ooc: I figured I'd leave it open, if that's alright with you. If anyone else is interested, I'd like you to ask me first.
Khalrai awoke to the sounds of a caravan off in the distance. Curiously, she gracefully flew through the branches of the forest, until she came to the last few trees before the road appeared. She trained her ears and eyes on the group. It appeared to be a motley crew of sorts. There were merchants traveling with their carts full of goods and bodyguards. There were a few armed guards. There were people riding horses, and there were many who were walking along sporadically. All in all the group stretched across about half a mile.
It had been awhile since Khalrai had been in Shrewsbury, the capital of the region, where Lord Lanntell's castle resided. He was the same Lord who ten years ago had ordered West Haven, the town near her crag, to expand. She returned there on occasion, each time to find the city larger and the forest smaller. Unfortunately, she did not have the means to change these course of events by herself. While it would be nearly impossible to reclaim her crag, it was certainly possible to kill the lord who ordered it out. She had learned that he ordered other cities to expand in the same fashion, and this complete disregard of nature caused her great sadness and contempt for humans.
She waited until she found a good opportunity, and swiftly scurried down the three and through the grass until she neared one of the caravans. She teleported onto the side of one of the carriages and immediately took the form of a young, decently dressed woman, and hopped down onto the road. No one seemed alerted, and all was fine.
Sure, she could get into the town easily, but where was the fun in that? A little fun is good to have once in awhile.
She continued with the group, past the outer gates and entered the city. It opened up to the market. Among the wares being sold were animals, fruits, clothing, armor, weapons, ammunition, and miscellaneous bartering. It was something she had become accustomed to humans and other similar creatures doing, but something she still did not understand. It left the humans disconnected from nature and distanced them from a spiritual life. She shrugged and split off.
If there was anything the humans did properly, it was designating a sector of the city as "The Park". Here, they tended to the plants and the birds and smaller creatures who managed to make their home here. There was tranquility here, and she enjoyed the energies of the people who went there. They were humans who held a reverence for nature that was of higher appreciation than most.
After making her way through some of the nicer shops and houses, she came to the park. There were a few ponds and a large lake with a (human-made) waterfall. There were children at play, some families having a picnic, and even fewer who meditated or practiced martial arts and swordsmanship.
It was times like these that reminded Khalrai that not all humans are horrible creatures.
She walked along the path, adorned with bushes, flowers, and the occasional tree, until coming to the waterfall. It stood at least two adult trees high, and was connected to a pump that went through a hill. She found a rock beside the waterfall, sat, and began to meditate.
Yekaterina ran down the cobblestone-paved roads of the city, her boot-shod feet kicking up dust and faint red sparks, her ponytail of auburn hair flailing in the wind, the red fabric of her jacket trailing behind her like a cape. She wasn't sure anymore why she was running—it was quite a complicated series of events that had led up to her current situation.
Katya had started the day out realizing she was out of food and hungry, so she made her way to the local market. Not having any money to buy food with and not wanting to steal it, she pulled out her gusli, a stringed musical instrument, and began to play it, hoping people would give her money. She attracted a small crowd and once she was finished with her song a few of them dropped some coins into the bag she had put out for collection.
One man, however, when reaching into his coin purse for a bit of small change accidentally spilled a few large denomination coins, which Katya accepted as providence and snatched up before he could take them back. Understandably he got angry and Katya packed up and left before he could do anything. This was how she started running.
Then, on her way through the crowded market, Katya accidentally found herself on a collision course with an applecart. A second later she found herself sprawled on the road, covered in and surrounded by apples. Again accepting this as providence, she put one of the apples into her mouth and now started running from the angry cart and previously apple owner.
After that she might have trampled a flower garden that had gotten in her way and angered the person tending to it, and then there was that whole messy situation with the dog, the well, and the half-empty egg carton...all in all, Katya learned once again why running through a busy city was never really a good idea and yet, at the same time, quite entertaining.
Now she found herself approaching what appeared to be a park. There was grass and trees and hills and a general lack of buildings and other artificial structures. It seemed like a good place to stop running and take a break, not that she was tired so much as just getting bored of one activity and wanting to do something else.
Soon she was weaving around trees, deliberately avoiding following the obvious path, and made her way up a large hill. As she rushed near the peak of the hill she began to hear the sound of crashing water and before she could do anything about it she noticed that the hill ended abruptly and dropped straight down into a lake.
"Whoops," she said, as she followed the waterfall down through the air. Quickly she swung her satchel around by its strap and released it, letting it fly so that it would land on dry land and not become waterlogged. Mostly she was worried about getting her gusli wet. It would probably be fine, but she didn't want to risk it. It was her most prized possession after all.
With a splash, Katya landed in the lake. When she managed to swim out of it and onto the shore where her bag had landed, she noticed that the water she had displaced during her landing had washed over a rock that someone had been sitting on, getting them nearly as soaking wet as she was. "Er...sorry!" she said.
The trance Khalrai had entered was suddenly broken when a prolific amount of water waved over her and soaked her and her clothing. Opening her eyes, she saw a young girl swimming towards her. She climbed over the rocks and onto the shore. "Er... sorry!" she said apologetically.
She could sense the sincerity in the girl's voice, but beyond that there was something more. Perhaps... was it? She felt that this girl had a level of respect for the natural world and she did. It was more than she could say for any of the other humans she had thus far encountered.
"Where did you come from?" Khalrai asked coolly. "You don't look very... typical."
Standing in a puddle of water that had collected in the grass at her feet, Katya threw her bardiche on the ground nearby and removed her jacket so she could wring the water out of it. While she was in the middle of doing that, the woman who had been sitting on the rock said something to her. "Where did you come from? You don't look very...typical."
Thinking of how exactly to reply to that, Katya turned around to face the stranger. She was still sitting on the rock, her red hair and long dress soaking wet and dripping water. Katya pointed up to the top of the waterfall, saying "I came from up there." Then, finished wringing it out, she put on her damp jacket and collected both her bardiche and satchel.
She was still wet, but the sun was out and it was a warm day. It wouldn't take long to dry.
"Well it was more of a fall than..." Katya started to say. "I mean, yeah, of course. Heights don't scare me. I like jumping. I'd do it again if I hadn't just spent all this effort wringing out my jacket..."
"Jumping is a rather good exercise, and I find it can be a relieving activity." Khalrai noticed the girl's weapon, and surmised that she must be a fighter. "That is a fine weapon. Did you craft it yourself?"
"Ah yes!" Katya dropped the weapon on the ground. "Hand-to-hand, mano-a-mano," she said, punching the air a couple of times and then throwing a high front kick. "Ah, no, I am not from around here...wherever this is. Just passing through."
"It's an... okay town, though I prefer the natural beauty of the surrounding landscape. I don't care much for Lord Lanntell either," Khalrai said.
"The landscape is pretty nice around here..." Katya replied. "Uh, who is Lord Lanntell?"
"He is, well," Khalrai paused and looked around. "It might be better to speak in a more private area. I have a den outside of town we could speak at, if you are so inclined."
"Er...yeah, sure. Lead the way."
Khalrai nodded, and led the girl back through the city and out of the gates. Once on the road and out of earshot of any guards, she began to speak. "Lord Lanntell was once a fine Lord, as any others. He cared for his family, his friends, his people, and above all else he cared for his land. He was a strong and noble lord." She pointed towards a group of lumberjacks in the distance. "Do you see them?"
Katya looked over at the lumberjacks that the woman was pointing at. "Yeah. What about them?"
"Humans need lumber, it is a fact I learned to accept long ago." She began to walk off the path and towards the forest. "However, about ten years ago, Lord Lanntell began recklessly destroying the environment and expanding all the cities in the region. Why? For money, and power. He became corrupt.
"I did not become aware of this fact until he invaded the very crag I was assigned to protect. He ordered a battalion of soldiers to search for me and destroy me, so that I would not interfere with his plan to expand the region's infrastructure."
"Wow, that's terrible." Katya had never really considered herself much of an environmentalist before—she never really bothered herself with serious issues—but she could certainly see where the woman was coming from. Especially considering the part where the lord had sent soldiers to hunt her down. That was just mean. "Why would he do that?"
By now they had been walking through the forest a bit. Khalrai seemed to disappear into a pile of boulders but, upon closer inspection, Katya saw the woman had simply slid into crevice that she would not have noticed had the woman not been with her. "Because," she heard from somewhere within, "I am known as The Crag Warden, and I have guarded the land for over three centuries."
"Three centuries?" Katya said. "But that would make you...really old!"
"Relative to a human, yes, but not to me."
"Well, if you're not a human...then what are you?"
Khalrai felt comfortable enough with the human, and with a dim flash and a bending of light, she revealed her true form. Instead of a woman, there was a taller, humanoid fox standing there. She wore light leather armor with tribal markings, and around her neck was a thin choker necklace decorated with a multitude of colored stones.
"I am a Fox Spirit, a race of magical creatures who are assigned notable areas to watch over, and to ensure they remain in their natural states as much as possible. The crag, and the surrounding forest and ocean, is where I was assigned centuries ago."
Katya watched as the woman suddenly transformed in a flash of light. Now she was covered in orange and white fur, having pointed ears on her head and sharp claws on her hands, resembling a fox. "Whoa, that's pretty neat, uh...er, what's your name?"
"Khalrai. And yours?"
"Pleased to meet you." Khalrai teleported right behind Katya.
Khalrai disappeared suddenly and Katya started to look around for her, jumping when she noticed that the Fox Spirit was right behind her. "You're even faster than me!"
Khalrai laughed, "Yes, I am." She stretched out a claw for the girl to shake.
Katya shook Khalrai's paw. "Nice to meet you," she said.
"Well, if you wouldn't mind," she teleported back inside the den, and made a welcoming gesture. "I can prepare lunch and tell you more about Lord Lanntell, and my plans for him."
"Ah, sounds good, I was just thinking about how hungry I was." Katya entered the fox's den. "All I've eaten today was an apple."
Katya slipped into the den. It was a large, open room. On one side was a bed made of hay and leaves. In the middle was a fire pit, with a turkey slowly roasting over it. "I caught it myself a few miles north of here. Well... stole it from a farm, anyway." A wooden desk with papers was off to the side, and there was a wooden table near the fire with chairs. On the table was a bowl of fruits.
"You may help yourself to the fruit," Khalrai said.
Katya looked around the den then, finding the fruit bowl, grabbed the first two objects she could get her hands on, which turned out to be a pear and a peach. She started eating from both of them.
Khalrai turned the turkey a bit and walked over to the table. She grabbed a few of her notes and scanned over them. "Lord Lantell lives in his castle in Shrewsbury. It was ten years ago that I wandered town, in human form, and eavesdropped on a conversation between the mayor and a messenger. I learned they intended to kill me, and expand the town. I have returned on occasion to see... the horrors. I thought Shrewsbury was bad enough, but it's worse there. They are constantly burning down grass, cutting down trees, and they even mine. The fish in the nearby ocean and bay are nearing extinction."
Khalrai turned to face Katya. "I fear it might be too late to save my crag, but I have traveled within the region and I've seen the same atrocious acts being committed. I have not been able to speak or directly contact the lord, but I've heard various rumors. There are whispers among the people that he plans to raise armies to attack other lords. Others whisper that he wants nothing more than to increase his wealth even beyond what it currently is."
She turned the turkey slowly, dug her index claw in, and retracted it. "Whatever it is, it does not concern me. I want to extract revenge on Lanntell." She put the turkey onto a large plate and gracefully sliced into it with her claws. "Ideally, I would kill him, and his son would take over. He is not corrupted, and in fact shares an affinity with nature, much like myself. Killing him is simple enough. Most likely, I would be able to do it myself. The consequences, however, I cannot foresee. If he dies, I do not doubt that the Lord has enough loyal supporters that they would attempt to overthrow his son and place one of their own to continue what they started. It is the only reason I have been hesitant. I admit... it is partly because I am still not completely familiarized myself with human politics and I'm not sure what the best course of action is."
As Katya ate the fruit, juice dripping down her chin, she listened to Khalrai tell her story. Lord Lanntell sure did seem like a terrible person, destroying the natural environment and raising armies to kill people. "Well," Katya said, "I'd help you if I could, but I don't know much about politics either..."
Khalrai served the turkey and Katya took some, saying "Thank you!" and setting down the remains of the fruit she had been eating so she could dig into the meat.
Khalrai went back to the disorganized desk and shuffled through some notes. Her guest was enjoying her hospitality well.
"Hmm...." she tapped her chin with her long claw in thought. She took a few notes and brought it back to the table, and placed them near the feasting child. "I am reminded of the lord's Master Gardener. She is an older woman in her mid-forties. She cares for the park we were in earlier, and tends to the gardens in Lanntell's castle. I have overheard conversations and she expresses dissatisfaction in him. I believe if we were to consult her and get her on our side, she would not only be able to help us carry out the assassination more efficiently, but she should know whether his son succeeding the region would spark a revolution or not."
She continued. "I think this would be a good start. If you're up to the task, we can head back into Shrewsbury after lunch. Khalrai took a seat and filled a plate of her own with the meat.
As Katya ate, Khalrai went over her plans. The Fox Spirit took some notes from the desk nearby and placed them on the table next to Katya, who glanced at them for a second but didn't bother with reading them. Reading wasn't really her thing, especially when it wasn't in her native language. Khalrai mentioned Lord Lanntell's Master Gardener, saying that she might be able to "help us carry out the assassination more efficiently."
Katya thought about that for a minute, while chewing a large bite of meat. Assassination? Khalrai did mention wanting to kill the evil lord, who had tried to kill her after all and then destroyed her land or something. Katya hadn't thought much of it at the time though. But..."us"? She wanted Katya to help her, of course, which made sense now. She had never killed anyone before, though. It didn't seem like something she would want to do, or something she could do.
"Khalrai..." Katya started to say, her mouth full of turkey. She swallowed and then tried again. "Khalrai, I'm not gonna tell you what to do, if you wanna kill that guy or whatever, but I don't think I can help you kill anybody."