||2020-10-03 11:48:15 - Update
Episode #29: Stalking His Prey
The Ministry of the Blade Campaign
NPCs mentioned in this Episode:
It wasn't the music that bothered him. It wasn't even the smell of this place.
It was the laughter.
The tavern around him was buzzing with cheers and song, the patrons as loud as ever with their jovial celebration of the new season ahead.
It was true, Sephiroth thought. There was reason to celebrate. The harvest had been especially good, and the city had forgotten its somber tone for a little while. But the lights were much brighter on the other side of the tavern. The sound wafted over to him on ale-tainted air, and the boisterous noise began to wear on his nerves.
Sephiroth sat, his robe wrapped tightly around him. His hood lay back and his stark white hair fell in front of his face, hiding his critical gaze. It was warm in the tavern, the heat from the nearby fire in his alcove swept through the air and coated everything with the smell of burning wood. Sephiroth's table stood alone against the back wall of the small tavern, the light of the fire and torches around the room could not penetrate its cover, and he sat in suspended silence as those around him wasted the night away.
The goblet in his hand was still cold to the touch; Sephiroth's grip did nothing to warm the glass or the drink in it. With every sip, he savored the sweet red wine; the only drink he would stomach. It seemed to calm him, for Sephiroth could nurse a glass for hours, simply holding it on the tip of his tongue, watching those around him.
He was viewed as a regular now, his glass was kept full and no one bothered him anymore. There were only a few places that he would go now, chosen carefully. Chosen simply for their numbers, he thought. Maybe for their atmosphere, but he knew that wasn't what attracted him. It was the people. Oblivious to the world around them, naive in their merriment and completely helpless in their drunken stupors.
That was definitely it. The helplessness.
Sephiroth told no one that he frequented these establishments. For some time, he suffered a strange sense of shame for something that seemed very natural to him. He could not stop himself, and no longer was he content to practice his art during training. No longer would he adhere so stringently to the rules so strictly enforced to the others.
And as though on cue, one of the inebriated patrons smashed down his glass on Sephiroth's table, letting the warm ale splash from his mug onto Sephiroth's robe and hand.
"What are you looking at!?!" the drunken man roared.
Composed, quietly, Sephiroth rose to examine the damage to his robe. The man's foul breath rained down on Sephiroth in his chair, but when he stood to look the man over, Sephiroth had to look down to meet his gaze. "I beg your pardon?" Sephiroth asked politely.
"I said, what the hell are you looking at?!?" the man yelled louder than before, oblivious to the number of onlookers now. He poked Sephiroth's shoulder upon utterance of the last syllable, and it made Sephiroth almost fall back into his seat. Sephiroth knew this man had not full control of his faculties, and that he was simply in a riotous mood. He took little offense to the intrusion at his table, but was very conscious of the onlookers' intense gaze. The man was several inches shorter than Sephiroth, but he was powerfully built and had large, calloused hands. He was dressed rather well for a man in this tavern, but it must have been a night of celebration. Sure enough, with a quick glance over his shoulder, Sephiroth could see three individuals whispering intensely to one another as they held each other back.
Anxious to end this uncomfortable confrontation, Sephiroth searched quickly for the proper syllable to start the incantation... "Bunalle inispazin damos..." the words curled off Sephiroth's lips. He placed his hand on the man's shoulder, and despite the man's quick reaction to move, they were too close for him to back away. Sephiroth knew it was over when he looked into the man's glazed eyes. The big man immediately let out an exasperated sigh, his eyes clouded over, and his shoulders slumped as though exhausted. With just as much subtlety, Sephiroth nudged the man's shoulder backwards ever so slightly, and the man slumped backwards into a chair as though completely exhausted, panting heavily and flushed in the face. A hushed silence wafted over those that were paying attention, and one of the tavern's whores rushed to his side to see if he had passed out.
A quick brush of his hand along his robe, and Sephiroth straightened his back, regaining his composure. He looked carefully at the crown who all stood now, staring and whispering quietly to each other.
Time to leave.
He tossed several coins on the table where he was sitting, and stepped over the man's extended legs as hushed whispers filled the room. Those individuals who stood between Sephiroth and the door politely stepped aside, and with a flick of Sephiroth's wrist, the bartender scrambled to grab the gold piece as it spun towards him across the bar. Sephiroth turned to the assembly, glancing quickly over the group before he ducked under the archway and left the tavern.
The night was warm, the new seasons always brought irregular warm spells across the plains, and Sephiroth breathed a lungful of the spring air, but it did nothing to quell the feelings inside of him. Restlessness, tension, and anticipation all stirred in his soul.
Tonight will be particularly enjoyable.
Sephiroth walked into the night. The darkness curled around him and welcomed him; into the shadows and alleys that invited none and held the promise of death for many. The city streets were almost empty at this time of night. The 'patrols that did not sleep' as he had heard them referred to came here seldom; there were few residences and fewer still taverns. No people, no trouble. So it was with a contented sigh that Sephiroth opened the door of an abandoned building and ascended the set of stairs he had walked many times before. The words he spoke at the bottom of the stairs ensured that no light was necessary; the moon would not shine tonight, and Sephiroth did not wish to attract attention in his darkness.
The rock edifice that shaped the stairway was cold in the night air, and Sephiroth brushed his hand against it as he ascended to the upper level of the old house. The thick, wooden beams still creaked as he entered, worn and bleached from the elements that rained down in the night and blazed through the tattered roof in the day. It was a large house, probably belonging to some aristocratic family a decade ago, but it had long since been abandoned, too close to the Imperial Palace and too expensive to maintain with the decline in city trade.
The wind swept through the open windows and curled Sephiroth's robe around his ankles, a warm breeze; a spring breeze.
This new season brings renewed life to this City of Unlife, but soon will come the reality of Rauxes. My reality. Soon this wind will bring the summer warmth I will never feel... soon will come the sun that hates me so... soon my life will be the same.
The words lingered heavily in Sephiroth's mind. With age came new understanding in his art. With age came recognition among the Combat Mages that he was "Chosen of the Master". His studies were as always; his ambition drove him forward, unwavering, but there was always a shortcoming. He would never share the lives of the other mages, he would never be an accepted member of their ranks. No matter how learned he became, he was different still.
In the evening Sephiroth would wander the halls of the Combat Mages' barracks, quietly, alone. He did so every evening without fail, he reveled in the quiet, he longed for the solitude that spared him the glances and the snickers. As the Combat Mages of Rauxes grew up, learned their art, fought and died, he would remain unaffected, unchanged. He would forever be protected, exempted, and revered. Never joining the excursions outside The Great Kingdom, never to know what matters the more powerful mages attended to. Always the secrecy, always...
The emptiness he knew in life was constant as the sun, the accursed sun. The alienation he would never solve in his casting ate at him; it gnawed at him and was the constant reminder it seemed, of his differences. The price for his power was a hole that years ago had opened up inside of him, black, empty and deep.
To find comfort in that emptiness was a hope cast aside long ago; the fantasy of it being filled the dream he could never dream. A moment of utter contentment never passed over him; the ambition and loneliness would see to that. His studies postponed the inevitable feeling, and he knew of only one way to fill it. He had to know what it was like to feel the way "they" felt. How "they" lived.