on water on rock growing louder to mask the sounds of the forest around them as Luin lead the way into the thick brush that grew close to the water's edge. The cave behind the waterfall was difficult to see until it was right in front of you, and with eyes accustomed to seeing in darkness, there was little difficulty for the two elves in walking inside, past the rushing wall of water.

"The village knows to expect trouble tonight," Luin reassured Hal. "They won't be taken unawares as we were last night."

"I sense no evil in these woods," Hal remarked, with a brief look around as they came to halt near the rushing water. And yet, not all dangers were evil. Some were merely struggling for existence. He wasn't sure about the gnolls yet. Though they were certainly vile creatures, he was not sure they were evil.

"Gnolls are evil creatures, my tutors taught me that," she mused, looking back into the forest with a quiet sigh. "But I think we will be undisturbed tonight. We dare not be abroad after dark with such unknown beings sharing the forest with us."

"I have not seen their like before," Hal admitted. Ilyethlin certainly had its own share of evil creatures, but the chief enemy of the elves there had been men. "One of us should stand guard, just in case, don't you think?" he asked, trusting her judgment. Though he was the elder of the two, she knew more of Rhy'Din than did he.

Haldreithen

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Re: Promises in the Dark
« Reply #3 on: March 04, 2019, 06:44:58 PM »
"I can set up a trip alarm," she suggested. "I have been learning some basic magics that will help with woodcraft and hunting. But I will not do it if such things make you uncomfortable - I understand that magic is not everyone's favored tool."

He arched a single brow at her remark. "I have no qualms regarding magic," he told her bluntly. "I have been thinking we should find better ways to guard the village. Perhaps magical wards or alarms. Something that will keep such vile creatures from attacking again." It was either that or send out parties to hunt them down and kill them, but that would not serve to keep the village safe from other dangers.

"Perhaps you should say as such to the council and the prince, then," Luin suggested, setting down her bow and pack. From a pouch on her belt, she removed a length of silvery string. "Where should I set this?"

Hal took a brief look around, quickly surveying their surroundings with keen elven sight. He took a few steps closer to the cave and gestured toward a spot amidst the brush that hid the entrance. "Here, perhaps? That should give us enough time to defend ourselves if the alarm is triggered."

She walked with him, considering the suggestion, and nodded. "It will alert us if anything with evil intent crosses the line," she told him, ducking out and into the thick brush. She drew the string up to her mouth, whispering something to it, and it glowed for the barest moment, the silver of its length deadening to the color and consistency of the undergrowth as she teased it out to form a line any attacker would have to cross to reach them.

"I do not sense anything evil at the moment," Hal remarked, brows furrowing again as he gazed out at their wooded surroundings. That either meant one of two things - there were no threats of evil, for the time being, or for some reason, he was unable to sense such threats here. He hoped it was the former and not the latter. After a moment, he turned his attention back to his companion, tipping his head slightly in interest at what she was doing. "Is that Rhy'Din magic?"

Stepping back, Luinithlas made sure the string was all but invisible against the ground before turning back to Hal. "It's Exandrian magic, I believe," she said. "Wizard magic from a world I have never encountered. Velm is from that world - she offered to teach me a little."

"And you need not be a mage to use such magic?" he asked, with further interest, stepping out of her way as she examined her handiwork. He was not magically-inclined himself, though he knew many elves who were.

"It seems not," she mused thoughtfully, making her way back toward him and the cave. "Such wizarding magics need to be prepared in advance, or use components such as that string, I believe. You do not need to have innate magical ability as far as I know."

"Remarkable," Haldreithen mused aloud, as he watched her prepare the alarm. He'd been in Rhy'Din long enough to know there were all kinds of mages and forms of magic, but he had never tried his hand at any of them.

She shrugged. "I'm never going to be best at the bow," she admitted, showing off her cocky smile once again as she slipped past him and into the cave. They didn't need to light any torches to see perfectly well with just a little light from the forest outside. "I thought I would try to learn something else useful."

"Why do you say that?" he asked, sliding the bow off his back with the slight shrug of one shoulder as he took a closer look at the cave that would serve as their shelter for the night. She had said the cave had been stocked with provisions, just in case of something like this.

Of course, it had been elves who had stocked it, but with the intention that everyone from Anarven would be able to find those provisions. Toward the back of the cave, what appeared to be a pile of fallen rubble was carved with the sign of the village itself that, when touched by someone from Anarven, glowed white briefly. As it faded, the seeming rocks faded away, revealing barrels of food and water, bedrolls, drying cloths and towels, bandages, and healing potions, all carefully stacked together against the wall.

As he did this, Luinithlas shrugged again, sniffing at the blackish blood that still coated her. "There is a prevailing attitude in Rhy'Din that all elves are either great mages or expert archers," she told him. "I do not see why I have to be one or the other."

"Mastering archery is just a matter of practice, Luin," Hal remarked as he inspected the cache of provisions left there for the use of their people, picking a few clean cloths and towels from the stack. "No offense, melamin, but you stink," he teased, a slight smirk on his face. She had not heard him wrong - he had used the more familiar form of the word, rather just refer to her as his friend.

"I want to learn everythi-" She cut herself off, her head turning sharply toward him as she absorbed the way he had addressed her, catching the smirk on his face and the warmth in his eyes. Her own lips quirked even as she rolled her eyes at him. "I am not the only one, m'emel," she countered, sticking her tongue out at him. Her own endearment was just as familiar, and just as clearly not a word you would use for just a friend.

His eyes looked back at her with bright eyes, almost like the light from the twin moons were reflected in his eyes, despite the cave's darkness. He smiled, encouraged by her endearment. "I had not noticed," he remarked, regarding the black blood that covered him, too, teasing her in return.

This was a dance that had begun a few years before, when Hal had come to Anarven with the rest of Prince Arandir's people and settled there. Luin had worked alongside him almost from the moment he had arrived, their comfort with one another only increasing as time went on. Elves did not rush into love or romance; there was no need. They had plenty of time to be sure.

"Perhaps those legendary elven eyes of yours should be tested, in that case," she laughed back at him, lithe fingers unbuckling the various belts and harnesses that held her weapons and pouches in place.

"No more legendary than yours," he was quick to point out. Though they were both elves, they were from different worlds and different bloodlines - similar in some ways, different in others. He arched his brows upwards again as her fingers went to unbuckle her weapons, and he stepped closer - close enough that he could rest a hand against hers, his gaze turning serious again. "Do not tease me, Luin," he warned her gently. Though he did not lust like a man, what he was feeling for her went far deeper than that.

She raised her head, surprised by the unexpected touch of his hand to hers, which felt strangely intimate in spite of the soft hide gloves she wore. "I am not that much of a child, Hal," she told him softly, shaking her head. "I only tease you because I like you, very much."

Haldreithen

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Re: Promises in the Dark
« Reply #4 on: March 04, 2019, 06:45:18 PM »
"I have never considered you a child, Luin," he pointed out, reluctant to remove his hand from hers, but they both badly needed a bath. He was almost close enough to kiss her, but instead, he merely handed her a towel, his eyes never leaving hers. "I will stand guard while you bathe," he promised, though he would have given almost anything to join her.

Her smile softened as he handed her the towel, her head tilting as she considered him for a long moment. "You could join me," she offered quietly, though she knew she was skirting the edge of something just by offering. If he were to say yes, if they were to become that close ... there would be no going back. What if he didn't feel for her what she felt for him?

"And if I did?" he asked, not quite asking flat out if she was ready and willing to accept the consequences of her offer. She was young, after all, but no child, and not all that much younger than him. He did not speak of his feelings for her, not yet, though merely daring to call her more than friend spoke for itself.

Her chin tilted upward for a moment, her breath teasing his lips. "Can you truly not tell, m'emel?" she asked in a low whisper. Her smile was almost bittersweet as she drew in a slow breath, stepping back. "I do not mean to pressure you. But you would not be unwelcome."

He studied her in the darkness, searching her eyes and reaching for her hand to draw her back to him, not yet ready to let her depart. He knew she was giving him permission, and yet, he wondered if she understood what such a thing meant to the elves of his world. "I would not accept such an offer lightly, melamin," he told her. Elves were not like men - at least, not those of Ilyethlin. Agreeing to couple was the same as agreeing to wed in the eyes of his people.

"I would not make it lightly," Luin told him, against surprised by how eager he was to touch her when they had both been careful not to touch one another for months, years. "I am not so young that I do not understand the consequences of my offer, Hal. I do not have riches or great talents or even considerable beauty. All I have to offer you is my lifetime at your side. If you want it."

"I do not need or desire riches. You are as precious to me as the rarest of gemstones and as lovely as all the stars in the sky," he told her, in a voice hushed with emotion. It was a rare thing for him to speak of his feelings, and even rarer to share such thoughts with her. "You are all I could ever desire; all I could ever need."

Touched, despite herself, Luin leaned into him without thought, green eyes fixed to his, wide and warm and hopeful. "I am yours," she swore to him ... but being who she was, she could not simply remain honest and serious for long. "I would rather you didn't eat me or only use me for a blanket on cold nights, however."

Despite the sincerity of his words, he couldn't help but smirk a little at her sense of humor. He had always been too serious, but somehow she had a way of making him smile and even laugh. "I do not make a habit of eating my own kind," he assured her, though she hardly needed any reassurance there. "And I am rarely cold."

"You are filthy, though," she countered, the tip of her nose brushing his as her warmer, more confident smile returned to her face, reassured to know his heart and know that he was aware of hers. "And so long as we keep weapons close, I see no reason why we couldn't both wash off."

But it wasn't just them that needed a bath, as it was their clothing that needed scrubbing, soaked as they were in the gore of the battle. "Without a fire, our clothes will not be dry by morning," he remarked, though if they were lucky, there might be a change of clothing amidst the pile of supplies. He didn't pull away when her nose brushed his, but the tiniest quirk of a smile touched his lips.

"We don't need a fire to dry our clothes," she murmured impishly, drawing away once again to remove her gloves and begin unwinding the braids from her bloodied hair.

"Ah, perhaps you know some wizardry in that regard, too, then," he teased as she drew herself away, his eyes tracking her movement. Just the mere act of unwinding her braids in his presence was intimate enough without having removed a single stitch of clothing.

"A little," she admitted, glancing toward him with a smile that invited more than it teased. "Enough to prevent our needing to light a fire. I do not particularly wish to hunt firewood tonight."

"Nor do I," he admitted. Nor did they need to find food, it seemed, as everything they needed was waiting for them inside the cave. She was right about one thing - before they did anything else, they needed to scrub themselves clean. In that regard, his hands moved to unbuckle his own belts and bindings and harnesses.

Her eyes followed him in the darkness, her vision sharpening as night fell and the moons rose, spilling silvery light through the rush of the waterfall. Long fingers picked her braids loose with care, each bead and copper wire fastening saved and set aside into a small pouch for that purpose alone, even as she admired Hal with an openness she had not allowed herself before. There was something she hadn't yet said, she knew, but she couldn't bring herself to say it in the common tongue. Their elven languages were not so very different, after all.

"Amin mela lle, m'emel."

His gaze followed her, as well, each braid coming loose only deepening his desire - a longing that was as much of the heart as the body. He drew off his tunic, bloodied as it was, and dropped it aside to wash later. He was taller than average for an elf, muscles honed by battle, but his build more agile than muscular, as were most of his kind. His eyes met her in the moonlight, his heart catching at the entreaty of love - words that would have touched his heart in any language, but somehow seemed that much more ardent in their native tongue. They had skirted the subject for some time, never quite speaking the words, until now, though both must have been dreaming of this. Even elves grew impatient sometimes.

"Amin mela lle, melamin," he replied, his voice soft but loud enough for her to hear.

Her smile deepened, eyes sparkling in the gloom as she let her gaze skim his chest, admiring the lean lines of his form with more than mere admiration. Her hair finally loose, she shook it out over her shoulders, almost hiding behind it as she slipped off first her coat, and then her tunic, bending to unlace her boots. The movement concealed her bared skin behind her hair, but allowed him the best view of her leather covered backside he had yet enjoyed.

"Lle naa vanima," he whispered as he watched her. You are beautiful.

Though she did not think herself beautiful, he saw her through the eyes of one who loved her and thought her as beautiful as the stars in the sky. There could be no higher compliment from an elf. He closed the distance between them, turning her to face him and combing his fingers through the silken fall of her hair. He had not yet kissed her, and yet, his lips burned with the desire to taste the sweetness of her kiss.

Haldreithen

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Re: Promises in the Dark
« Reply #5 on: March 04, 2019, 06:45:35 PM »
Drawn to stand straight, shivering tenderly as his fingers slid through her hair, Luin gasped softly, unaccustomed to such a familiar touch. Without thinking, her fingertips skimmed against the line of his chest, daring to touch his bare skin, unashamed to be half-undone in his eyes.

"Amin naa lle," she whispered to him, reiterating what she had already said once before. I am yours.

"Amin naa lle," he echoed back, repeating the words back to her, as much a vow as an endearment. "Mela en'coiamin," he whispered further, as he leaned closer, nearly close enough to touch his lips to hers. He put voice to his feelings, calling her the love of his life, an endearment that was never made lightly, given their longevity.

Wide lips parted in a fond, bright grin, her head shaking teasingly as her nose brushed his. "Your stinky, smelly life," she murmured playfully. "And I will always be there to point out when you need a bath. I promise."

He laughed finally at her teasing and tapped a finger lightly against the tip of her nose. "Just for that, you can wait for your kiss," he teased back, eyes shining brightly in the moonlight. He pulled away from her to pull off his boots and trousers with a playful smirk on his face.

"Oh, I'm very patient," she laughed, bending to remove her unlaced boots. It was the work of a few moments to remove her leggings and smalls, taking the opportunity to stretch fully without the constriction of any clothing. Like him, she was built more slight than most humanoids, a slenderness that was exacerbated by the toned line of her smooth muscles and the natural curve of her bust. She bore no scars, for elves healed quickly, and no blushes either - what was there to be embarrassed about?

Hal admired her unveiled beauty, a slender and willowy silhouette in the silver moonlight, feeling a wave that was more love than lust. As long-lived as they were, patience was one thing they could well afford. They had all the time in the world to sanctify their vows, Rhy'Din's twins moons their only witness, with the sacred act that would join them together, body, heart, and soul, as one. For now, he was having far too much fun teasing her. He turned to face her, the two of them mirroring the other as they shed their clothing. He didn't bother with the braids that held his hair back, smirking mischievously as he turned toward the water and dove in.

Luin chuckled at his mischief, choosing to make her way into the water with less of a splash, stepping down through the waterfall and into the pool beyond. The stream was fed by hot strings, though the water was no longer hot by the time it reached this place. It was warm enough to be pleasant, however, and before long she was floating, her red hair a cloud around her head as she looked up at the stars overhead.

Hal could have given an Olympic swimmer a run for their money, if he'd known what one was. Instead, he was more concerned with washing the vile blood from his hands and face and hair, reluctant to really touch her until they were both cleansed of it. He paddled there beside her, admiring her yet again, but unable to stop himself from disturbing her serenity by splashing her.

She spluttered, righting herself in a splash of her own to send a wave of water back in his direction as she laughed. "Come here, you terrible fiend," she told him, reaching fondly to pull him closer. She had no intention of doing anything intimate while blood still lingered on their forms, but those braids of his had to come out if he was going to completely wash the gnolls' marks from himself.

He laughed, a sound that echoed happily in the night, but made no effort to escape her. His eyes were still shining brightly in the moonlight, a warm smile brightening his face. "I, a fiend?" he echoed. "You are the one who has been teasing me!" he pointed out, catching her in his arms and brushing a finger against the tip of one curved elven ear. As innocent as the caress might have seemed, for an elf, the touch was familiar and intimate.

"And you are completely innocent, I suppose?" she countered, her own laughter rippling away into a heated gasp at the gentle sweep of his fingertip over the point of her ear. It was a touch only a lover could give, a sensitive place for many of their kind. Her eyes darkened with desire, but there was still patience there in her gaze. "Easy, m'emel," she murmured. "You still have blood in your hair."

He couldn't help but smirk again at her reply. "And you, on your face," he told her, just before he pushed her under, dunking her briefly but thoroughly. It wasn't very romantic, perhaps, but after the last few days of hunting and tracking, what they both needed was a little levity, a little fun.

Briefly, perhaps, but long enough for her to get a good grip on his hips and yank him down under the water as well, letting out a watery laugh as she kicked away from him to break the surface with a gasp. She trod water, watching his pale shape in the moonlight with sparkling eyes.

He went under with her, or just after her, and came up sputtering briefly, but grinning like a fool. "So, that's how it is, is it?" he asked, swimming after her. He had yet to unbraid the plaits that held his hair back, but he wasn't terribly concerned about it. All in due time. First, he wanted his vengeance.

"You started it!" she protested laughingly, swimming backward in the face of his grinning implications. "I was being nice, you started it!"

"You called me stinky!" he accused, forgetting momentarily that he'd accused her of that first. It wasn't hard to catch her, both of them as at ease in the water as they were on land, but instead of dunking her again, this time, his arms went around her waist, his feet kicking beneath him to keep him afloat. "Am I stinky still?" he asked, his face mere inches from hers.

She giggled as he caught her, long fingers hands smoothing up and over the line of his arms as they swirled together in the warm lap of the water. Leaning close, she made a show of sniffing him pointedly, exaggerating her need to think about it. "Am I?"

"Not anymore," he replied, his smile softening, growing warm with feeling. "Heart of my heart," he whispered, touching his forehead to hers. He needn't say more, those few words sharing what he felt in his heart - what he'd felt for some time now.

"Breath of my soul," she whispered back to him, her hands sliding over his skin to cup his jaw, fingers framing - but not yet touching - the sensitive tips of his ears as they lingered together in the water.

"I swear to love you all the days of my life, just as I love you now," he added that promise to those he'd already made, with only the night sky and whatever gods were watching to bear witness.

Haldreithen

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Re: Promises in the Dark
« Reply #6 on: March 04, 2019, 06:46:34 PM »
"When you reach for me, I will be there, from this day until my last day," Luin answered him, understanding that this was their promise. From this night onward, they would not willingly be apart.

He did not promise to protect her, knowing she was capable of protecting herself, but he had promised to love her, and as such, to always be with her for the remainder of their lives together. Unlike men, they were not vows that elves made lightly, as the bond once forged between them was unbreakable.

"As will I," he echoed her promise, drawing her closer, and at long last, touching his lips to hers in the tenderest of kisses.

Though others of their race might consider them too young to have made such vows to one another, others did not matter in the slightest to either of them. The promises were made in good faith, in love; the desire did not rise until the love had been confirmed and shared, not until Luin breathed him in and let her fingers brush his ears before her arms curled about him in the warmth of the water's embrace.

Once those vows were consummated with their lovemaking, there would be no breaking them. Such was the way of their people that such a bond was considered sacred and unbreakable, until their last dying breath. It was a bond not only of the body but of their hearts and their souls. Two such joined could never been sundered. Somehow, it seemed fitting that they should seal those vows here beneath the sky and the stars and the moon. They needed no ceremony or witnesses; everything they needed was right there before them, found in the kisses and caresses shared with their beloved.

And there was no need to rush. They knew now where they were going; knew they were walking that path side by side. They had the night ahead of them, hours to spend purely with one another. They could take their time. And that was reflected in the way Luin drew back, tenderly kissing Hal's eyes as her fingers skimmed his braids.

"Let me take them down?"

He gave her a slight nod of his head in agreement. It was strangely intimate the way her fingers touched his hair, just as she had the tips of his ears. For an elf, every touch, every caress, however innocent, was as intimate as the act of lovemaking itself and was to be just as savored.

She smiled, pressing her forehead to his for just a moment, pleased to be trusted with such an intimate act. Her fingers smoothed over one of the braids, seeking the wire wrap that held it securely, gently unwrapping it and holding that wire between her lips as she unraveled the twisted hair between her fingers.

Undoing the braids seemed strangely more intimate than undressing, close as they were, his eyes watching her, studying her face, just as he'd done so many times before; but this time the face that he studied was no longer merely that of his friend, but that of his beloved - she who would soon be his wife. He reached for her hand once the braids were untangled and pressed a kiss to each of her fingers, slowly, in no hurry, as if they had all the time in the world.

Her fingertips stroked his lips tenderly, her eyes following every motion as he kissed her fingers, locking to his gaze with intimate promise. In the water around them, blonde and red hair swirled together in a cloud to surround them both, mingling in the movement of the pool.

He drew her briefly beneath the water, to steal her breath with another kiss, arms and legs tangling with hers as they floated there together beneath the warm water. With a kick of his legs they resurfaced, allowing her a moment to catch her breath before he kissed her again and again, each kiss a little deeper and more demanding than the last.

Desire flared to accompany the love, heat building inside that could not be denied any longer as Luin drew Hal back toward the waterfall, toward the cave behind it, wanting more than a quick fumble with the added risk of drowning. They had time - time enough to dry off, to lay out bedrolls, to savor their connection as they sealed their promises.

They had kindled the flame of desire together, and now that they'd scrubbed themselves clean of battle, there was no rush in savoring what was to be their first exploration of the other. He smiled as she drew him back toward the waterfall and the cave behind it. There was a chill in the air, once they were free of the water, but neither seemed to notice or care. They took their time drying off, in silent admiration of the other, and just as silently laid out the bedrolls, eager but unhurried to wrap each other in a loving embrace.

Her fingers skimmed his side when all was ready, an almost shy invitation to pick up where they had left off, each movement accompanied by the crackle of gentle static in the dry, silken fall of her hair.

"Show me, m'emel," she murmured softly.

There was something wild about her, with her hair unbraided and falling like a scarlet mane about her shoulders and back. Perhaps there was something wild about him, too, in the thrill he felt when she touched him, and the heat of desire that was like a fire burning him from the inside. He needed no coaxing to show her his love, to share it with her, to give it to her freely and with all his heart and soul. Neither who had ever been with another before needed no instructions, no experience, only instinct and desire leading the way. Show her, he did, leading the way with kisses and caresses meant to give her pleasure as much as himself. Every sigh of breath, every smile, every tremor guiding the way.

Perhaps hours passed, perhaps seconds. An eternity or a heartbeat, it didn't matter which. More passed between them than mere physical pleasure, threads unraveling to tie tighter, forging the bond that would hold them true all the days of their long lives. There was no sense of urgency in their passion, no need to hurry themselves. They had the time, they had the love, they had the passion. They had everything they needed, right here, in each other's arms.

The moons had traveled across the sky, but it was still dark, the stars still twinkling down at them, though they could not see them from the confines of the cave. Arms and legs were twined together, her head resting comfortably in the crook of his shoulder, their breaths soft and even and in time with the other. There was no going back now, nor did he ever wish to. A thought came to him, and he smiled in amusement.

"Do you think they'll be surprised that we've bonded?" he asked, not having to explain who he meant by "they".

Luin laughed quietly in the darkness, nestling ever closer into his arms. "I think they will be put out that we did not tell them we were going to," she murmured, her voice thick with mirth. "The elders like to throw parties."

Haldreithen

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Re: Promises in the Dark
« Reply #7 on: March 04, 2019, 06:47:05 PM »
He shrugged lightly, causing her head to shift briefly against his bare shoulder. "I did not know if you would have me," he admitted. He'd been meaning to ask her for weeks and months. Strange how it had taken battle to draw them closer together.

"M'emel, it is you who had me," she countered impishly, giggling at her own joke in the darkness. She had a feeling Velm wouldn't be surprised by this, and perhaps Carina had been expecting it, but in truth, the private lives of the villagers were respected by their neighbors in Anarven.

"That is not what I mean," he told her, with a furrow of brows that gave his face a too-serious expression. "I love you, Luin," he said in the common tongue, which was not so pretty as their native Elvish, but easily understood as their dialects different slightly. "We will have much to talk about," he added, not only between them, but with their loved ones, as well.

She tilted her head back, raising her hand to stroke his cheek with a smile. Her thumb smoothed the crease between his brows. "I love you, Hal," she answered him in kind. "You really should be used to my humor by now, though."

"I am," he replied, smiling a little ruefully at his own expense. "I only meant that I was not sure ..." He trailed off, as it hardly mattered now what he'd thought before. "I thought perhaps it was wishful thinking the way you looked at me sometimes."

"Did it never occur to you that I might recognize the way you looked at me?" she asked curiously. "That if I didn't like it or welcome it, I would not lead you on by staying so near?"

"My parents ..." he started, trailing off momentarily again, with a small frown. He rarely spoke of his life before he'd come to Rhy'Din, before he'd settled in Anarven, before he'd met her. "They knew each other since they were children. Hundreds of years." Like the blink of an eye for elves, and yet, sometimes he wished he could go back and save them somehow. But that wasn't why he'd mentioned them. "We've only known each other a few years. There will be those who deem us hasty."

"If this is a mistake, then it is our mistake to make, m'emel," she told him in a soft tone. "Hasty or not, the only opinions that matter are yours and mine. I do not feel that this is a mistake, that I will ever regret binding my life and soul to yours."

"It does not feel like a mistake to me," Hal agreed. How could this ever be a mistake? Perhaps they had been hasty, but they'd both also suffered the kinds of losses that made them understand that there were no certainties, not even for elves.

"Then we need not fear the words of those who do not understand us," Luin said confidently. "The only voices that matter are yours and mine. But where shall we live? I do not know if Elevaniel would allow you to live with us."

Hal frowned in thought. Since his arrival, Hal called the guards' quarters home. He'd always thought he'd build a house of his own someday, but there had been no reason to rush, until now. "We will have to build a house for ourselves, I suppose," he replied, wondering what his prince would say when he learned of their hasty marriage.

"I shall have to learn better cooking than simply meat and bread," she murmured, laughing to herself at the thought of herself standing over a stove and producing food even half as tasty as some of the food the other women of the village could produce.

"I did not fall in love with you for your cooking, melamin," he assured her with a hint of a smirk in his voice, as well as his face. "You were not made for the kitchen, Luin. Not yet, anyway," he said. If and when they were blessed with children, that might change, but not until then, and it was not something he'd force on her. "Tell me," he said, turning his head toward hers. "How did you become an archer?"

She sighed softly. They had never really spoken of their pasts, of the tragedies that had brought them both to this place. She had been forty years old when she had come to Rhy'Din, still a child to her people and yet one of a bare handful left from Rathloren.

"I didn't have a choice," she admitted quietly. "None of us did. The Lightbringer was gone, and the darkness was all we knew. We had to know how to fight. My father put a bow in my hands as soon as I was big enough to wield it."

He turned to prop himself up against an elbow and study her carefully in the night. "And what happened then?" he asked, as it occurred to him how little they really knew of each other's pasts, though it hardly mattered now.

She looked up at him, her smile sad in the darkness. "We all knew we were going to die," she continued in that soft tone. "We may love the starlight, but elves are creatures of light, not darkness. We were surrounded, and every year, another village, another town was destroyed. By the time I was thirty, only one village remained; less than a hundred of us, and most of us were children."

"And then?" he prompted, needing to know how she ended up here in Rhy'Din. It was still a bit of a mystery to him how he'd ended up here with what was left of his people, and no explanation from his prince helped him to understand it. He had been told it was something called the Nexus, but that it was also the queen's magic that had brought them here, but he was no mage and it was beyond his understanding.

"I don't ... I don't really know," Luinithlas admitted thoughtfully. "We held out for almost ten years, but we were losing people all the time. I remember the last elders locking themselves away when we were down to fifty, and then they sent the only mage we had away with twenty of the older elves. We were attacked within hours, and the darkness, the creatures, broke through our defenses. We were completely surrounded, and then ..." She sighed, shaking her head. "I remember light. Bright light, the first light I had ever seen that was not flame or stars. It surrounded us, and I felt something pulling on me. And when the light was gone, so was Rathloren. We were here, in these woods. There were eight of us left, and I was the eldest."

Creatures, he thought with an internal shudder. He could only imagine the terror of it, of a child growing up in horrific conditions such as those she was describing. His story was horrific enough, but it was not creatures who had been slowly decimating his people.

"How old were you then?" he asked, knowing she must have still been a child, as she was still young even now.

She drew her fingers over her brow, looking up at the smooth stone of the cave roof. "I was thirty-eight," she said softly. "The youngest of us was barely more than an infant. We were very lucky to meet others who wanted to found a sanctuary where intolerance and violence wouldn't be tolerated."

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Re: Promises in the Dark
« Reply #8 on: March 04, 2019, 06:47:59 PM »
"Anarven," he said, naming the place - the sanctuary in the woods - where they lived in peace with those of their own kind, as well as a smattering of Halflings and humans. "It is almost as if - as if someone or something brought us here, knowing we needed sanctuary."

She smiled, her sadness set aside. "It is called the Nexus," she told him easily. "In Rathloren, she would have been a goddess to us. Here, she is an entity, a being, who brings people together when they need it most."

"So I've been told," Haldreithen admitted, though her smile was met by a frown on his face. "Why do you think it took so long though?" he asked. It wasn't that he wanted to second guess whatever power had brought them here, but he'd wondered.

"Perhaps she couldn't see us," Luin murmured. "Or perhaps she helps those who help themselves. I think it is clear that our elders were seeking a way to save us, and Prince Arandir came through to Rhy'Din to find a way to save you. It would make sense. Saving those who have already given up is not an effort worth making."

"We never gave up, but ..." He was frowning again at the memory of his home and what had befallen them there. "It was hopeless, Luin. Nothing short of a miracle would have saved us."

"A miracle did," she reminded him, drawing her fingers over his chest, pressing her palm to his heart. "The last son born to your people found love and a home here, with a child born of refugees from another world."

"And so have I," he murmured, taking her hand and pressing it to his lips. His gaze lingered on hers for a long moment before he spoke again. "It will not be morning for some hours, and I am not sleepy," he told her, his eyes shining hopefully.

One thing two years of watching her had taught Hal was just how inappropriate Luinithlas' sense of humor could be at times. "Oh, then you are volunteering for the first watch?" she asked innocently, playful mischief sparkling back at him from her smiling eyes.

He chuckled at her sense of humor, glad she was able to laugh so soon after sharing the tragedy of their pasts. "I thought we agreed that the trap was enough, but if you insist," he said, moving to roll out of the bedroll, unless she stopped him in time.

She laughed, reaching out to pull him back. "You are getting better at matching me," she complimented him, pulling him down into a languid, smiling kiss.

"Am I?" he asked, once she was done kissing him, at least for the moment. There was a smile on his face again, the shadow of grief faded for now. "I thought I matched you already," he said, curling his fingers into her hair and pressing another kiss on her, one that told her he would not be satisfied so quickly or so soon.

Her answer was just as sweet, just as wanting, unafraid of losing a single night's sleep to his affection. They would have to return to Anarven in the morning anyway, or risk having a search party sent out for them. Tomorrow night, they could sleep in safety together. Tonight, they would pull their new bond tight, entangled so deeply that no one could unravel it. Another little Nexus miracle.