Precise ranks moved at an easy walk on tired horses as they followed the two beings that rode ahead of them, a few getting impatient as they waited for the signal they all knew was soon to come – the go-ahead to stop for the night and make camp, though they all knew better than to say anything or complain.
It had already been a long day for this company of mercenaries, and after their successful completion of their latest commission they were heading to one of the larger cities that lay on the plains of Elaranthys to resupply and take care of any weapons repairs as well as for some relaxation.
They were all eager to reach Ancalar, for this had been a long and rather dusty job for them.
Nonetheless, where other companies might be much more sloppy and casual in the pace, bearing, and cleanliness of weapons, horses, and themselves, this particular company was much more professionally run than most. Their Captain, a beautiful Fey named Adonnenniel Minuialwen that stood out even in a universally beautiful race would allow nothing less – if one could not handle her requirements, then they would not be welcome in her company.
She was very particular and her group were some of the most highly trained fighters around. She also had another trait that could be very difficult to work under – she absolutely refused to fail at any job she accepted.
And she never had, at least not in the seventy-five years that she had been running the company. She and her second, Adanion, had been together since their first days as bare striplings of a mere fifty years taking on a life as part of one of the mercenary companies that roamed the territories and were available to wage a battle for whoever paid them, or more commonly, act as headhunters and caravan guards. Because of that the two almost thought as one and barely ever had to actually speak to each other to act like one being in a fight.
It had been slow going at first when she'd taken over the company she'd joined from the misfit that had been running it into the ground, and she hadn't had many warriors. Certainly none of the caliber that she and Adanion were. But she had not been discouraged, her drive to succeed an almost unstoppable force that had slowly drawn many of the top Fey warriors to her banner – and had in the end delivered several hundred successfully completed commissions from very satisfied customers. Not one of the other three companies that were considered in the top had as perfect a record, and the only reason her group was not in the top spot was because she was still considered fairly young and she had only been running the company for such a relatively short time.
There were a few other reasons why some were reluctant to name her as the best... but Nenni, as she preferred to be called, was determined to prove them all wrong and somehow she never doubted that she would, either. There was just something inside her that would not allow her to give up, back down, or let life pass her by. She would rule her life, or she wouldn't have one – there were only a few beings she would bow for, and none of those were her detractors.
Feeling the unspoken weariness of her warriors Nenni flicked a glance at the copse of trees off to the side of the dusty road and crisply called out a command to turn about right and led them towards the small defensible area. While it wasn't usually necessary to worry about being attacked randomly out of nowhere, it had happened, and Nenni wasn't about to let down her guard and have it happen to her. Signaling the halt as they reached the trees, she called the dismount and then released the formation, allowing the group to relax their bearing and begin to set up camp for the night.
With a glance at Adanion, she sighed and swung her leg over her own mount, dropping lightly to the ground even after a day in the saddle and beginning to break her own gear down for the night. After getting her horse rubbed down, fed, watered, and picketed with the others, she took her gear and dropped down in her chosen spot to begin looking it all over and cleaning what she could.
“I think I'm going to need a new sword, soon,” Adanion's voice came, a wry note in it causing her to look up with a questioning expression. He held out his sword for her to see, and she nodded, seeing what he was speaking of. It had been badly damaged in this last job, and it would probably just be better to retire it and get a new one. That was what the wry note was for; your sword became a part of you as you worked and trained with it day in and day out and no two swords were exactly alike, as any warrior could tell you. So when a sword had finally seen its day and had to be replaced, it was a long-term investment in training – you had to start at the beginning again in many ways to become comfortable with the new weapon, and that took time. It was a hassle.
She smiled, looking down at her own sword, one that she herself had just become used to – a broadsword, longer and heavier than her original sword, it had taken much effort to become comfortable with. But it was a very expensive weapon, first class, and would last her indefinitely unless some unforeseen circumstance was able to destroy it. It wasn't likely; her weapon had been forged to be able to channel some of her spirit magic, so it wasn't just a plain sword like most had.
“Aye, this last commission was a bit of a battle, wasn't it?” she asked, looking her sword over – and fingering the several notches and nicks in its normally keen edge from the fight they'd all come through. “My sword as well saw some heavy use, and I'm going to have to get the edge resharpened by a smith – it's a little too much for me to simply polish out.”
Adanion sighed, a slight pout on his lips as he looked at his Captain – and his best friend. “Yes, but at least yours is not beyond saving. Now I'm going to have to get used to another one, and you know I hate changing swords.”
“Stop whining,” she chuckled, motioning to her own sword, which she had now set aside so as to look over some of her other gear. “It's only been, what... about six months since I've finally become comfortable with my own fairly new sword? I know what you face, but fussing about it won't change it.”
“I know,” he returned, glumly looking at his now pretty much useless weapon. “But it helps to relieve the frustration I feel inside about all the sword work to come - on top of all the commission work to come-” he rolled his eyes as he thought about it, “-since not all of us can remain cold and contained at all times like you, my dear, impossible leader.”
Now that the company was at rest and in downtime the banter was allowed and even welcomed, especially from Adanion, who was her only true friend. She shook her head as she finally laid her other gear aside and took out her travel rations pouch to begin eating.
After a few bites, she motioned to his secondary weapon, a lighter sword that he favored more for personal combat. “Well, at least the knitting needle there is still sound – or as sound as a toy sword ever gets,” she teased, knowing that would get him. He was always very protective of his lighter weapon.
He shot her an insulted look. “Why yes, it is – funny how, though you name it a toy, it took the battle and gained no damage, wouldn't you say?”
She cocked a brow at him and then grinned, and he pouted at her again, realizing he'd been had. “Not all of us like to fight with that battering ram you call a sword,” he poked pointedly at her choice for her newest weapon petulantly. Her gin didn't waver.
“A battering ram with a keen edge, my friend,” she shot back, not at all put out at his own playful criticism of her weapon.
That got a reluctant laugh out of Adanion, his glance down at it and his, “You mean, usually keen edge,” getting a return laugh out of her and the two fell back into a comfortable silence as they each ate or took care of whatever they needed to, the relatively low murmurs of the others in the company with the occasional louder laugh not bothering either of them.
Perhaps now would be a good time to allow the company to go on furlough. This last stretch has been all out and we are all in need of some good down time. I could go see Caladwen and the others – it has been some time and I would like to see everyone again.
She hadn't been back to the northern forests in about twenty years, now, her time taken up almost exclusively with her determination to become the best of the best. She felt a little guilty, then, as she realized just how long it had really been – she owed everything to the female that had taken an abandoned child in and raised her without prejudice, despite her unusual circumstances. She was very fond of Caladwen, respecting her greatly as the princess she was and the guardian she'd become to a lost child.
“What's got that look on your face?” Adanion asked quietly, his earlier playfulness now absent as he took in Nenni's air of almost guilty reminiscence.
Not answering right away, Nenni looked up at the sky and laid back against her saddle, folding her arms behind her head and staring into the field of star-strewn black with pensive eyes. After a few minutes, she said, “Just thinking about giving the company furlough. It's been a rough few months and we all deserve it. And...” she broke off for a moment, flicking a glance his way, “thinking about Caladwen, and how long it's been since I've seen her and everyone back in the north.”
At that, Adanion's own eyes darkened a little with that same pensiveness as he nodded. He was from the northern forests, himself, and had grown up knowing the girl that the princess had taken in. He had his own family there that he had not seen in just as long. He nodded finally. “Yeah... it would be nice to go home for a little while. I have not heard from mother for a while, and I know she would be happy to see both of us,” he shot her a meaningful glance, knowing she understood what he was saying though she didn't respond outwardly to his words.
“I suppose we can take care of what we need to in Ancalar, then take a break for a fortnight or so,” was all she said in response.
He understood her silent meaning. You can announce the news to the company come morning. He would be quite pleased to do so – they would all be happy to hear it.
No more was said as the two slipped into their own thoughts and then later, sleep, as those on watch kept guard.
The clatter of hooves passing through the huge square that lay near to the gates of Ancalar added to the din of the market day, and Nenni scowled, putting a hand to her head and massaging her temples. She had always hated noisy crowds.
Looking around the square carefully with a quick eye, she shook her head and motioned for her company to follow her, Adanion watching with a gimlet eye as the males and females tightened their formation to follow the beautiful woman who was their leader. They were in the presence of prospective employers and had to look their most professional. There was nothing here in this poorer market that they needed, however, so they would move on to another market square until they found the appropriate shops and merchants. Turning on her heel she led her company through several alleys and small streets as they marched through to another square, bigger than the first but not as noisy though it was just as busy.
She nodded, pleased; this was where they needed to be. Most everything they needed to stock up on was right here, and with a crisp cant of her head, she let her company break their formation and head off to find whatever they might need – chasing down those who'd wronged others and had prices on their heads, fighting other people's battles, or even guarding merchant caravans could quickly deplete a mercenary company's resources. Especially when it came to arrows and those things like that which were expendable and had to be replaced on a constant basis.
That was one reason that she didn't have any dedicated archers in her company. Once their arrows ran out, that was it – they became liabilities that had to be protected. Every person in her company was trained by her with multiple weapons – including the weapon they could make out of their own bodies if they knew how. She was very good at such things, and with her looks it was no wonder why; she came across as cold and dangerous, always ready for a good fight because she'd had to defend herself from constant unwelcome advances for most of her life.
Heading for the blacksmith's shop herself, Nenni began bantering with the smith easily as they worked out the price of the needed repairs to her broadsword.
“A silver piece, and that's as high as I'll go,” Nenni said, knowing that while the man might try to run the price up, with her obviously heavy weaponry and dangerous reputation he wouldn't try too hard.
“A silver piece and two coppers,” he rejoined, and Nenni stifled the triumphant “Ha!” that wanted to escape.
“I'll give you a silver piece and one copper, and not a drop more,” she returned coolly, watching him carefully.
With a rather whimsical smile the smith shook his head and sighed. “Alright, it's agreed. You drive a hard bargain, lady. One silver and one copper.”
She had just finished paying the man the agreed upon price and handing over her damaged sword when a commotion at the edge of the square pulled her attention from the blacksmith, who was even now turning to his forge to begin repairs on her primary weapon of choice.
Head turning towards the noise, she watched as a large group of soldiers began to march into the center of the marketplace, and after a moment she drifted over to the front of the crowd that was gathering to see what had proven itself to be a sentencing and execution. It was rare that such matters were taken care of in market squares, and that was what had garnered her full attention – the fact that the Magistrate had chosen this place to eke out justice to the miscreant. Normally she didn't watch executions unless it was of a villain that her company had captured and returned for said justice, and that was only to make sure the person in question did not escape again. It had happened once when she was first starting out as leader of her company, and she had not been best pleased to have to turn around and re-apprehend the same person once more – extra money or not. It had been harder to catch the man the second time around, and she preferred the new and interesting, not the same old, same old.
She didn't catch sight of the particular villain that was to be sentenced for a minute or so as the milling soldiers fell into a circle around the bound criminal to make sure that no one could try to free the condemned. But when she did everything else in the square faded into nothing and she felt as though she were standing in a tunnel, darkness enveloping her and the only thing highlighted by light the male that was brought forth for judgment. She almost wondered with a sense of dawning horror whether she was going to faint for the first time in her life right in the square in front of all the gathered people.
He had a cocky smirk on his face, not at all seeming to be afraid of his pending execution, his extremely unusual black eyes and black hair drawing her attention to his face - which was most handsome. But she did not feel one iota of attraction, only a morass of emotions that she couldn't understand at all. Fear, hatred, revulsion and an ancient pain and wrath – all these things swirling inside her made Nenni completely unaware of anything else around her but him. When his eyes landed on her, it was clear that his attention was arrested, as well, as his eyes sharpened and his cocky smirk disappeared – for a moment, anyway.
Black eyes shining with something Nenni didn't want to think about, the male continued to stare at her even as the Magistrate came forward and began to pronounce the crime that he was being convicted of and the sentence he'd received. It wasn't until the executioner moved, to the jeering crowd's deepening interest, that the dark male shook himself and removed his eyes from Nenni's.
She tensed when his jewel, a stone that was as black as he was and gave away his noble or even royal blood as well as his status as a dark, evil being, began to glow with gathering power. The soldiers, suddenly aware that something was wrong, tried to stop whatever was about to happen as the power being generated stunned every person in the square. She knew, though, that they would not be successful – the male was incredibly strong and she was absolutely positive that he was about to spirit himself away, which was why he hadn't looked worried at all about being held for his crime.
Fools! Why didn't they use a mage to block him so that he could not use his jewel? I know they have a powerful one here in Ancalar, besides a few lesser ones. Which brings up another point, she thought in those moments before the bound male disappeared, how were they able to bring a sentence of death in such a casual manner to one with, at the very least, noble blood – of evil persuasion or not?
Her thoughts were interrupted as the male looked at her again; she felt the impact of his gaze all the way to her soul, and she shivered in an atavistic reaction that had her bristling angrily almost immediately.
Her anger was shocked out of her for a moment as the male said, “Come find me, Verisiel – I will leave a trail for you, my Queen,” with a mocking bow in her direction before disappearing just as she'd known he would, his black eyes holding hers until he was totally gone.
But she was no longer even aware of him; in the moment that he had called her Verisiel something inside her had pulsed with recognition. Despite the fact that was not her name, a part of her, a dark, buried part insisted that it was... or at least was a part of her name, one that she had simply forgotten. Shaking herself forcefully out of her daze as the square erupted in chaos, Nenni strode forward towards the Magistrate that was now shouting at the soldiers to find the criminal.
“Don't bother,” she said firmly to the man, “you won't be successful. You should have had one with his power under a mage's control.” Her brow furrowed for a moment as she considered what she'd just said. “Or two. Possibly even three. He was too powerful to be controlled easily. That brings up the question – why was a male who is at least a noble being sentenced in such a casual way, without trial?”
The Magistrate, angry and not inclined to just talk, turned towards her voice with blistering impatience but then paled and stepped back a bit when he saw her and realized who she was. Most everyone in the territories knew of Adonnenniel Minuialwen, even those that had never met her – the woman who was supposed to have a jewel – and yet did not. The fact that she was supposed to was shown quite well by the mark on her forehead where a stone should have been placed three days after her birth. That mark, jewel or no jewel, showed that she was definitely Fey. That wasn't even pointing out her delicately pointed ears that also gave her status away. They were the Fey, the ones with innate spirit magic that did not require spells and blood to perform magic as the human mages had to do. Their jewels were their focus, allowing them greater power than those without jewels. The more powerful ones of her race could defeat multiple mages at once.
But Adonnenniel was also a woman without a family – her given second name was not one carried by any noble or royal house and had been given to her because it was with the only identifier that had been found with her in the form of a small note, abandoned on the doorstep of the Northern forests. Most people feared the too beautiful female, and it wasn't just because of the mystery surrounding her but because of her second name – Minuialwen, or Dawn, was a name that was never given to a child for it was considered cursed as a given name though no one knew why. There weren't even any legends or stories that could explain the belief from either race, human or Fey; yet merely mentioning that name drew shivers from the folk of both.
Adonnenniel Minuialwen. Resurrected Dawn.
The man, cowed by who he was facing, bowed a bit frantically and then straightened to look at her with a confused expression. “That was not a Fey male, my lady – he was a common criminal – a thief and murderer who goes by the name of Durion.”
Now it was Nenni's turn to be confused – but only for a moment, and then she sighed and shook her head. “He had a concealing spell on, then. He was Fey, and a powerful one at that, no matter what you saw or didn't see. His jewel was made of Black Spinel – which is, in and of itself, almost unheard of...” she trailed off thoughtfully, greatly intrigued and yet also repelled by the mystery of this impossible male. Most with jewels had the more commonly known gems as focuses – like ruby and emerald, adamant, sometimes, and sapphire, even garnets, and a few carried moonstones. Those were also rare, however. Black Spinel, on the other hand, had almost never been seen as a symbiotic jewel – they were black for a reason. It appeared, however, that this Durion was well-suited to his black jewel – he was certainly evil enough to have attracted one even a mere three days after his birth. Just looking at him had made her skin crawl.
The Magistrate was staring at her with his jaw hanging open, shocked. “But... but Durion is a well-known criminal who has disappeared in and out of the city many times over recent years – and he doesn't even have a house! He has never given a second name by which to trace him, always making it seem as though he were nothing more than some low-birth miscreant!”
“It matters not what he has made it seem, I am telling you what he truly is.” She glanced around the square at the milling and confused crowd, and the milling and confused soldiers, and then turned back to look at the man. “What were the charges that you brought against him? I admit I was not paying attention when you read them,” she explained when he looked even more confused.
“Murder,” he answered promptly, his expression of confusion clearing. “He killed the daughter of a higher-ranking merchant and was caught at the scene of the crime. He did not even bother to deny anything, nor did he try to escape,” he continued, though his own voice had gone contemplative as he spoke. “Which is highly odd. If he could so easily escape us, why did he not do so before?”
“Good question. It seems he had an agenda,” she replied slowly, thinking. But what? She shook her head almost impatiently, “It doesn't matter now. Murder, noble or not, means his sentence of death is justified no matter the formalities. I will take on the task of tracking him down and returning him here,” she added, holding the man's gaze with an even expression so he would know that this was not a request but a demand. While part of her was practically screaming caution, warning her not to go anywhere near that male, another part of her was pushing her on, whispering that she had to face him, and that's the side she was listening to. She was already angry at herself for letting that bastard make her feel anything at all, let alone such an odd and painful morass of fears and emotions. His challenge was one she could not deny, because she would never back down from anything – not even a being that made her feel such sickening pain and loss, which had never happened before. She had always been the type to remain calm and cold through anything, never letting anyone get the best of her or force her to openly face her buried heart – and fears.
No... because he made her feel all those things she would go after him. She had no choice but to take up his challenge. But don't be surprised when I win at whatever game it is you are playing, dark one.
The Magistrate knew better than to argue; besides, it was not as if they wouldn't have hired some mercenary company or other to take over the task of apprehending him, and Adonnenniel's company was one of the very best, anyway.
He shrugged. “Very well. You know the way of things – when he's been caught, bring him here to the jail and the fees will be paid to you. I imagine the merchant will probably pay you above and beyond what the city is allowed to – he was very attached to the daughter in question and is grief-stricken at her murder. He is very wealthy and will not be pleased that Durion has escaped.” He looked tired, then, as it occurred to him just what he still had to deal with – namely an irate and grieving father, a wealthy merchant who would probably make his life miserable until the bastard had been re-apprehended and brought back to face his crime. His life had just become much, much more complicated.
Cocking a brow, she asked a question that should have occurred to her earlier. “Why was the girl's father not here to see the execution?” That was very odd, on the surface, since most families who'd lost a child in such a way would wish to observe the guilty party's death.
“We were forced to keep him away; in his grief he had openly declared that he would kill Durion himself. We could not allow such as justice is the province of the Government of the City, as you well know,” the man replied. “We cannot allow one man to go after his own justice like a vigilante or we would have chaos here within our walls. Just please, return him as quickly as possible,” he finished pleadingly.
Nenni nodded, her question answered satisfactorily and her mind already planning this particular apprehension. She would be going alone, that was a given. For some reason, that place inside her mind that had always been a black well was almost screaming with the need to get her hands on the male, and though she was mystified as to why she had no intentions of arguing with it. This had become personal the moment he had called her Verisiel, and that meant that this was a job she would do herself.
But it left her to wonder – Why did he call me that name? It wasn't her name... but perhaps he had knowledge of who she really was? Verisiel – queenly. Definitely not a name you give to one without royal blood, but... why did he name me such, and why do I feel as if that really should be my name? And then he called me 'his' Queen - she shivered at the thought of such a tie between them, at the thought of any tie between them, really - and yet, he is not very much older than I, if at all. So how could such a thing be? This makes no sense at all.
“I will return him to you, have no fear,” she said absently as she turned to go back to the blacksmith's – if he had continued to work on her commission rather than watch the proceedings he should be nearly finished, and she would definitely be needing that sword. I promised to return him – but I didn't say he would be living when I did, she thought as she pushed her way through the crowd that had been drawn by the contretemps.
No... I did not promise anything but that I would return him – and I don't even care if they don't pay me. I'm not doing this for them, but for myself and whatever has drawn me into his path.
This is destiny, that much I can feel, and I will take up its call.
Her blood pulsed with excitement and surged within her – she knew not where this fate would lead her, but instinctively, she knew it would end up answering all the questions that existed in her life and she would never turn her back on a chance to find out who and what she really was.
Adanion looked at his commander with shock and obvious disapproval.
“But... Captain!” he blurted in dismay, “you can't possibly go after such a powerful male alone! Why would you do this?” he asked, bewildered.
“This is personal, Adanion,” she said softly, grasping his shoulder to show she wasn't angry with his outburst. “He knows something about me and I will find out what it is if it's the last thing I do. You know how important that matter is to me,” she added after meeting his stormy, upset eyes with calm blue ones of her own.
“Even still! He is extremely powerful and terribly dangerous for all that, and you would endanger yourself – for what? A possibility that he knows something of your provenance? What good would it do to learn what he may or may not even know if the gaining of such buys you death in the end? But if we all go, then he would not stand a chance and you would still have your answers!” he argued passionately, trying his hardest to get her to see reason.
Nenni shook her head. “This is too personal to share with the company, Adanion. You I trust with the knowledge of my feelings in this matter, but that is because we have been together since the days we were little more than low-ranked mercenaries ourselves, and grew up close together besides. You've proven that you can be trusted with things that are so intensely personal to me. But the rest... this is just more than I am willing to share with anyone else.”
Shoulders slumping, he closed his eyes for a moment as every bad thing that could happen to his commander, his friend, played out in bloody detail behind his lids. “And the company? What do you wish me to do? Should I still disband them for furlough while you are gone? Or continue to accept commissions?”
She squeezed his shoulder, knowing how badly this was affecting him; what she'd said was true – they'd been together for over two hundred years already, since the early days of their mercenary career, and they had become like brother and sister in those years. But this was something she needed to do, as everything that lay within her told her. Demanded of her.
“Allow them furlough for a fortnight and then reform and begin taking commissions again. You're more than capable of Captaining this company, you know, so there's no reason to disband them for as long as it is probably going to take me to deal with this fool.”
Still dismayed by the very idea but understanding what such a thing as finding someone that knew something about her would mean to her, he sighed, knowing she would not change her mind. Her leaving was already a done deal.
“I don't like it and I won't pretend that I approve, but I cannot stop you,” he finally murmured, meeting her oddly open gaze as she squeezed him on the shoulder again. “What do you wish me to tell Caladwen?”
Her hand tightened on his shoulder again, unbidden at that question. “Tell her,” she said softly, “that somewhere in this world there is someone who knows who I am – and that I might just have found that person. Be well, Adanion.” Her voice faded as he nodded, still reluctant, and then she dropped her hand and turned to leave, his, “Be well,” in return barely registering as her mind turned to her need for information... and to the visit that might be able to tell her something of what she needed to know about this 'Durion'.
I wonder why he doesn't use his full name? Or has his house disowned him?
That was a big possibility – if this male had such murderous tendencies they would not have wanted to be affiliated with him.
Mind occupied by the new puzzle that had been so handily presented to her she moved along, sinuously slipping through the crowds out on market day. The route she followed was taken on autopilot and before long the more prosperous side of the city was far behind her as she disappeared into the slums that every city she'd ever seen seemed to have. Places like where she was now were the dregs of civilization, but often the forgotten people that lived in these slums could prove quite, quite useful.
Such was the case of the person she was going to see. Veryomorcon was indeed a bear of a man, giant and dangerous if crossed. But he was a very useful man to get information from – there was very little that happened in this city that he didn't know within minutes of it happening.
Giving a dangerous look to a group of houseless males that were eyeing her, Nenni put her hand to the hilt of her sword and glared at them warningly as she moved through a small grassy area the local residents called a park. When their gazes dropped in submission to her she nodded with satisfaction and knocked on the door she'd just reached – the small building she was getting ready to enter sat right up against the so-called park. In these slums that was considered prime real estate.
A peep slit opened up and some nameless female looked out, but when she saw who was knocking she immediately paled and then slid the peep slit closed and opened the door. Nenni didn't wait to take up the invitation that was offered, wanting to get this over with. She hated being here – places like this always made her feel wrong. She couldn't seem to figure out why she felt that way, she just did. Perhaps it was the hopelessness on the faces around her that affected her so strongly.
“Please, lady, come this way,” the little woman with tired eyes that had opened the door said with a bow. “I will take you to Veryo.”
A delicate black brow rose at the shortening of Veryomorcon's name. He had always been a stickler for formality, so she was surprised to hear anyone speak of him in such a casual manner. She looked closer at the woman, and then she understood. She was the giant man's consort. She snorted inwardly. It's about time, she thought. He'd been alone all his life, never accepting more than a night here or there from any female he'd been with before. She ignored the hypocrisy in that thought – she herself had never been involved with anyone – many had tried, not surprisingly, but none had woken her heart from its sleep and she wasn't going to give herself to anyone for a cold tryst that would end almost as soon as it had begun.
“Veryomorcon,” she murmured in greeting when the woman led her into a surprisingly - from the outside appearance of the house - large room. This was where the big man held court. It was a smoky room, filled with the scents of incense and tobacco and unwashed bodies and she wanted to cough, but managed to hold it in. After all, she'd been in many such shady places as this before and could handle it – for a short time, at least.
“Adonnenniel Minuialwen,” the bear of a man answered. His bushy brows rose as she moved closer, eyeing the longsword she now carried. “It appears that you have grown yet more dangerous. I did not think that was possible,” he said with a smile that was filled with teeth and irony. “What would you have of me?” he asked.
A faint smile on her own face at the slightly wary expression he was wearing, a wariness he couldn't hide, she palmed the hilt of her sword and said, “I'm after your favorite commodity, of course, Veryomorcon. I need information. Earlier today, a male was to be sentenced and executed for murder. What do you know of him?”
Veryomorcon sat back in his chair, the smile he'd had softening with curiosity. “Now what could Durion the dark-hearted have done to gain your attention, Adonnenniel?”
Giving nothing away, she maintained her bland smile. She wasn't about to tell anyone else that
Durion knew something about her. “I've been commissioned to track him down. I want to know everything you know about him.”
“And what do I get out of this?”
Her smile deepening with sardonic amusement, she opened her purse and took out a gold piece, tossing it to the large man who caught it easily and immediately put it in his mouth and bit down, testing it. Satisfied that it was indeed a real gold piece, he looked up at the waiting Nenni and eyed her as the gold disappeared into his clothing somewhere. For her to give him gold rather than silver meant this commission was important to her. Very important.
“Durion is a jeweled male of great power. He has gained much of that power by stealing it from others and forcing it to his will.” He smiled at her with a rather pointed amusement that Nenni understood quite well. “Of course, since you have no jewel he cannot steal your energy, so I suppose you are a logical choice to go after him.”
Ignoring the dig about the missing jewel that she should have been paired with, Nenni returned the man's smile with a slightly dangerous edge to hers. “Is that all?” she asked.
“No.” Here his smile disappeared and he looked more serious then she had ever seen. It sobered her inwardly, though she didn't allow the large man to see that fact. “He is a master of manipulation and can assume other forms – though his eyes always remain black, oddly enough. So keep that in mind as you chase him. He's the most dangerous male you've ever seen, Adonnenniel. Don't treat this as an easy catch, because it will be the most difficult apprehension of your career; if you manage to pull it off – and live through it - your company will be considered the best of all the mercenary companies around hands down.”
“Any idea where he comes from? I need to know where he might run...” she trailed off, her hackles rising at what Veryo had told her already. She'd already known Durion was dangerous – but so was she, jewel or not. Still, that this man was afraid of the dark male was telling – he was dangerous too, but apparently this other male was at the top of the predators here in this crumbling slum, which said volumes to her about just how deadly that bastard actually was.
It still didn't change her mind, however. Nothing could do that.
Veryomorcon studied her for a moment, knowing that what he was about to say would probably upset her. He had never understood why she was so leery of going anywhere near the southern range of mountains. True, those mountains were considered cursed and haunted and no one wanted to go too near them, but he just couldn't see this female following along with the rest of civilization in fearing things for no reason that anyone could remember. There was something else there, but he'd never been able to find out what, to his chagrin. He was a gatherer of information, but Nenni was intensely private and never spoke about herself. But nonetheless, he knew she would not be pleased with what he was about to impart.
“You may wish to let someone else handle this, Adonnenniel. He will most likely head for the southern range.”
The temperature in the room dropped thirty degrees just like that, Nenni's magic reacting to her displeasure as she regarded him with a frozen expression. “Is your information reliable, Veryomorcon? I'll be very... unhappy if I go in that direction and he's nowhere near there.”
He knew what she was saying, and he took the warning seriously. Nenni was surprisingly strong with her spirit magic – even without a jewel, and her talent for burning anything was well-known. He had no desire to get burned into little more than ash in the wind because he'd fed her false information – even unknowingly.
Still, he was a bit insulted that she would doubt him. “My information is always reliable,” he shot at her. “My men know I won't tolerate being given false or wrong information. He will head to those mountains because they are so empty, since no peoples, human or Fey, will go near them - and because he has already been in them. He claims them as home. What better place to hide? You could look forever through those mountains and still never find him.”
She shook her head. “Oh, I'll find him – he wants me to find him. He challenged me to do so, as a matter of fact,” she growled out, frowning for just a moment before the expression disappeared into the business face that she almost always wore when dealing with anyone save Adanion or Caladwen.
The man known as the Bear blinked. “What?” He looked startled as he watched Nenni through the haze, ignoring the way the others there shifted back and away from the lone woman as she prepared to leave. “Why would he do that?”
“Good question. But it's one I can't answer right now – if I manage to get that information out of him, I'll let you know,” she responded with a quirky smile and jaunty, slightly sarcastic salute as she turned and headed out. “Thanks for the info, Veryomorcon.
The bear watched as the dangerous woman left the room and then shook his head. “May Elarinya watch over you, Adonnenniel. You'll need a protective influence for this task, that is for certain.” And then he put her out of his mind as his woman came in with a smile, bringing him his mid-day meal as the conversation in the room picked up once more.