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-The Dark Kingdom- A work in progress.
Death wafted through the kingdoms like a plague. One by one, they each fell, left to decay as nature intended.
The major power in the region, Erestun, had been corrupted by some nameless entity. By exacting false revenge on its long time allies, The Dark Kingdom toppled even the most battle strong. Now only two kingdoms remained. Already in Barghest rumors spread of traitors while villagers disappeared without a trace...
Such was the topic of most of the conversation in the Gnarled Oak. The air in the tavern was thick with pipe smoke and saturated with the stink of old ale and far less pleasant things. Having chosen to sit away from most of the patrons in the old tavern, Tahlin D'tsuna sat with his booted feet propped up on his table, a half empty tankard of ale next to his crossed ankles. As he silently listened to the disheartening conversations, he tried hard not to breathe through his nose; living in the open air did nothing to prepare him for the smells assaulting him now.
An eerie silence filled the room as the tavern door swung open and closed with a 'bang'. Everyone watched as a white cloaked figure drifted inside and sat at a table near the back of the room.
Seeming to lose interest in the newcomer, the patrons went back to their ale and conversations. Genko Mennen sighed in relief as noise once again filled the stuffy, almost overly warm room.
White robes... that could only mean one thing.. Having seen his share of thievery, Tahlin knew as he watched the newcomer that an elf had found it's way into the Gnarled Oak of Barghest. Looking around, he saw that he wasn't the only one watching the stranger. Many of the tavern's patrons were paying close attention to the new arrival. Leaning forward, Tahlin peered under under the elf's hood, disguising his actions by casually reaching for his tankard of ale. As he brought the rim of the tankard to his lips, he wasn't surprised to see a group of men push away from their table and make their way to the elf's table. Humans had always hated the elven race for the simple fact that the elves were superior to the humans in basically every way. Granted their talents were rarely put to good use, he saw no reason for such harsh prejudice, but then again, he saw a lot of things that humans did as pointless...
He drained his tankard slower than usual as he continued to watch the cloaked elf. With a grunt to signal he wanted a refill, Tahlin set his now empty tankard down with a loud 'thunk' and drew a hefty dagger from the sheath on his thigh. He pretended to study it as its blade glinted wickedly in the firelight. Then without any warning, he threw it at the feet of the elf's would-be harassers. He caught the eye of the drunkard in the lead; a silent warning. He was in no mood for a bar fight that evening. "Sit down, friends. I'll buy you another round." His lightly accented voice was loud enough to cut through the din in the small room and his amber gaze never wavered from the group of men.
One nervous looking lad placed his hand on the leader's shoulder questioningly. The man shrugged and turned around to go back to his table; the others followed. Nodding to the barkeep, Tahlin leaned back in his chair. "Wise choice..." he said to himself. He didn't look at the elf again. He had never been fond of sheepish gratitude...
Genko jumped as a dagger lodged itself in the floor next to her table. Glancing up, she noticed a group of humans standing near her. She had been so busy collecting her thoughts that she hadn't noticed anything. Startled, the mini-mob looked in the direction the dagger had been thrown from. One man shrugged and then the group returned to their table, casting conspiratory glances in her direction every so often. Genko let her eyes drift to the man who had fended off the mob so easily. She slid off her hood, revealing her face with a wide grin.
Tahlin caught sight of movement from the corner of his eye. He took a long drink from his freshly refilled tankard and set it down with a loud belch. "Now that you've exposed yourself, I assume you have a plan to fend off the humans?" his voice was low, just loud enough for the she-elf to hear, but still he didn't physically turn to look at her.
Genko was startled when the man spoke, his slightly husky voice sending shivers down her spine. "Oh.. well, now that I think about it, I don't..." she found herself saying.
He did turn to look at her then, but he wore an expression of shock. Was she really so stupid? After one last long pull of his ale, Tahlin tossed a few coins on to his table and swept past the she-elf. In what seemed like one fluid motion, he stooped down, jerked his dagger from the dirty floorboards, twirled it in his fingers once and then sheathed it. And then he was gone, the tavern's door swinging shut in his wake. The men in the tavern began to stir. They made not-so-subtle advances in the she-elf's direction. Not one wore a friendly face.
As Tahlin exited the stinking tavern, he breathed in the fresh winter air. Undoubtedly he'd regret leaving soon but it was all right; he never camped out during the snowy season.
So... the elves had made it all the way down to Barghest... That wasn't a good sign. If the wood elves were already fleeing, that didn't give much hope to the Imperial Kingdom of Redvale. Tahlin leaned against the side of the building, waiting for the she-elf to make her way outside, away from the hostile humans.
he himself had become quite adept at hiding his identity and for that, he was thankful. Not to mention his dark hair led people away from his Elven heritage. The wind blew a few dark strands of his hair into his face. He let them stay where they were, too lazy to tuck them into the long braid that reached his lower back.
It wasn't long before Genko made her exit from the Gnarled Oak tavern. She burst out of the door not long after the man who had spoken to her. As she emerged into the fresh, crisp winter air, a hand shot out of nowhere and gripped her by her forearm, pulling her to the side of the door. It was him! He pushed her against the wall next to him and held her there while he stood poised, watching the door, waiting for anyone who might have followed her out. Part of her wanted to believe he was being chivalrous but she was confused as to why he was doing this...
"You got lucky." he said after a moment. He released his hold in the elf woman's arm and began to walk away from the tavern. He had to admit that he was surprised that no one had followed the woman outside.
Genko rubbed her arm thoughtfully. She just knew that it was going to bruise.
Tossing the long rope of a braid over his shoulder, Tahlin spoke to the elf as he walked away. "Are you just going to stand there all night...?"
Genko jumped from her trance when she heard him speak to her. "Huh? Oh yeah... I'm coming I guess..." she said, glancing over her shoulder toward the tavern, her golden eyes scanning for any disturbances.
Tahlin looked over his shoulder at the woman, his eyes reflecting the starlight like an animal's, the shadows putting his face into stark relief. He stood waiting for her, his body hidden beneath the heavy fur lined cloak that he wore. As he waited, he spoke again, "I have a few questions... if you'll be kind enough to answer." He studied her red hair and golden eyes. She was rather attractive but he couldn't help but feel as though there was something familiar about her appearance.
His eyes...she blinked and whatever it was, was gone. He said that he had questions for her... with a sigh, Genko brushed away a tendril of hair as it drifted across her face. Gods it was cold! Teeth chattering, she hurried to catch up with the man.
The inn boasted of soft beds and hot food and that was indeed what Tahlin found after he paid for a room. Sparsely furnished, the room was prefect for travelers like himself. There was a large, comfortable looking bed, which seemed to be the main focus of the room. a small table with a couple of mismatched chairs sitting around it and a fireplace. Already a cheery fire warmed the room. Having sent for dinner, some sort of meat stew with bread and ale for both him and the woman, he took his cloak off and draped it across the back of one of the chairs and sat down. He wasted no time in asking the elf what he wished to know. "Why have you come here? Barghest is no place for an elf."
Genko's eyes followed the man's movements as he sat down, his legs stretched out in before him. She couldn't help notice something familiar about him. When he began to talk to her again, she found her eyes wandering to his mouth. When she realized that he had stopped talking and was now staring at her, she blushed and woodenly sat down. "How do I know I can trust you? How do I know that I can tell you my secrets?" she replied, her voice cracked from the cold night air.
He laughed then. "I'm not asking you to tell me your secrets. I only wish to know how the elven kingdoms are fairing." he was quiet a moment. "Forgive me, Lady. I am Tahlin D'tsuna. You have nothing to fear from me." he said.
Genko shivered at the sound of his almost mocking sounding laugh. Her eyes widened as she caught a glimpse of two sharp looking fangs in his mouth. Before she realized what she was doing, she had jumped up from her chair and had already made her way to the door.
Tahlin blinked. "If you think yourself safe out there, then by all means, leave. However, it is not my duty to protect you." he said, more gently than he had intended.
With that, she paused just as her hand reached the doorknob. With her back turned to him she began to cry.
Tahlin rolled his eyes and stood. Silently he moved and placed a tentative hand on her shoulder. "You cannot tell me that I've frightened you already..."
Genko spun around when she felt his hand on her shoulder. "Look, I don't know who you think you are but I am not going to be your lunch..." she pointed her slender index finger at him. Then turning to the empty space beside him, she pointed again. "And I wont be your lunch either!" The next thing she knew, her world went black.
Tahlin arched an eyebrow and looked to where the woman pointed next to him. "But... it's dinner time..." he mumbled as he watched her collapse to the floor. With a sigh, he scooped her up and placed her on the bed atop the blankets.
A few moments later, one eye opened, peeking at Tahlin, she watched him eat what looked to be some sort of stew. The aroma of the food wafted silkily across her face and her stomach growled in response. She inwardly cursed her treacherous stomach. What if the stew wasn't enough to sate his hunger? She certainly didn't want him coming after her...She was sure he was allied with The Dark Kingdom, treacherous beasts, the lot of them. They had killed her entire tribe! Those who survived had decided to split up, leaving her on her own.
Tahlin smiled to himself as he heard the she-elf's stomach growl loudly. "There's some here for you too." he said as he tore off a piece of bread to dip in his bowl of steaming stew. "Its really quite good." He added as he took another bite.
Knowing that she'd been discovered, Genko half sat up. She watched him carefully as she slowly began to get out of bed and walk toward the table, the scent of food calling to her. Forgetting who, or what, she was dining with, she sat down and began to pile her plate and bowl with as much food as she could. She took a huge spoonful into her mouth only to spit it out immediately. "Hot!" she cried, fanning her scorched tongue with her hand.
Tahlin nearly choked on his stew and was forced to take a drink of his ale, which was difficult since he was laughing. "No one is going to take it away from you, little one. Let it cool a moment." he said with a chuckle.
With an indignant look and a mouthful of ale, making her cheeks protrude from her face, she stared at him. Why was he being so kind to her? Why didn't he just kill her now and get it over with? She studied him carefully. His amber eyes sparkled with amusement and his lovely mahogany hair was slightly disheveled. What was it about him that intrigued her so? Swallowing her ale, she decided that it was at least safe to tell him her name. "My name is Genko Mennen. I am from the Northern Woodland Tribe. I thought I should at least tell you that much." she said, her voice almost a whisper. She avoided his gaze by looking down at the table. It was old and cracked in places, its wood dark in comparison to the old frayed table cloth that didn't quite cover it.
"I'm pleased to meet you, Ms. Mennen. Why are you so far from home? The Northern Woodlands are a long ways from Barghest." he took another bite of his stew, his fangs momentarily visible as he opened his mouth.
She sighed as she remembered the events of the past few days. "My people were raided and massacred by the Dark Kingdom's army. Men, women, and children. None of us were safe." she paused, a tear sliding down her cheek. "Those of us who managed to escape split up to find our own paths. I wandered for two days in the war lands until a farmer was kind enough to pick me up and drop me off here in Barghest." She looked down at her hands and was disappointed when she was that they were shaking. "I'm alone. There's no one left..." her voice broke, threatening more tears.
Tahlin frowned. "So they have reached eleven territory. I'm sorry for your loss." he stared into space for a moment. "That's why you fainted, isn't it? You think I'm of the Dark Kingdom, don't you?" his eyes slid back to Genko, watching as tears slid down her angular face. "You have nothing to fear from me..." he said again, his eyes reflecting the firelight.
She nodded but said nothing. Slowly she stood and walked to the only window in the room. She looked out into the night, not expecting to see anything in particular. She merely stared. Realizing that she was still wearing her cloak, she untied it and placed it on her chair. She walked over to the fireplace, her emerald green gown swaying around her legs as she walked. She stared into the flames, seeing images of her past. Slowly, she sank to the floor and covered her face with her hands, weeping softly.
He'd never had much experience with women in his lifetime, so for a moment, he simply watched her. And then he stood and moved to where Genko sat crying. He knelt down beside her and pulled her into a clumsy sort of hug. "Its all right. Everything is going to be all right..." he soothed as he held her, trying his best to help. "The Dark Kingdom will fall and your clan will not have died in vain." he said gently, truly hoping his words were true.
Genko felt his arms slide around her and she tensed. She wanted to resist but to be held while she felt to terrible, felt so good. She leaned on him and tried to calm herself, the tension leaving her body. They sat like that for a few moments and before she could stop herself, she fell asleep.
The minutes ticked by and slowly Genko ceased crying and her breathing slowed. She was asleep. It was a struggle to stand up while still holding her, he was lucky he wasn't a weakling... After a few tries, he managed to get to his feet and move to the bed. One handed, he pulled the blankets back and gently lay Genko on the sheet. He pulled off her boots, set them next to the bed on the floor and then pulled the blankets over her. She must have endured a lot. He felt sorry for her. Silently he moved back to the table and pulled his cloak free of the chair and spread it on the floor near the fireplace. After pulling off his shirt, he folded it and set it aside. It felt good to kick his boots off and let down his hair. After looking around once, he lay down on his cloak and drifted off into a dreamless sleep.

As the early morning light drifted across Genko's face, she opened her eyes and looked around, slowly remembering where she was. She stretched, a little purr escaping her as she did so. After a moment, she sat up and looked around. The sun was streaming in through the one window in the room, spotlighting their dinner mess. Little dust motes swirled through the air, leading her gaze to the sleeping form of a man on the floor. He was sprawled out on his back on his cloak near the fireplace where only dimly glowing embers remained of the welcoming fire from the night before.
Her gaze lingered on Tahlin's sleeping form. With no shirt and his hair down, she couldn't help but stare. As she studied his face, it struck her. His ears! Jumping off the bed, she nearly pounced on him as she landed near his head with a 'thud'. Genko brushed his away for a closer look and she felt her spirits lift: he had pointed ears. So very similar to hers.
Without opening his eyes, Tahlin inhaled deeply before addressing Genko who was manhandling him. “I told you, you have nothing to fear from me.” he said, his voice rough from sleep. Catching her wrist in his hand, he stopped her from fondling his ear. “You aren't very stealthy for a wood elf.” he said sleepily.
Caught in the act, Genko grinned impishly. “If I had wanted to be stealthy, I would have been.” she said a bit haughtily. “So... You aren't a full blood vampire at all...” she mused out loud, still looking at his ear.
Tahlin sat up with a groan; sleeping on the floor was painful. He released her wrist and rubbed at his eyes. “I'm half vampire.” he said in response to her unspoken question. “And the rest of me is Imperial Elf.” he said, running a hand through his disheveled hair.
“So... I don't mean to be rude, but does that mean that you don't drink blood?” she asked, sounding hopeful.
Tahlin looked at her seriously for a moment before leaning close to her. “Want to find out?” he purred the question against the soft skin of her throat.
Genko sprang backwards, landing cat-like in a crouch. “Th-thats not funny!” she choked out. Her expression showed how shocked she was, her eyes were wide and her breathing shallow.
He couldn't help himself, he laughed as he got to his feet, the noise a warm sound. “I'm sorry. I couldn't resist.” He was still chuckling as he pulled on his shirt. “Did you really expect anything more from such a presumptuous question?” he asked, looking up at her as he tucked his shirt into his pants.
“I... well... I.. .hmpf! I guess not...” she replied, blushing as she gazed at his muscular chest. He was definitely muscled like a vampire, but at the same time, he was lithe like an elf.
Not paying attention to Genko, Tahlin began to braid his hair. “Hmm... Well, unfortunately I still require blood. But not nightly like my kin.” he said lightly. “Its a natural part of my existence so I accept it.” he added, shoving his feet into his knee high boots. “The question you must now ask yourself, Ms. Mennen, is whether or not our paths separate here..” he retrieved his cloak and folded it over his arm “...or do we leave Barghest together?” he stood with his arms crossed over his chest, waiting patiently for an answer.
Genko blinked and then sighed, standing up where she had been crouching. “I suppose you are far better than what's out there. So the smartest thing to for me to do is to leave with you...” she said to herself more than to him.
He nodded, “All right. Put your boots on then. We're leaving.” he said, stretching. “First we need to resupply...” he paused, looking at her dress, “...You'll need warmer clothes too.” he finished. “Come.” he put on his cloak and headed for the door. As he walked, he was already making preparations in his head, calculating what they'd need. In moments, he was already out of the room, leaving the door open behind him.
Genko grabbed her cloak and threw it on. Next she put a boot on and hobbled out the door, trying to get on the other. “Wait for me, please!” she called to Tahlin as she hopped towards him. Using his shoulder as a brace, she finally got her other boot on. She looked up at him, grinning sheepishly as he looked down at her, one eye brow raised in question. Tahlin shook his head but said nothing as he walked out the Inn's door, pulling his cloak closed against the cold as he did so.
A few paces outside of the door, he turned to face the she-elf and handed her a handful of coins. “Get some decent clothes suitable for winter and meet me at the tavern. I'll get the supplies we're going to need.” and then with a trusting smile, he pointed her towards a clothier then turned on his heel and strode off.
Genko looked at her hands where he had placed the coins. After a moment of indecision, she smiled and walked to the shop he had pointed out. As she walked through the door, she pulled her hood up to hide her ears. A loud voice welcomed her from what had to be a back room and a few moments later a rather squat looking woman appeared. “'Ello darlin'. 'Ow can I 'elp you this marnin?” she greeted loudly. “Well, I'm in the need of proper winter attire...” Genko replied, gesturing to her dress. “Oh that won't do a'tall! Come along dearie and let Auntie June 'elp you,” the round lady said as she pulled Genko into the back room.
It didn't take Tahlin long to gather what they would be needing on their trek to Redvale. Food and basic supplies were bought and carefully stored in a new pack that Tahlin now carried. It would interesting traveling with a companion, much less a woman. He sighed and made his way back to the tavern, mentally bracing himself for the stink he knew he'd have to deal with again.
Emerging from the shop clad in a white fur lined cloak, fur lined boots, men's breeches, and a snug fitting boy's tunic made of some sort of warm material, Genko decided that she hated being small sometimes. It made finding properly fitting clothes a trial. She didn't notice all the men ogling her as she made her way through the town and to the tavern where she was supposed to meet Tahlin.
Sipping hot spiced tea, Tahlin watched the door for any sign of his new companion. When she did enter, he didn't recognize her at first. He sipped his tea again and then did a double take. What he saw made him choke on his tea and spill the remainder of it in his lap. He cried out as the hot liquid burned him, knowing he looked like a fool. “By the gods, woman!” he hissed as he jumped to his feet and threw his cloak over Genko. “I am not immortal...” he ground out, suddenly all too aware of every other man's eyes on his fair companion.
Looking confused, Genko spoke “This is all they had that fit me... wait...what?” she asked, trying to decipher his cryptic words. She looked around the room nervously, finally noticing the attention she was drawing to herself. She looked up at Tahlin and blushed, a bit embarrassed. She grinned sheepishly and tried to walk, but ended up tripping over Tahlin's cloak. Wow he was tall! His cloak swallowed her! She fell forward, landing against his chest, her face hitting just under his collar bone. Pushing away from him she strode to one of the chairs and plopped down heavily, exhausted under the weight of his cloak.
“No. Don't sit. We're leaving...” he pulled her to her feet and threw her body over his shoulder and proceeded to carry her out of the tavern. To his dismay, she thrashed and flailed and the other patrons catcalled and praised him. Gods... what had he gotten himself into? He put her down once they were outside and paused only long enough to put his cloak back on. Then he took hold of her arm and pulled her along as he headed for the city's gates.
With a frown, Genko let Tahlin pull her along. They passed by several villagers and received quizzical looks. As she recalled what had happened in the tavern she felt a smile tug at the corners of her lips. All the men had been staring at her, their desire apparent. Tahlin had been trying to protect her. He didn't even truly know her but he had felt it necessary to protect her from the other men in the Gnarled Oak. Or perhaps he was jealous? But jealous of what? Who knew... At that point she didn't really care so she stored it away as food for thought. At the moment, the only thing Genko cared about was getting away from Barghest and the strange people who lived there.
They were staring.. all of them...Genko in her damned men's clothing, showing off each and every one of her curves... she might as well have been walking through the streets wearing naught but what the gods had seen fit to give her when she was born... He scowled at each staring stranger as he dragged the woman to the town gates. It wasn't much further; already he could see it looming up just ahead of them.

Several hours later they were walking along the same road they had left Barghest on. Genko could have sworn they were going in circles. Her feet hurt... she gritted her teeth, so very close to demanding answers from Tahlin. So very, very close.
Tahlin had ceased pulling Genko along once they had left the city. Now, a strange tension has flared between them. Almost as if Genko disagreed with him somehow. It was in the stiff way s he moved, the way her lips were pursed into a thin line. For now, he chose to ignore and continue walking. He knew where he was going. And he knew that they had to get there before nightfall or they'd freeze to death. He squinted up at the sky as he walked. Heavy cloud cover. Snow. They had to reach their destination. And soon.
Genko's mood became increasingly dark as the day wore on. They had taken a short break for a small lunch and an even smaller rest. She was tired. She was cold. And she was getting cranky. How did she know that she could truly trust Tahlin? She didn't dare ask where they were going since she hadn't ever been that far from the woodlands before. She blinked as something cold and wet landed on her nose. It had begun to snow...
Tahlin pulled the hood of his cloak up over his head. He hated the snow. He hated the cold. “We're nearly there.” he said, speaking for the first time in what seemed like hours. The temperature had dropped, the cold seeped through his cloak and boots. His breath could be seen as little white clouds as he spoke.
Teeth chattering, Genko struggled to keep up with Tahlin's quick change of pace. The snow was falling heavier. Surely he didn't hope to camp in such cold weather... Then that's when she saw it. It was a town. Quaint little stone buildings with thatched roofs. Towards the center of the little village was a small keep. Smoke billowed in little columns from the buildings, a promising glimpse of the warmth within.
He would have smiled had he not been so damned cold. Betachelyn. Owned by Barghest, the village was generally overlooked. The forgotten village was a haven for all kinds of outsiders, no matter the race. The warlord there was a drunken brute who cared little for the peasants he ruled over. He simply seemed to have no time for them. “Welcome to Betachelyn. Home to many rogues, crooks, and commoners. We should be safe here.” Tahlin announced in his lilting voice, clearly happy with himself.

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