Chapter 5: A Life
She loved watching the princess, watching Arlene. The vibrance of her gait, the beauty of her visage, the selflessness of her actions, they all filled the normally ever-anxious Sylva with a freshness of mind and spirit, making the conflicts in her world feel unimportant and her inhibitions feel so far removed from reality.
“Sylva! Come here! Isn’t this meadow just lovely?!” the princess shouts to get her attention, beginning to frolic into a colorful field of flowers beneath a thin area of forest canopy. Normally, Sylva would have paid the meadow no mind, but the presence of her ward makes it the most important, beautiful place in the world.
“Yes, Arlene, it really is!” she agrees, grinning as she watches the elf royal from afar.
“Well, then don’t just stand there, you oaf! Join me!” the princess exclaims, beckoning for the knight’s company.
“Oh, but princess, you have an important meeting with your father to attend...” Sylva chimes, trying to rouse her charge’s sense of duty.
“Ah... I suppose you’re right. Foreign relations won’t fix themselves, especially not with my father refusing to even entertain most of the non-elven kingdoms!” she laments, a lively seriousness entering her vibrant voice. “But, please, Sylva, just for a quick moment, won’t you come and enjoy the flowers with me? It won’t be long. I promise!” Arlene negotiates, smiling brightly, fingers secretly crossed behind her back.
“If... If it’s just for a few minutes...,” Sylva bargains, aching to go join her.
As she approaches, she can’t help but be mesmerized by how the gentle beams of sun – barely piercing the canopy above – cause the princess’s light brown hair to glisten, as if she were a star brightening the night that is Sylva’s life. She’s entranced by the way the animated, bright colors of the flowers offset and complement the aloof, elegant gray of her irises. Gulping as she draws even closer, how the light dances across Arlene’s immaculate pale skin, which sparkles as she outstretches her hand, captivates the captain, and the eager smile with which she’s being welcomed enthralls the remaining resistance in her mind.
“I’m glad you could finally join me, Dame Sylva!” the princess jokes, warmly grabbing her bodyguard’s hand.
The softness of Arlene’s skin and gentleness of her touch make Sylva’s heart skip a beat, delaying her response.
“Ah... I figure it’s pointless to argue with you...” Sylva laments, skirting the truth of her feelings on the matter.
“Correct!” shouts the princess, happy with the astuteness of her guard. “Now, to show you something even better than these flowers...”
“And what might that be?” asks the soldier, genuinely puzzled.
“The view of the sky!” Arlene yells, wrestling the well-trained knight to the ground, flopping them both onto their backs.
“Ow... you could’ve just asked me to lie down, you know...” Sylva remarks, blushing from such close contact.
“And where would be the fun in that?!” the royal exclaims. “Just look at that sky, Sylva! How vast, how beautiful, how serene... I wonder what’s beyond that sky, sometimes. I wonder what we might find if we were able to reach beyond even the stars... to peer past the veneer with which the gods have covered us,” she contemplates, grasping at the suddenly star-filled night sky. Feeling as if something’s amiss but unable to pinpoint it, Sylva responds.
“Your imagination really is amazing, Arlene... As grounded in the world as I am, I doubt the thought ever would have crossed my mind had you not brought it to my attention,” Sylva admits.
“Yeah... you are just an earthly little sword nerd, I guess...” the princess teases, smugly peeking at Sylvia.
“Hey, this nerd can only take so much abuse, you know!” the knight interjects, inhibitions fading away, allowing herself to get caught up in banter.
“Ha... but I’m serious, Sylva. If you had the chance... if you could just pierce the sky, if you could just jettison into the unknown, where even the gods have yet to traverse, and get away from everything... would you?” Arlene asks, the intensity of her voice increasing.
“Maybe... I’ve always been so preoccupied with my problems, the kingdom’s problems, your problems... I’ve never even thought of being free from them. I guess it would be nice, as long as...” she stops, pausing mid-thought as how happy she would be if a reality of just her and Arlene were possible crosses her mind.
“As long as... what?” Arlene asks, curious.
“Ah... as long as I knew no one would miss me, or as long as I knew I wouldn’t get lonely, I guess...” she responds, trying to avoid the truth, embarrassed.
“Hmm... well, why don’t we go together, then?” Arlene interjects, raising her body and head to look and smile at Sylva.
“T-together?!” the knight stammers, afraid that her mind was just read.
“Together! Wouldn’t it be fun? Just the two of us... traversing the stars... nothing to do but talk and enjoy the expanse...” the princess rambles, scooting closer to Sylva, eventually touching her.
“Oh gods, please not so close... I won’t be able to take it...” Sylva thinks, flustered and beginning to blush bright red from the gentle touch and warmth of Arlene next to her. “Y-yeah, t-that would be n-nice...” she manages to stutter as Arlene leans over top of her.
“Sylva... even if it isn’t above the heavens... I think I’d like it...” Arlene whispers, smiling almost seductively, as she goes atop her bodyguard, pinning her down beneath her. Paralyzed at how beautiful the princess above her looks, the backdrop of the starlit night sky accentuating every good feature, she’s barely able to speak.
“L-like what...?” she asks, weakly, heart pumping at an insane speed.
“Being together... with you...” Arlene says as she kisses Sylva, pulling her into a tender embrace.
Shocked and with thoughts of being accused of violating the princess filling her mind, she initially attempts to resist, tries to push the beautiful she-elf off her, but Arlene persists, deepening the kiss, pulling Sylva’s mind deeper. Her resistance corroding quickly, Sylva goes limp before beginning to reciprocate, pulling the princess even closer. She had dreamed – desperately hoped – for so long that the princess might feel the same way... and to finally be given such direct validation left her in pure bliss. Closing her eyes, she lets the happiness overflow her mind as the two continue, the princess eventually pulling away. Wanting to look at her lover in the starlight once more, she opens her eyes just as a burning pain pierces her abdomen.
Upon opening her eyes, she finds a sword impaling both her and the princess’s bodies. Her thoughts immediately turning to concern for the royal, the remainder of her arousal fades into abject horror and revulsion when she discovers that the beautiful eyes she had for so long admired are no longer there, replaced with blood eking holes going straight through the princess’s head. Her gorgeous pale skin is now riddled with cuts, boils and sores of contagion. Her luscious hair is now falling out, matted. On the verge of a panic attack, Sylva hears the princess – what’s left of her, anyway – speak.
“You failed us, Sylva... They killed us all... the druid... the warlock... why didn’t you stop them, Sylva? Didn’t you love us? Didn’t you love me?" it says.
“Arlene!” Sylva screams, bloodcurdlingly, as she awakes, jolting up in a bed and hyperventilating in panic. Immediately, she’s stricken with horrendous pain stemming from her abdomen, causing her to clutch the afflicted area and recoil. Looking down, she finds herself stripped down to her underwear, a wicked scar now running the length of most of her torso. Bewildered at her current state and panicked by the terrible nightmare, she flops back down on the bed, attempting to collect her thoughts.
“Ok, Sylva, think. What happened? Why are you here? Why are you hurt?” she rattles in her mind, scanning her foggy memory for clues. “The last thing I remember is... being incensed at someone... fighting?... but why would I be fighting someone when all I was doing was minding the shop? It looks like I’m in the old training ground medical room... Maybe I really was in a duel...”
At that thought, she thinks she hears arguing coming from the adjacent room, which she knows is meant to be a doctor’s office, but she can’t quite make out what’s being said.
“Too far... really... kill her?!” a panicked masculine voice shouts.
“Not... be fine... overreacting...” a much calmer, cuter feminine voice says.
“Sylva... promised... strong... lost...” another masculine voice mumbles.
From these snippets of conversation, it becomes apparent to her that she must have picked a fight with the wrong person and lost badly, the proof of her defeat now etched into her body.
“But that makes no sense... I’m leagues above most of the people around here, and even most adventurers probably couldn’t beat me one-on-one...” she thinks, trying to piece together her fractured memory. As she thinks, the door opens, revealing Pascal, the guard who normally watches the old building and kindly lets her use it to stay in shape.
“Oi, Miss Sylva, you’re up! Hey, you two! She’s awake! The least you could do is stop arguing and come see her...” he shouts at two unknown people before making his way over to her bedside. “Are you feelin’ alright? You really gave us quite the scare!”
“I feel... like someone absolutely kicked my ass...” she grunts.
“Oh, I did more than that!” shouts a cute young girl as she haughtily struts into the room, followed by a young, gruff yet handsome man.
“Master Nyx, do you really have to rub it in?” he questions the girl.
“Ralph, the poor girl deserves to know that she was dead for more than an hour!” she retorts. “Oh, yes, I killed you. My deepest condolences.”
“K-killed?” Sylva asks, the sight of these people and knowledge of her death clearing some of the fog in her mind.
“Yeah, miss Sylva, don’t you remember? You brought these two here for a duel because the little girl there offended your family. I thought you were gonna give her a real thrashing, like you normally do to people, so you can imagine my surprise when I come in to find you bleedin’ out, dead on the floor, bein’ magicked up by these bozos,” he intimates.
As the memories start flooding back to her mind, she manages to recall the events that led to her current state.
“Oh, that’s right... I went for a critical strike, but... you dodged and inflicted a mortal wound... But... why have you resurrected me? My life was forfeit, as the loser,” she says.
“I seem to remember you saying that you merely yielded your life to me to do with as I saw fit. You never demanded I take it, although you implied that you preferred me to do so. Because I don’t care about your preferences, I deigned to donate a resurrection scroll from my personal stores for your recovery because I wish to make use of the life you have sold to me,” says the girl.
“But, shouldn’t you be on your way to parade my corpse to the kingdom before you slaughter everyone? I distinctly remember you saying things like that. Did she not say things like that?” she asks, looking at Ralph for aid.
“You’re right, she did. But... she’s tricky...” he sighs.
“Those were the ramblings of a crotchety old woman who despises looking upon that which reminds her of the mistakes and weakness of her past. Ages ago, I was once in a similar situation as you, and I placed my trust in the hands of an infinitely greedy and merciless tyrant who I thought would help me lead my kingdom to salvation, as he tricked me with false friendship and sycophancy. I saw you there, desperate, pandering to those who simply wish to profit off of suffering, just as he who betrayed me once did, and it enraged me to see someone who cares so deeply for their people be led down that path, like I was. As a result, in my rage, I criticized both you and your people quite harshly, for I only saw myself, as if in a mirror, the reflection haunting that which gives it form,” she monologues, beginning to prostrate herself at the bedside near its end.
“For both this and for killing you when death was not a condition for victory in our duel, I, Nyx Interitus, master of the Order of the Hexblade, most humbly apologize to you and all those I have offended while in your presence.”
“Master...” Ralph whispers, surprised that one as powerful and prideful as his teacher would prostrate herself so easily to someone she had just killed with such prejudice. “Wait, crotchety old woman?! Just what is that supposed to mean?!”
“You fool... did you actually think I was as young as I appear?” Nyx replies, still kneeling at the bedside. As the two begin to bicker over the issue of Nyx’s age, Sylva is left speechless, conflicted between the warlock’s previous and currents words and actions.
“She insulted me, insulted everyone, agreed to duel me, killed me, brought me back, and apologized, with a straight face... just because I reminded her of herself? Ah... just who is this person?” she thinks, terrified, pained, exhausted, confused yet deeply curious.
Watching as the two argue, with Ralph refusing to believe Nyx’s age of 5700 – “5700?! You’re just trying to toy with me again, aren’t you?!” – and with Nyx asking, genuinely, if it’s that difficult to believe – “Why is this such a point of contention? There are plenty of old codgers around that look young like me.” – she begins to laugh, collapsing onto the bed.
“Hahaha... you’re absolutely insane... I accept your apology, ma’am. But... what are you going to do with my life that you’ve won? I’m afraid of what someone like you might have in mind...” she thinks out loud.
“Ma’am...?” Nyx thinks, irked by the combination of old and feminine the word implies. “Well, I haven’t given it a terrible amount of thought... but I figure I might start by using your life to do everything you weren’t able to do alone,” she states, nonchalantly, picking herself up from the floor and dusting off her pants.
“W-what is that supposed to mean?” Sylva asks, confused.
“So slow...” she starts, placing a hand on Sylva’s head, piercing her soul with her haunting emerald irises. “It means that you’re going to achieve everything you’ve thus far failed to do. You are now my possession, and for me to have an asset that has potential yet unactualized would be unacceptable. As such, I will help you become your greatest self, because I demand you become so to increase the value of my treasury. Do you understand?”
“This person... is going to help me? Just like that?” she thinks, skeptical, blushing from the unexpected tenderness of the hand placed on her head. “But... I have nothing to give you... no substantial reward... nothing but maps...”
“Your life is enough. I require nothing else. If I want maps, I’ll pay you for them,” Nyx responds, trivially.
"No! I went everywhere! I offered my life to nearly every kingdom, every city, every mercenary and guild hall, and they all told me it wasn’t enough! They all demanded something more! Why should it be any different for you?!" she rebukes, tearfully.
“Because your soul is screaming for help... it’s choking on the world’s worth of despair it’s been fed up until now. It’s so radiant, so full of generosity and compassion, so rife with potential to grow... For me to idly watch as that light is snuffed out, for me to tell you that it’s not enough... I would have to be a monster,” Nyx explains, patting the elf’s head.
Upon hearing those words – words she had hoped to hear from someone, anyone, for more than a decade – she begins to break down and cry, propelling herself forward to hug the calamity next to her.
“After all this time being told it wasn’t enough... after all this time spent searching... Arlene... everyone... I’m going to save you at last...” she thinks, sobbing into her new proprietor’s shoulder. “Thank you, Miss Interitus... I won’t let your investment go to waste...,” she whispers at the now flustered Nyx.
“Ah... excellent to hear,” Nyx sheepishly replies, hesitantly reciprocating the hug, distracted by the buxom mounds of flesh now pressing onto her body.
“I hate to interrupt your guys’ moment, but it’s getting kinda late, Master. We should really think about finding an inn for the night,” Ralph points out.
“Good point, Ralph!” Nyx responds, taking the opportunity to disengage from the hug.
“Oh, I have plenty of space in the flat above the shop... it would be my pleasure to lodge you two while you’re in the city,” interjects Sylva, wiping the tears from her face. “The only caveat being that I think someone might need to carry me... I don’t think I can stand up right now, let alone walk.”
“That would be a side-effect of the resurrection. Coming back to life is quite traumatic, you know,” says Nyx. “I would be happy to accept your invitation. I will not carry you, though. I’m sure one of these strapping young men would be more than happy to carry such a fair maiden as yourself, though...” she points out, snickering.
“As much as I would like to... I mean, I would, but I gotta watch the training grounds. If the captain were to find out I left my post...” says Pascal, trying to hide his disappointment.
“I guess that just leaves me!” Ralph exclaims, getting into a position to carry her piggy-back style. “Whenever you’re ready, Miss Sylva!”
“Oh, what a gentleman...” Sylva says, slightly disconcerted at his eagerness as she ascents onto his back. “Do you two remember the way?”
“More or less,” responds Ralph, repositioning to maximize both his and her comfort.
“Then, let’s go! I’m famished,” shouts Nyx, starting to exit, eager to either make or procure dinner.
“Please take care of Miss Sylva... please don’t make me have to try and arrest the person who beat her in a duel...” Pascal pleads, haggardly, as they leave.
As they make their way back to Sylva’s shop, Nyx, now not addled by anger, makes note of the strong presence of magic near the city’s center, mostly emanating from both a large tower-like structure and a large barrack-like complex.
“Must be the mage’s and adventurer’s guilds...” she assumes, noting their locations for future reference.
About halfway back, the trio are stopped by a couple guards, who are troubled to see a full-grown woman being carried in such a manner in the waning hours of daylight.
“Is everything all right, you three?” one asks.
“Oh, yes, everything’s fine,” Sylva responds. “I happened to sprain my ankle, and my good friends here are helping me return to my home.”
“Oh! Very good, then. Carry on!” he says, beginning to walk away from the three.
“Say... you look familiar, son,” says the other guard, pointing at Ralph.
“I do? I can’t imagine why...” Ralph responds, seemingly having no clue.
“Hold on just a moment...” the guard commands, rifling through some posters from a satchel. Focusing on one that he finds, he whispers something to his fellow guard, who nods at him.
“Ah! Stay right where you are, you three! This is a wanted man! He’s under arrest, and we’d like to take you two in for questioning!” he shouts as the other guard hails four more who are close by over for reinforcements.
“W-wanted?! Me?! Why?!” Ralph yells, incredulously.
“Ralph, you idiot... why didn’t you tell me you had a wanted poster?” Nyx thinks, disappointed. “Oh, that’s strange... he doesn’t seem to be faking it,” she observes after peering into his soul. Not wanting to have to sit through the legal proceedings, she waits until the other four guards are closer until moving forward to act.
“This man is obviously not the one depicted in the poster,” she begins, her words enchanted. “You six should neither arrest this man nor take us in, and you should dispose of every last one of those posters that you can find.”
“Y-you’re right, miss. How could we mistake him for the guy on the poster?” the accusing guard says, suddenly coming unnaturally to attention. “Come on, boys, let’s get rid of all these posters!”
“Yeah!” they all shout as they depart in search of more of Ralph’s posters.
“Alright, let’s get back quickly before any more guards start questioning us...” Nyx recommends as she starts walking again. “I don’t want to be charged for using nonconsensual magic on the city watch...”
“Wanted...? Me...?” Ralph asks, saddened at this revelation.
“There, there, Ralph...” comforts Sylva, patting him on the head.
Soon, the three make it back into the shop, and Sylva points them to a door that leads to the stairs to the second-floor apartment. Entering the flat, it’s immediately apparent that it holds no candle to Nyx’s manor, but it’s certainly large enough to accommodate the three of them, being about as large as the shop below. Laying Sylva down on the couch in the living area, Nyx immediately heads to the kitchen to see what manner of food Sylva has at her disposal.
“Normally I would make something myself as the host, but...” Sylva laments, barely able to move without great effort.
“It’s no problem. Cooking soothes me,” states Nyx as she removes her cloak and rolls up the sleeves of her chambray to begin chopping some onions, tomatoes and peppers she’s found in the kitchen. Soon, a large pot of chili is ready for the three to eat.
“Ah... it smells delicious...” praises Sylva from the couch.
“Although I haven’t had much of it, Master Nyx’s cooking seems to be really good!” exclaims Ralph, taking a bowl of it over to her.
“By the way, Ralph, why do you keep calling her “Master”?” asks Sylva.
“Because she’s agreed to teach me how to fight and use magic, just earlier today, actually...” he reveals.
“Oh! How long have you known each other?” she continues.
“Just since last night,” both Ralph and Nyx say simultaneously, as Nyx comes to join the other two in the living room.
“Just... last night...?” she inquires, confused.
“He tried to break into my house at the behest of his dastardly bandit captain. With my power to observe others’ souls, I noticed that he, much like you, was being unfairly addled by poor rolls of chance, so I helped him break free of his shackles, like I’m going to try to do with you,” Nyx explains as she begins to eat her chili.
“When I was ten, brigands raided my village and killed my parents. I hated both myself and others for being too weak to help them. Despite that, I turned to becoming a bandit, following someone who I saw as strong, hoping he’d make me tough like him so I wouldn’t lose anything ever again. But, in the end, he was just a coward, like me. When Nyx showed me that, it gave me the resolve to want to pursue real strength, so I begged to become her student, to become strong enough to protect others from what I’ve suffered, from becoming what I nearly became,” Ralph expounds, wearing a cool smile. “I know it might seem strange for me to idolize someone who I’ve only just met, but in that little amount of time, she’s managed to turn my life around completely. Haha!”
“No... I don’t think that’s strange at all...” Sylva says, looking fondly at the cute warlock, her new benefactor, who is savoring the taste of the chili.
“You guys are a couple of weirdos...” Nyx coldly states, looking at the other two patronizingly.
“You’re one to talk!” the two quickly interject.
“What I want to know is why you suddenly have a wanted poster, Ralph,” Nyx says, changing the subject.
“I would, too... I never did anything big enough – alone, anyway – for there to be a wanted poster for me... I wonder if one of the guys blabbed to the guard about me to try to drag me down with them,” ponders Ralph. “Wouldn’t be surprised, since it’s those dickheads.”
“Shit! That’s totally what happened! I never gave a suggestion to prevent that!” internally screams Nyx. “I suppose that might be the case...” she lies. “Hopefully those guards get rid of most of the posters. They’ll be compelled to for the next day. Ha! They probably won’t even go to sleep tonight!”
“Those poor guards...” sighs Sylva.
“Oh, Sylva, I should inform you that you’ll likely be out of commission for about... four days,” plainly states Nyx.
“Four days?! But... the shop... and the forest... the druid!” shouts Sylva as she weakly tries to sit up on the couch.
“It’s useless to argue. I’m refuse to use more of my precious spell scrolls to relieve your exhaustion, and I have other matter to attend to that don’t require your usage. Even if you manage to find a cleric willing to relieve you of the fatigue, I won’t be planning on doing anything towards your actualization for four days. I suggest you take that time to rest, for I will be using you quite vigorously once you recover,” she expands.
“Ah... fine,” Sylva submits, pouting. “I’ve waited a decade... why not four more days?”
“What do you plan on doing in the meantime, master?” asks Ralph.
“I would like to pay visits to the adventurer’s, the mage’s, and merchant’s guilds to see either what information I may glean or what advantages I may gain from them. I would also like to train you a bit, Ralph. You haven’t had any opportunity to use your new power. Lastly, I would like to visit an elven town, probably the one near my house... which reminds me!” Nyx shouts, digging into her bag and pulling out a small chest. “Before I forget... here is the payment for those three maps, Sylva! I hope this is enough,” she says, placing five 10-pound bars of pure platinum on the elf’s coffee table.
“P-p-platinum... bars...?” she weakly observes before fainting from shock.
“Master! Are these real?!” Ralph yells, inspecting one. “These would be worth, like, 25 or 30 thousand gold pieces!”
“Of course, they’re real. What do you take me for, Ralphy?” asks Nyx. “Oh, it seems that it was enough. She’s fainted.”
“I think most people would faint if someone paid them in legit platinum bars...” Ralph figures. “Anyway, what kind of training?!” he asks, eyes sparkling.
“Heel, boy... I’m going to discipline you a bit in swordplay. Then, I’ll have you practice your magic. By the end of day four, I hope to have you defeat something you never thought possible to ever defeat alone,” she explains.
“I’m not sure if I like the sound of that last part...” he states, worry creeping into his voice.
“Ha! Don’t worry, you won’t!” she laughs, giggling sadistically at the thought of her new student struggling. “Hmm... I think we ought to move her to a real bed,” she observes, looking at the now sleeping elf, who has a stupid, happy grin on her face, likely stemming from the platinum.
Getting up from her seat, Nyx picks up the slumbering elf soldier, princess-carrying her to her bedroom and tucking her into bed. Returning from her good deed, Nyx flops onto the couch where the elf had been lying, a content sigh escaping from her.
“You... did that just so you could use the couch, didn’t you?” asks Ralph, skeptical of the selflessness of the previous action.
“That was certainly one of the reasons, yes,” she shamelessly admits, snuggling against an end pillow. “Ralphy, have you ever heard the story of the warlock who sold their soul for access to a spell that generates bolts of force?”
“I can’t say I have...” he responds.
“Well, his name was Ralph...” she says, giggling, beginning a joke story.