Connie smiled as she stepped out of the murky tomb. She had finally made it to Bloodstone. It had taken her almost an entire day to wade through the eerie mire of Wraithmarsh. The sounds of people in the distance, and the smell of good food being prepared both brought a welcoming message that she was indeed, back within the safety of civilization. Connie gasped, as her crystal blue eyes took in a picturesque view of the great sea. The waves rushed in and out, smoothing over the white sand beach still hundreds of feet below her. Connie had always loved the seashore. The way the sand rushed away between her toes, the sparkle of the glistening waters. The sheer zest being in the presence of something so vast and beauteous. As she listened to the gulls cackling overhead, the young adventurer inhaled a generous portion of the delicious salty air. With a faint hint of reluctance, Connie looked away from the ocean and up towards the homes in the distance.
In one of these houses, lived the Thief. The third and final hero whom she sought. Finding him would mean that her long quest was almost at an end. That revenge, was finally within reach. Revenge against a man whom had taken someone precious from her, years ago. Connie snarled at the very thought of him. The way he smiled when he pulled the trigger within the seclusion of his study decades earlier. The way her beloved sister had cowered and begged for her life, more alone and helpless than ever before. And finally, that sound! That sickening, heart-wrenching sound of the bullet lodging itself deep within her young body. Connie's temples began to throb and hum. She fought to remain upright as a haze of powerful depression took hold of her. It was happening again.
Her older sister exhaled a raspy, dying breath. Silence was overtaken by icy terror, and the smaller girl averted her eyes to the insane face of the lord. Unwittingly, she was now facing a demon; and she was completely at his mercy. And unfortunately for her, this selfish beast lacked empathy...
Her mind was recovered not by her will, but rather a light nuzzling sensation to her cheek. Connie's eyes flew open, fresh tears just beginning to flow. A noble white beast stood before her. Her fateful wolfdog, named Lance. The young woman rose to her feet, and dusted off the stray bits of cobweb and moss that had accumulated upon her dress during her latest flashback.
"Thanks Lancelot." She crooned, calling her pet by his full name for the first time in years. "I'm alright. I know I am..." She trailed off, unsure if she even believed herself. I need to stay focused. Lord Lucien will pay for what he did, I'll make damn sure of it. With that affirmation, she went back to thinking about the last hero. The man with the odd name; Reaver. It wasn't a name that one usually heard, and Connie wondered if it was more of a heroic title than his given name. Her friends and fellow heroes, Garth and Hammer, had assured her that he lived in Bloodstone. But as far as where in Bloodstone...that was another matter entirely.
Since the cullis gate had malfunctioned whilst trying to teleport the three of them to the seaside village, Connie had arrived on her own; luckily. Her friends were not there to help her at the moment. But she had just waded through a dismal bog, as well as one of the most dangerous places in Albion. She was certainly more than capable of tracking down the Thief.
If he was indeed the third hero whom she sought, Connie figured that it wouldn't be all too difficult. Heroes of all kinds tended to stand out amongst the populous in one way or another. Realizing that she would most likely achieve nothing by idly taking in the view, Connie decided to begin her search by investigating via the local tavern. Albion citizens tended to be extremely gossipy and winded. If there was a hero living in their midst, she was sure to hear about it.
"Alright. Let's go and find this Reaver guy Lance!" Connie called to her wolfdog. Lance laid down at her feet, whimpering softly.
"What's the matter boy?" Lance looked up at his mistress, as if pleading for a rest. Connie returned his begging with a sympathetic, yet stern smile. "I know you're tired Lance, but we really need to find him. After that, I promise you that we can get some sleep." She patted him. Lance looked up at her hesitantly, but then got to his feet with a determined grunt. Connie chuckled a little, and the twosome made their way down towards the town.
Upon her arrival, Connie began to notice that most of the inhabitants of Bloodstone seemed to be pirates, sailors, thugs; or a mix of the three. There were also several prostitutes, both male and female, offering their services. She was beginning to discover that her first impressions about the seemingly quaint seaside town had been very badly mistaken. Connie walked into the tavern, where two men were in the middle of a bar fight. Connie gasped, then crept with utmost care over to the terrified innkeeper. He was cowering behind the bar, looking up only as the shadow of the tall heroine fell over him.
"W-what do you want?" He asked, in both a fearful and annoyed tone.
"I come seeking a man called Reaver. Do you happen to know where he resides?" The innkeeper rose to his feet, and gave Connie a small chuckle.
"Let me get this straight. You don't know who Reaver is, and yet you want to meet with him? That's a first."
"I don't understand. Why would that be so strange?" Connie asked. The innkeeper involuntarily ducked as a beer bottle careened past his head, shattering against the back wall. Connie looked over her shoulder to try and see whom had thrown it, but in the heat of the bar fight, it was next to impossible to tell. The innkeeper discretely tapped her hand, and she looked back at him. He motioned for Connie to lean forward.
"I don't know why you're looking for him, and frankly, its none of my concern. But I will tell you where he lives." He whispered.
"Take a left as you leave the tavern, pass the stall and head up the path. Take a right, and keep going until you see the community garden. From there, you take a left at the food stall and go straight until you see a sign. It'll be pretty self-explanatory from that point on." The innkeeper stood up straight, and spat some chew into the corner of the room. "Will that be all?" Connie looked down at her dirty green dress. She had to make a good impression if she was going to persuade another hero to join her cause.
"Just one more thing. Can I use the upstairs room for an hour?"
"Just for an hour eh? Well, coming from around here, I get that a lot, so yes."
"What do you mean?"
"Prostitutes. Thought that would be obvious to you." He snorted.
"Look, I'm not exactly a local you know." The young woman snapped.
"No, I can see that." He huffed in a mocking voice. "That'll be ten gold please." Connie shrugged and passed off the coins. The innkeeper handed her a small mold-covered key, which she took begrudgingly. She looked down at Lance.
"Is it ok if he comes in with me?" The innkeeper nodded, nonchalantly.
"I've had brigands dirtier than that mutt use those beds before. Do whatever the hell you like." Connie thanked him with a quick smile before heading upstairs.
Once behind the locked door, she quickly removed her dirty frock and re-dressed in a red and gold dress. It was the only personal object that she had brought with her from home all those years ago, and it held a very special significance. Her mentor, and surrogate mother Theresa had bought her that dress the night before her journey began; on her sixteenth birthday. Being the strict disciplinarian and teacher that she had always been, Connie half expected to be presented with a more practical gift. It was a warm and bittersweet reminder, that even in her set ways, Theresa still treasured her student. The daughter she was never meant to have.
Connie loved this dress. The soft, airy fabric. The gold braided cord around the chest, and matching embroidery at the hem. The little golden bangles that made a sweet chime every time she took a step. The sound was nostalgic, and always made her yearn for her home. Theresa had raised her young pupil under the watchful eyes of these gypsies, and in all of her wondrous travels, Connie had seldom met nicer people. She hailed from a world of tambourines and vivid colors, where even complete strangers were welcomed as beloved family members. And if they took up residency; in a sense, they became so.
After she had finished cleaning herself up, she returned the key and exited the tavern. On the way out, Connie heard a gunshot echo throughout the tavern, followed by a man yelling.
"Hey! That's cheatin!" Connie clenched her teeth. The sooner she left Bloodstone, the better.
"I just hope this Reaver guy isn't like that. I mean, he's got to be more civilized than a common criminal; he's a hero, right?" She looked down at her companion, looking for any sign of reassurance. But Lance merely stared blankly ahead, and continued walking. He wasn't a stupid creature; far from it. Unbeknownst to Connie, the wolfdog was well aware of his mistresses naivety, and had taken it as his sworn duty to always protect her from such folly. The air in this town reeked of blood and corruption. The beast could smell it clearly, and he didn't like it. His entire body had been tense, his every hair now stood on end, and there was a growing feeling of danger at the back of his mind. Whatever Connie assumed about Reaver, about this town, Lance couldn't be entirely certain. But he did know one thing:
She was now walking into serious peril.
Carefully following the directions that the innkeeper had given her, Connie made her way up the winding cobblestone path. As she reached the wooden sign that the innkeeper had spoken of, Connie squinted to read the worn letters.
This way to Reaver, my lovelies.
Connie smirked at the awkward landmark, but looked off in the direction that the sign was pointing. The moment she did so, she stepped back in awe. A huge mansion towered over her, dwarfing the other, more humble abodes below. These dwellings had all been ravaged by the damp air and salty brine over generations, but the mansion stood out in its alabaster perfection. Flawless and elegant by any sense of comparison.
As she reached the front lawn, the young woman stared in disbelief. This couldn't be a house meant for just one person. It had to be a shared living arrangement of sorts, like those new apartment buildings that had been springing up around Bowerstone. This being her innocent assumption, Connie ventured inside with hopes of finding the landlord. Of anyone would know where Reaver lived, it would be him.
The inside was decorated in elegance and splendor. There were crimson carpets and proud marble walls with pictures and portraits hanging off of them. Expensive red velvet furniture spanned the entirety of the grand entryway, and there were spiral gold railings on the stairway which ended in a vicious looking dragon's head.
"Well, I probably couldn't afford a room here, that's for certain." Connie mused, looking around. Her eyes settled back to her own dress. What a coincidence. She thought, looking at the red velvet laced with gold trim. Connie walked towards the back of the huge mansion and there, she saw a man dressed in deep red and gold. He had dark, chestnut-brown hair and was quite tall. He held his elongated face up, his body as stiff as stone. His right leg was propped under a heavy block of marble with celadon swirls. Connie then noticed another person in the room. A sculptor, nervously chiseling away upon a huge slab of marble right there in the living room. Connie turned her attention back to the man in red and gold. In his gloved hand, he was holding up a redwood master pistol, with a golden dragon creeping around the side. The man's eyes shifted as he noticed Connie. His lips contorted into a wide grin, and he stepped down from his pedestal.
"Well, well, well! What wondrous fate has graced me with a visit from such a fair maiden?" He grinned. Connie blushed a little at the compliment.
"My name is Connie Remswood and I come seeking-" She tried to introduce herself, but the man blatantly interrupted her.
"Or perhaps you're intentions extend that of a friendly visit..." He looked her body up and down, licking his lips. Connie became outraged.
"Excuse me?! I am looking for Reaver, not some scumbag like yourself! Where is he?" She flared, thinking herself to be addressing the superintendent of this 'duplex'. The man stared pensively at her and crooked his eyebrow. Even the sculptor dropped his tools, face aghast at what the bold demands this strange woman had dared to utter. Seemingly out of nowhere, the crimson-clad man began laughing. He put his pistol away, and waltzed over to the oblivious young woman before him.
"My dear girl, I AM Reaver." Connie recoiled in surprise.
"W-what?! I thought that you were the landlord of this building!" She gaped. Seldom had she felt so foolish. Reaver took another step towards her. His grin split, revealing an even more disturbing smile upon his face. He, was going to enjoy this.
"Allow me to state, that I am very impressed. You not only didn't know who I was, but, you also thought that Bloodstone in all of its decaying charm, would hold a revolutionary feature such as an apartment building. Why, the very notion! I take it that you are somewhat unacquainted with this darling little town of mine? Why, how many homeless did you pass on the street just on your way here? No my sweet, this is not a shared dwelling, but rather a private mansion. And I, am the owner, oh excuse me; 'landlord', of which you seek." He taunted her, taking another step. "Now, why is it, my little minx, that you are looking for me?" Reaver asked. Connie fought to keep her temper and humiliation at bay. She swallowed the uncomfortable lump within her throat, and took a cleansing breath.
"Well, I am here on a quest to proposition you-" Reaver cut her short with a deep chuckle, coupled with a look that Connie found most disturbing. As naïve as the young woman was, even she knew all too well what he was implying. For there was only one type of propositioning that was done around this town, and it did not involve heroics. It shocked her that the legendary Hero of Skill was nothing but a self-centered pervert. She turned away from him in quiet disgust, and cleared her throat "-proposition you to join our fight, to take down Lord Lucien and the Tattered Spire." As her sentence ended, Reaver just smirked.
"Oh, that is precious..." Connie began to tap her foot, growing impatient with the man she had been sent to collect.
"Is something about this amusing to you?"
"Why yes, indeed there is actually. You see my dear, you look as though you couldn't harm an insect; what with all your feminine wiles and all. Yet, you are asking me to help you and your chums fight the most powerful man in Albion. I call that, amusing." Connie had never felt so frustrated in all of her life. She had just been through a grueling battle with countless Spire Guards, passed out due to a cullis gate malfunction, been kidnapped by a crazed swamp dweller, and survived the grip of one of the most dangerous regions of Albion. All of this hardship, all of this sacrifice, just in order to speak to a man who was making fun of her. Her face reddened in pure rage, and the young woman finally lost it.
"I'm a hero just like you, except I can use all three heroic disciplines; unlike you with your puny pistol there." She proclaimed in a disrespectful voice, puffing out her chest and pointing to the newly holstered gun. The mood in the room darkened significantly at her foolish maneuver. The sculptor froze, his stance even more inanimate than the stone upon which he chiseled. Even the serpentine dragon slithered around the hilt seemed to leer at her with every word that left her lips through its cold, unfeeling ruby eyes. Reaver's own eyes narrowed. With an air of pure malice, his smile turned into an unfriendly snarl.
"My dear, it isn't what you've got, its how you use it. Please don't take that literally. I'll have you know that I am very gifted in the family jewels department." Connie backed away, disgusted. "But, with this puny pistol, I have never missed a shot. I have taken down entire ships with a blast to their hulls, and splattered captains brains from hundreds of yards away."
"So my friend told me." Connie remarked coolly, remembering Hammer's report regarding Reaver and his abilities.
"My point being that I am very good, in more ways than one." The pirate chuckled. Connie turned away.
"Can you please just stop with the sex jokes? You're supposed to be taking this very seriously!" She urged with a mild tang of desperation.
"Oh am I? But you just said that you were stronger than me." He grinned mischievously. "If you're so all-powerful, why do you need my help?"
"It's complicated. I just do." Connie snapped, his sharp wit only adding to her frustration.
"Oh, I'm sure that's why you risked your life coming through Wraithmarsh. Just to tell me that you are better than I..." He burst out in borderline maniacal laughter. Until he looked down and noticed Lance. He gave the creature a look of disgust. "Is that yours?" Reaver asked Connie, pointing to Lance.
"That's my wolfdog, Lance!" The young woman proclaimed, her voice gushing with glee and pride. Reaver rolled his eyes and turned away.
"Oh no, you would have to be one of those now wouldn't you?"
"One of what?" Connie asked, slightly perturbed.
"A dog lover. Why anyone would keep such a repulsive and dirty creature in their home, or constantly by their side is beyond me."
"He's my best friend." Connie answered, as if the conceited pirate before her would understand. Reaver held his palm against his face, and burst out laughing again.
"Oh! Dear me, not just your friend, as if that wasn't pathetic enough; but your BEST friend. Oh, my dear girl, you don't get out much do you?"
"Listen! Are you going to help us or not?" Connie snapped. Reaver wiped tears from his eyes and began to stroke his small brown goatee.
"Hmmmmm...Well let's see. There are several problems with your little proposal; namely the fact that I am not in the business of helping nobodies, like yourself. I am a bit, shall we say, self-centered you know," he grinned, "and you are little more famous than the servant who brought me breakfast this morning, or even said breakfast! Although I do suppose that it would be famous now, because I was the one who ate it."
"I am Connie Remswood; Hero of Bower Lake. I've done all sorts of heroic deeds! Crucible Champion, Slayer of the Red Balverine, Peacekeeper of the Gypsies. Any of this ringin' a bell?!" Reaver merely scoffed.
"But if said deeds do not impress me, then really; what good are they?"
"Oh, but don't worry my sweet girl. I'll give you a second chance to impress me. You can gather more renown and tell me about this trivial little quest of yours, all in good time. But in the meantime, I would simply love to have you as my guest of honor." Reaver grinned at her, his green eyes sparkling. Connie was a bit shocked, to say the least. He had only just met her. Why would he make such an offer?
"Why would I want to be your guest? There are important motions in the works; I don't have time for an idle visit."
"So, you're telling me that you waded through a haunted mire, are obviously tired, irritable, and hungry, and yet you are declining a fellow hero's hospitality?" Reaver was growing annoyed by the young woman's sharp tone, and the fact that she hadn't melted at the sight of him; or at the sound of his charming voice, only added to his frustration. He gave Connie a wolfish smile. If she wanted to play hard to get, he was more than game. "Ok then, tatty-bye!" He waved her off. Connie was dumbstruck. Had he just...told her to leave?! Did he honestly know nothing of her cause, or the fate its outcome would mean for the entire country?
No, this had to be a mistake!
"Um, excuse me, but..." She started. Reaver shot her an annoyed glare out of the corner of his eye.
"Are you still here? I told you to go out and impress me. So unless you bedroom skills are more impressive than you're heroic accomplishments, I suggest that you be on your way." Reaver pointed his finger towards the door, before smiling at her confused face again. The game, had begun. "Or have you decided to take me up on my generous offer?" Connie didn't know what to say. Reaver had openly refused to help her and the other heroes, but he had also made her a kind offer. Since the cullis gate and her guild seal were both temporarily inoperable due to the unworldly powers of Wraithmarsh, Connie was going to be stuck in Bloodstone until she had convinced Reaver to join her cause. Taking a ship without him would be a waste of time and funds; and she was growing dangerously short on both. And while he was deciding to be snobby about her renown, he was at least offering her something useful.
It could take me weeks to gather the amount of renown he requires, and if I spend that much gold on a room at the tavern, I'll soon be completely broke.
The young woman reasoned. She looked up at Reaver again, who was eagerly awaiting her answer.
"That's a very nice offer Mr. Reaver. I think that I'll take you up on it." The pirate grinned mischievously.
"Wonderful my dear! Just set your things in the first bedroom on the second floor." He glared at Lance again. "But the mutt has to sleep outside." Connie looked down at Lance. He began to whine desperately. He did not trust this man, and the thought of being separated from his mistress; out in the cold streets where he could never hope to protect her was driving him into a panic. The wolfdog began to spin around in circles, pawing at her dress and growling in Reaver's direction. Anything he could do to convince her not to make this terrible mistake! But Connie was once again lost to her innocence, and she failed to pick up on his concern.
"It's just for a little while, and I will still see you everyday. We need to be respectful of Mr. Reaver, seeing as he's doing us a favor, ok boy?" Reaver rolled his eyes, disgusted by the scene.
Dear god, she even talks to the thing! Ugh... if it wasn't for those lovely bosoms and that delicious tush I would have surely shot her by now.
As Connie lead a defiant Lance outside by his collar, Reaver continued to eye her discerningly. She was indeed beautiful. Her body was a perfect hourglass, with skin as fair and pale as ivory. Her dark auburn hair was almost burgundy, as well as very long; flowing down to the small of her back. And her eyes were a deep, almost unnatural crystal blue.
It's odd that she would call me Mr. Reaver. Such politeness belongs to the heart of a small child. I must admit that she's not bad to look at; but from what I've seen of her thus far, she's far too sickeningly good for my tastes.
He reasoned with a snort. As Connie re-appeared in the study, the pirate's generous façade returned.
"Connie Remswood was it? I am so elated that you accepted my offer."
"Thank you for letting me stay." Connie smiled. Reaver watched as she hurried out of the study, and listened as she headed up the stairway. Then, a dark smile parted across his thin lips.
Such an innocent girl. How she survived Wraithmarsh, nay; came to be a hero in the first place, I'll never know. She can slay beasts, use magic, and yet she is completely unaware of the danger that she is now in.
Although his words had implied that he intended to help Connie by offering her a place to stay, his true motives were far from innocent.
The pirate emitted a disturbed chuckle, which caused the nervous sculptor to avert his eyes. Reaver watched with sadistic delight as the artist began to perspire and tremble. Surely by now, the fool knew that he was gambling with his very life. If he made one mistake, the light would leave his eyes, never to return. He was now part of the Hero of Skill's twisted game; and it was a game that only Reaver could ever hope to win.
And now, I have another soul to play with! This certainly is a very tantalizing development...
He traced the outline of his pistol, his index finger caressing the golden dragon upon the hilt. His green eyes, never left the sculptor as he did so.