I cantered up the staircase centered within the Great Hall of the Blacksteele Clan’s manor. A place I was devoid of excitement to return to, yet, intrigued to reacquaint myself with the inhabitants of. Specifically one in particular, but I doubt I’d be getting any semblance of a warm welcome.
The guards that escorted me inside ushered me down the central hall atop the stairs, then through the largest set of doors at the very end. The ornate hand-carved oak gave way to the very peak of my interest. She was the hard-case, headstrong female that remained one of the foremost reasons why I left and avoided this place. Coincidentally, she was the only reason I didn’t exile myself forever.
“Domina, your guest has arrived.” The guard to my left announced.
“Leave us,” was all she replied. Her back remained towards me as she faced the large window that gave a generous view of Barcena, her country. The sky was grey and dull. Everything here seemed dull.
My escorts nodded and swiftly left the room.
“Ashthorn, how quaint of you to return.”
“I see you haven’t changed, Blacksteele,” I responded to her lukewarm greeting.
“I would correct you, but I know your obliviousness isn’t something that can be helped. Pity really.”
I could hear the sarcastic smirk on her face without even needing to see it. I just stared at the cascading waterfall of her hair that lay around her shoulders; it was long enough to touch her waist.
“Indeed.” I blankly responded, it finally got her to look at me. Her curly raven hair swished around with the motion, breaking the illusion.
“Why don’t we skip the pleasantries, why are you here Niklaus?”
Niklaus. She never called me that, it was always Klaus. She still had her panties in a bunch from two years ago.
“My latest mission has been completed, I thought it time to come home,” I responded, unfazed.
She angled her head in question. There was genuine concern that shone in her eyes, “You’ve never thought Rhonesmith your home. What changed?”
"I realized that with all of the places I've gone, no place has ever felt like any semblance of a home. I figured that I'd come back to my roots, start by coming back here; to you."
"For the love of the Gods," she groaned, "I do not have time to deal with a man-child in the midst of an identity crisis. I have enough issues to deal with here as is, running the whole of Barcena by myself." She said pointedly at the end.
“You know, you’re still the same insufferable bitch from when I left. I'm trying to fix things with you and you cast me aside like I'm some steaming pile of shit."
She snorted condescendingly, “I’d rather be an insufferable bitch than a floozy bimbo with doe eyes for any mildly attractive looking male that comes around.”
I rolled my eyes and ignored the insult, “One time. That happened one time. Need you bring it up in every conversation we have?”
She laughed, it was dark and sultry. I hated it. “How else do I live up to my insufferable persona?”
“This was a bad idea. I’m leaving. Thank you Lady Blacksteele for your time.” I took a breath and turned to leave.
“If that was your sorry excuse for an apology, it's going to take years before I even bother to look in your direction again.” She called out as I attempted to leave her office.
I glanced over my shoulder, eyes no doubt resembling the daggers at each of my sides, “Yeah? I'm still waiting for mine. You weren't the only one hurt two years ago. I'll be at Whitford's if you want to try your sorry excuse of an apology."
With that, I slammed the door between us and stalked out of Blacksteele Manor in a shittier mood than when I walked in. If that was even possible.
I hoped that maybe time would've healed the wounds in our relationship, but it seems that our separation two years ago had cut us both deeper than either thought.
Two years ago, we were supposed to leave Rhonesmith and travel through the whole peninsula, she abandoned me without so much as a word. She had her duties, and I had mine. Apparently being a stuck up princess enabled you to break promises and expect everyone else to grovel at your feet.
What fucking rubbish.
She didn’t even bother to stop me. Let me go as if she wasn’t whimpering the previous night in my bed about not wanting to be apart from me. Yes, I had many unresolved feelings about her. I thought they had simmered down to a smoking ember, but being back here fanned the flame high enough to burn. What an infuriating pain in my ass.
I hadn't been back for more than a couple hours and already I needed a fucking drink.
Welcome to Rhonesmith, Barcena’s dull capitol. There’s blacksmiths, brawling, brothels, and booze. Take your pick and enjoy.
“And so the prodigal hero returns!”
“Where’ve you been you bastard?”
Choruses of delinquent greeting sounded around me as I entered the inn’s tavern. I waved them off and sat down at the bar.
“Welcome back. What’ll it be?” The barkeep Whitford asked. He was getting up there in age, had owned this inn and tavern for as long as I could remember. Though by no means was the burly, bearded man slowing down.
“Tankard of your strongest. Been a long day.” I laid down a silver cheq.
“Let me guess, you volunteered to get your ass handed to you by Blacksteele? You’re one hell of a daft fuck for trying to crawl back to her for forgiveness.” He poured the ale from the large tap behind him and set it on the bar, taking the cheq as his hand retreated. Whitford pocketed the coin that was supposed to be worth three rounds for myself, not the measly one.
I pulled the ale towards me and scoffed as I took a hefty chug. “Keep the change,” I lowered my voice as he walked out of earshot, “Old, fucking wanker.”
“He may be an old bastard but he can still toss you out with the pig fodder. By the looks of it, you have nowhere else to go. I’d bite my tongue if I were you.”
My eyes confronted the speaker. A freckled ginger that looked hardly a day past 20, seemed to have been getting friendly from the alcohol-induced haze. Most people around here knew not to bother with me, guess he needed an introduction.
“Get lost, kid.”
“Hey, I was just trying to give some advice to you, Ashthorn. You’ve been gone for some time, I thought you might’ve lost your manners.”
My ale went down the wrong way and I started coughing. The audacity of this kid. He knew who I was and still talked to me as if I were some idiot off the streets. Fucking rubbish.
“Speak for yourself.”
He shrugged and smirked behind his tankard. I think he was the type to enjoy pissing people off, he seemed to do it for sport.
My eyes rolled of their own accord as I turned to face the bar again. Whitford was finishing up with another patron, I waved him down.
“Another one?” He asked.
“Why not. I wanted to also inquire about a room for the next night or two.” I laid down three silvers. He’d better take it.
“I had a feeling.” He grabbed one of the few keys on the hooks behind the bar. “I’ll give you a discount. Two nights, you’ll need another for the ale and tip.”
I scoffed. “I leave for two years and you turn into some kind of hustler, then I get smart-mouthed by some lad still wet behind the ears. To top it off, Blacksteele will barely even look at me. Rhonesmith turned into a shithole after I left apparently.”
“Or, and I’m just throwing out hypotheses, you have a skewed memory of Rhonesmith and her people, so now you’re entitled and think everyone’s out to get you.”
“I’m not a child, I don’t think everyone’s out to get me. I thought you barkeeps tried to keep the peace, yet you seem to be picking a fight with me. Cross me again old man, see what becomes of you.”
“I’m not done yet, boy.” Whitford’s usually mirthful face curdled into a serious scowl, his bushy brow furrowed in annoyance. Once I became silent, his expression relaxed once again and he continued. “I don’t doubt you Niklaus. I’ve watched you grow into a fine man. Your journeys and experiences with your trade have taught you much, the places you’ve traveled to have opened your eyes to the rest of the world. We haven’t changed since you left, you outgrew us. Rhonesmith isn’t a small city by any means, but we’re a simple people here. Compared to what you’ve experienced elsewhere, it’s quiet. Magic doesn’t thrive here, neither does diversity. I know deep down in that thick skull of yours, you know that, son.”
I looked down at the tankard between my hands. What he said was true, to a point. Rhonesmith never felt like home to me, just a place I grew up in. It wasn’t a bad place by any means. The people were nice enough, and I grew up living comfortably. The absence of warmth and care is the cause of my negligence to Rhonesmith. My family wasn’t the most welcoming, but then there was her. She was the only warmth I’d ever experienced. The only reason I deigned to come back.
Once my thirst was quenched by the second pint, I dragged my buzzed ass up to my suite. I hadn’t even acknowledged the looming presence behind me while struggling up the flight of stairs, nor the whispers and hushed tones of the other patrons as said presence gracefully stalked into the tavern.
The clumsy fumbling of keys could be heard as I tried and failed three times to unlock the door, and suddenly, I felt myself being dragged backward and thrown against the railing opposite the door. I was lucid enough to grip tightly onto the rail as gravity threatened to have me plunge down over the side.
“Excuse me fucker, it’s rude to try to kill someone and steal their room without so much as a greeting.” My S’s were slurred terribly. Probably from the lack of food. I had nothing to ease the heavy polluting of my blood from the strong ale I just finished guzzling.
I heard a scoff coming from the shadows of my room. The thief stole my keys and welcomed themselves into my home for the night. The door was left open as if they were waiting for me to follow.
“I don’t appreciate the attitude, you could at least introduce yourself.” I pulled one of the sconces from the hall into my room to shed light on the intruder. Upon entry, the door was slammed shut behind me. I heard a lock click into place. What an odd thief.
I lowered my sconce to the lantern I’d known to be on the wall and lit it with the sconce’s flame. The room illuminated around me, providing light to finally see the intruder in front of me. They wore a black cloak, embellished with silver, white, and red thread. I knew exactly who they were even with their face concealed beneath the hood.
“Valeria. What an unwelcome surprise.”
Lady Blacksteele lowered her hood and smirked softly. “Always a pleasure, jackass.”