Cadavre Exquis Part 1

Beneath the shadow of an old, weather-tarnished bridge lurked a troll of the most unusual sort. Neither portly or bulkily muscled, the mud caked rags it used as its disguise hung large and loose over the lithe, thin lines of a definedly feminine form. Her dark hair hung damp over her collar in a matted tangle of braids and beads, her face an inky hue even without help from the shadow of her modest cowl. Her back pressed hard against the pillar of the overhang she lurked below, her breath catching as the slight crunch of leaves broke the silence of the night.

It was hard to slow her breathing after such a long run, but she had managed. Survival had taught her well; afterall, a passing grade was why she was still alive. Long cool threads of air flowed past her lips and into her weary lungs as silently as she could pull them and adrenaline alone provided enough control to still her fatigued muscles. Calloused fingers knotted her dripping cargo to her belt without a sound. The reverberations of the road above her shook the pillar she leaned against before her persuers were within ear shot. Her long ebony lashes closed against their mates, hiding the glossy, cloud like surfaces of her eyes from view. Swathing her in completely in the pitch of the shadows beneath the overhang.

The brigade above her was small, perhaps only fifteen men strong. White stallions and dapples whinied and brayed as their gilded hooves echoed bell-like against the ancient metal that comprised one of the two only routes out of the city. Routes closed to all who feared the law and its swift, merciless hand.

“Sir-” A canine muzzle protruded from under the soldier’s glistening helm as he addressed his superior, nose twitching against the acrid winds the infected planes beyond the city brought. “-if we’ve not seen them by now, isn’t it possible they’re still within the city limits?”

The answer was returned in a frustrated grunt, and the large, ornate gauntlets that betrayed the captain’s status wound tightly around the reigns of his steed. “That would make them bold indeed…as well as incredibly foolish.” Beneath the rim of his own helmet, a sapphiric stare hardened and trained on the wolfman beside him. “Are you implying my brother was cut down by a fool, Lieutenant Terax?”

Terax looked away with a swallow of concession. The thick pads of his fingertips brushed comfortingly against his steed’s neck, his own umber fur nearly blending with the mane of the great beast below him as the creature trotted its own uncertainties against the patterned stone beneath its hooves. The horses were spooked. For good reason. If only the less attuned men in their brigade could smell the death and decay like he could. If they had but seen what lay beyond their perfect, walled great-village. They hadn’t though. His commander had. It was why he respected him enough to even consider venturing so far outside their immediate domain. “Of course not, but there’s no scent trail…no reason to lead so many out of the city with the plague running rampant beyond our-“

“We’re going.” The captain was a human, certainly, but he had never sounded more bestial. “You may come and lend your nose and ears or you may stay and I’ll have you tried later.” It hung in the air with as harsh and final a tone as it was meant to.

The Lieutenant’s furred brows knit hard beneath the silver overhang of his helmet’s visor, heart sinking slightly. It wasn’t unlike the captain to be headstrong, but his judgement was clouded. Understandably so. “Matthais…” Perhaps best not to be so familiar given the younger man’s mood. “Captain Bergus…there are other ways. I could fetch the hawks, or the wolves-“

“Enough! We’re losing time already! Come or be left behind, Terax-” The captain’s steed whinnied as he spurred it on, pulling ahead of the others and waving them to follow. “Onward! Forward! Seek out this wretch and end it! For the glory of ur king! For the honor of our fallen!!”

Beneath the bridge, the hooded woman held her breath again, head turning to let one ear face upward as she listened. Already her own nose wrinkled with the pungent odor of the lycan above her…and she knew well the tenor of those kind’s voices. Still, as much as she loathed them…he could be a threat if he followed his hunch. Go. Go, you fools! 

The wolven lieutenant’s chest heaved with indecision as he watched the others flow out around him into the dim unknown of the plaguelands, his amber gaze saddening slightly. They had all lost tonight already… Was this really the only way Matthais could settle his mind? This…is not wise… There was no scent, no smell of blood or sweat… And there hadn’t been. Not after they’d left the gates of the citadel. The culprit was no fool, certainly. On that much he and his captain agreed at least. …Still only fools ventured out into the plains unprepared…

“Lieutenant Terax.”

The wolven man glanced up with a nervous snap of his jaws in time to see the tall, armored form of the captain framed by the branching metalwork of the bridge and the gray sky beyond him.

The captain tilted his helm up just enough to remove its shadows from his eyes. The blue orbs were not the usual steeled slate of obstinance of determination, but instead a haggard, tempestuous canvas of pain. “Wyland.” His words faded out as the wind blew an errant strand of gold across his face. His gaze wavered and then turned away. “Please. We…I’ll need your nose if we’re going to find them. We mustfind them. Gregori-“

The lieutenant flinched at the way his commander’s voice broke on his twin’s name. Gregori would have never asked this of either of them… That much he knew. Still, if Matthais needed him… “Say no more. I’m coming.”

The woman finally let her breath release as the sound of stameding hooves grew distant and the final click and clack of the lieutenant’s steed galloped off behind the rest. Good riddance… She thought with a curve of her berry colored lips. Her eyes remained closed as her hand checked the bulging, wet satchel at her side; she’d need it to collect her dues, afterall. With an unguarded exhale her work hardened fingertips reached for the nearest protrusion on the wall and felt for a hand hold.

It wasn’t a hard climb, really. All muscle and no substance…that was what the ancient baba of her village had called her as a child.

It worked for her well now. She spirited up the side of the bridge, lingering for a moment at the edge as she smelt, and felt, and listened for any additional visitors. None to be found. Perfect. Her tattered boots landed agily on the cobblestones, muddied, foul smelling cloak and mantel swirling around her form as a meandering breeze passed by as though following the soldiers who had just left.

She pulled her hood back to reveal her tangle of ebony hair and the pointed ears that protruded through it. With a small chuckle at her own good fortune, she opened her eyes again…the glistening surfaces beneath her lashes nothing but a cloudy gray expanse. Her face spoke of youth despite the mud and soot and sweat that layed caked across the smooth dark surface. From an inner pocket of her garment she pulled a sturdy looking cylinder of wood that expanded with a practiced flick of her wrist and locked into its much longer form. The end tapped against the ground as though searching for her pathway as her short, sleight body gathered its cape behind her to better accentuate her minute size. With a clearing of her throat, she ambled down the street with an enfeebled gait.

When her lips parted again, a melody flowed from them with a sweet, pure timbre…like honeysuckle curling into the night air. “Change~? Kind ladies~ Good sirs~ If this tune reaches you, I implore you hear my words~ Just a coin, perhaps two. Just a pence or pound. To help poor Alimina, the blind, song-spinning drow~” Her lilting voice echoed against the abandoned buildings for now, but soon it would mix with the cacophany of the inner city.

From there, it was a quick drop into the sewers to the assortments of scoundrels that called the old catacombs their homes.

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