Edit: This is part 5, not 4.
Sorry for the delay, editing took longer than usual this week, but here’s a new RoC! But Xallion is alone now. What happened to his band of companions?
Rage of the Cursed, Part 5 — The Thief
Five years later.
Xallion sniffed at the forest air, taking in the musky odor of the common dread boar. Mating season.
He shouldered his bow and pushed on, finding his center of peace in leaves crunching under his boots. Trespassers and poachers were few and far between in the forests of Terragrecio, but he too his duty seriously.
The sun’s position warned him to check the merchant trails. Protecting the rich wasn’t his job, but preventing the attention drawn by missing people was. Whispers of vampires and other undead made the forbidden forests appealing travel.
Xallion hurried to the trail, jumping to the trees. The vantage point gave him a clear view of the main path. As expected, a carriage pulled along by a grizzled old Ox clattered down the road. He clenched his jaw in irritation, waited until the cart drew closer and landed in the middle of the road.
“Halt. State your business,” Xallion said.
The Ox slowed and stopped, content to comply. His driver did not look so pleased.
“Spices from the capital,” the man said. “We don’t have time for another inspection.”
“Another?” Xallion raised his brow, hooking a thumb in his belt. “Who made the first.”
“A woman, up the road. One of the forest folk from grove. She was much more polite than you.”
Xallion ground his teeth. You have no idea how polite I’m being. “I’m the only Ranger in this forest. The folk of the Forbidden Forest do not approach travelers. That is why I am here. Tell me about this inspector.”
The driver groaned, hopping off his seat. He waved Xallion to follow. “What harm could she have done? I have all my spices intact.”
“I’m sure you checked,” Xallion said, sniffing at the air. A flowery scent filled his nostrils, a stark contrast from the usual prickle of spices. He recognized it, but couldn’t place where. He ran a hand over the bulging sacks of spices, lifting them one by one. A patch of the burlap felt out of place, on closer inspection there was a patch under one of them.
The driver saw it too, scrunching his nose in disdain. “One of the bags is damaged?”
“Intentionally,” Xallion ripped the patch free. Sand poured onto the forest path. He turned to the driver, smiling. “Let’s try this again. Tell me about this inspector.”
“A blonde woman, forest folk.” He swallowed back a lump in his throat. “This is a nightmare, that spice is expensive. That bag is worth more than I’m being paid.”
“Relax,” Xallion said. “I know who stole it.” Tieshaie.
He fished into his pouch and produced two gold coins. “Take this as recompense. I expect it back when I return your spices. I’ll meet you in Terra by sundown, at the Happy Happy Smithy. If you try to run with the money I will be very grumpy.”
“T-thank you.” The driver bowed. He paused to consider. “Happy… Happy?”
Xallion nodded, and looked down the road. Judging from the scent he must have seen her a half mile down the road. There’s only one place she can be.
“So I can really go?”
“Yeah. I don’t blame you for trespassing. Neither does the Lady of the Grove, go in piece traveler.”
“Thank you. Thank you.” The driver hopped back into his seat and continued down the road. Xallion moved down the path, sniffing at the air as he walked. The scent of flowers fave him the last clue he needed. They only grew in one part of the forest.
He found a small pile of sand near the place the trail went cold. Only a thin layer of trail dust topped it. It hadn’t been there long. No one could lay claim to the forest, but the people of Terra, including its king, saw to respecting it. Xallion’s job centered on ousting people who dis respected the forest.
Xallion stepped off the trail, following his knowledge alongside the alluring scent. The forest thickened, making for hard travel, even in his light armor. Animals scurried away from him, finding refuge in trees and burrows.
The flowers should be around here. Xallion pushed into a clearing, but found nothing. A small pond sat in the center of the clearing, muddy and drab. He sniffed about, finding no trail of the flowery scent then remembered, the flower needed to be processed to make the scent.
It was a deliberate misdirection he shouldn’t have fallen for.
Xallion winced, realizing he had no leads. He had only assumed it to be Tieshaie’s doing with no proof. I should have asked for more details. Now I’m out two gold.
He struggled to remember what Ane told him about tracking. She always stressed the importance of understanding the subject. So, he tried the approach of thinking like a trickster. He ignored his nose and his instinct and wandered from the clearing in an aimless direction. He knelt and dusted at the ground, finding a trace of a footprint.
He ignored the bearing, the obvious sign of movement and instead read the weight distribution. She walked this way. Xallion found another three footprints before he found a normal running strike, from the look of it, she carried something heavy. Like a bag of spices.
Xallion followed the trail, sniffing at the air as he moved. He sneezed against pollen. He was on the right track.
When he came into another clearing he found a house built into the trees. He would have never seen it on his patrols, positioned so one would only spot it directly underneath. Xallion cleared his throat and called up. “Tieshaie. I know you’re up there, come out.”
Silence choked the air and the pollen tickled his sensitive nose. Potted flowers, the ones in question, lined the simple porch.
The door opened and Tieshaie Areinare stepped out, pursing her full lips in annoyance. She leaned over the banister resting hand at her cheek. Tieshaie was beautiful in almost every common way. She wore her blonde hair long, parted around the black marking resembling an eye in the center of her forehead: The Life Eye, something all of her kind had. Her locks fell over her shoulders as she assessed Xallion’s presence. Her face carried more human features than most forest folk, denoting her mixed blood. It worked in her favor. She hooded her bright blue eyes with a bored expression. Also unlike the typical forest folk, she had a full-bodied look from head to heel. Her round feature tempered with a delectable mixture of muscle and curvature.
“Something I can do for you? You must have gone through a lot of trouble to find me.”
Xallion nodded. “A merchant on the trail tells me a fetching young woman, forest folk, inspected his goods and relieved him of a bag of spices. You wouldn’t happen to know someone fitting that description.”
“Oh, so I’m fetching am I?”
“You admit it then?”
“No, I just know an accusation when I see one. Besides, I didn’t relieve him of anything. I bartered. Fair trade, one bag of fine sand for one bag of stinky spices.”
“It’s only a fair trade is when both parties are aware of the deal,” Xallion said. “Give me the spices and I will overlook this.”
“Oh, favoritism is it?” Tieshaie said. “How about we split the spices instead. Or if you prefer I’ll make you something nice with them.”
“Bribery is unacceptable.”
“So, you don’t like spices? Want to come up here and try something sweet then?”
Xallion clenched his jaw. “Enough. Give me the spices, now. You’re testing my patience.”
“Aww. Issum big mistuh Ranger angwy? Soo scary.”
“I don’t think you know how scary I can be.” Xallion said, removing the bow from his shoulder. “Do you have the spices, or not? I’m not in the mood for your games.”
“So there’s a time when you are? Do you mind coming back when that time rolls around?”
He reached for an arrow to respond.
“All right, no need to get violent. I have the spices,” Tieshaie said, shrugging. “I was just having a little bit of fun that’s all.”
He hesitated. “What do you mean?”
“I said I have them. I didn’t say I’d be giving them back. For someone so stuck up and grouchy, you certainly don’t pay attention to details. You see, I know my rights. That merchant was trespassing. I didn’t hurt him and he made a little inspection of his own while I looked over his supplies. I was even helping, I checked for contraband.”
“I found some,” Tieshaie said, tossing him a small pouch. “That man was smuggling blood into the city. Forest folk blood.”
Xallion inspected the pouch, opening a small cap. There would be no mistaking the telltale purple. The scent riled his blood, reminding him it had been too long since he fed. He had let a criminal go free, because it wasn’t his job. “I owe you an apology.”
“I don’t want your apology,” Tieshaie said. “I just want to hear you say it.”
He clenched his jaw. “You were right. I was wrong.”
“Good boy,” she said, grinning. Tieshaie leapt off the balcony and landed cleanly in front of him. She poked him playfully in the center of his nose. “I thought you were too stubborn to do it. I’ll go with you.”
Xallion glanced away. “That isn’t necessary. I’ll clean up my own mess.” Worse, I just sent a criminal to the smithy.
“You’re right. I’m just coming along to pester you— I mean help. I’ve been away from the city too long and I think you owe me enough to vouch for me. The mean ol’ guards would try to find an excuse to arrest me.”
“An excuse? You mean documented larcenies you’ve acquired.”
“Ha. No, like they have any evidence against me. They’d have to invent some sort of bull crap law.”
“Like public decency?” Xallion said, rolling his eyes.
“What?” Tieshaie slapped his shoulder. “I know you’re not getting on ME about fashion. Do you even own any clothes besides this armor? Hm?”
Xallion rolled his eyes.
Tieshaie gestured to herself, drawing attention to her clothes. She wore as orange halter top bound bright blue strings. Her legs were half covered with a similarly colored skirt bound with a blue sash. She finished off the ensemble with a gold necklace with an inset blue jewel, two plain gold bracelets on her left wrist and simple brown sandals.
She caught his wandering eye and laughed. “See? You aren’t complaining. I’m a veritable fashion goddess. You should be happy to been seen with me.”
“You have the spices, you can keep them. Those–”
“Aren’t enough. Here I was only thinking of the greater good. If I hadn’t investigated that suspicious merchant, he would have gone unchecked.”
“To be fair you did stop him to steal from him.”
Tieshaie gasped, putting a hand high on her chest. “I’m offended and appalled. I did no such thing. This is exactly why you need to escort me to town and purchase me some new fabric. The good stuff. That will serve as a fitting apology.”
“Fine,” Xallion said. He didn’t have much use for money anyway. “Maybe you can make something a little bit more modest with it. I assume you’re low on fabric from the way your dressed.”
Tieshaie smirked. “Pft. Like you’re complaining.”
He really wasn’t.