These are a series of novel chapter drafts. They are a work in progress and the primary goal of the current work is to get the ideas on paper - not nessicarily for them to be well written
Mara, Harrus, Outskirts
Mara warily pulled her cloak’s hood down until her face was covered and most of her vision was fur. Her pace was brisk. She had a broad enough figure to hopefully pass as a man without close inspection or conversation. It might not have been far, but even threading these few roads of Harrus was something few would do lightly. She had arrived late and the shadows of buildings were beginning to stretch and conceal casual passers-by. Each step on the cold cobblestones sent waves of worry through her entire body. Her stomach was starting to turn.
She turned out of an alleyway and into a wider stretch of road lined with tall looming houses on either side. Several of them had smashed in windows or ominous markings scratched into their doors. Her eyes darted around for her contact, but all she could see were other figures in dark cloaks. Was she imagining it, or were they moving in time? as a group? Cold beads of sweat began to form on her brow beneath the fox-fur hood. She looked around at her options and changed course - turning sharply into an open square.
She glanced behind her, taking short shallow breaths and noticed two figures turning after her. Her head felt heavy with dread and she began to ran - cursing herself for now making her an obvious target. She was over to the other side of the square almost immediately and turned out again, trying to resume her original course. The muffled slaps of cloth on stones echoed behind her and she couldn’t look back to tell if it was her own, or her pursuers.
It wasn’t far now, just a few more streets. Her forge-trained lungs worked hard, but her muscled legs were built for weight, not running and her speed was slowing. A single street away, she propelled herself around the corner, hugging the wall as she reached for the dagger she had stored on her waist under several layers of warmth. Her ragged breath emerged in hot plumes of vapor. Her dagger was out and she waited, trying to stay as still as possible. Moments passed, She could hear the drips of cold water spill off of tiled rooves onto the ground below. She could hear the faint footsteps of other pedestrians. She held her breath to still her pumping heart.
Nothing came. Mara released her tight press against the wall. An area of warm droplets was left on the brick where the beginnings of frost had melted. She edged sideways down the empty street, keeping a close eye behind and in-front, with a few glance above too. Eventually, she reached her meeting place - Traitor’s Port.
Traitor’s Port was named so as the only two destinations on it were to the island of Ese, or the island of Hered. Hered home to a secluded temple of religious scholars who were self-sufficient despite the harsh ocean weather. As for Ese - simply put, it was where the most hated of men and women went to die. There was some hope in Harrus of escape, there were tales of it - for the soldiers weren’t always diligent in patrols and there were ways to leave if you could somehow stay alive long enough to build a boat. There was nothing on Ese aside from sharp rocks and other exiles - all dead by the time you’d have arrived.
(Story hook: someone is still alive)
The place would normally be deserted but rumors of troop movement southwards had a few hopeful entrepreneurs building stalls and signs to pry away some military silver. Rumours filled the taverns of various ne’er-do-wells who might be the cause of all this fuss. Some said the Emerald Prince was being disposed of by the Queen in a political move - others said the famous bandit Twentyswords had resurfaced but he was outed by a friend.
In any case, there way enough people here to ease Mara’s tension. It was easier to start silent and disappear into a crowd than to escape a alleyway cornering. She looked around and saw her landmark - a statue of a large fish, severely cracked and several times vandalized. Beneath it sat her friend’s father. He sat with his head down, counting numbers in his head.
“Natyr!” Mara called as she approached, emerging from the crowd. “It’s me, Mara”
(Military Is here on a voyage to explore what lies beyond the South peninsula. Father has done his loop and is waiting here)
Natyr looked up. Though it was obscured, it was nice to see a friendly face. He waved a hand for her to walk with her as he explained his situation. “We can’t leave just yet. I’m behind on seven jackets. It’ll be one more night. You can stay with me, the room’s big enough for a bedroll. We’ll head to the border in the morning.” He took a breath “No trouble on the way here?”
“Y-yeah” Mara fumbled. Truthfully, it had only been mild scares or catcalls. “Just about”
“It’s getting dark, we’d best retire now. Ain’t got anything good to do round here eitherways.” Netyr started directing their walk back to the Twisted Dagger ((NAME?)) “You’ll have to tell me how you ever convinced your mother to let you come to Harrus of all places. I thought I was lenient letting Ferrin flutter about back home”
“Well… It wasn’t totally amicable” Mara said shyly, remembering a hefty metal bolt being thrown at her and a deep primal roar from her mother. “But in the end she wanted whatever I wanted, as long as I thought it through. You’ll uh.. give Ferrin my best wishes when you get back?”
“You didn’t tell her?” Netyr asked, surprised and Mara gulped. “I couldn’t. You know how she is, it would have made leaving so much harder.” The tavern drew into view and conversation lulled anxiously. “Just follow me and don’t look about” Netyr instructed and Mara promptly nodded.
The tavern had cycled its patrons, most of yesterday’s crowd likely cradling their heads in their rooms. A few faces were the same. The bard in the corner stage, the gamblers’ table and the temptress who floated about as usual. Natyr felt her eyes watching him as they made a direct path across the room. He ignored it. Halfway there and Mara let out a small yelp from behind him as the echoes of a slap on the rear filled the air, accompanied by raucous gruff laughter from various drinkers. Mara’s face was flushed scarlet and Natyr hurried her in front of him and gave the woman ((Give her a name)) a deathly stare. She smirked mockingly “Better catch than me it seems?” She guffawed and turned back to throw some dice with the gambler’s table. Swallowing the urge to teach her a lesson, Natyr pushed Mara onwards and locked the bedroom door behind them.
“Ignore those brutes. We’ll stay here and have breakfast on the road” Natyr said once they were able to catch a moment to themselves. He offered a deck of cards to play until the night had come a little closer. It was a beautiful set with gilded edges that surely had cost him a fortune. Mara readily accepted and pulled over the room’s small writing desk between them. “So, what convinced you to join the army?” Natyr asked, dealing out the cards.
“It’s not the most lavish lifestyle you know”. Mara hummed and threw out a card - six icicles. “I feel born to fight” She began. “I love the forge, I really do - but there’s something within me that itches for a fight. Ever since I first made my sword with mother” Natyr countered the six with a two of flames. “The folks in the army… many of them are no better than the scoudrels here. Just a uniform and orders on top of people who enjoy killing. Ain’t you thought of bodyguarding or something else? That squeal of yours won’t do you any favours in the rank-and-file” She blushed at that, and hid her face as Natyr swept away his winning hand, opening with a three of Wind. “I was just caught off-guard” She insisted. “And there’s no jobs worth doing for anyone who hasn’t had any kind of enlistment.”
Natyr nodded as they continued a few more rounds. “Sounds like you’ve got it worked out at least. The town’ll miss you.” He said, thinking of Ferrin. She shrugged silently, obviously tender about that point. “They’ll be okay” He added, flicked through his cards and yawned. “How about some rest then? We’ll have a few days for me to show you how to properly play” He smiled kindly.