Continuing along the cobbled way, she soon found herself in a quieter area of Thornhurst. The sun had rolled further from its position at noon, causing the roadside to take on a golden hue, as the world often does in a clear late afternoon. Here, the sounds of footfalls could be heard on the cobbles, snatched mutterings of hearsay and chatter were caught on the wind, the wind in the trees was amplified by the quivering leaves. These trees, hanging their heads, framed the short road; there was only one reason to come here. The relative quiet of the road could not have been more strangely placed.
For as the elf followed its gentle curve, leading to its final resting place, a building appeared, wooden in structure, a chimney sending the spirits of its burning fires heavenward. The cobbled path died away, stopping at the threshold. She reached the door, disturbing a sign that began to swing back and forth. After a few swings, she could discern that the establishment had been named The Overfilled Flagon. As she went to open the door, she became more tentative, reaching once for the handle, then deciding against it, then, inhaling deeply, turned the handle and stepped into a wall of sound and a multitude of scents, some pleasant, others not. She lowered her cowl once more, and took a note from her bag. Studying it for what must have been the tenth time since she had received it, she nodded, and replaced it to the bag. As she scanned the tables, her eyes bombarded by drunken men and merry dwarves, a fat man approached her, his cheeks red, smile wide, and his teeth the colour of ripe blades of corn.
“It is with great pride that I welcome you, milady, to my fine establishment. Can I get you anything? An ale, or perhaps a goblet of wine for a sophisticated Elven woman such as yourself?” Although slightly put off by the exotic colouring of the man’s smile, she chose to ignore his roguish flattery, and agreed to a goblet of wine, having walked some way to reach the tavern.
Passing through the crowds that had collected in the stuffy, hazy building, she searched the tables again, and found one that was unoccupied. As she sat down, the landlord returned with her wine, and she slipped a copper coin into his open palm; he smiled and left her to her drink. She exhaled in a long sigh, before sipping the wine, and was surprised to find that it was of reasonable quality.
Feeling a little more comfortable in her surroundings, she shifted her gaze across the tavern, ignoring the decorated, well-endowed women and the drunkards, and, turning a moment to sip more of the wine, felt a sudden cool breeze hit her neck. She looked to the doorway and found the door had been flung open.
A sole cloaked and hooded figure began to make its way through the crowds as she had done, aside from merely ignoring the introduction given by the landlord. She soon realised that it was her table being approached. As it drew nearer, she released the breath she had instinctively held, remembering the note she had found, and smiled. The figure took the opposing seat to hers and lowered the mask from the bridge of its nose. With the lip of the hood masking its eyes, she heard a male voice.
“I believe you have been expecting me.” She nodded, replying,
“I have indeed, I know you by the description you sent me.” It was his turn to nod, causing two strands of dirty blond hair to fall forward slightly on his face.
“That shall save some time. In which case, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Alceren, one of Shrouded, as I suspect you are, judging by your attire.”
“You are correct, Alceren,” she replied, pausing a moment. This name, she said inwardly, it is familiar to me, like a face in a dream - familiar, but at the same time, alien.
Presently, she continued, saying, “My name is Alyxandra, also of the Shrouded, and born in the Capital, Eryvale.” Alceren smiled.
“As was I. By Terakane, such similarities!” Alyxandra laughed gently, a touch more at ease with this mysterious male.
“I may guess at another also.”
“And what is that?”
“From your mannerisms and appearance, or what I can see of them, I would guess that you are Elven like me, too.”
“You are correct, Alyxandra.” It was Alceren’s turn to laugh now, for it was true; very little of him could be seen beyond the deep green hood he wore. “I would wear the mask also, but that would hinder my ability to communicate with you.” As Alyxandra laughed quietly at this, Alceren’s jaw became suddenly firmer, his expression becoming somber. “But I fear that this geniality is distracting us from our real reason for meeting here.”
Alyxandra ceased her laughter and leant forward, wrapping her fingers around the neck of the goblet. She knew that real reason, and thus prepared herself for matters of a far more serious nature. “As I understand it, the number of Stygians in this area is low, but I have not been here for some time, and thus, my reports are probably outdated.”
“You are correct for the most part, Alceren, but for the fact that I have located an enemy encampment, based in Violetwood, not far eastward from here. As I was alone, and guessed the camp to contain around twenty enemy forces, from my observations, I decided it best to wait until I met with you to discuss it.” Alceren bowed his head slowly.
“It was wise of you to avoid such large numbers without suitable support. When did you discover it?”
“Two days ago, but I am unsure of how long they plan to stay.”
“From their previous movements and strategies, I would guess they shall stay until an attack is launched.” An expression of concern crossed Alyxandra’s face.
“Should we inform the townspeople to stay indoors over the next period of time?”
“That would be wise, if it were not probable that there will be informers in the area.”
“Yes, that would not surprise me.” Almost as soon as these words had crossed his lips, a cry came from the other side of the tavern, followed by a number of cries and screams. A young woman was in the tight grip of a male figure dressed in dark raiment, a knife held to her throat.
“One move from any of you, and she dies. The tavern is surrounded by Stygians, so you would be wise to believe me.” Alyxandra gasped, frozen upon the spot. She knew that he would indeed spill the poor woman’s blood if she did take up arms. So it both surprised and horrified her to see Alceren drawing a dagger from a thin pocket inside his cloak, hidden from view beneath the table. Fully aware of the risks involved, and understanding that he only had one attempt, he muttered a quick plea to L’Eysharia and Terakane before throwing the dagger at the spy, smiling a little as it pierced his throat, drew blood, the sound of gurgling and choking temporal. Into his face was etched the appearance of great pain, his mouth and eyes wide and his face contorted. The woman fell to the floor as he dropped his dagger, standing to escape quickly as a helpful dwarf sped up the bloody affair by dragging the man to the floor, to die in a pool of his own blood. Alyxandra called out in fear and anticipation,
“Everyone, hide yourselves!” knowing full well that his comrades would soon make their way inside. She turned to face Alceren as an idea filled her head. He smiled, reading her face, and they both leapt up, smashing the nearby window with a chair leg and taking a leap of faith from the building. Having reached the ground safely, and aware of the darkness that had fallen without warning, they made their separate ways around the sides of the tavern. The pair of them were sure of only one thing; a violent skirmish would momentarily follow. So it was, that with the moon as their guide and the cobbles as their battlefield, that they emerged at the other side, swords drawn and hearts dancing in expectation of the fight to come.