The Plain Lands: Meeting of Heroes

by Christina Anton

Disclaimer: Everything in this story is mine. So there's no need for this disclaimer really, but you might find some similarities between the characters of this story and certain characters in Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. So this could be classified as an uber story.

This story is fantasy based. If you've had any experience with Dungeons & Dragons, meaning that you've either played the game or read a D&D novel (Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, Ravenloft, etc.), you'll understand this story a bit better. If you like fantasy but have never had anything to do with D&D, you should still be able to follow the story anyway.

Subtext: There will be a little by the end of the story, so if you don't like it, I pity you.

Language: This story contains some language that some might find offensive. If you do not wish to read such language, press the back button.

The Sight of the town of Little Haven brought a sigh of relief that turned into a short cough from Kayna. She was cold and wet from the light drizzle that she had been traveling through for three days, and wanted nothing more than to get her horse stabled and get herself warm and dry. And some hot food would be nice. She had been subsisting on cold travel rations for the past three days, and her stomach was literally growling for something new.

Wiping water that had somehow gotten underneath her hood from her nose, Kayna nudged Breeze into a walk down the hill towards the town. The chestnut mare eagerly moved towards her mistress' intended destination, just as eager to get there as Kayna herself was. She felt an unpleasant tickling in the back of her throat and brought the sleeve of her robe to her mouth as she couldn't help coughing. The normal light blue of the robe was darkened with rainwater and felt heavy against her arm, adding to the weight of her light bracers. She prayed to Krystia that it wouldn't go past coughing.

Rubbing Breeze's neck fondly, she guided the horse down a short path that lead between two large and cracked marble columns, their original white having been turned to a light gray with time. The little town had a pleasant look to it, even though at that moment the weather dulled its beauty. The buildings were made from simple wood and stone from the area, and flower beds lined the fronts of several of the residential homes. A few of the townsfolk were still about despite the weather and the coming of nightfall, and looked at her curiously. Once they saw her blue robes and the medallion of Krystia at the hollow of her throat, along with the mace at her waist, they smiled and nodded a greeting to her as they passed by. Despite her weariness, Kayna smiled back gently in return.

One of them, a dark haired and skinned middle aged man who looked like a farmer by his plain clothes, approached her with a slight bow of the head. By his dark coloring, she knew he wasn't native to Chae, whose people tended to have lighter skin. "Greetings, Sister. What brings you to Little Haven?" There was a kindness in his bright blue eyes and his voice that made her smile.

"Krystia's blessings to you. I'm just passing through. Could you direct me to an inn?"

"And Krystia's blessings to you," he responded with another bow of his head. "The only inn here is the Hardroof. If you'll follow me, I'll lead you there. I'm the stable master."

"That would be wonderful." Deciding to be polite, she dismounted from her horse with less grace than she usually would have. Kayna's legs threatened to give out for a moment before she grabbed hold of Breeze's halter to steady herself. Looks like it's going to go past coughing.

Looking concerned, the man stepped towards her ready to lend his support. "Are you all right, Sister?"

Coughing into her hand and feeling the beginning of chills, she nodded. "I should be fine with a little rest. I think the weather has gotten to me." Looking up at the man, as he was half a head taller than her, she smiled and gestured forward. "Let's head to the inn. The sooner we are out of this weather the better."

It was a very short walk to the Hardroof Inn. The inn itself was quite large, and looked very inviting. As she and the stable master entered the inn's stables, Kayna pulled her cloak closer as she felt another bout of chills.

"I beg your pardon Sister, why don't you go inside the common room and warm up a bit. I'll just get this fine lass taken care of and bring your saddlebags in to you in a moment." The man nodded his head towards a door to the side of the stable and took the reigns of her horse. "Just go through that door there and straight down the hall. I'm sure Brangus won't mind you coming through here."

Nothing had ever sounded better to her. Pulling the hood of her cloak off her head, the cleric ran a hand through her rain dampened short cropped hair. She could feel a light sheen of sweat coating her body despite how cold she felt. "Thank you." With a frown, she realized that she didn't even know the man's name. "I'm sorry, I haven't even introduced myself, I am Kayna Davermost."

Unsaddling Breeze, the man shook his head. "No need to apologize, Sister Kayna. I should have introduced myself first. I'm Normis Krite, at you and your Mistress of the Blue Moon's service should you need me." He looked at Kayna much like a father would. "I mean no disrespect, Sister, but you had best be getting inside. It's dry in here, but the warmth of the common fire would be the best for you. Don't worry, I'll be inside in a few moments." Normis put her saddlebags over one shoulder and lead the mare to a stall.

Feeling too miserable to even question her first impression of the kindly stable master, she left Normis to do his work, trusting that he would take care of her saddlebags and horse. Walking down the dim hallway, she felt the air get warmer the closer she got to the open doorway at the end of the hall. She could hear talking and laughing and even what sounded to be a flute playing.

Several of the inn's patrons looked at her as she entered. The common room was filled with two rectangular tables in the center of the room, with nearly a dozen smaller round tables scattered around the rest of the room. Nearly all of the tables were occupied. It seemed that word had spread that Kayna had come to the town and most of the people about the room nodded or said aloud a greeting to her. Kayna halfheartedly nodded back, too focused on finding an empty table to rest at to do anything more, including noticing what sort of people were in the room. Finding a table near the fireplace, she collapsed into a chair and grasped the medallion of Krystia at her neck. The reassuring presence of the symbol of her faith made her feel a little better.

"Sister, are ye all right?" a voice with the brogue of Chae in it repeated.

Kayna's eyes shot open and she realized that the serving maid had been calling her for quite some time. In fact, the fiery haired young woman looked like she had been about to shake her. "I'm sorry, I must have dozed off."

The serving maid pulled her hand back with a relieved look. "It's all right. Was there anything ye wanted, Sister?"

Even though she knew she should eat something, Kayna had lost her appetite somewhere between arriving at the town and entering the inn. "I would just like some water, please." She did, however, feel incredibly thirsty. "And could I get a room? Preferably one with a bath." Getting rid of three days worth of grime with a bath would make her feel much better.

"Certainly. It'll be a silver for a room and a meal, and the water here is free of charge." The serving maid studied her. "I could bring it up to yer room if ye'd like."

I must look pretty bad right now. "No need. I'm waiting for someone. When he gets here I'll go on up." Kayna rubbed her hand over her eyes. The room looked a little blurry. Fumbling with a pouch at her waist, she pulled out the needed money. She didn't have much, but she needed the rest the inn would give her badly.

The serving maid took the money. "I'll be back with ye in a moment." She headed off towards the bar and the large, balding man behind it that the cleric guessed was the innkeeper, Brangus, that the stable master had mentioned.

"I have your bags, Sister Kayna," Normis' voice sounded softly above and to the left of her. He entered her slightly blurry vision and Kayna realized just how tall the man was from her sitting position. The man was easily half a foot taller than her. The dark haired stable master sat down in the chair at her left, gently setting her saddlebags on the floor next to her.

"Thank you, Master Normis. And please, just call me Kayna." Kayna had always disliked having a title added to her name. She didn't know why, it just made her uncomfortable.

"All right . . . Kayna." The stable master looked a little uneasy about not adding the title of respect to her name, but apparently decided to do as she requested. He opened his mouth to say more, but the arrival of the serving maid silenced him.

"Here's yer water, Sister." The young woman set the mug down on the table.

The cleric immediately picked the mug back up and drank thirstily. After a large gulp and a few long sips that helped soothe her aching throat, she set the half full mug back down. "Blessed Krystia," she whispered hoarsely.

Both the stable master and the serving maid were looking at her with concern. "You don't look well, Sis--Kayna," Normis corrected himself. "It might be wise if you took to bed now." It was odd for someone to speak to her in such a way. Most that spoke to her were polite, but none that didn't know her personally had ever spoken to her in such a parental way. The High Cleric of the Children of Krystia was the only other person in her life besides her younger brother who had ever spoken to her with such care. Her own father couldn't even match Normis' concern, and Kayna didn't think that her father would ever really try.

She shook her head. You don't need to think about that now. Kayna turned her attention, albeit foggy, back to Normis and the serving maid that still stood at the table. "Yes, I think you're right. I'll--" She was interrupted by a coughing fit that doubled her over in her seat.

"It seems the little Sister has caught a sickness. Guess her Mistress ain't takin' care of the little woman well." A rough voice sneered from the back of the room.

Murmers erupted throughout the common room at the statement. "Ye'd best keep yer mouth shut, Rinton. I won't take ye insultin' me customers while yer in me own inn, even if yer too damn drunk to know what yer sayin'," a deep voice rumbled. Kayna turned her head to see that the innkeeper had spoken. The large man had his hands on the bar, leaning on it as he glowered at Rinton.

The drunken man didn't seem fazed at all by Brangus' warning. "I'll say what I wanna say, ya right fat bull. I don' see why you're lettin' that little peace lovin' magic-priest in 'ere anyway. Nothin' but a foot kissin' Blue Bitch follower." Rinton took a deep draught of his mug, which no doubt contained some sort of strong alcohol, and glared disdainfully at Kayna with red, bleary eyes. The other two men at his table nodded in agreement with Rinton, looking just as intoxicated as him.

Hearing the man's words, Kayna bristled and staggered to her feet. "How dare you!" The room spun and she grabbed hold of the table to steady herself. How dare these men insult her goddess in such a way! Kayna had never been so angry before. She just wanted to take her mace and smash a little righteousness into the man's head. With that thought in mind, she reached for the mace at her waist, not caring that she could barely make out the room through the scratchy blurring in her eyes and that her legs were barely holding her up.

"C'mon little Sister! Let's see if ya can back up your worthless faith with more than words!" one of Rinton's companions growled.

The sound of chairs scraping on the floor and weapons being drawn filled the room. For some reason, Kayna couldn't get her mace off the belt hook it was hanging on. She frustratedly clawed at her belt as she tried to get around the table, but hands grabbed hold of her, gently but firmly holding her arms to her sides and keeping her in place. "L'me go!" she mumbled, as she weakly struggled to get away, not realizing that the only thing holding her up was the firm hold the hands had on her. Kayna didn't even know what was going on anymore, just that she had to move somewhere.

"Easy, Sister Kayna..."

"Settle down, ye blasted idiots!" Brangus' bass rumble was heard over the noise of yelling and the scraping of wood on wood. That was the last she heard before she passed out.

* * * * * * *

Kayna didn't feel like moving. She had no idea where she was or why she was where she was, she just knew that she felt too comfortable to move. Through the fog clouding her mind, she could hear the chirping of birds and the faint sound of voices. Where was she? Where ever she was, it was nice.

What was the last thing she remembered? Rain. Arriving in a town . . . what was its name? Little Haven. Yes, that's the name. Then meeting a darkly colored man, the stable master, wasn't it? Normis. Fuzzy images of being in the inn . . . then those men . . . insulting her goddess!

The blonde shot up to her elbows on the bed, not being able to force herself up any further. "Stupid. Stupid, Kayna," she chastised herself. The lowest initiate would have been able to control him or herself better than she had! She knew better than to choose violence before words, and what did she do? She went for her weapon first, instead of ignoring the spiteful comments.

Kayna sighed and let herself fall completely back on the bed again, letting the residual warm, tingly feeling that was Krystia's aid wash over her. Even after she screwed up, Krystia still decided to help her. Thank you, Mistress, for taking care of your humble daughter. The illness of the previous night was gone, replaced with a gentle ache throughout her body. She'd have to make up for her foolishness from last night somehow.

Well, you can't laze around bed all day. She stretched out her arms and legs, realizing that she was dressed in nothing but her own skin. She even felt clean. Someone must have undressed and bathed her after she passed out. The cleric blushed, slightly embarrassed that someone had had to do that for her.

Slowly getting out of bed, Kayna set her bare feet on the soft carpet of the floor and stretched again, glad that her dizziness was gone. Her stomach took that moment to growl loudly, announcing its displeasure at being forgotten the night before. "All right, all right. I'll feed you," she chuckled.

Looking around at the room, appreciating the homey feeling that its simple but tasteful decorations gave her, she found her clothes and armor neatly folded and piled on a table across the room from the bed. She unhurriedly got dressed, putting on a clean pair of sheepskin leggings and a light cotton shirt, then sliding on and lacing her calf-high boots. She briefly debated just putting on her light blue half-robe over her clothes and going down for breakfast, but decided to play it safe in case Rinton and his friends decided to pay a visit. Kayna strapped on her metal leg plates, shin, knee, and thigh guards, and slipped into her sleeveless chainmail shirt. Next came her upper arm plates and her bracers before she pulled her half-robe over her head, settling it so that the hem went half way down her thighs and hid her chainmail.

She looked at herself in the long mirror on the wall of her room, and was satisfied with her appearance. Kayna was rather glad of the half-robe that all armored clerics of Krystia wore, as it hid most of her armor and made her look less intimidating. The clerics of Krystia made it their goal to help others, not cause others to fear them.

She found her belt hung on one of the bedposts, her foot and a half long mace almost touching the floor from its hook. The young cleric shook her head as she settled the belt around her waist, berating herself again for losing her temper so easily. It didn't matter that she had been ill, that was no excuse for being so stupid.

What would the High Cleric have said about her behavior? She remembered what the wise old woman had said to her the last time she had let her temper get away from her. "Kayna, my dear, you just have the hot-headedness of youth. Do not be ashamed of it. Most everyone goes through it, and you just have to strive to be wise enough to know when to use that temper of yours. A healthy temper can be useful at times if you know how and when to use it."

Kayna didn't quite understand what the High Cleric had meant by that. When would anger ever be a good thing? All it ever got anyone was grief for themselves and those around them. Shaking her head, Kayna left her room and went downstairs to the common room of the Hardroof Inn where a few early morning patrons were eating their breakfast.

Kayna smiled as she saw Normis sitting at the bar talking to the innkeeper. Normis noticed her and graced her with a smile, waving her over.

"Good morning to you, Sister. I hope you're feeling better?" The stablemaster asked.

"I'm feeling much better, thank you, Normis. And please, just call me Kayna. I am still a bit fuzzy on what exactly happened last night, but I have a feeling that it wasn't good," Kayna said sheepishly.

"See, Normis? I told ye that the Blue Mistress takes care of 'er own." The innkeeper rumbled with satisfaction. He then turned his attention back to Kayna and held his hand out. "Me name is Brangus Fargur, pleased to say that I've met ye, Sister, and don't ye be thinkin' that anythin' that happened las' night was yer fault. Rinton an' his bunch are always makin' trouble 'round here. Buncha intolerant Priitens, they are. Not that there aren't the occasional decent Priitens, mind you. I got a bit 'o the Priiten blood in me me self." Kayna had to take a few seconds to understand the man's thick Chaen accent.

"Be that as it may, it's still no excuse for me losing my temper last night. I should never have gone for my weapon first, and I would feel better if I could make it up to you somehow," Kayna said, and blushed as her stomach announced its presence again.

"Well! Sounds like ye need a nice breakfast. And don't ye be worryin' about havin' to make up for anythin'. Like I said, it wasn't yer fault." He gave her a meaningful look that pleaded for her to accept his reasoning. "Now, let's get ye some breakfast. Ye must be starvin', not eatin' anything las' night an' bein' sick an' all. Lerus makes some nice oatmeal. Berries an' all," the big man coaxed.

The cleric sighed. She couldn't just not do anything. Even if what happened the night before truly wasn't her fault, she still felt that it was. Any cleric would wish to make up for his or her improper behavior. "Please, Brangus." she pleaded.

"You know she's not going to drop it, Brangus." Normis said.

The big innkeeper grumbled under his breath and looked at her sideways from under bushy brown eyebrows. "All right! Ye clerics of Krystia are a stubb'rn lot, always have been." Brangus smiled at her to take out the sting. "Me brother, Markhis, he's the Master Builder o' Little 'aven. He's had a lil' trouble eariler this mornin'. The supernatural kind, ye mind. If ye still feel that ye owe anyone anythin', which ye don't," he emphasized with a sharp look, "ye can talk to 'im. He's over at the Buildin' House on the west side o' town. Now, would ye be likin' some o' that oatmeal, Sister Kayna?"

"Thank you, oatmeal sounds perfect. Berries and all." Kayna smile appreciatively. At that moment, she felt like she could have eaten stale bread and thought it was the best meal she had ever eaten.

Brangus nodded and went through an open door behind the bar, which presumably led to the kitchen.

"May I ask you something, Kayna?" Normis said, with a little hesitation in saying her name.

Kayna sat down at the bar next to him. "Sure. Ask anything you like."

"You were ill last night, correct?"

"Yes, I was ill." Kayna knew what he was going to ask. People were always curious about the interaction between Krystia and her clerics.

"Brangus told me not to worry about you last night when we took you up to your room. Kera, the serving maid, bathed you and put you to bed by the way." He added when Kayna's cheeks reddened. "Anyway, Brangus told me not to worry about you, that your goddess would take care of you. I asked him to explain, but all he said was that while Krystia's clerics help others, Krystia herself helps Her clerics. Could you explain that?" Normis looked genuinely curious.

Kayna nodded and fingered the medallion of Krystia at her neck, thinking about the best way to explain. "Krystia gives me the gift of being able to help others by being able to use my own energies to heal, relieve exhaustion, and cure illness. There are other things I can do, of course, but it all takes my own energy to do it. By devoting ourselves to Krystia, we take an oath to help others who need it in any way we can. It takes a sacrifice of our own energy. In turn, Krystia also gives us the blessing of Her aid, which is in the form of a deep sleep, a hibernation if you will, that helps us heal faster. If we need Her direct help, we go into that sleep."

Kayna smiled at the stable master's thoughtful look. "It is a somewhat difficult concept to grasp. Our use of energies is what often makes others mistake us as mage-priests. In a way, I guess we are. Krystia is the patron goddess of magic."

"I think I understand. Thank you for clearing that up for me. I've always found your faith curious, but have never had the opportunity to speak with one of the Blue Mistress' clerics. Brangus, on the other hand, used to have a friend in your faith. Passed away a year or so before I moved here, I'm sorry to say."

Kayna's curiosity was piqued. She hadn't known that any of her Brothers or Sisters had stayed in the vicinity of the Central Plain Lands. "What was his name?"

"Brother Vindus Strak. And a better man I've yet to see." Brangus' voice answered. He entered from the doorway he had left from, bearing a small tray with a gently steaming bowl and a mug set on it. "He was a pure blooded Chaen that was just as stubb'rn as ye when he thought he owed a person somethin'," he explained as he set the tray down in front of Kayna. "I'm glad he passed on in 'is sleep instead o' keelin' over in the street as he woulda done. Vindus wouldn't stay in 'is bed even when he was dyin'. 'ad to keep 'im there meself, or he woulda been runnin' around still tryin' to 'elp everyone he could in this blasted town." The big man wiped a tear from his eye.

"It's what we do, Master Brangus. I only hope that I can have as much devotion to the faith as Brother Vindus had when I near my time to pass on," Kayna said softly.

"Bah, if ye know what's good for ye, Sister Kayna, ye'll enjoy yer last years and ye'll stop callin' me 'Master Brangus'. Ain't never been no master and never will be. Now eat that oatmeal before yer stomach eats ye from the inside out."

Kayna smiled, sniffing the sweet aroma of the oatmeal appreciatively. "Tell your cook thank you for me."

"I have perfect hearing, Sister! And you're very welcome!" A voice called out from the back.

"He's also got the help of a thin wall." Normis chuckled.

"Well, how 'bout we let the lass eat 'er breakfast, eh Normis? I'll 'elp ye get those 'aybales up in the loft. If ye need anythin', Sister, just call for Lerus there in the back." Brangus lifted up a section of the bar and headed for the side door leading to the stables. "Normis' ol' back just ain't the same anymore."

"I am not old, Brangus! I'm only three years older than you! I could lift fifty of those bales by myself!" Normis growled as he followed the big innkeeper.

"Ye just keep thinkin' that ol' man." Kayna heard Brangus chuckle back.

I like this place. Kayna made short work of her oatmeal and the milk Brangus had brought her. Feeling pleasantly full, she decided to go find the innkeeper's brother, Markhis.

* * * * * * *

The town of Little Haven looked a great deal better in the sunlight. The cobblestone roads were still a bit damp and there was the occasional puddle that everyone avoided from the previous night's rain, but the overall look was cheery. Heading towards the west side of town, Kayna soon found the Building House by the large sign of a house above its entrance. The smell of sawdust and raw wood was strong, but not enough to be unpleasant.

Entering the open door of the building, she found a young man dozing in a chair in front of a table covered with papers. At a discreet cough from the cleric, the young man jerked awake, sending several of the papers floating to the floor.

"Oh, I'm sorry!" the young man exclaimed thickly as he scrambled out of his seat to retrieve the wayward sheets. Kayna stifled her amusement as she leaned down to pick up some building layouts that had landed in front of her feet and reminded herself that she shouldn't find amusement in another's plight.

The young man remembered his manners as he caught sight of Kayna's boots from underneath the table, and he quickly tried to shoot up to his feet only to end up banging the back of his head on the underside of the oak. "Oh, blast it all!" he groaned as he carefully got out from underneath the table. Rubbing the back of his head sheepishly, he looked up at her. "Can I be helpin' ye, Sister?"

Kayna stepped closer, wincing in sympathy for the young man. "Are you all right?"

"Oh, I'll be fine. I do this all the time!" he laughed nervously as he tried to straighten his rumpled appearance. Kayna judged him to be fifteen years old or so by his gangly look.

"Just making sure. You dropped these." She handed him the layouts.

"Oh, thank ye! Umm, were ye lookin' for Markhis?" he said, doing his best to make order of the mixed up papers.

"Yes, I was. Could you tell me where to find him?"

"He's at the old temple we're tryin' to rebuild in the ruins on the western edge o' the town. It's not that 'ard to find, ye just follow the trail that we made."

"Thank you. Are you sure you're all right?" Kayna asked as the youth rubbed the back of his head again.

"Oh, sure. Got me a 'ead as 'ard as a rock, I do. At least that's what Markhis says. I'll be right as rain, the gods willing." He smiled at her.

Kayna nodded, and bid the young man good bye. She found the trail leading to the temple easily enough, and stopped at the edge, where the trail went downhill, to look out at the land surrounding the town.

The bright light of the morning highlighted the marble ruins surrounding Little Haven. From the stories Kayna had heard and the histories she had read, the great city of Haven had once stood in its shining splendor on the site she was now standing on. It was said that one of the long-lived races, elves, had built it and had controlled the central part of the Plain Lands including the Fairywood to the south. A little over two centuries ago, the ambitious rulers of the northern regions of Kehat and Priite combined forces out of prejudice and greed to eliminate the elves. Before the southern regions of Chae and Drgeva had even known what was going on, the combined might of the two northern regions leveled the great city of Haven and destroyed nearly every elven settlement in the region. A few of the elven villages survived, but the elves of the Plain Lands were nearly extinct.

Too late to help the elves, the rulers of Chae and Drgeva sought to protect what was left of the elven race and drove the armies of Kehat and Priite out of what had been elven land. The remaining elves themselves decided to abandon the Plain Lands to the humans and left through what was now called the Blood Pass through the mountains to the west and to the lands beyond. Before the elves left, they asked Chae to guard the pass against the humans to the north and entrusted the Fairywood to Drgeva. Hurt by the losses that had occurred on their side by their invasion, the forces of Kehat and Priite went back to their homelands, but had not completely lost. They had succeeded in eliminating the elven race from the Plain Lands.

Chae and Drgeva called the period The Dark Time. Kehat and Priite called it The Great Time.

Shaking her head at the ignorance of some of her fellow humans, Kayna headed down the trail. How someone could hate another just because of their appearance was beyond her, but she saw it all too often in her travels.

It was a short trek to the temple, where she saw several men sitting at the entrance to a large building that looked almost like it had just been built from the outside. Three men were standing, talking animatedly to each other. One, who looked like a slightly thinner version of Brangus, waved as he saw her approaching.

"Good mornin' to ye! Sister Kayna, I'm guessin'?" the man said as he held out a hand.

Kayna returned his firm grip with one of her own. "Krystia's blessings to you, I'm Kayna. I presume you're Markhis?"

"Aye, I'm Markhis Fargur, at yer service. This is Hannus and Jonan, two o' me best builders." He motioned to a skinny man who bowed his head to her and a man who looked to be around her own age who couldn't quite conceal his disdainful look at seeing her.

Kayna shrugged off her irritation at the man's look, refusing to let it get to her. "Pleased to meet you all. Brangus tells me that you're having a problem of the supernatural kind? A spirit perhaps?"

Markhis nodded. "Ye'll be wantin' to talk to Hannus. He saw it up close."

The skinny man bowed his head again as Kayna turned her attention to him. "Well, we were fixing up the inside of the temple when we got to a room in the back of the section dedicated to the Mother. I opened the door, and the second I stepped inside the room, it was cold as ice! I saw a ghostly shape, a spirit, in front of me and the spirit reached its arms out towards me like it wanted to get a hold of me!" Hannus shivered as if he could still feel the cold he described.

Kayna frowned in thought. "Did the spirit attack you?"

Hannus looked uncertain. "Well, no... not in a physical sense. But it gave me a fright! As soon as I saw it, I dropped my tools and ran."

The young cleric sighed and ran a hand through her short cropped hair. The Children of Krystia help those in need, and in turn, the Goddess helps Her children. As much as she didn't want to have to deal with spirits this early in the morning, Kayna needed to make up for her behavior of the previous night. She hadn't had a very good time dealing with the last spirit she had encountered. "I will go and see this spirit and do what I can."

"We'll go with ye, Sister Kayna. Ye shouldn't be goin' to see that thing alone," Markhis rumbled, sounding remarkably like his brother. Hannus nodded his agreement even though he clearly looked uneasy about going back to confront the spirit. Jonan looked like he was doing his best to ignore them all.

Kayna shook her head. "I'm sorry, but I can't let you put yourselves in danger on my behalf. I'll be fine," she said to Markhis as he opened his mouth to protest.

She took a deep breath. "If things do not go well and I don't come back, I do not want any of you or the townsfolk to come looking for me. I won't have you endangering yourselves. Am I clear?" Her eyebrows raised as she waited for their answer.

Markhis clearly did not agree with her, and muttered under his breath and paced back and forth for a moment, before stopping right in front of her. He looked her in the eye, and Kayna could see that he and his brother shared the same hazel eyes. "Oh, all right. As much as I don't like agreein' with ye, we'll do as ye ask. None of us or any o' the other townsfolk'll come lookin' for ye. Me honest word on it." Markhis sighed.

"Thank you." Kayna peered into the open doorway of the temple. "Will I need any light in there with me?"

"No, we put torches up in the darkest spots, but the windows let enough sunlight in to see by. It's dark in the room I told you about, though," Hannus answered as he unconsciously fiddled with a loose thread on his shirt.

Kayna nodded. "I should be back soon then." She resisted the urge to nervously smooth the folds of her robes and strode into the temple with false confidence.

Come on, Kayna. The spirit probably isn't even malevolent. Stop worrying. The last time she had confronted a spirit, it had not been a pleasant encounter. She'd been able to grant it rest, or rather, forced it to rest, but not before its last touch had frozen her limbs with a bone chilling cold. It had taken a full day of Krystia's aid and the help of a priestess of Vayli for her to recover fully.

She would just have to be more careful this time. Please, Krystia, grant me the courage to overcome my fear.

The main hall of the temple was filled with the builders' tools and materials. It was an old temple dedicated to the six deities with ruined tapestries and chipped and worn engravings on the stained marble walls. Kayna saw what appeared to be dried blood in some places and she shivered. The old soldiers from Kehat and Priite had had no respect for such a temple.

There were two doorways to her left and to her right, and two more at the far wall, with the symbol of the god or goddess each section was dedicated to mounted over each doorway. Kayna bowed her head briefly to each entryway as she passed them on her way to Ahva, the Great Mother's section at the end of the hall.

A torch illuminated the main room of the Mother's section. Kayna stopped briefly to take a closer look at the greenstone vines expertly inlaid into the white marble of the walls and columns of the room. Such craftsmanship was lost to the Plain Lands now, and had been for over three hundred years. All anyone could do now was appreciate the past and mourn the loss of the elves.

The elves hadn't been known for their stonemasonry, however. Maybe it was one of the other races that created this... dwarves? Kayna shook her head. Stay on task, silly cleric. You've got other things to take care of first before thinking about ancient legends. Dwarves had been a legend even before the elves had been forced to leave.

Turning her attention to the back of the main room, an area which she had subconsciously been trying to ignore, she saw an open door that gaped at her like a black eye from the white marble walls. She could see Hannus' dropped tools in front of the open doorway, seeming to be an offering to the great black eye.

"Let's get this over with." Kayna inhaled, trying to control her rapid breathing.

Stepping towards the dark door, she focused her energy into creating a small ball of light in the palm of her hand. She was rewarded with a bluish ball of light floating an inch or so above her palm. The light tinged everything around her in a soft blue, and pierced the darkness of the back room just enough to see the legs of a desk against one of its walls.

The closer Kayna got, the more she could see of the room, and the more nervous she became. The room appeared to have once been the study of the priest or priestess of Ahva in charge at the temple, but now the furnishings were covered with a thick blanket of dust, obscuring the detail of the objects occupying the room. A small, dark colored carpet covered the center of the room, its color indiscernible in her light. She grabbed hold of the medallion at her neck, knowing what was going to happen the moment she stepped into the room.

She wasn't disappointed. As soon as both her feet stepped inside the room, an unnatural chill filled the air. The air was so cold and sharp in her nostrils that it made her eyes water. The sweat on her palms chilled to match the air, making her hands feel slimy. Blinking the tears away, Kayna wiped her free hand on her robe before moving a little deeper inside the dimly lit room, her senses on high alert.


The soft whisper made the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end and made her heart nearly jump into her throat as she realized that it had come from behind her.

The blonde cleric whirled around to see the apparition of what looked to be an elven man, by his pointed ears and slender figure, dressed in the robes of a priest. The spirit blocked the doorway and raised his arms as if to embrace her. Kayna stepped back quickly, gripping the mace at her waist and holding the hand holding the ball of light out in front of her, prepared to change the light into one that would repel the spirit.

Cleric... go below...

The spirit's arms pointed at the floor beneath her feet as it moved towards her. "What do you want...?" Kayna said in the strongest voice she could muster. She stepped back as the elven spirit moved closer and felt the floor beneath the carpet she was standing on start to give way. She let out a startled yelp as the floor dropped out beneath her with the sound of old wood boards breaking. Her light winked out as she lost concentration on maintaining it and she fell into the darkness below.

Up above, the elven spirit folded his hands in his robes with a joyful smile, and faded away into the next phase of his existence, his worldly matters fulfilled.

* * * * * * *

Vera Linshaw was not having a good morning. One of her boot laces had snapped as she had been lacing them up that morning, she'd been attacked by a group of amateur bandits not a half-hour after she started on the last leg of her journey, and her leather armor was still damp from the previous day's rain. There was nothing that annoyed the warrior more than wearing wet leather. Except for idiots.

Get over it, Vera. You were a soldier in the Chaen army for Kayos' sake. You've dealt with worse. She'd had a tent to sleep in back then of course. But, toting around a bulky tent just for one person wasn't productive to her fast-moving lifestyle, so no tent for her. Which made for a very grumpy and irritable warrior.

She would have been in Little Haven last night if it hadn't been for the rain. She had decided to take shelter in a cave she had remembered from the overnight excursions of her youth.

It would take her another hour to get to Little Haven. And just in time for lunch. It was a fairly boring ride that almost made her wish for more bandits to attack her. Anything would be better than the empty flatland around her. Even the noise of her army would have been welcome. It was never your army . . . they just followed you as if they were.

What was she thinking? Vera didn't need anyone. She was perfectly happy being on her own. That was why she had resigned from her position in the Chaen army, wasn't it?

The ex-soldier scowled and urged her stallion into a trot with her knees. She had Shadow for company, so how could she be lonely? Vera leaned forward to rub the black stallion behind his ears. She stopped and leaned back in her saddle again as a thought struck her. Was she really lonely? Was that really why she was heading back to Little Haven after all this time?

Nah, she just needed to see her uncle, that was all. It was good to keep in touch with family. Especially since he's the only family I have left. And if the people there didn't appreciate her being there . . . She would just have to deal with it.

Vera almost felt like smiling when she saw the buildings of Little Haven in the distance. As she passed through the familiar weathered and vine shrouded ruins surrounding the town, she thought it looked a little bigger than she remembered it.

Off to her left, a large temple in the distance caught her attention. The last time she had seen it, the temple had looked as ruined as everything else surrounding the town. Now it looked as if it had just been built. Markhis must have been busy.

As Vera neared the southwest entrance of the town, she noticed a small cluster of men surrounding a familiar, if a little taller, figure behind a storage building. Deciding that she didn't like the look of the situation, Vera decided to see what was going on. She dismounted from Shadow and left him to his own devices, confident that the trained warhorse wouldn't wander.

Checking that her sword was free in its scabbard on her back, the ex-soldier stalked towards the group unnoticed. The men's backs were to her, and she anticipated giving them a nice surprise.

* * * * * * *

"Well if it isn't a little Chaen serving whore."

Before Kera could move, she was yanked behind one of the older storage buildings and surrounded by four burly men. The one that had spoken was none other than Rinton, much to her dismay. He was the roughest of the four trouble making Priitens that surrounded her. His left eye was black and swollen from Normis' fist the night before, making him look even more disgusting than he usually did. His two friends from last night were there too, Farkon and Shiven.

Kera was surprised to see Jonan among them. She had thought he had had more sense than the other idiot Priitens that surrounded her.

"What do ye want, Rinton?" the serving maid spat. Kera refused to let the filth that dared to call themselves men see her fear.

"Why, I just wanted to see if you'd changed your mind about my offer, Kera." Rinton stepped close enough for her to smell the stale ale on his breath. Farkon and Shiven laughed and leered at her, while Jonan just stood like a rock wall, staring at her.

"I'd rather lose me womanly virtues than be with ye, Rinton, as I'd have no use for 'em anymore if I slept with ye." Kera let her disgust show on her face. When Rinton, Farkon, and Shiven had come to Little Haven, Rinton had made his interest in her clear. He hadn't expected her to spurn his advances, and he'd been hounding her ever since. Why Jonan had decided to join them, besides them being from his homeland, was beyond her.

"Bitch! I don't care what ya say, you'll be mine, wench!" Rinton snarled and reached for her with thick fingered hands.

"I don't think she wants you, you spineless worm," a dark voice drawled from behind them.

The men turned to see who had spoken. It was a female warrior with hair as dark as a raven's wing, dressed in the black leather armor of a soldier. There was a dark menace about her tall form that Kera was glad was directed at the four men and not at her. Kera recognized the woman. Veriara Linshaw, or Vera, as she preferred to be called. The woman was like a big sister to her, and by Ahva's grace, was Kera glad to see her.

The four men apparently didn't know that they had committed one of the worst crimes in the Plain Lands, that being ticking off Vera Linshaw.

"And who might you be? Shouldn't you be givin' that armor back to the man ya took it from?" Rinton sneered.

Vera's lips curved into a feral smile. "I, am irritated." She stepped forward, brazenly stepping between Rinton's two friends and giving the impression that she was a cat getting ready to pounce on its prey. "Do you want to know why?"

"Why?" Rinton narrowed his good eye at her as she stepped right up to him.

Vera's pale blue eyes glinted coldly in the morning light as she looked the slightly taller man right in the eye. "I'm irritated because of overgrown little boys like you that whine and have temper tantrums every time they don't get what they want."

Rinton roared and swung a meaty fist at the warrior's head, only to hit thin air as Vera easily dodged the fist. The ex-soldier grabbed hold of the big man's shirt and swiftly rammed her knee into the man's groin with enough force to lift him off the ground several inches. Still holding on to the gaping man's shirt, she spun around and flung Rinton at Farkon and Shiven who had been coming up behind her. The three of them landed in a heap beyond the cover of the storage building and made enough noise to attract the attention of a few townsfolk passing by. Said townsfolk immediately shouted to inform everyone else of the commotion.

Vera ignored the writhing heap of limbs she had just thrown on the ground and turned her attention to Jonan, who still stood a few feet away from Kera. "You gonna do something stupid?" she said softly, looking as if she wished he would give her a reason to pummel the younger man into the ground.

Jonan backed away with his hands up in the air. "I have no quarrel with you, ma'am." Despite his submissive actions, the disdain in his eyes was clear.

"Smart boy." Vera looked at Kera, who was looking a little dazed. "You all right, Kera?"

"Umm, yes. I'm all right," the serving maid answered. She just dealt with four big bastard Priitens in five seconds with a well placed knee and a hard look. Kera decided not to voice that thought.

"What's going on 'ere?!" the voice of the town magistrate cut through the talk of the surrounding townsfolk. He was accompanied by two of the town militia, their tall spears and studded leather armor serving to part the crowd.

Seeing that none of the Priitens were going to talk, Vera decided to answer. "These four . . ." the warrior gestured to the three men finally trying to get up and Jonan off to the side. "were bothering Kera here. I decided to give them a lesson in manners. They didn't know the proper way to speak to a woman."

"We didn't mean anythin'!" Farkon shouted as he stumbled to his feet. Rinton himself was still on the ground holding his manhood.

The magistrate raised an eyebrow and glanced over at Kera and Vera. "I think I'll take the women's word on it. I'll have to take ye four into custody. Don't make a fuss an' we won't have any problems." He motioned for the two militia men to herd the four along. Farkon and Shiven had to help Rinton to his feet. Rinton gave Vera a look that promised vengeance.

Before the magistrate left, he asked, "Are ye all right, Kera? They didn't have a chance to do anythin' to ye, did they?"

Kera shook her head. "No, Vera came before anythin' could happen. Somethin' surely would've if she'd not come along." She grinned at Vera's scowl.

"Anyone else would've done the same," the female warrior muttered. She'd never liked praise being heaped upon her.

The magistrate's eyes widened. "Vera? Vera Linshaw? Thalos' burnished boots, I almost didn't recognize ye. Welcome back to Little 'aven." He held out a hand.

"Thank you," was Vera's short response. She shook his hand and then stepped back, her face expressionless.

The magistrate's eyes softened. "Still thinkin' I'm angry with ye, Vera? Don't be. It 'appened a long while ago, and ye did the best ye could under the circumstances. I'm grateful to ye now." The graying man walked off in the direction of the town hall, waving the remaining townsfolk along.

"Well," Vera exhaled. "What do you say we head over to the Hardroof, Kera."

"Sounds good to me. We have some things to catch up on." Kera walked alongside the warrior as she went to collect her horse. The warrior whistled and the sound of beating hooves announced the coming of a pure black stallion.

"Hey, boy." Vera rubbed the stallion's nose. The black horse butted his head into her chest, apparently liking the attention. "This is Shadow," the warrior murmured to Kera.

"He looks to be a fine horse."

"That he is. Come on, let's go." The warrior took hold of Shadow's reins and started leading him to the inn, looking back once to catch a glance at Kera.

Vera waited until the serving maid was walking evenly with her. Gods, she grew up to be a looker, didn't she? I should have visited more often. Who knows how many scrapes she's been in that I don't know about. "You've gotten pretty tall, haven't you?" the ex-soldier said aloud.

"Aye, father says I grew like a weed almost overnight." Kera blushed.

"Nah, I wouldn't say a weed. Bluevine, maybe?" the dark haired woman mused, her blue eyes twinkling with amusement at Kera's deeper blush. Bluevine was a plant that grew swiftly in the later half of winter, and in the early spring and late summer, it bloomed pretty blue flowers.

There an awkward silence after that statement that left Vera thinking that she had perhaps been too familiar with the young woman she last remembered as a bouncing bright-eyed thirteen year old.

Looking at the young woman walking next to her, Vera could see that Kera was not a little girl anymore. The shining, one shade lighter than auburn hair, the light gray eyes set in a strong face, and the decidedly fit figure; all of those things, and more, were the grown up versions of the physical attributes of an adolescent she had once known.

And they were more than enough to catch the attention of any man, or woman, that had the eyes to see it.

Vera couldn't believe that she had missed the opportunity to see the girl grow up. Kera had been like a little sister to her, always tagging along with her as Vera went about the town of Little Haven. That had been six years ago, and now Kera was nineteen. Old enough not to need a big sister around.

Kera's voice broke her out of her self-pitying thoughts. "Why'd ye leave, Vera?" The serving maid's voice came out softly, a hint of the young and insecure girl Vera had known still in there.

The warrior closed her eyes, still walking in the direction of the inn, but slowing her steps to an almost leisurely walk. "You know why." Oh, how she didn't want to think about her departure from this town in the central Plain Lands.

A hand touched her arm, only the weight of it announcing its presence through the thick leather plate. "It wasn't yer fault. Ye need to stop blamin' yerself for the past!"

Tears were in the warrior's eyes. When was the last time that had happened? The sadness was pushed away, the tears blinked out of existence. Vera turned her head and directed her ice blue gaze at Kera. "Yes, it was my fault. Chath died because of me." Blood on trampled green grass. An eye as blue as the night sky staring up at her accusingly. "I was an arrogant fool who thought she could protect everybody. I couldn't. And Krolus knew that." An angry face, all the more prominent for its red and puffy eyes, in a sea of faces nodding along. How could she have been so stupid?

"Vera. Vera! Look at me." Hands dragging her to a halt. Vera looked down to see Kera's annoyed grey eyes looking up at her. "Vera, Krolus has forgiven ye. He forgave ye not even a month after ye left! Ye were the only one here that knew how to go about defendin' this place, and ye even warned that something bad could happen when the Kehatans came. Ye asked for volunteers, and Chath was one o' them. Aye, Krolus didn't like him puttin' himself in harm's way like that, but it was Chath's choice. He fought and he died for the town, so stop blamin' yerself for what isn't your fault at all!"

"I had promised Krolus that I'd protect him. That I wouldn't let anything happen to him." Out of the thirty men and women that had defended the town actively, Chath had been the only one who had died. Any battle leader would have been satisfied with that, but the defenders hadn't been trained soldiers. They had been regular townsfolk. Simple shopkeepers, builders, and herders, all of which she had known in some way, shape, or form. She'd broken a promise to a man who had lost his two eldest sons, and because of that broken promise, he'd lost his last. She deserved Krolus' anger, not his forgiveness.

But, things were as they were. Krolus had forgiven her. Vera owed him enough to accept that, but it didn't mean that she had to forgive herself. Kera was still in front of her, a pleading look on her face. "Please, Vera. I'm sure ye don't need any more weight on those already weary shoulders of yours. Let it go."

A sigh. What Kera wants, is what Kera gets. Some warrior I am, I can't even withstand a pretty face. C'mon, soldier, buck up! "All right, I'll do my best to let it go. I'm not promising anything."

They resumed walking. "That's all I'm askin'. So," the young woman looked Vera up and down. "ye look a mite different than ye used to. Could've sworn ye were Black Vengeance swingin' yer blade down on the necks o' the ignorant pigs o' the world."

Vera looked down at her own clothing. Black leather plate, inlaid with a little brass detailing, over black pants and a black shirt. With black boots on her feet and a black cloak hanging down her back. She supposed she did look like the warrior of legend. "Well, it has been six years," she replied dryly. "I'd like to think I changed a little."

"Just glad ye didn't get any gray hairs, aye Vera?" Kera teased.

The ex-soldier scowled. "Don't make me dangle you by your feet, little woman. You know I can do it," Vera threatened.

"I'd like to see ye try now, ye big oaf." Kera's eyes danced mischievously.

It's good to be back.

Part 2