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She certainly wasn’t shy. Issa decided he shouldn’t be surprised, though he realized he half expected at least a token effort at bashfulness. Aneili was beautiful, even with the little tells that spoke of her fighting ability it was hardly enough to detract from her beauty. Or for him it added a depth, someone who had a story on her skin.
Oh, she was a flirt too. Issa grinned,”I’m sure it’s cold. I like my baths hot.” Water magic. Or some kind of liquid magic. His focus was on the water, at least for several seconds. It was good to know what sort of ability she had, it would be easier to formulate plans later.
He approached the edge of the water and allowed himself to look at her again. She really was pretty. It was a distraction part of him knew he should probably just stop entertaining. Aneili was unbelievably attractive, but she was still a Vellessi mage. They were allies now, but that may not always be true.
Issa couldn’t help but flirt back at least a little, despite knowing that. It didn’t have to mean anything, she clearly wasn’t the sort of girl flinging herself at and clinging to men. It would just be fun. “I could come heat the water for you. A nice steamy bath.”
He let the water skins drop on the shoreline, his head cocked slightly as he waited for her answer, curious to see if she’d keep playing along at flirting. Trying to figure out how serious she was. He doubted it was very serious, but he was still trying to figure her out.
[center Aneili whipped around, her bare body now facing Issa. A large grin crept across her face, her hands moving to her hips. She didn't cover her body up, as she was not shy about what she had. Besides the few scars and bruises, Aneili was in beautiful shape. That was sometimes a problem for her.
Men who didn't know what Aneili was capable of would ask for her hand in marriage, bewildered by her cold beauty. They would soon learn from the King of her past, and all of the things she'd done to require such a negative reputation. Some people were fools, still, ignoring the King's warnings on not to ask her. Instead, they came bearing gifts, asking for Aneili to run off with them. That she would need of nothing, but their love. This never turned out well for her many suitors, for when they asked her they would receive a swift kick to the groin.
Issa's eyes were full of excitement, causing Aneili to wonder what he was thinking of. She cocked her eyebrow slightly, waving him towards him. "You looked exhausted," She replied, biting down on her lip slightly. "But you can join me now, the water is great," She purred, lifting the water with just a wave of her hand. She watched Issa carefully, letting the water dance along with her hand.
[i This could be fun. ]
Issa noticed every time the fire started to die down. He was sensitive to the change in temperature. It was irritating to keep being roused from sleep by the cold setting in. He was tired and his body ached for rest, but the cold was relentless, only kept at bay by the fire.
Somewhere in one of the hazy moments between sleeping and waking he swore he’d insist on an inn next time. Camping should be for times an inn couldn’t be used. When he roused in the early morning when dawn was starting to show itself he sat up and stretched. Aneili was gone. The fire also didn’t need tending. She must have finally gotten to it before he did, but where was she? Issa got up and stretched more. His body ached, and he knew he needed to do some warm ups before much longer. Besides, the air was still cool enough it was irritating, but if he kept moving he figured he would be fine.
Issa got his mask and head wrappings into place, wandering and stretching around the campsite. He didn’t know Aneili that well, but she didn’t seem the type to just abandon her mission. He wondered if she’d gone to get food, and decided he ought to do something useful as well. Issa grabbed his waterskins and started off in search of water. Water was so much easier to find here than in the desert, so that was one good thing about this area. He could hear the running water and followed the sound. Except it wasn’t just running. There was splashing. He approached cautiously, expecting an animal that might become breakfast. Instead he found Aneili bathing. She hadn’t noticed him yet. He had a second to make a decision, either to retreat and pretend not to have seen her, or let her know he was here.
His gaze lingered on her as he quickly weighed the options. If he left and she spotted him anyway that would be more embarrassing. If he went ahead she [i would] spot him, but it would be on his terms, not left to chance. Issa walked forward, and impish grin hidden behind his mask, but his eyes danced with amusement. For someone who hid half his face he was easy to read,”Looks fun. And you didn’t invite me?”
[center A small tinge of jealousy pinged at Aneili's heart. While Issa had plenty of sparring partners, Aneili had none. No one would come close to her, too afraid of what she could do to them. She was the dragon, wrapped around her King's throne.
"Have a good night."
It didn't take long for Aneili to fall asleep. Every aching bone in her body pleaded for rest and she abided, closing her eyes and drifting off into a deep slumber. She assumed that she would awake to the cold and have to restart the fire, but instead she slept all through the night until early morning.
Aneili awoke at the crack of dawn, still warm from the embers of the fire. She grimaced a little, angry at herself for not tending to the fire herself. She shrugged it off and decided to go grab more logs. She wasn't as sore as before, but she was definitely regretting letting herself get so riled up in the fight last night. She stretched herself out, letting her bones creak as she got up from her sleeping spot. She didn't even need a blanket, a small trail of sweat beading across her forehead. Aneili wiped it away then went to the pile of logs she accumulated the other day. She threw the wood onto the embers and walked away, following the sound of the river.
Aneili ripped off her clothes, excitement filling up as she stepped into the flowing river. It was cold but she had no care in the world, dipping her bare body into the water. She let out a sigh, lifting her arms in the air. As she lifted her arms some water rose with her like a fountain. She moved her fingers into fists and the water crashed onto her, rinsing her body off entirely.
Issa looked up at her, content to not move from the spot he’d laid down at until morning. He liked her. It was a shame that sooner or later the king would likely order her death. Especially once he reported back and had to tell them how competent she was. The king wouldn’t send Issa in unprepared to take her down. She would put up a hell of a fight, but Lithian’s didn’t half-ass anything.
That was later though. He’d keep some distance, but they were allies now and that necessitated a certain amount of trust. “Mmm, that would be rough. I never ran out of sparring partners. It got to be a challenge to try and beat me. That caused its own problems.” His eyes shifted away for a moment. Being angry about it still wasn’t doing him any good, but the memory felt fresh and bitter in his head.
He looked back at her, rolling to face the fire,”Same. I’ll help with the fire too. Trust me, I’ll notice if it dies down too much. I don’t like the cold.”
It was the most annoying thing about his powers. Night was his enemy in the desert. When the sun was gone the desert went cold and he had to dress warm when he was out, and his bed was a sea of blankets. He missed those blankets. A fire was acceptable, but keeping it alive was annoying. He really would notice if she neglected the fire. The cold would wake him.
[center Aneili took one last drink of the water as it was passed to her before returning it to its designated spot. She licked her lips and gave out a happy, relaxed sigh. A good workout always made her feel at ease. She loved releasing all the tension that built up inside of her, and there was a lot of tension. Hatred.
She listened to Issa as he spoke, her eyes not leaving his face. It made sense that no one could beat him, it was the same for her. At a young age she became the top of all the warriors, rendering them all basically useless. While others stumbled on jobs, she completed them. It became regular to use Aneili instead of anyone else. She was the perfect pet.
"I guess you could say that. After I turned fifteen no one wanted to spar with me. It was hard to get my skill level up. My [i King ] would go to different kingdoms, trying to find someone to test my skill upon. They all failed." Aneili gave out on last sigh. "I'm glad I've finally found someone who I can test myself against."
[i 'Even if it is with a Lithian.' ]
It was hard for Aneili not to wonder what the Lithian's intentions were. If they were planning on betraying her and her people. It was so easy for Aneili to play out different scenarios in her head, all of them ending the same. Issa betraying Aneili. Aneili killing Issa. She was cocky, to say the least.
"I think it's time to sleep, for me anyway. I need to keep my energy up." She moved closer to the fire. "I will get up every once and while to keep the fire going, so we won't freeze."
She didn't know much about his power, either.
Mage crafted blade. Issa followed its progress with his eyes, aware it wasn’t meant to hit him. She was more rough and aggressive than he expected a Vellessi to be. At least this wasn’t going to be boring.
Issa huffed an unamused laugh at her comment about the cold,”I’m tougher than that. But I won’t say no to some warmer clothes.”
The rules sounded simple enough. It’d be a good way to see where they each were physically. Her first strike almost caught him off guard, but Issa was fast. And he knew how to get his balance back quickly. No hesitation on her part.
Issa pulled his mask down, breathing heavy. He’d expected once he got on the offensive it would be easier. Instead, they’d gone back and forth, and even his speed wasn’t enough to dodge all her attacks. Or get in enough good hits on her.
He caught the flask and drank. It wouldn’t have mattered to him what it was, but water was good. It was refreshing. He felt warm now, but knew he’d freeze if he didn’t sit by the fire. Sweat and cold air didn’t do him any favors.
Issa plopped himself down next to the fire, and after catching his breath a bit better laughed,”You’re fast to keep up with me. This will be good.”
He handed her the flask and laid back to rest on his elbow, watching her. She was a fearsome fighter, and he appreciated that. He felt better about the whole thing, even as his body ached. She really could punch hard. “You’re the first to fight to a draw with me since I was…”
Issa paused, thinking, and laid back in the dirt,”Fourteen? Fifteen? That’s when the soldiers stopped being able to beat me. No one beats me now. Except…” Issa sighed then quickly laughed, though the sound was a bit unconvincing. He pushed the wrappings and jewelry off his head, revealing more of his white hair in a mess on his head,”It doesn’t matter. Are you the best in Velless? You have to be. I wouldn’t believe anyone in Velless being half as good as you.”
[center "It better not dull," Aneili frowned, flinging the blade into a tree near Issa's head. "Or I'll have to give a talking to the mage who crafted it." Aneili got up from where she sat, walking over towards Issa.
She gave him a weak smile, noticing his arms wrapped around himself. She cocked her eyebrow slightly, a mocking laugh escaping her lips. "You know, if this place is too cold for you, then when we get to the mountains you are going to simply [i die.]" She rolled her eyes, biting slightly on her lip. "Tomorrow, we will get you a new garb. I need something myself. If we don't, we will surely freeze."
Aneili took notice to the blue feather that was now apart of Issa's outfit. She didn't say a word about it, instead, she focused in on his next question. "No weapons, no magic. Hand-to-hand combat. First one down wins, got it?"
She didn't wait for him to respond, putting all her weight into her first hit. It almost landed on target, but she only grazed him. Aneili couldn't help but smirk. [i 'Interesting...'] She pushed forward again, trying to not let him regain his composure.
Aneili pulled back, practically breathless. She moved to a flask near her old sitting spot, opened it up, and let the beautiful water pour down her throat. She then turned to Issa, throwing the flask his way. "Just water," she coughed. Aneili was surprisingly upbeat given the circumstances. She had never gone into a draw, not with anyone, but now she and her opponent were both a tad bit bruised and breathless. It was a great fight, taking up a half hour of their time. "You're fast," Aneili stated, adding two logs to the fire. She stripped off her tunic, revealing a small white underneath. Her tunic was drenched with sweat. "I look forward to working with you." Aneili let out a sigh, never thinking she would say those words to a Lithian.
So she had poison on her. He wasn’t sure if he should be surprised or not. He’d been forbidden by his king from bringing any, but Lithians had a certain reputation. That reputation meant the other kingdoms generally distrusted anyone from Lithia.
It sounded like just the sort of poison to help with their job too. No one would suspect a thing. He’d be curious to find out more, but she seemed interested in sparring. He smirked at her,”Sure.”
Once he finished his meal. He glanced at the coins, then watched her leave. He had an advantage with height, but Issa knew he couldn’t underestimate a pretty girl. Still, he wouldn’t plan on hurting her, that wouldn’t do any good for their mission.
With slight irritation Issa finished what he could bear to of the bland food and finished his drink before pushing himself away from the table and pulling the mask back up into place. His mother was hoping for success, in fact she depended on it. So he’d be good and play well with the Vellessi girl.
On a whim he picked up the blue feather and tucked it in with the red ones before leaving the building. It was silly, a habit carried over from when he was a boy enamored with birds and feathers. A feather from a foreign bird was a nice addition to his collection.
The air outside was colder than he liked. It chilled him past the layers he wore, and he crossed his arms as he made his way toward the smoke of a fire. The fire would be a relief.
He could hear a little thump as he got closer, repeated over and over. He followed the sound to see it was from her stabbing a log,”Seems a poor use of such a pretty blade. You’ll dull it that way.”
Issa came closer to the fire, sighing in relief as the heat seeped in to chase away the cold,”So, what limits should we have for our match? Since we shouldn’t really hurt each other and compromise the mission.”
[center Aneili pushed her bowl away from her, unable to finish the course in front of her. Her stomach was tiny and she didn't need much food to keep going, and also, she was a bit full on the ale. She, however, did have enough room for one last swig from her flask.
She cocked her eyebrow at the [i fairly ] part, obviously intrigued by what he meant. She waited a moment for him to elaborate but when he didn't she didn't press on. They had plenty of time to get to know each other, and in all honesty, she didn't even think that was going to happen. No expectations, no rules.
"I have some on me. The one thing my people know is their poisons," Her voice was almost purring. "We have a rare fish called the Viper that only swims near our land. It is untraceable and mimics signs of the flu."
Aneili pushed out of her seat and stood up, looking at Issa dead in the eyes. "I'll meet you out in the woods. I want to see what you can do," And with that she turned, dropping the appropriate amount of gold coins on the table. Enough to pay for his and her meal, plus more. Her boots clicked against the floorboards as she exited the building.
Aneili started a small fire in the woods and sat next to it, removing her cloak and putting it next to her. She tapped her foot against the ground, not in any particular hurry to get started. She took a beautiful blade from her pocket and stabbed it into a log near her. She did this again and again.
Bandages, and an excuse about visiting the south to explain any skin they happened to see. It could work. That would be their ticket in the door, from there they would still need a plan about how to get close to their target and kill him.
Issa took a bite of the bread, which wasn’t bad. If they did one thing right around here he supposed the bread was it. He stirred the soup, not exactly eager for it as he talked almost wistfully about the food back home,“A much deserved reputation if you ask me. Nothing as watered down as this, we have spiced goat in a thick sauce on a flat piece of bread. Not everyone can handle some of our food, but it sounds like you could.”
They both clearly enjoyed talking about food, and that might pass time as they traveled better, but the conversation did have to keep at least coming back to work. Issa smirked,”I can handle myself. No one has beaten me [i fairly] in years.”
The way he said fairly betrayed some bitterness over a memory. He glossed over it by leaning a little closer,”Dear, I’m Lithian. I know a fair amount about poisons, though obviously I know more about poisons from Lithia. Not that my king let me [i bring] any. Insisted it wouldn’t endear us to our Vellessi friends if I showed up with any on me. But if you want one for the job, it’s easy enough to get one, just tell me what you need it to do.”
While he was clearly supposed to be prepared, there were some lines this time given the more diplomatic nature of working with Velless. Things he would have to procure while traveling, if it was determined they needed it. His king gave him a mission, but the plan itself was up to him and his partner to figure out. It was often like that, the king said to do something and didn’t care how it got done as long as it was done well.
Aneili nodded, her hands wrapping around the flask he passed back towards her. She took a quick swig from it before returning it to its rightful place, making sure the barkeep and staff didn't see. People didn't particularly like when you brought your own food or beverage to a bar, it was considered disrespectful. A real slap in the face.
"We can bandage you up real nice, make it so you are unrecognizable," She took a bite from the stale bread on her plate and grumbled, unimpressed with the whole thing. She turned to the stew and took a bite and was quickly back to high spirits, loving the taste of the meat as chewing. "This is so much better than fucking fish."
When Issa mentioned getting a real drink Aneili grinned, nodding up and down quickly. "It's been a dream of mine to taste all the cuisine from your people. I heard many great things, many." Food and drinks seemed to be what the two bonded over.
Aneili was actually surprised that she didn't completely hate the guy that sat beside her. Of course, there was distrust there. Lithian's played dirty, stealing and backstabbing when they could. In all honesty, when Aneili figured out she was felt rage bubble up inside her like never before. She was never forced to work with others, in fact, the King preferred her to be alone. She couldn't help but think her 'beloved' King was planning something devasting.
"Now I must ask, how well are you at hand-to-hand combat?" Her eyes were now focused, determined. She would need to see if he could keep up with her, not just with magic but with physical activity as well. The best way to do that was to test it herself. "Also, do you have any knowledge of poisons?"
A fire, huh? Issa smirked to himself. She was right. He could do a lot of damage with a little preparation around here. They were peaceful here, raising crops and animals.
He raised an eyebrow at her, surprised she had a flask of anything like that. Velless didn’t usually make anything like that. She confirmed that it was unusual. He was curious to try and see if it was anything close to asave.
His curiosity would have to wait. He tilted his head down, both eyebrows raised. Was she serious? Before he could say anything the woman was back with food for Aneili. His attention went to the serving girl. That wasn’t an accidental touch. Issa gave a grin that was a little forced, though he was usually pretty good at controlling his face.
Aneili seemed to deter the girls advances a little. Or she had actual work to do. Issa laughed at her comment about fish. “No fish where we’re going. Well, not much. Now,” He looked at her with an amused half grin, his voice dropping down to keep the serious parts of their conversation too quiet to hear from any distance,”That’s an interesting plan, but I don’t really look like an Edwin, do I? We’re going to have to do a lot to make me pass for any kind of northerner. Unless...”
Issa ran his fingers down one of the jeweled chains hanging from his head,”This Edwin has been ill, yes? If say, he recently returned from the south seeking healing… It will still take a little work, but it’s doable.”
Now for his curiosity. He lifted the flask, taking a mouthful before passing it back to her discreetly. It had a good burn, though not much flavor. He decided he liked it better than any drinks he’d had since leaving Lithia. Besides that, the fact that she drank anything like this meant her taste in drink at least wasn’t awful. He chuckled,”It’s not bad. I should buy you a real drink if we get the opportunity. Let me know if you spot any Lithian traders, I think you’ll like it.”
He couldn’t trust her, not really, but he had to admit that for a Vellessi girl she wasn’t bad. His mood now was better than it had been since leaving home, which was mainly because of her. She was surprisingly easy to talk to, and not as useless or stupid as he worried she might be.
Aneili watched as Issa removed a part of his mask, revealing a devilish smile as he let out a chuckle. "That's why you drink it fast," Aneili winked yet again, downing another pint. "I know what you mean though, this land is nothing but herbs and forest. If a large fire was to come into play there would be great devastation here." She waved her hand out, not at anything in particular. Her tone lowered, "Lucky for them that they have no real enemies because it's such an [i easy ] target."
As soon as Issa mentioned asave Aneili scrambled to her pockets, removing a pewter flask wrapped in leather. "I got this from a mage from my kingdom. She used magics to create a strong brew, supposed to match what you guys do in Lithia. It's not the same, but it's a step up from this shit." Aneili tossed the flask onto Issa's lap before moving her eyes back to her now empty mug. She waved toward the barkeep, who sent two more clay mugs down her way. Aneili was known for her strong stomach and love for a good drink.
"My contact says that only one lord, Edwin, will not be attending the Ball. Since no one has ever seen his face it will be easy for you to disguise yourself as him. I will either be your handmaid or lover, whatever you [i wish]," Aneili's voice had a a tiny drop of seduction for emphasis. "We can just say that you, as Edwin, have gotten over your illness and decided to drop in."
Aneili dropped quiet as the wench moved back towards their table, a stew and bread in hand. She pressed herself against Issa as the woman dropped off the food, making a small, fake, giggle. Her chest rubbed against Issa's arm, a fake grin plastered on her face. "Thank you so much for the food," Aneili kindly bowed her head towards the girl.
A large sigh escaped from Aneili's lips when the girl backed away. "All we have is fish and more [i fucking ] fish," You could hear the disgust in her tone, "It's honestly the worst."
It wasn't hard to tell that Aneili had a great dislike for her own kingdom. In fact, she wished every day that she was born in Wistel or Lithia. Not god damn Velless.
Issa hasn’t touched his drink yet, or moved to remove his mask. He would have to at least partly. He wasn’t eager for the weak drinks people in this country seemed to like. Or the way they foamed.
His head tilted in curiosity when she used her magic to steal ale from one of the distracted men. So, that was her power. The king hadn’t given many details about Aneili. While she talked, he pulled down the lower part of his mask, letting it hang around his neck. The upper part remained in place, more decorative than concealing.
Options. A party or catacombs. While he considered the options, she made her joke, and he chuckled,”If we were going to just drink I’d want something better than this.”
He took one sip of his drink and set it down, raising an eyebrow,”It’s weak and sweet. I could forgive the sweetness if it were stronger. Now, for the asave back home, I might take you up on it.”
Asave was his people’s name for the alcohol they made from desert plants. It was stronger, and most had a more bitter taste, though some were a little sweeter. He looked forward to drinking entirely too much of it once this was over.
First, there was the plan to consider. He leaned toward her, trying to give the impression to anyone glancing over that he was flirting, but his tone was more serious than the playful smirk he was trying to keep,”I’ll take a party any day. What’s the cover story going to be?”
He leaned away when the serving girl returned with his food. A stew with some bread on the side. After the woman left Issa stirred the mixture. Cabbage, beans, it was heavy on a lot of vegetables, some he could identify and others he couldn’t. “Do you want some? Tell me, is the food where you’re from as bland as this?”
He wasn’t shy about voicing his dislike of the food and drink in the farming region. They had plenty of food, but as far as he was concerned most of them didn’t know what to do with it. His people were known for strongly flavored food and drinks.
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