Chapter 4 - Little Gem
“Wow.” I turned to Orlai, enjoying her expression of shock and awe. A massive valley stretched before us, endless path twisting and turning beneath us to the left and sizable tower across the valley, top reaching just above the valley’s cusp.
Once a giant warrior guarded the lower entrance to that tower wielding a massive great shield and cudgel with ease. He fought with the grace and skill of a master despite the bulky armor he wore, his name Havel. He’d fallen before me long ago, as he had many times, though sometimes it took an extra attempt. It was fortunate Orlai had appeared so late in my journey, Gravelord Nito and the Four Kings my only remaining foes. However, I suppose it could be argued they were also the most difficult. I worried for Orlai’s life. I had saved her before but how long would my vigil protect her? For that matter how long would she allow me to?
As we walked Orlai looked over the edge at the wispy clouds beneath passing through the valley, “Are we going all the way down there?” She moaned painfully, “This’ll take forever.” I pointed at a much smaller path that ran to our right, curving out of view, “Oh much safer,” She blurted happily, “All we need is a little wind, maybe a storm, and we’ve got ourselves a good-old-fashioned mountain excursion.” I grunted a warning, “Oh hush, don’t be so superstitious.” I raised an eyebrow, leaning towards her meaningfully, “Look, just because this place is batshit insane doesn’t mean that, just because I made a sarcastic joke about the weather, it’s going to happen.” I grunted wordlessly. She waved a hand, “Oh shush,” heading down the path to the right, “You’re such a Negative Nancy.” She giggled. I growled threateningly, “Yes, I know Nancy is a girl’s name,” She scoffed, “Can’t you take a joke? It’s depressing enough around here.” I didn’t answer, not expecting to get anywhere with her if I continued.
We marched down the path, Orlai leading the way and kicking rocks over the edge, watching the cloud cover grow closer and closer as we descended into the valley. We walked in relative silence, not much to really say, I watching Orlai as we went. Her hair had regained the same fiery orange as when I’d first seen her thanks to a clean stream of water and an alchemical concoction she’d ground up from nearby plants and flowers. I’d watched the entire process and found it oddly intriguing.
First she found a large flat rock roughly the size of her chest, and then a smaller one about the size of her fist. After that I followed her around as she told me about the different plants, flowers and their properties. What they could cure, what would kill me, apparently the vegetation of this world was nearly identical to her own. After gathering the necessary ingredients, she placed them on the flat rock, grinding the ingredients until she was satisfied. After that she told me to leave, and I complied grudgingly. When Orlai called me back she was glowing.
Her hair was a blaze of furious color, flowing behind her strange pointed ears in flaming waves of orange, skin shining even in the gloomy overcast light of the sun I had to squint to look at her. Even her armor and the leather beneath it gleamed, freshly cleaned and smelling of crushed pine needles. I gazed at her in wonder, convinced I had been blessed with the company of an angel who had fallen from the heavens, a priceless gem that dropped by happenstance into my lap. Of course this gem was fickle and hardly acted the part of a simple accessory. This was a firebrand of a woman that constantly surprised and intrigued me with her infinite expressions, musical voice, rippling hair, enigmatic jade green eyes, and boundless personality that refused to be characterized with a single word. She was a beautiful masterpiece that constantly changed its form and color, a rainbow of emotion that dazzled and befuddled me with its vast spectrum.
I wondered what it was that encouraged her to stay with me in this quest, why had she so dubiously accepted my gruff attitude and followed me for miles of marching the last three day and nights? The most likely answers were circumstance or desperation but despite myself I hoped for some other reason. I yearned to ask but hadn’t the words. If I did there would be a high possibility of her taking offense, as she usually did if I spoke to her first, and I did not want to lose her company. It was nice to have a voice that chattered to you day and night that was not your own. At least, I had gone so long without one so it was difficult to tire of her incessant talking. However, at present she was silent. Why was she silent? Had I done something wrong? Had I not responded properly? I thought back to our conversation just before walking down the path several minutes ago, ending in a stone wall. I wasn’t surprised, not expecting to understand the cause for her silence. Another puzzling event was my thoughts, growing clearer as my time with Orlai increased. I enjoyed the conversations and deliberations I had with myself because of it. It was nice to have something to think about.
I looked past Orlai and down at the lake at the end of the valley recalling the Hydra that made its home there. It would be fun to show her such a beast, but only from a safe distance and avoiding any unnecessary risk. We’d already had a number of run-ins with the bush-like plant monsters in the area but no accidents of yet. Orlai, in fact, had managed to survive each encounter without so much as a scratch. How long would such luck hold out?
I sighed, trying to think of something that Orlai would enjoy, and looked up at empty path. Blinking several times, I turned around and found more empty path. Orlai was gone. The clash of steel rang out.
Orlai looked back at the man in black, his eyes hidden beneath the black hood, and kicked at another rock sending it hurtling off the edge and through the clouds to a doom she was unable to witness. She wondered who he was, his skill as a warrior impressive, brave, strong willed, lacking in social skills horribly. His memory loss seemed so laughable. She could hardly believe amnesia was a legitimate illness, only seeing in it terrible romance stories she’d read in the library back at the castle which was basically just something for the princesses to use. They had such fun trying to figure out who had written what, and the one time Orlai made the mistake of deciding to put her story up everyone laughed and ripped it apart. Who needed them, she thought, boy love was hot anyway. Orlai glanced back again at the man in black, pondering his sexual preferences or if he had any at all. She decided against asking, he would laugh at her or stare, silently judging with those eyes of his. Worse, he might get ideas. She blushed. He was an exceptionally curious man, almost childish. The way he followed her around when she’d made the simple shampoo and body wash concoction felt like she was a master teaching an apprentice. Orlai wondered if that curiosity melded over into his sex life? For that matter what did he look like under that armor? If she saw him she’d be able to pick him out easily, she knew what everyone liked back at the castle, she even made a game out of it. As a servant she was privy to all the nobles’ sex-lives. Servants knew much more about the nobility than most people thought. Anyway, the man was an all-around mystery to her. Orlai shook her head with a scoff, why did she want to know anyway? Not like she wanted to see him getting plowed from behind.
Realizing what she was doing Orlai snarled, viciously kicking another rock off the edge. She was only tagging along with him for safety, not like she had a chance if she decided to wander off alone. She was irritated by how he treated her though, ordering her to stay back and out of fights whenever they occurred. He wouldn’t let her get in a single hit or even take one of those bush men on, spouting his usual nonsense about “danger” and the like. Of course it was dangerous but how would she learn otherwise?!
Orlai stopped, what brought her to this damned place anyway? She couldn’t remember the reason she had been sent to this place. Putting a hand to her forehead Orlai thought hard but only white fuzz surfaced from her memories. She could remember the castle, the town, her evil parents, those terrible townspeople and nobles, but why not what had dropped her in this land in the first place? She snorted to herself, it didn’t matter. She was going to find a way out at some point soon anyway, no point in bothering with anything else.
Orlai turned around, “Hey, how lo-” She froze. A giant black knight two or three times the size of the man in black towered above her in the same extravagant black armor. A long black halberd slung over his shoulder, black inscribed shield in his other hand, the knight regarded her. Instead of a hood and mask a beautifully sculpted tall horned helmet sat upon his head. She stood there a moment looking up and after a few seconds raised a hand, “Uh,” She paused, “Hi there.” The knight did not react, staring at her. Orlai narrowed her eyes, “What are y-” She side-stepped a sudden stab from the knight and cried out in surprise, “The hell?!” She drew her sword, knight advancing. With a spin he dragged his halberd across the ground and swept it up at her. Orlai dived, halberd cutting through the air inches behind her. She risked a glance up the path for the man in black but couldn’t spot him. Had something happened? She scolded herself for daydreaming, glaring at the knight as it advanced. Fear tickled her but her heart remained strong, this time the man in black would not be needed. That could not stop her body from trembling, however. The black knight jabbed at her and she rolled through its wide legs, cutting at one of its ankles. She felt the armor give and scrambled to her feet with a triumphant grin.
The grin wavered however when she saw a steady stream of ash trickling out from the greave she had penetrated, the knight showing no signs of injury in its posture and movements, “Ok,” She mumbled, “That’s not normal.” The knight nimbly spun the halberd over its head when suddenly a lightning bolt lanced into him and knocked him tumbling off the path with a loud bang of thunder, vanishing into the clouds. Orlai looked up at the man in black, a strange white wrapping of cloth in his left gauntlet. His hollow eyes glared at her angrily,
“Stupid.” He snarled.
“Really?!” She snarled back, brandishing the broadsword, “Well maybe if you gave me a chance I could actually learn something for once!” She jabbed a finger at him, “You can’t protect me forever and you know it, and even if you could I refuse to be treated as a pretty little gem you keep safely tucked away just to smile at from time to time!” The man in black recoiled, “And don’t you start crying like a baby, because I’m just gonna to laugh it up you damn man!” His eyes wavered, brows rising before he sighed heavily, arms falling to his sides,
“Yes.” I mumbled,
“Damn right.” Orlai growled, nodding her head, “Now I’d say it’s about time I get to training.” Orlai continued down the path, a black gauntlet grabbing her shoulder, “Get off!” She yelled, throwing him off, “I’m going to kill some shit!” He shook his head, pointing back up the path.
He coughed a phrase, “Better for you.” Orlai narrowed her eyes,
“Why should I follow you?”
He sighed, “Please?” Shoulders slouched, eyes pleading,
“Fine.” Orlai grumbled stomping past him, “Now let’s hop to it!”
I supposed she had a point. I wouldn’t be able to keep her safe forever, and she hadn’t done terribly against that knight. I was not able to stand by and watch, Black Knights certainly not what an amateur should first duel to learn how to fight. Orlai stormed back up the path and I hurried after so as not to be left behind.