Ch.1 Past Excellence:
The sun hung low as the two travelers melted into the shifting bodies that were crowding around the many manor-carts designed for long trips. This traveling caravan carried a vast spectrum of goods and merchants, as if an entire city was moving along the roads. Aliene hadn’t seen such a gathering since the last Season Festival; she became drawn first to the stalls covered in elegant baubles, and then to those covered in weaponry. However, Aliene still had Jacobus’ tattoo burning in her mind; she hadn’t asked him about it but the details of his past were pestering her mind.
They wandered for a bit until finding a manor-cart attached to a platform covered with tables and benches. The open setting was illuminated with paper lanterns strung above the tables casting off pale blue light. The two took an open table, and Jacobus began counting the number of coins by type as a young boy dressed in an apron and tan clothing approached. The boy smiled brightly as he told them what the menu was, and the duo ordered, but only after the boy had skipped off did Jacobus speak.
“We gathered quite a sum from those bandits. Selling the gear we do not want will give us enough money to travel for a time.” He spoke softly while glancing around.
Aliene nodded, lacing her fingers together as she placed her hands on the table. A single question was yelling within her, but a way to ask it was not forming in her mind. She twiddled her thumbs, looking around at the dozen people chattering loudly around them. Their food came and Jacobus began eating, but the question pressed harder within Aliene until she couldn’t take it. In a low quiet voice she broke and asked, “Can I ask about your tattoo?”
Jacobus froze for a moment before placing his food down and looking Aliene in the eye. “It is not a flattering tale.”
Aliene could feel the sorrow in his voice, “You think I’d judge you?”
The monk sighed, looking to the table. “The Carnifex was an execution detachment, formed of men and woman with a unique disposition for combat. My squad was one of the best. As the bandit said, the common folk took to calling us the Butchers from the way we would display the corpses of those we killed. These squads are trained to be artists on the battlefield, to become walking nightmares and have our reputation seep into the minds of enemies until the sight of us would send them running.”
Aliene believed it, having seen how the bandits reacted. “Was this something you chose?”
Jacobus let his face relax a bit. “I personally did not seek the position, but when offered I agreed. Schillian society is heavily dependent on what the reputation of your family is, such a position was a good thing for my family. How could I have said no?”
She was processing, with her face contorting a bit. “Was it worth it to your family?”
The monk looked away again. “In the end,” his voice cracked, “No.”
Aliene looked at him in silence, wanting to push, but she didn’t pry; he was trying to recover his composure, wiping at his eye before chuckling softly. Jacobus started eating and Aliene did the same, letting the silence between them reset their minds. “Was that how you learned to fight so well?” She asked, trying to find some good within a memory that haunted him so much.
Jacobus smiled for just a moment. “Yes. Once chosen to join we were separated from everyone else and trained for just over three months… it was all highly specialized.”
Aliene inhaled heavily. “I remember when training with Hafwen… she wanted to teach me some of the special techniques our elite hunters used.”
Jacobus’ ears perked up a bit. “Elite hunters?”
Aliene continued while nodding, “The Black Moon Sisters, they hunt the more dangerous beasts in Misten that become a threat, or sometimes the people.” Aliene shuddered, only in part from the cool evening air.
The monk leaned in, sliding his plate to the side while resting his arms on the table. “I assume these Black Moon Sisters are something to behold,” he paused for a moment, “Are there male hunters like you and Hafwen?”
Aliene bit on her thumbnail. “Not really. Males born into the Hunter Constelari become the guards mostly. The same kind of situation for when females are born into the Builder Constelari, they take on more supporting roles to the purpose. Certain genders are just better suited for some things in Misten’s environment.”
“Judging from the mountains of muscle I saw and the amount of chest-high water, I would say so,” Jacobus nodded as he responded. “Given your circumstance, it was good that they wanted to train you as one of their best.”
Aliene shook her head, “Not, quite.”
The monk raised his eyebrow.
“Hafwen was told explicitly not to; it just worked out that she used some skills frequently when I was around,” Aliene smiled at the thought.
Jacobus grinned. “I am sure by total coincidence.”
The two laughed aloud, though they were stopped by the arrival of the cheery boy from before; they paid and went to wander the rest of the area. Aliene spent much of the walk trying not to get drawn into the many merchants calling to her. It was a comfort to know some professions were similar no matter where you went. Aliene felt an unfamiliar warmth around her as she basked in the communal chaos, until someone touched her bow, still folded and lashed to her lower back. Aliene couldn’t think, only react, and her reach shook the crowd around her, casting her anger outwards. Everyone recoiled from the sudden release of magic, and she heard the would-be-thief fall to the ground lightly. Aliene turned with the wrath of a hunter ready to strike the killing blow.
Instead she was glaring down at a small girl, barely ten years old. Her fear had stifled the scream from her burned hand, which she now cradled to her stomach as tears flowed freely down her reddening cheeks. The great blue eyes, half-covered by mousy brown curls, stared upwards in a terror Aliene hadn’t seen since she was that age. Aliene knelt as the small child squeaked, reactively flinching. The girl relaxed a bit as Aliene took the injured hand in her own. She took the skin of water Jacobus was handing to her, pouring it lightly on the child’s burned hand, examining it closely.
“This is why you shouldn’t try to take things that don’t belong to you, understand?” Aliene asked, helping the girl up.
“Yes,” the small squeak of a response was accompanied by the quick nodding of her head.
The monk spoke softer than Aliene realized he could, “Now go find your parent, child.” The girl looked up to him, nodding again and apologized as she turned to run from them. “Another thought occurs,” Jacobus said as he watched the child leave.
Aliene looked to him, “What?”
“Can you use any form of healing magic?” The monk finally turned to her, a tinge of concern written in the lines of his forehead.
She shook her head. “You?”
“No,” he sighed. “We should continue looking for someone to buy this gear.”
Aliene exhaled softly and turned to walk deeper into the crowd that was long past caring about her outburst moments ago. They finally found out who would be willing to buy their used gear, the stars began appearing slowly. The constant mumble of voices all around them began lessening as the two spotted the stall they sought. Approaching the small shop, a high-pitched wheeze of a delicate man pierced the air, saying, “The greatest collection of books and scrolls I have ever seen, even the most obscure knowledge was at my fingertips.”