They ran through the dense forest at a full run. It was all she could do to keep up with Bahl, his red pointed tail whipping about side to side pushing away low lying branches. Falina's lungs burned. Her legs were afire. Her arms felt laidened with steel. There were blisters upon her blisters, and cuts marring her black bruises.
The ways to the cabin were now common to Falina. It had nearly been a week since they'd arrived at The Vale cabin, and these runs had become a late afternoon ritual after the beatings the tiefling put upon her. And though, at first, Falina had dreaded each morning, the repetition and complete isolation of this place, along with its bordom and cabin fever should one choose to stay locked away had her looking forward to these ... 'challenges'.
Still, Falina marvelled at the speed of the tiefling. His legs moved with a fluidity born in elves, and yet, his movements were calculated, sharp and powerful. He was fearsome at times, and yet showed calm resolution, and never lost his temper. Bahl Shadowfinger was a paradox walking on two legs. She still could not get past the eyes, and she insisted that he cover his head, for his horns were too reminisant of the dark images of the 999 planes of the Abyss.
She dodged this way and that, found holes in the underbrush, where a week ago, she would never have spied with her untrained eyes. Her legs found her body lighter, her backpack filled with 20 stones seemed less to weigh her down, and the numbness born from too much exhersion came later in the days than they used to. She was as strong as she'd ever been in her life; her mind more alert - her senses keen. As much as she hated the man, Bahl Shadowfinger could have trained an ox to run on two legs.
The tree line broke, and they two of them ran towards the cabin - a small shack of 3 rooms (two beds and a hearth room) furnished modestly with a table 4 chairs, and rafters filled with half a year's provisions. Half way through the field, the cabin just seemed to get far away, as the breath in her lungs caught, and she was forced to stop... staggering forward with extra long strides to stop... gasping.
Bahl, for his part, damn him, stopped dead, looking back.
"Come. we are close."
"I can't," she gasped, almost choking. Rather than swallow, she spat out her spit, and huntched over, hands on knees.
Bahl sighed, walking with purpose back to her, and grabbed her by the arm, and threw her forward, "RUN!" he said.
There was little point in arguing. He would only push her until she complied, and she hadn't the energy to raise a voice of protest. With weakening legs, she went into a jog - and with only that, he was still satisfied.
In short time, they made the front step of the cabin, and Bahl took a long pull from his water skin. Falina fell back into the tall grass and lay there for a time staring at the cloudless sky overhead.
"Gods," she grunted, "You are killing me!" she said.
Bahl nodded, "Probably," he replied simply, "Do not get comfortable, it is your night to cook,"
"What are we having?" groaned the young woman, sitting up on her right elbow.
"Whatever you would like,"
"Rice then. I will make rice and broth!"
"Suites me. And we will have wine!" Bahl opened the door and entered leaving Falina in the field.
"Really?" the notion of a mug of wine perked her. Bahl had had her on so strict a routine, that wines, mulled ales and ciders were completely out of the question.
"what was a meal without wine, for Gods Sake?" she had asked.
"Less poison for the mind. YOu are soft." Bahl had replied.
With her joints and muscles protesting, Falina was up, and she entered the cabin, dropping her sachel of 20 stones, already feeling half a horse lighter. She rubbed her shoulders, as Bahl was already seeing to the fire.
"Tell me something," she started.
"Hm?" Bahl rubbed flint to tinder. A fire ensued and he blew it to life.
"What is this place?"
"It is a cabin,"
"yes... and no."
Falina let the silence speak for itself. Bahl continued.
"It belongs to a friend. I helped him build it."
"This friend, where is he? Is he like you?"
Bahl's red eyes pierced into her. She was quick to add, "Working for Devensheer, I mean. Part of this Shadow-Knights guild?"
Bahl grunted, and allowed Falina to boil her water, as he sat at the table and poured himself a mug of wine.
"Yes, you can say that. He brought me into the fold, you might say," his face went absent. Falina knew the look.
"What happened? i do not know what you are talking about?"
"A falling out with your friend?"
"Why would you ... ? Please do not speak on things you know naught about, girl," Bahl voice never raised - it was as steady as falling sand.
"Ok," she let it drop, "What is his name?"
"That does not sound tiefling at all," Falina poured the rice into the boiling pot, and spilled some dried ox-meat into the broth. She then joined him at the table, and he poured her a mug.
"It isn't," Bahl nodded, "His full name is Axym Gath'Thundrum - or Thunderaxe. He is dwarven-folk,"
"A dwarf. I've never seen one," Falina's eyes were wide with wonder.
"They are not for the meek of heart," bahl actually laughed, "He could outdrink an Orc, that dwarf - and could outrun a horse. But mind his temper - and that's a fair warning," his face frowned, and he stared into his cup. "Do you mind if i bathe before we eat?" he asked.
"Of course," Falina shook her head; shocked that he would ask, "I will be fine - i promise. After today - i feel like i can face dragons."
Bahl stood, a wagged a finger at her, "Do not get ahead of yourself,"
"Aye, captain. I will mind the soup. Go. Bathe. You smell like a dog!"
A wry smile was his response, and a knowing nod, "Aye," he downed his mug of wine, and went to the rear of the cabin, where running water spilled into a tub from a reservoir tower outside. IT was genius really.
She stood, and stired the pot - every so often tasting the brew, and adding this or that to give it SOME TASTE at least. Living among the animals with less than the comforts of home made for bland eating, and even less drinking, which, by the way, led her to realize that her 3 sips of wine had gone into muddling her mind.
It was true, for as Bahl entered the room with narry but his undergarments, and his boots strapped on, she found herself staring at the scars marking his white hairless flesh - pulled tightly over incredibly formed muscles and sinew. For a moment, she even ignored the horns; and those damned eyes. When he caught her staring, he nodded, and was quick to apologize.
"I am sorry, Falina," he strapped his cloak loosely over his shoulder, and pulled the cowl over his head.. a courtesy that he afforded her for all of the pain that he would put her through.
"Yes well." she nodded with hand outraised, turning towards the rice soup, "Dinner is ready - and so .. dress yourself and i will pour us a meal, such as it is,"
"I'm sure it will be fine."
she poured two bowls and he thanked her. As she sat across from him, her legs protested, and she looked heavenward, cursing under her breath, "Grace burn me, I hurt!" she said.
"You've worked hard; and you have done well, Falina,"
The praise was yet another shock, and Falina decided it was far too out of place. And though, she thought to push back with her usual spicey sarcasm, she clamped her teeth shut and took it for what it was worth. It was the wine!
"I would thank you, but somehow, i think you enjoy it," she was quick to add, "but i jest - and i mean that sincerely,"
Bahl laughed only slightly, "It is true, however," he winked. "Not the torturous part - but the shedding of all thought to focus upon a single purpose, whether it be, running, or hauling the stones, or climbing trees and seeking shadows where one may never find you... I've missed it, and it settles my blood,"
"Why do you do this?" Falina ate, and drank more wine, "Work for them, I mean?"
"It is noble work," he replied.
"Odd words coming from a tiefling."
Bahl shrugged, but agreed.
"I read your book," Falina said, "Your mother was an amazing woman, but not a good mother. I understand your point."
"What you told me when our journey began. That you and your parent were not close. I can understand how you feel to a point,"
"yes, well," Bahl wiped his lips with his sleeve, and drank more wine, "such is life of a mistake of nature living in a human world,"
Falina went to speak, but he raised his hand, "Please," he smiled, "Falina, do not ask me of my father - or .. how... " he pulled the cowl back and fingered his left horn.
Falina slumped into her chair, respectfully resigning the subject, as he finished, "Maybe someday .. " he nodded, "But tonight - I wish only to celebrate your successes, small..." he warned, "as they may be ... but successes none the less, and not marr tonight's memory by reliving matters that I can never change .. "
"I understand, Bahl... Of course - you do realize that if we keep this up - that the student will one day surpass her teacher," she let a mischievious smile split her lips.
Bahl let out a laugh that almost startled her - which sent her into a giddy laugh,
He said, "Ha! I've always got more in my book of tactics..."
And then a scrape at the door came: "Bahl - you worthless heap of flesh - tell me you are not in there bedding those rediculous halflings again... "
"By graces," Bahl stood up.
"What... who is it??" Falina's eyes searched the cabin for her staff, and her hand quickly closed over it at the ready.
"Axym!" Bahl Sighed.