Big Damn Heroes
Three weeks later…
Illeith’atharia clenched her teeth nervously as they entered the grove. This would be her first time meeting other members of the Blood of Vol. As tension sang through her she felt her teeth lengthening a little in response. As they crossed the threshold of the ring of trees, a shiver clawed up her spine. The little bat squeaked from inside her hood, possibly reacting to her tremor. She petted it a little, more to calm herself down than it.
A group of hooded figures milled around the small forest clearing. There was close to twenty five people there; far more than Illeith’atharia expected. Each figure was dressed very similarly to Dalrick and Illeith’atharia; everyone wore dark clothes and voluminous concealing cloaks. A low bed of coals softly illuminated the gathering.
Dalrick gently moved them in to the ebb and flow of the slowly milling crowd. He exchanged brief pleasantries with a number of people before he gradually approached what appeared to be a wizened looking elf. Giving a quick signal of respect and identification, Dalrick spoke in low tones to the man, “Greetin’s Brother.”
“Greetings to you as well, Brother,” the voice from under the hood seemed to trickle out in gasps. The face turned to look at Illeith’atharia, who was still half a step behind Dalrick, “And to you, Sister.” The old elf’s eyes glinted curiously at the pair. Illeith’atharia shifted her face to more completely hide her eyes under her lenses.
“This is my ‘prentice. Tis her first time at one of our ceremonies, so I’ll be showin’ her the ropes,” Dalrick said.
“Ah-h-h-h, good, yes, so very good to see new faces. Welcome child.” The elf’s eyes crinkled under the wrinkles of his slightly sinister smile. Illeith’atharia bowed her head in response, still hesitant to unclench her teeth. “Ah ha, such a shy young lady! What a delight…”
Only a slight shift in expression alerted Illeith’atharia that Dalrick had seen someone coming toward them; though she couldn’t tell if her mentor was smiling slightly or simply bearing his teeth. What she saw when she followed his gaze left her pale.
It was the strange man from the Sorceress Annearth’na Celyalona’s home. He was unmistakable, though Illeith’atharia couldn’t exactly place what it was that made her recognize him. His movements were measured and graceful as he glided up to Dalrick. Illeith’atharia stood frozen in place, hoping he hadn’t seen her.
“My dear Brother, I didn’t expect to see you here,” the steady regard from the man’s dark hood flickered to Illeith’atharia, “and with such…lovely company.” His bowed lips curved into a somewhat forced smile.
Dalrick merely broadened his grin a bit. “This is my new ‘prentice. She’s trainin’ to be an Avenger. She’s a natural to it. Quieter than a cat, ‘nd twice as nimble.”
The man leveled a look of pure malice at Dalrick before turning a more natural smile to Illeith’atharia. He held out his hand for introduction. “My lady.”
With one hand locked on the sword under her cloak, she held out the other in greeting. The man gently grasped her offered hand and executed a perfect courtly bow. He didn’t quite kiss her knuckles, though she could feel his breath on her skin. The sensation sent shivers through her, though this time she wasn’t sure if it was fear or something else. Though he did terrify her, his charisma was undeniable. Glancing up at her through his lashes, his gaze promised delightfully wicked things. He held his hood back to make eye contact with her, and she could just make out his pointed ears under the cloth.
“It is a great pleasure to be introduced to you. Though, we’ve met before, haven’t we?” At Illeith’atharia’s hesitant nod he straightened out of the bow; though he didn’t let go of her hand. A small smile played upon his lips. “I admit I’m quite surprised to see a beautiful young flower like you training to be an Avenger. You will be…quite the improvement on those currently in the ranks.” His glance slid over to Dalrick and his smile grew sharp.
Dalrick gave a rueful smile, “She’ll be a credit to us all, I’m thinkin’. Destined for great things e’en.” He and the stranger stared at each other for a moment; the tension between the two was thick enough to cut. Illeith’atharia desperately wished she could take her hand back, but couldn’t think of a way to do it without being rude. As much as she wanted to get away from this frightening individual, she also didn’t want to raise his ire in any way.
About five seconds past the point of it being unbearable, the elderly priest chuckled and waved his hands a little at them. “As amusing as this is, it’s nearly time to start. Please join the circle and we’ll begin.”
The two men glanced at the oldster and nodded. The stranger drew very close to Illeith’atharia and lightly traced her jaw with his free hand; ending on the arm of her glasses. This wicked smile was back in place as he leaned in to whisper into her ear, “You needn’t hide your lovely eyes from us. The worshipers of the Blood would welcome you with open arms…m’lady.”
Illeith’atharia started a little, and looked out of the side of her glasses at him. She had a brief moment of pure adrenaline running through her as she made eye contact with him. His brilliant red eyes met hers before he moved away.
Dalrick surreptitiously got a hold of Illeith’atharia’s arm and guided her to a spot in the circle. The gathered individuals all followed suit and soon a silent ring of hooded figures stood around the clearing. The old elf thanked those around for being there and drew out an old chalice from somewhere under his cloak. Illeith’atharia noticed that the strange red eyed man was standing next to the old elf. He drew a dagger from under his cloak and handed it to the priest.
What ever words spoken after that were completely lost to Illeith’atharia. When the wizened elf sliced open his wrist to let a trickle of blood fall into the chalice, she found she couldn’t take her eyes off it. Hunger coiled up within her at the sight. The oldster passed the chalice and the blade along to the stranger. He sliced his wrist slowly, almost lovingly; all the while he stared at Illeith’atharia with the tiniest of smiles on his lips.
Vivid colors jumped out of the world around her. Some small portion of her brain realized that she had unconsciously taken her lenses off to get a better look at what was happening, but most of her mind was simply soaking up the view.
As the chalice moved closer and closer to her and more and more people opened their veins, Illeith’atharia found it harder and harder to concentrate. Her jaw ached and the whole world seemed to be focused on the blood flowing in the circle. Finally it reached her and Dalrick. She stood frozen, and only Dalrick’s whispered encouragement reminded her to grab the dagger and proceed cutting her own arm.
It took all her strength to pass on the chalice without drinking from it. This was the first time she had ever experienced bloodshed on any kind of a mass scale; the fact that it was all humanoid blood only made things worse. She was completely enthralled; every cell of her being was focused on the smell in the air.
Little did she realize that her reactions had caused some of those present to mutter and stare. Her eyes were glowing faintly and she had bitten clean through the side of her lip with her fangs. A small trail of her own vitae dripped down the side of her mouth. Dalrick had split his attention between her and the rest of the group; ready for anything that might happen. The strange man watched her the whole time.
Mere moments after the ritual was complete, Dalrick picked up the forgotten lenses and quietly pulled Illeith’atharia out of the circle. They moved with utmost stealth for quite a while; Dalrick ever watching for followers and Illeith’atharia moving dazed behind.
After they traveled in silence for nearly a half hour, they finally paused and wrapped their wounds. Dalrick handed the lenses back to Illeith’atharia and said, “Well…tha’ was interestin’. You alright lass?”
Illeith’atharia shakily put the glasses back on and tried to rub the now dry blood off her face. “I don’t know…I…just hadn’t anticipated the…aroma of it all…” She shook her head, as if to clear it. “Who was that man, the one with eyes like mine? He was the one I saw at Lady Annearth’na’s mansion.”
“Jus’ another member o’ the Blood. When I firs’ joined up with yer parents, I knew tha’ they might not be ‘nough to protect ya. Yer folks are good, but they canna be everywhere at once. So I asked a Brother or two ta watch out fer ya. He musta saw you headed fer a house previously marked as trouble ‘nd shown up ta help ya escape. I know it t’was him that helped clear her outta town. I didn’t want ta tell yer folks, ‘cause I didn’t think they’d take it well.” At this, Dalrick looked a little sheepish. “I hope ya don’ mind that I ‘ad people lookin’ out fer ya. Yer parent’s love ya an awful lot; they’d be wrecked if somethin’ happened to ya.”
Seeing his discomfort, Illeith’atharia was quick to ease her mentor. “Oh no! It’s quite all right. If it weren’t for him, I’m not sure what Annearth’na would have done to me. And I can see why you never told Mother about this; she would have a cat. Thank you for protecting me.” She beamed a somewhat shaky smile at him.
Reassured that he was still in her good graces, Dalrick’s expression returned to his normal smile. “Good lass. Now let’s get outta here.”
They moved on through the night as a somewhat more sedated pace. After a few moments, Illeith’atharia spoke up again. “That man, the one who saved me…he didn’t seem to like you. Why is that?”
Dalrick moved in silence for a while before answering her. “I did him a pretty big favor a while ago. ‘Nough that he’s been workin’ odd jobs fer me ever since. Part o’ that is keepin’ an eye on you; protectin’ you when yer parent’s can’t ‘nd all that. I think it sticks in that ol’ buzzard’s craw that someone else got tha better o’ him. I don’ think he’d do ‘nythin’ really bad, but he does like ta remind me tha’ he’s unhappy wit tha situation.”
“I see…” Illeith’atharia let the silence grow around them as they moved.
After several more minutes of quiet, Dalrick posed her another question. “Most o’ the Order won’t mind if you grow fangs durin’ tha rituals, but it could be inconvenient at other times. Avengers see a lot of blood. Do ya think that next time you’ll be able to control yer reaction?”
Illeith’atharia mulled this over for a while before answering. “I don’t know. I think that this just…surprised me. I’m certain control would come with practice…but I don’t really know that I want to practice bloodshed. I don’t want to hurt people.”
Dalrick hummed to himself for a moment. “I think there will come a time when ya won’t have a choice. Eventually, somethin’ will happen ‘nd you’ll need to fight. It’s bound ta happen, if only ‘cause the rest o’ us ain’t gonna be ‘round forever. But ‘til then, we’ll get you used to it best we can. Control’ll be the name o’ tha game fer a while, ‘til you c’n sit through rituals without battin’ an eye. We’ll start with huntin’ trips. A little fresh meat ne’er hurt anyone, ‘nd it’ll give ya good practice for being up to yer elbows in gore. Plus, we’ll be out in tha woods incase ya lose control.”
And for the next couple years, this is what they did. Illeith’atharia trained with Dalrick in between her jewel crafting jobs; mostly mundane things while she was near her parent’s house. Every few weeks they would take a hunting trip. It was during these that Dalrick helped her learn how to channel the power of her blood as well as kill and gut animals. Slowly but surely she learned control. She still wasn’t interested in or willing to kill people though…