The place smelled of mold and dirt and dead things that very much prefered to be left alone. She crawled hand over hand, for the cavern’s walls loomed low above her, so much so that she could feel the ceiling pressing down against her spine like the stone finger of a giant. The feeling of being so trapped, a rat stuck in its own hole, sent her stomach to violently churning. Her breath grew short and her heartbeat was a hammer so loud she feared it would give away her position.
she willed it, and it slowed.
Ahead she could hear laughter, see the flickering light of a torch. She knew this passageway widened because of the way the voices echoed. It was not a sinister sound - reality was not akin to storybooks, and the merriment of a criminal was just as bright and animated as anybody’s. She’d always thought that made it all the more chilling - there was no difference between a chuckle over a joke made or blood spilled.
Forward she crept, and finally the crushing cavern walls fell away. She was still smothered in shadows, for which she was grateful. They were only thieves, as far as she knew, but a thief could be spurned to murder under the right circumstances. Many a corpse littered the main thoroughfares between Anvil and Kvatch to support this fact.
Her heart picked up again, beating, beating, though the emotion that flooded through her wasn’t fear. It was familiar to her by now, the rush of adrenaline, the alertness, the vivacious aggression. Sometimes she wished that they would discover her. Sometimes she hoped that they would turn, torch aloft, and spot her there, lurking in the dark corners, waiting to apprehend them or lead local guardsmen directly to their lair. She counted with an eagerness, one, two, three,
and wagered if the cards were in her favor. If she could manage to take them all right there, on her own. She would not say (or admit) that her wish was to kill them - a man’s life was worth more than a few bits of pretty gold - but she knew if it came down to it, she wouldn’t hesitate to kill for her own life.
Was it bloodlust? She couldn’t say. She could only say it made her feel alive.
“You hear some’in?”
The first man whirled on his heel, staggering slightly. Only then did she notice the scent of thick liquor on the air, from his breath, from the opened bottles in the crate by his feet. The odds had suddenly been stacked against them. There was a certain relish in the feeling, in the realization that they’d inhibited themselves. There would be an almost certain victory now, assuming they were all drunk enough.
He swept the torch a few times, but she skittered back into the shadows too far for the light’s reach. The second man snorted at him derisively.
“Oi. Enough o’that. Gimme some o’th’good stuff, willya?”
From the other corner of cave came the third voice, and this one was sharp, absent accent or slur, and Evirea knew immediately that he was the leader.
“Give me the torch, then.”
It was passed without question. Evirea’s heart lurched again, the eagerness biting at the bit, and the same excitement which had flooded her at the potential of victory clawed back to the surface at the promise of a challenge. Yes,
it whispered. This is what I need.
She squelched it and brought a potion to her lips. The effects let her vanish better into her surroundings, though it would only last for a few minutes time. This time the light did touch her, but it revealed only the stone on the floor. For the two drunken men, this would have been enough.
But for this other, with crisp alertness and bright green eyes, it was not.
He crouched down, and there in the molded dust he found the trace of a single footprint. Far too small to belong to one of his men. Far too fresh to have been from some other party which could have wormed their way down the throat of this place. Evirea was moving before he even had the chance to rise again - she had to even the odds before he began a more aggressive sweep of the place, for he was going to be a difficult one.
The first man fell to the ground with a grunt. The back of his head was bleeding, and the blow the investigator dealt him was helped by the blunted pommel of her dagger. He would not die, but she would not envy the concussion.
The leader jerked his head towards the sound and hissed, “Rickson, to me.”
But Rickson was already shrieking, clawing at his face as the chemicals Evirea had just splashed into his face burned with an agonizing insistence. His screaming filled the tavern to a near-disorienting degree, and she could see that for a moment the thought of haunts and spirits and the deep primal fear which lives in man started to slide its way up the leader’s spine.
And then he saw another of her footprints in the dust, nearer now, and the blossoming fear evolved into anger.
He drew his blade. His arm was steady, and she doubted he’d so much as sipped from the whiskey. It made a wicked singing sound as he brought it down dangerously close to his own man, who still writhed on the floor, shouting for Tristan!
to help him.
“Well,” said Tristan, addressing the darkness and she-who-lurked-within. “Come out, then.”
Still hidden from his sight, Evirea felt a grin tugging at her lips, a secret joy which she would admit not even to herself. She did not want power in the usual way - gold nor riches meant little to her, and influence over others was something that she never found herself longing for. Yet this feeling, to outwit her adversary, to stand above them having proven that she was the better of the two in mind and form - that she longed for, in her heart of hearts. To prove this. To prove what she had become.
And when that feeling was sated, when she had watched this thief waver long enough with his blade held up defensively, she stepped into the light.