A Plea Heard and Answered.
Chapter 04: [Baby Steps.]
Orion felt the floor under him to become solid, the teleportation through the spectral realm a similar experience to returning to the Hunter's Dream. He opened his eyes to take in his new surroundings, aware that he and Audrey were indoors. He could hear the crackling of lit wood on a nearby fireplace, unknown voices talking and various other smells reached his nostrils. Stone bricks composed the walls of the building, the mood a quiet, but welcoming affair. The Hunter looked to his side, finding his Tarnished companion to be in awe at the sight of the grand table in front of them with a large grace atop the furniture.
"We really are in the Roundtable Hold." Audrey's voice was full of reverence and respect, Orion concluding that the place had respectable history behind it.
The Hunter expanded his senses, trying to feel the presence of the maiden that had brought them here, but there were no signs of Melina here. He was a bit disappointed, but held in his complaints. Supposedly he was going to find his answers with someone in here, so the Hunter was satisfied.
"I'll take a look around. Feel free to rest up." He spoke to the Tarnished vagabond, making his way to the closest presence he could sense. Audrey was still enchanted by her presence in the irreverent location, her only sign of acknowledge of his words a muted hum. He let her be and walked towards the presence, soon finding a man garbed in crumpled yellowish robes, a wooden wheel draped around his neck, his eyes covered with a dirty cloth. The Hunter took measured steps towards the man, his boots silent as he approached.
When the Ascended Hunter reached talking distance the man's head lifted up to face him. "Oh, I see that you've just arrived. Welcome to the Roundtable Hold. I'm Corhyn, a man of the cloth." He spoke in a soft voice.
Orion released a throaty hum in acknowledgement, taking off his hat and running a gloved hand through his hair. He held the pointed hat on one hand and calmly spoke with the clergyman.
"Nice to meet you, Brother Corhyn. I'm Orion, a Hunter." Presenting himself, the Ascended Hunter spoke in a neutral tone. Religion seemed to run rather rampart in these lands, most of the individuals with which he had spoken mentioned their beliefs one way or the other. Yharnam also fell victim to the machinations and power-hungry careless fools of the Healing Church – even he at the beginning came searching for their miraculous blood healing after all, so he had little grounds to speak or condemn – but in the Lands Between it certainly felt more intricate. Well, it seemed that the so called Outer Gods did manifest themselves rather constantly here, so the Hunter could understand their heavy influence in the culture.
Nonetheless, he remained respectful. He was in the waking world, not on Nightmare planes or the Hunter's Dream, so he had to further study and collect information before he could truly enter into motion.
The clergyman smiled. "You must be of distinguished origins, sir. Few are the tarnished that are invited to the Hold. I have seen many warriors, but very few proudly proclaim themselves hunters."
Orion tilted his head in slight confusion before he understood the man's meaning and chuckled. Ah, that's right. There aren't any Hunters here. If I recall history classes right…
"Something wrong, mister Orion?" Corhyn asked while cupping his own hands.
The Good Hunter shook his head, but then remembered the blocked vision of the clergyman. "Nothing of the sort; my job is a bit different from what you might be thinking." It was the other man's turn to tilt his head in curiosity at the words.
"Is that so?"
The Hunter once more chuckled. "Don't worry about it, just think of it as a quirk of mine." Orion spoke, glancing around. "I arrived from afar and I'm currently searching for a few answers to my questions. Would you be able to point me towards this…All-Knowing fellow?"
Corhyn's shoulders seemed to sag a bit, but the man was quick to cover up the slip. "Ah, you wish to speak to Master Gideon. He is in the library most of the time, so you may head over there." The clergyman was quick to give directions towards the room. "However, I must warn you; Master Gideon is a tough man to please and I plead that you do not antagonize him. He leads the tarnished here and will not even speak to most of tarnished under his command."
The Hunter hummed in acknowledgement, placing his hat back atop his head. "I see."
The conversation between the two men died down, the clergy member releasing a small sigh. "Very well, you seem resolute in your ways. I bid you good luck in your endeavors, Sir Hunter."
"Thank you Corhyn. I'll see you around." Orion replied, turning around to march to the library.
The Good Hunter had taken no more than a couple of steps away from the clergyman when he was called again. "By the way, Sir Hunter, I teach incantations to the tarnished of the Hold and explore the secrets of the Golden Order. What do you say, care to learn an incantations or two from the Two Fingers?
Orion stopped in his tracks, hearing a few unknown names mentioned as well as an enticing offer. Most Hunters in Yharnam had been peasants and common folk recruited by the inspiring words of Ludwig to join on the hunt. Noble intentions aside, most of the newly gathered recruits would be slaughtered by beasts before too long, those few that remained normally too brutish to really care for learning from books. Most of the well-known and powerful Hunters were normally distinguished and learned individuals (with the rare exceptions of course) that had leisure time to spend reading and learning other skills.
Orion himself had been a military veteran before he became a Hunter. Out in the field when you are fighting for your life there is no fancy honor or ethic, you either survive or you don't; adaptability is a must, thus the acquisition of new skills to enhance survival chances is something one should never pass up on.
Still, Orion never stopped to think of himself as a scholar. He was inquisitive (which was what saved him from a terrible fate in the end), and during his Hunt he had expanded his pool of knowledge to a great extent, so it might not be too bad to learn some few abilities. He wasn't exactly in a rush to finish his quest, the pleasures of feeling time truly pass something that he greatly grew to enjoy.
"I'll take you on that offer for sure, but on another occasion." He commented to the clergyman, resuming his steps and heading to the directions given to him.
The hold was rather large, Orion sensing many different smells belonging to a great deal of different people. Blessings and powers unknown to the Hunter were present here, none feeling hostile, which eased his hand for the moment. He was still ready to unleash his weapons at any time, but being on constant guard could be stressful for anyone, no matter their skill and fortitude.
Orion sensed that Audrey had headed inside one of the many chambers in the hold, the Hunter letting the girl explore on her own. His contract with Lady Melina was mostly done, but Orion took some fancy to the spunky female tarnished vagabond; he could afford to teach her a few more tricks before he released her to her own matters. Besides, it was fun teasing her, her reactions always getting the Ascended Hunter to laugh.
He took a deep breath, trying to filter the myriad of scents that reached his nostrils. Once he got the musky scent of old parchment paper, the hunter took to following its origin, almost like a dark beast chasing after located prey. It wasn't long before he arrived on a large chamber filled with thick tomes filled with knowledge from various subjects, many outside of his current scope of understanding. Titles such as [Glintstone Origins], [Carian Royal Lineage History], [The Evenicle of the Greater Will] and many more were housed in wooden shelves, the library making the Hunter feel some nostalgia. It certainly wasn't like the Lecture Building, but then again very few places could be compared to the Nightmare-suspended building.
The Good Hunter glanced towards a yellow-casting light source on the rightmost corner of the library, spotting a figure hunched over a pile of open books and scrolls. The person was dressed in rather gaudy armor, the helm hiding any features that might have been visible. Orion could sense a rather strong amount of arcane power flowing through this person, who most likely was his target.
The Hunter approached with easy steps, making sure to make noise so as to avoid startling the man. Still, it was as if his efforts were being ignored, as the armored figure did not spare a glance at him, fully focused on the written words on one of the pages that lay before him.
Orion reached the table and lightly rasped his knuckles on the furniture, finally managing to get the attention of the room's occupant.
"Oh, this is a rare occasion. I can't seem to remember the last time two new tarnished made their way to the Roundtable." The person's voice was thickly accented and low-toned, the man finally raising his head to meet the Hunter's gaze. The two stared at each other for a few moments, some tension building up as the Hunter and currently-unidentified individual tried to gauge each other's worth. "You are…rather different, aren't you? I sense the golden blessing of grace upon you, but there is something else in there. Fascinating…" The man stated, armor-clad fingers drumming on the table.
Orion lightly bowed his head, offering a sign of respect to the man. He remained silent for the moment, opting to see what the other fellow would say.
The armored man then placed both hands firmly on the table, but did not stand up. "Well, it matters not. As your senior here, I bid you welcome. It is safe here, you may let your guard down."
The Hunter couldn't help but chuckle at the statement, earning a curious (or so he measured from the tilt of the man's head) look from the armor-clad individual.
"Hehehe, don't mind me…" Orion spoke in an amused tone, hand lightly brushing against the handle of Evelyn, the pistol hidden under his coat. Rather convenient set of words, specially coming from someone clad in full-plate armor.
The tension thickened a bit, both men suspicious of each other, yet staying their hands to see who would act first. Seeing as neither seemed to be willing to escalate things, the tension stagnated.
"Allow me to give you a word of advice, as your senior." The armored man spoke, leaning on one hand against the table while the other tapped a loose paper with his other gauntlet-clad hand. "You are merely a visitor to the Roundtable Hold, nothing more. A house guest, yet to earn their keep." The words thinly veiled a threat, but Orion let them brush off him like ashes carried by the wind. This man seemed rather prideful of his position and status, the Good Hunter unsure what to make of him.
Nonetheless, Orion wasn't here to antagonize the supposed leader of the Tarnished warriors in the hold. So the Hunter once more bowed his head, offering the man a traditional hunter's greeting. "I apologize if I came off as rude; my fights have left little room for educated greetings, so a sudden offer like that came off as too-good to be truth. My apologies."
The armor clad man didn't answer immediately, opting to relax his frame back on his chair and take the time to organize a few of the loose pages in front of him. "So long as you remember your place, newcomer." The previously built-up tension was quietly released, the Hunter and the armor clad man both easing up. "There is nothing left to be said. Be at your leisure." He said, returning his focus back on the papers in front of him.
Orion saw the chance and took his leave, now understanding the apprehension that had plagued Corhyn when the Hunter mentioned the All-Knowing. The so called tarnished warriors didn't seem to have good standing even among each other; the Good Hunter couldn't fault them, as even back in Yharnam the various hunters' factions were at odds with each other, and sometimes factions within factions bickered and clashed.
The Powder Kegs' engineers clashed with the Healing Church's saints; the Church's Executioners absolutely despised the Vilebloods; the Choir's secretive members did not appreciate the Driven-Mad Scholars of Memphis; the Ascended Hunter chalked it to human nature. After all, where there was more than one person, different opinions would clash and conflict was bound to follow.
Orion left the library chambers and decided to continue exploring for a bit. He focused on his senses, his ears picking up on the sound of hammering metal upon metal. A battle? No, too rhythmic to be a fight…a smith perhaps? He mused, following the sound. Soon his nostrils also caught up the sour smell of sweat and iron, the Hunter soon arriving at a smith forge.
Well, it wasn't that impressive on itself, but its simplicity held a certain charm. Besides, the figure that was behind the anvil certainly made up for the lack of distinguishing features.
The being was bipedal and akin to a human, yet the likeness stopped at the facial hair that grew into a messy beard on the creature's face. Its skin was of a scaly hide that grew strange, coral-like protrusions that reminded Orion of the Fishing Hamlet. He barely stopped himself from drawing the Saw Cleaver, noticing that the smith stopped his work upon a sword to look at him.
"You are a new face." The creature's voice strangely reminded Orion of a certain old and crotchety Hunter. For a moment the two silhouettes matched, before the image faded away, leaving Orion with the vision of the scaly smith questioningly looking at him with a bothered gaze. The elderly being sighed and grasped the weapon that lay on the anvil before carefully placing it behind him. "No matter, it's all the same. Lay out your arms, let's get smithing."
Orion was a bit unsure of the Hold's choice for a blacksmith, but he didn't voice out his curiosity. He merely pulled back the right flap of his long coat, exposing the leather strap that secured the Saw Cleaver on his hip.
The smith's eyes grew a bit as he laid eyes on the weapon, an excited glint shining on the tired orbs.
"That is an exquisite weapon you have there, Tarnished. I have had yet to lay eyes upon such design." The lizard smith pointed out.
Orion chuckled a bit, pulling out his weapon and carefully laying it over the anvil. "My weapons are certainly unique; this one is one of the simpler ones."
The smith laid his hammer on the floor next to his feet, the sound of rattling chains calling Orion's attention. The elder seemed unbothered by the shackles, clawed hands carefully grasping the Saw Cleaver and studying the weapon.
"Are you some sort of noble or influential figure, Tarnished? Craftsmanship like this is rare in the Lands Between." The elder commented, moving the blade close to his own face to watch the blade alignment of the cleaver edge. The scale hands carefully ran over the length of the blade, inspecting its sharpness. That done, the smith checked over the saw teeth, trying to spot misaligned or broken pieces.
The check over took a few minutes, Orion entertained by the manner with which the lizardman smith fawned and inspected his weapon. The elder seemingly regained some light and excitement in his eyes, his exhausted demeanor vanishing. The elder then handed the weapon back to Orion, handle-first.
"That is a project of passion, and something made for butchering." He commented, running a hand over the length of his beard. "I wouldn't want to be made the target of that, or even be close to you when you swing that thing. Bathing in blood isn't exactly my thing."
Orion nodded, impressed with the deductions of the smith. "It does leave quite the gash." He joked, his tone delivered in a lewd manner.
"Aye, I bet that it does." The lizardman scoffed at Orion, but a smile did sprout on his lips, displaying a row of dull, but pointed teeth. "Say, I didn't get your name, Tarnished."
The Hunter took of his hat and presented himself.
The two males hit off quite a bit, though Orion found himself a bit unsure on what to feel when looking at the old man. The elder smith was clearly some sort of mixed breed as humans weren't exactly known for their scaled skin or barnacle-encrusted shoulders, but it was clear that the smith was not about to go into a blood-filled rampage or maddened rage; the hunter did notice the shackles that imprisoned the old man to his workplace, but Orion needed more information before he was going to do anything drastic in this place. He was confident in his skills as a Hunter, but caution was never enough. He could feel the constant shift of energy in the air, a force that was much more present here that ever in Yharnam.
Orion was no mystic or fool, the laws that operated the Lands Between might be similar, but they were not the same that ruled over Yharnam or even the many Nightmare realms that he had visited. What struck true in his world did not necessarily translate to this realm and vice versa. He would exercise caution with his choices, but then again being careful was a default mode for the any Hunter worth their skills.
He let the elder keep hammering away at a glowing ingot as he left to explore one last room before he left the hold. As the armored fellow in the library had stated, he was not a true resident of the place, his temporary stay something that the Hunter felt better to not overextend. Audrey might be more suited to use the hold as a safe haven than Orion, as she was a true Tarnished, while he had yet to truly understand what such title meant.
The Hunter sniffed the air, taking in the myriad of scents of the hold and focusing on the one most familiar of the bunch. Audrey's scent was mixed with something else, which made the Hunter a bit curious; the knight-turned-vagabond Tarnished's temperament was not the easiest to get along, so it made the moon-scented Hunter wonder whoever it was that managed to tame the wild lady.
Guided by his nose, Orion was quick to arrive into one bedchamber. Incense candles burned lazily and some spices wafted into the air, granting to the stony room a homely feeling; which clashed with the rough and utilitarian aspect of the room that was furbished with well-used and worn out furniture. The Hunter scanned the room, soon finding his temporary protégé.
Orion raised a brow in amusement as he spotted Audrey on her knees, hugging the frame of another fair woman in long, black silky robes. The Good Hunter leaned against the stone frame of the doorway, watching the scene unfold as the robed woman ran a soothing hand over Audrey's head, the auburn hair settling down under the tender touch. He remained silent, wondering for how long they would remain in the intimate pose.
He wasn't strapped for time, his quest something that was bound to take plenty of it by the sheer vagueness it alluded to. First the Hunter had to collect plenty of information before he was to act, and then he needed to find out what was straining his connection with his Great One self. Still, after ten minutes of merely watching Audrey and this robed woman hug, the Hunter felt it to be time for him to announce his presence. He wasn't exactly peeping, and the intimacy of the act was fairly mild, but it felt like something personal nonetheless.
He let a sound rumble in his throat, the rough noise echoing in the chamber and getting the attention of duo. Audrey flinched in the robed woman's grasp, while the other woman merely raised her head to watch the newcomer. Seeing an amused expression painted on the man's face, the robed woman returned it with a soft smile before slowly unwrapping her arms from around Audrey.
"What you felt light up inside you was a baldachin's blessing." The woman's mellow voice was soothing on the ears, Orion himself feeling almost as if someone had caressed him. She then laid her hands to rest on her lap. "Though it is but a fleeting thing, I am afraid."
Audrey rose from her kneeling pose and brought a hand to her own chest, almost as if trying to grasp the feeling described by the robed woman. Orion did sense a slight change in the Tarnished's vitality, but he kept the information to himself for the moment. Maybe the woman would react poorly if her intents were to be doubted, and the Hunter was still a mere guest here, compared to this woman.
Most of the scents here mingled together, especially those whose smell had the tang of battle. Communal sleeping should be a common, most likely a necessary thing in this hold, yet this fair lady got to have her own quarters. He was no history buff, but the Hunter was not blind to the importance of status.
"Did I miss any of the spicy bits?" Orion asked with a somewhat sleazy tone, a smirk painted on his lips, his magenta-purple orbs half-lidded.
Audrey groaned, shaking her head in embarrassment as well as covering her face with her gloved hands. The lady sitting on the bed chuckled, but said nothing. The tarnished female knight turned to greet her temporary mentor and sighed in exasperation.
"Did you know that every time you sigh it is said that some of your future happiness slips away?" The Hunter sagely advised, closing his eyes and nodding to himself.
The Tarnished girl almost released another sigh, but held off on it. Instead she turned to face the robed woman and lightly bowed her head. "Thank you very much, Lady Fia. I shall continue my journey, but I do hope that our paths continue to cross."
The platinum blonde woman gently nodded her head, eyes closed and soft smile an enchanting sight. "You are very welcomed, dear Tarnished. Come back to me should you require another." The now named Fia lightly spread her arms in an invitational manner. "I will take you in my arms as often as you need."
Audrey seemed to be embarrassed by the affectious display of the other woman, slightly tilting her head backwards to see if her teacher was still watching them. The Hunter still had his eyes upon the duo, but his expression now shifted to a melancholic visage. The female Tarnished decided to leave, waving goodbye while exiting the chamber, expecting the Hunter to follow her.
Orion took a few seconds to leave, eyes examining the frame of Fia until his eyes landed on her own blue orbs. He cut off and left the door frame, following Audrey until both were back again close to the great table in the middle, where meeting and discussions were likely held to define the future of the Tarnished warriors.
The Hunter approached the table was about to pull out a chair for himself when Audrey pulled on the tattered end of his cloak, rudely stopping the Hunter from his objective.
"What do you think you are doing?" She whisper-shouted at him, raising a gauntlet-clad hand to mock-threaten him.
The Hunter leveled a dull stare at the girl, his expression almost mocking in nature. That got the girl to retort with an annoyed glance of her own. Once it became obvious that he would not be allowed to grab a seat, Orion pointed to the close by chair, his dull voice tone grating Audrey's already thin mood.
"Grabbing a seat. Didn't think I'd have to explain that one to you…" His words were followed by his right hand settling over his mouth in a thinking pose, the left limb supporting the right. "…Hunter tools might be too much for you. Maybe a Fist of Gratia might be more your style." The Hunter pondered.
Audrey huffed, sure that her teacher was somehow calling her dim-witted. She huffed and sighed, pointing to the table that held a rather large grace sprouting from it.
"That is the table where the most distinguished Tarnished take a seat to plan out the future of the Lands Between. This is a legendary place! You can't just take a seat!" She exclaimed, almost desperate in her efforts to get him to understand the significance of the place.
Orion blinked at her, wondering about her bouts of respect towards this place. It wasn't like he was trying to be rude, but it certainly didn't feel like the hold was of any special note. It felt like safe haven, much like the Hunter's Dream, but if one could not use the facilities, then what was the use?
The Hunter's Workshop was of free access to everyone, so long as they were skilled enough to reach it and respected those already there. Orion was a friend to all Hunters after all, so long as they didn't attack him or lost themselves to the madness of blood.
"Pshh, very well then…" The Ascended Hunter blew a raspberry at his companion, but decided to avoid further antagonizing her for the moment. He still had to impart a few lessons to her before they went their separate ways, and what better way to do so than through experience? "Do you need anything else from here, or can we go, oh noble tarnished warrior Pocahontas?" The Hunter couldn't resist one last jab at his little apprentice.
She narrowed her eyes at him, aiming a half-hearted punch at him. Which was effortlessly dodged with a lazy backstep from the man, her fist meeting nothing but air; she grumbled, but could do nothing more. She watched him approach the grace close to the table, ready to intervene in case her teacher would do some crazy shenanigan, but he did nothing of the sort, merely approaching his hand towards the golden grace.
Audrey wondered what he was doing, but obtained no answer as he merely kept his focus on the lustrous grace, seemingly hypnotized by whatever it was that he was seeing. She brought a hand to touch his shoulder, but the moment she made contact, she felt something paralyze her.
It was just like the sensation when they used Lady Melina's power to arrive at the hold.
Audrey closed her eyes, unsure of what she should do. She had little to no proficiency with magic and arcana, be it those that relied on the power of miracles or on one's own intellect; she barely could use the power of Ashes or War, much less complicated powers such as transportation. Yet, here was her mentor, doing that very same thing. She closed her eyes and felt the energy wash over her, the floor under her feet all but vanishing as her stomach felt a lurching sensation.
It all ended in a second, soon enough the tarnished warrior feeling the outside air brushing against her face. Audrey opened her eyes to find both herself and her teacher on the same site of grace they had encountered after their brush with the Fell Omen. Right in front of them stood the magnanimous sight of the entrance to the Stormveil Castle.
The female tarnished immediately grasped the handle of her sword, unsure if enemies were nearby or not, but unwilling to wait and give them such opportunities. Her mentor, however, seemed to be fairly relaxed.
"H-how did you do that?" Audrey asked, still a bit shaken by the sudden teleportation.
Orion hummed in amusement, stretching his neck to the sides. "What are you talking about?"
Audrey huffed, but instead of falling for the bait, she sheathed her blade and took a deep breath. Taking a few more moments to examine their surroundings, the knight then turned to her mentor/tormentor. "That thing! We were just in the Hold! Then, suddenly we are here! How?!"
Orion cocked his head to the side, still playing the fool. He continued his mock ignorance at the girl's questions, but once he got his kicks off from it the Hunter pointed to the site of grace.
"Calm down and think a bit, Audrey. Panicking will get you nowhere besides the bottom of a grave. Take your time and think a bit." Orion instructed, messing with something inside his coat until he grabbed a thick book from it. The leather binding of the tome resembled the one that he had been previously reading, so the female knight did as instructed and took a few deep breathes before she began pondering in silence.
The girl began thinking how could her teacher be this inclined with the arcane. It was clear as day that he was not exactly a spell-caster, and she had seen no signs of any sort of charm, ring or signet that would allow him to perform magic, which further furrowed the frown on her brow. Was it something exclusive to her teacher? Was it some sort of ritual? All he had done was point to the golden grace and then…
As the warrior continued her immersion on her deep thoughts, the Hunter wondered if he should return to the Hunter's Dream to change his equipment. It was a bit of a habit for him to continuously swap his equipment, both to match his environment and to avoid getting too used to a single strategy. He had experienced his fair share of deaths back in Yharnam to understand that while stubbornness was necessary, sometimes one had to take a step back and adapt to be able to take on a new challenge.
He remembered a few tips back from when he was but a fresh Hunter. An inexperienced greenhorn, unsure where to go and what to do, a fish out of water, floundering about due to his lack of expertise; who would have thought that he would be the one to acquire pale blood? As that thought brought a chuckle out of him, Orion ended closing his book and closing the distance between himself and Audrey.
It took a while for the woman to notice his presence just about a few inches away from herself. She panicked and began flailing about, in the end losing her balance and falling on her behind. Before she could protest, the thick book lightly hit the top of her head with a dull thud, making the girl flinch in place.
"Ow! What was that for?" She asked, patting the top of her auburn hair.
"Ehh, don't think too hard about it." Orion shrugged his shoulders, stashing away his copy of [How To Pick-up Fair Maidens] in his coat. Once he did that, he began to walk towards the open gates that led to the castle.
The female knight was quick to get back on her feet, already ready to complain to her mentor about his unfair treatment. She tried to grab his shoulder to stop him from moving, but the Hunter suddenly disappeared from her line of sight, Audrey suddenly feeling herself in danger.
"HYAA!" She loudly yelped, her body jumping forward due to momentum. She quickly placed both hands to try to protect her ass, the flesh stinging due to the meaty swatting hand of the Hunter "Y-Y-you!"
Orion raised his right hand, clenching it a few times almost as if committing some sort of feeling to memory. "Yes? Me?" He said, although his focus was on the movement of his clenching hand.
Audrey's face acquired a crimson blush, caused not by embarrassment, but by anger at her mentor.
"How dare you?!" She shouted, already drawing her sword and rushing to hack away the Hunter.
Orion smirked, shrugging his shoulders. "Oh sweet summer child…" He said, waiting for the attack.
"Now what did we learn?"
Tap tap tap.
Tap tap tap.
Tap tap tap.
Tap tap tap.
"Would you stop that!?" Audrey loudly complained. Yet, the tapping of the hand cannon that her teacher carried continued uninterrupted, the female knight huffing, but remaining silent. A few more moments went by, until the tapping of the metal on her rump stopped. Her mentor stood from her back and holstered the weapon, offering a hand to help the Tarnished stand up too. She accepted it, aware that when it came to dealing with the Hunter it would be better to simply go with the flow instead of fight it.
"That was fun~…" Orion stated, taking off his hat and running a hand over his hair. "However, duty calls my little apprentice."
Audrey narrowed her eyes at the man, but kept any inflammatory commentaries to herself. The Hunter then grasped his Cleaver Saw, the female Tarnished following along and withdrawing her sword.
"Now that we are here, it is time for one of our lessons," He spoke in a quieter tone, his previously carefree mood forgotten in favor of calculated focus. "A Hunter should always be aware of their surroundings and their equipment. The right tool for the right job, if you will." Orion explained. They moved at a sedated pace towards the main gate of the castle, currently locked and without any signs of any ease of access; the Hunter gave a quick glance at the black iron bars that composed the gates of the Stormveil before deciding to look around for any other paths.
Exploring a bit to the right side of the fortress netted the duo a few items, most of which the Hunter let Audrey keep with her, stating that she'd need them more than he did. The Tarnished wondered if he was pitying her, but then she remembered the previous night. He had – somehow – enchanted his daggers with lightning; there were no magic signs, pleas to borrow power from a higher being or even a use of magical grease. One moment he was doing maintenance work on his wicked-looking blades, and the other he was a few centimeters away from carving Lady Melina's throat open, his weapons crackling with blue lightning.
The female Tarnished had many questions pertaining to her sudden teacher, no simple answer available to her at any time. Lady Melina seemed to respect his skills, his character and personal tastes aside, and as she had been entrusted with Torrent, so had the Hunter being entrusted with mentoring her into a capable fighter. The knight-turned-vagabond wished to ask more about the Hunter, but words escaped her anytime she mustered enough courage to ask him about his past.
The Lands Between attracted all manner of individuals; from those of the land of the Scorching Deserts to the barbarians of the Badlands, from the Samurai of the Land of the Reeds to the common thugs and bandits that struck peasants on the roads, people (and sometimes more than that) from all walks of life seemingly found themselves attracted to this place: to gaze upon the Erdtree. She herself had felt the call of the magnanimous grace, to try to become Elden Lord.
Yet, as much as he professed to have been called by grace, her mentor seemed to be focused on something else.
Nonetheless, the female Tarnished banished the thoughts from her head and focused more on his back. She would not squander the opportunity that had been given to her.
"Hmphf!" Audrey grunted as she threw her body on the dirt floor, spreading her limbs far in an effort to try to get rid of the numbness that plagued them. The woman and her mentor had taken to exploring the left side of the castle, their option being encouraged by the emaciated gatekeeper that resided on the broken section of what was supposed to be a screening room.
The man was strangely helpful, but the tarnished vagabond couldn't help but feel dirty under the gaze of the old fellow. His old eyes seemed to be firmly following her every move, but whenever he so much as glimpsed at Orion, the man flinched and averted his gaze almost as if physically struck. She would have found it a bit insulting to be dismissed as a threat, but she could understand the feeling very well. Leather garbs weren't exactly the norm when one talked about protective gear, but her Hunter mentor seemed to have been born to wear them and look intimidating while doing so.
After being warned of the dangers of the main gate and taking the advice of the keeper, Orion had let Audrey carve the path forward, offering minimal insight for now and letting the warrior learn from her experience. Well, she was learning alright. Learning that she might hate birds with a fierce passion.
Previously serving as a knight on a merchant house, Audrey was no stranger to a varied manner of stuff. She had the pleasure of eating fruits of the far-east, hearing the songs from the wind instruments of people from the land of the reeds, watched the sword-dance performances from olive-skinned nomadic tribes and even seen auctions selling all manner of slaves. The uncommon did not startle her. However, there was a great difference between seeing uncommon sights and then seeing something like the Rot-be-dammed eagles with swords in the place of their talons.
Whose great idea was it to graft swords to them? She questioned, tiredly sucking in big gulps of air. The avian creatures were troublesome to deal with, their wings allowing the beings to keep on the air and avoid any of her attacks while they could dive in and slice at her. It was annoying and painful, the only lime-light being that the birds would screech in high pitch before bomb-diving her with their blades.
Five eagles had cost her a few uses of her crimson flask and earned the tarnished knight the mild mockery of her mentor. She cursed under her breath, unwilling to ask his help in taking down the flying menaces. She would manage it on her own! Or so Audrey had been adamant three hours ago. Now the prospect of asking his help was taunting her, the attacks against her ceasing for now as the thundering noise of his hand cannon spooked the creatures for the time being.
She had barely wounded one with her sword, the woman feeling some shame burn in her chest at the rather pathetic display of her skills. She could hold her own against knights, why was she struggling against some damn overgrown birds!
Audrey took a few more moments to catch her breath, her mentor leaning against a nearby wall and waiting for her to decide the next step. She stood up and sheathed her blade, examining her own armor. It was nicked and dented on a few places, the damage not too terrible.
"Failure is a whimsical teacher, but a teacher nonetheless." The Hunter calmly stated, his hands spreading open the edges of his garb and displaying the myriad of items that hung from his belt. His left hand brushed against Evelyn, but the Hunter didn't draw the firearm, opting to grab one of the thin knives that were secured there. "Sometimes it harshly punishes you, and sometimes and lets you get away with a mere slap on the wrist."
Audrey grimaced, patting the bag that hung on her hip and hearing the clatter of metal against metal. She opened the leather bag and discovered an assortment of small kukri knives. Too small to be used as primary weapons, but large – and more importantly, sharp – enough to leave quite the gash should they land on their target.
"As I said before, the right tool for the right job," The moon-scented Hunter pointed to a crumbled part of the cobblestone road, a great number of loose stones and rocks littering the floor, but more importantly, just about the size that they could be thrown. "A Hunter is to use every advantage they can get to win against their quarry. Once you get your marks on prey, it needs to be slaughtered."
The ex-knight sighed in frustration. "I know, I know…"
The Hunter shook his head, but stopped the forming lecture that he was about to preach. It was better to let Audrey experience some calculated hardship before she was to tackle on this challenge. He could smell it in the air. Harsh and pungent, clinging to the walls and sometimes even wailing in his head; there was something terrible going on inside these stone walls and the Hunter would not throw his small apprentice in there unprepared if he could help it.
Maybe there was an area that he could let Audrey explore at her own pace that was not a death trap that wanted to kill her and steal her limbs. The hunter looked upwards, seeing that the sky was getting dyed in tones of red and orange, alerting him that night time was fast approaching.
"We'll have time to wonder about your love for feathery creatures later, now we have to get going." Orion spoke in his usual tone, earning a grumbling huff from the female vagabond. He chuckled at her expense, further annoying the girl. "Let's pick up the pace, the darkness of the night houses a few dangers that a proper noble lady such as yourself are not prepared to face."'
The tarnished groaned, ready to beg the Erdtree for a miracle that would allow her to shut her mentor; alas, no blessing was granted, which meant that Audrey had to endure Orion's constant mocking and little digs at her inability to dispatch the annoying eagles. They returned from their path and passed by the creepy gatekeeper, the man offering them a crooked smile, but still manning his post and keeping to himself.
After the duo left the immediate area of the castle, Audrey whistled loudly, arcane energy gathered around the girl and summoned her equine companion. Torrent spawned and amicably greeted the tarnished girl, carefully extending his head to allow Audrey to pat him between his short horns. Differently from his greeting towards Orion, where the animal scoffed and turned to face the other way, causing the Hunter to raise a brow in amusement at the animal's distaste for him.
The Tarnished girl was quick to climb atop the small horse, sending her mentor one last look. "Shall we meet on the Stormhill shack?" It was less of a question and more of a statement, but Orion nodded and allowed the girl to go ahead to prepare whatever it was she wanted. He was a Hunter, but he was not an unknowledgeable fool; sometimes ladies (no matter how tough and tomboyish they were) needed their own personal time.
He let her figure disappear before he headed towards the closest site of grace, the place where he defeated the magical clone of the Fell Omen. He sat before the golden grace and meditated a bit, his senses picking up on the sudden arrival of his new guest.
"Lady Melina," The Hunter spoke in his casual tone, once more taking off his hat and offering the Hunter's greeting. "Forgive the poor accommodations, I didn't know you'd be visiting me this soon."
The cloaked figure knelt on the spot with as much grace as it could; the hood that normally kept her face hidden lowered to display the fair face of his first contractor in the Lands Between.
"Hunter…" She acknowledged him with a curt greeting, focusing on his face. "…it is a pleasure to see you are doing well."
Orion let a small smile grace his lips.
"I don't see Tarnished Audrey with you, have you both already parted ways?" Melina's tone of voice told Orion that the woman seemed a bit disappointed with him.
The Hunter shook his head to deny. "It's still a bit too to let lil' Snow White on her own, but I can't exactly be breathing down her neck every minute of the day." He explained, examining his gear and doing some light maintenance on his Saw Cleaver.
The maiden remained silent, but the Hunter could sense that she had relaxed, almost as if a weight had been lifted from her back. He kept busy with his small repairs, waiting for the time when the woman would leave to allow him some privacy. He didn't know much about the maiden and would prefer to keep some of his secrets as such; the moon-scented Hunter wasn't sure but he would prefer to avoid somehow revealing an entrance to the Hunter's Dream, as unlikely as it was for Melina to be able to follow him, he preferred to not risk it and leave such things to circumstance.
Still Melina remained by the site of grace, eyes glued to his unorthodox weapon. Orion paid it no mind and continued with it in silence, until the woman called attention to herself.
"Hunter…" She began, but stammered, seemingly unsure of what to say. It was a sight for sore eyes as Orion pictured Melina to be quite a confident woman. Seeing her this unsure…if she were to pout he would be asking the dream children to bring him a new notebook for a sketch. "…I'd like to extend to you the same offer I made to your Tarnished partner. I know that you are cunning and strong, but one can always strive to improve and reach new heights." Melina calmly stated.
Orion set his weapon aside and ran a hand over his jaw. "Are you asking to enter into another contract with me, Lady Melina?" He spoke in a light teasing tone, wiggling his brows at the woman.
The cloaked woman seemed a bit taken aback by his manners. She noticed his joking tone and sighed, shaking her head in exasperation. "Would it kill you to take some things more seriously, Hunter?"
"There is a time and a place for everything, my lady." Orion chuckled, shrugging his shoulders at the question. "But I'd be glad to improve, if you could help then my luck is finally having an effect."
Melina firmed a stare at him. "Do you enjoy playing the fool?" Her question caused a big smile to slip the Hunter's lips. She rolled her exposed eye, taking a deep breath to help her cope with this man's strange form of humor. She stood up and approached him, extending one hand from her cloak, the Hunter watching the porcelain-white limb offered to him with curious eyes.
"Every being houses a portion of runic power within themselves; one can further increase the number of runes by defeating others and taking the runes for themselves." Melina explained, further cutting the distance between them until she was very close to the Hunter. "Shall I turn your runes to strength?"
That feels rather…familiar. Orion mused, shifting his thoughts to focus on the runes. He wasn't sure how different they were from blood echoes, but the principle seemed to be the same. He was curious about what sort of the effect these runes would have over him, since so far he was merely holding them, having yet to use any of them. If anything went wrong he could call upon the Oath Caryll rune inside his mind.
Seeing his compliance, Melina then knelt by his side, offering her hand to the Hunter once more. "Let my hand rest upon you, for but a moment."
Those words tickled Orion's fancy. They made him remember a certain doll that was always ready to be of service to him. He suppressed the lust that threatened to heat up in his blood, managing to simmer it down to a mere sleazy grin. He took off his right-hand glove and grasped the offered limb, Melina's eye line a bit higher due to her position.
"Share them with me." Her voice turned into a melodious, almost hypnotic thing that caressed the edges of his mind. Her request was simple, but almost too personal. "Your thoughts, your ambitions, the principles you would follow…"
Orion could feel it, the principle of the runes. Being slowly teased from his inner core – his human soul – and beckoned to act at his behest. They would become whatever he wished for, all in an effort to please him, whatever his objectives be. It was soothing, in a different, yet similar manner to the blood echoes that he was so used to.
Still, he needed to act on them.
Getting used the dense energy of the runes, Orion asked Melina to use the power to reinforce his mind. Arcane tricks had never been his forte, and although he could use all the Hunter's tools, something told the Hunter that investing in his mind would not be a waste.
"Grrmm~~" A pleased growl left his throat, the warmth of the runic power now firmly settled within his being also bringing forth a rush of pleasure that felt lightly comparable to a blood high.
Melina watched the Hunter, a bit curious about his admittedly strange reaction. What sort of man could release such…unsettling noise? It seemed that she had much to learn about her ally. The idea seemed interesting for the maiden. How long had it been since she could call upon the aid of someone instead of the other way around?