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Evil begets evil [Attn. Adela & Reynold]


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Aside from the chirping of a few insects, and the singing of a few birds, the sounds of two women walking through the high grass was all that could be heard for miles. The older woman looked at the younger one, barely a woman at all, and smiled. They had gone on these walks every single evening of the summer, walking until the light had faded, with Norena explaining the uses of the herbs they encountered on their way. Adela was a quick learner, with an honest interest in the things Nona had to teach her. None for one was glad she had finally found someone to pass her knowledge on to.


It had been refreshing too, to leave the ranch after her duties were done. At times it seemed that Nathan Rashad forgot that she was more than just a cook. She had started to think of ways to prove to him she had other duties as well before Adela arrived. The old man seemed to be more tolerant around Adela, and he approved of Norena’s teachings. In truth he probably enjoyed the thought of having a younger poison maker under his roof, one that was not so set on her own ways and ideas as Norena. He would be surprised by Adela though. Eager to learn as the girl might be, she was also stubborn when it came to her own point of view.


The best example of that was now Adela seemed to reject her nature every now and then. While Nona was reluctant to see the girl lose her innocence, she also thought that it was time for Adela to start on the path she was born for. A first kill was always hard, but it was also necessary to toughen a person up for the harsh life of a Darkfriend. But Adela changed the subject whenever Nona brought it up. The girl enjoyed watching Nona as she prepared the deadliest poisons, she even enjoyed helping out where she could, but it seemed like committing the act of murder was still one step too far for her. Nona had shrugged it off so far. There would be time for that still, and Adela would eventually come around to her way of thinking. She was sure of that.


Her musings were disturbed by a distant sound. It disturbed the relative silence with which they had walked. Adela and Nona shared a look, before heading to the road. The sun was close to setting now, colouring the skies on the late summer evening. “What a strange time to come visiting.†Nona mused, stepping onto the road. In the distance she could see a rider, making his or her way towards the ranch. “Well, we might as well wait for this rider here.†She said, taking a little throwing knife out of her pouch. It looked harmless, but it was coated with the poison from a bloodsnake. One scratch was enough to turn the blood into jelly, and Nona couldn’t remember the day she had missed. She smiled at Adela again. “No need to be reckless just now. We do live on a Ranch with a lot of Darkfriends, after all.†Crossing her arms and hiding the little knife under her shawl, Nona waited for the stranger to arrive.

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It was at a steady amble that Reynold had been traveling since he'd left Cairhien. While he had been a hunted man in Cairhien for years, someone had done him the honour of pointing him out to the authorities. It had been a bit of a run, but after losing them in the chase, he'd had ample time to get his things together and smuggle himself out of the city. Not that it took much, when coins flowed all sorts of doors could open, sidegates into the city too. With rare exceptions, people had always prefered a few coins in hand than a foot of steel when they tried to claim the bounty on his head.


So it was that Reynold traveled, but it was no mindless wander he was engaged in. Rather, he'd decided to make for the settlement of Fairhaven that lay a short way from the city. Somewhere he could lay low as long as required, yet still be on hand nearby if someone wished to hire his services. Not even a bounty would scare people away from hiring him, not the ones with the right amount of coin anyway. Besides, he might even be able to find himself some form of diversion in Fairhaven while he waited.


Now that was a remarkably cheerful thought, and other thoughts and memories followed it as the sun began to set. At least until he espied a pair of figures stepping onto the road ahead from out of the high grass. Not that he hurried his pace, perhaps these people were from Fairhaven. As he neared, he smiled to himself, a pair of women all by themselves. If it wouldn't have been so suspicious for him to arrive in the same night that two of their womenfolk disappeared, he would've been quite happy to make his imagination real. As it was though, he could play the friendly stranger for the meantime.


Pulling the reins of his steed and his packhorse up as he came alongside the pair, Reynold marked their faces in the dying light as he bowed from his saddle. Leather creaked as he did so, and pulling back he spoke with an engaging ease. "My ladies, my name is Kane Trahil. If it is not too much trouble, am I on the right path to Fairhaven?"


As he finished, he couldn't help but notice the older woman. Most women were either happy to see new arrivals, or afeared of strangers, the woman was neither. He couldn't quite put his finger on what it was about her that put him on his guard, but even though he smiled at them to his right, his left hand settled on a sheathe hanging from his saddle where his Katana hung from. She tried anything, and he'd have her head.



Reynold Quaestero


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Four months and a little more.


Things had gone pretty bloody fast according to Adela. She had arrived at the Ranch time with the first signs of spring unfolding in the circles of dust and now, they were reaching the end of the summer swelter. The weather was quite pleasant now actually. They were walking together, clutching little straw baskets- just like they had done so many other nights, talking of herbs and poison and other things entirely sometimes, which curiously enough, would’ve nothing to do with her poison making companion’s lessons. But then, that’s what she liked the most about Nona. She felt comfortable around her. Already. Here she was, the same person who Kayla had believed to be mute, who herself believed she could talk to Nona about pretty much everything. Except perhaps…


Forcefully, Adela pulled the leaves, nearly yanking out the plant itself as she did so. Yes, she knew it upset her when she thought about it. The truth was though, more than upset her, it got her scared. Scared to the point that her gut instinct was telling her to run the other way. Not of the act of ‘stickin’ someone, well no, yes, maybe that as well, but it was more related to the fact that she would be killing a real…someone who could breathe and laugh and mock and insult just the same as she could. Even if he or she was of lesser intelligence. She was so happy in the Ranch. Things were calm, Nona was a ‘darling’ in the woman’s own words and she had grown to love her the dresses she had once been so sardonic about. And things had been light. Yes, that was the whole truth in a nutshell- things had been light. True, she was training in things others her age would never even have heard of, but she had giggled over the silliest things, she had baked cookies with Nona and Nathan Rashad’s sons… it was so unlike the darkly done rooms and the strangely mannered cousins she had shared house with. She could not kill. And she did not hide it much either. Nona knew alright- she probably did the first time she’d brought it up.


It caused a strain between her and Nona sometimes. Nona probably didn’t think so, because well Nona was…Nona. But Adela herself had wanted to act like the little kid she wasn’t and yell and rant and between that explain to Nona that she did not and would not kill. It is your duty…your nature, your birthright…your destiny…


What a load of rubbish.


They did not need to exchange a confirming glance before they both began to make their way towards the road ahead. Hooves were shimmering down the tar a little behind them and the silhouette of the rider stood out stark. Without much worry, Adela noted the little knife Nona held. It was fatal with the slightest contact, Nona had told her long ago. Adela had personally not been surprised. This was a Ranch of Darkfriends- trust was lacking almost everywhere.


"My ladies, my name is Kane Trahil. If it is not too much trouble, am I on the right path to Fairhaven?"


She would’ve nodded freely, had it not been for the edge that seemed to have settled into this dusky encounter. They were both on guard. They could both kill each other in seconds. Instinctively she moved a little more towards Nona, as if trying to protect her.

They all knew who was actually protecting who.

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Nona’s eyes followed the movement of the strangers hand as it lowered to his sword. He looked like he could use it, but it didn’t particularly bother Nona. She could have her knife in him long before he came close enough to use that. It did indicate that the man was cautious, and perhaps sensitive to the threat she posed. Adela positioned herself between Nona and the man, who had introduced himself as Kane Trahil. She smiled at the girl. Protective, fierce, and a little cruel as well. The girl would make a fine assassin, as soon as she came to realise that her life didn’t become all that different after she had done so. Nona had been responsible for more deaths than she could remember, and yet only a few stood out in her memory. They were a part of her, as much as some would be a part of Adela, while others would be forgotten.


She looked at Kane again, smiling reassuringly. She wouldn’t kill him… yet. A glance around her told her that they were in fact quite close to Fairhaven. She never really paid attention to where she wandered. The way back was always shorter than the way they took to get there. “You are, good sir.†She said, looking east, in the direction the road would take towards Fairhaven. “You be quite close. The town do be visible just over this next rise.†What would a man like that want in a town like Fairhaven? Nona was already lining up several possibilities in her mind. Perhaps he was a darkfriend, or perhaps he hunted their kinds. Perhaps he was just a brigand, without a higher purpose. Either way, she was quite sure he was not an honest man. After almost twenty years she was quite sure that she would be able to recognise that in anyone. Why, she had even seen it in young Adela.


“My name be Norena Doronas. This young lass here be Adela, my apprentice. I be the cook of the Rashad Ranch, which do be to the north east of Fairhaven.†If he were a darkfriend, she would see him there soon enough. A glance at the sun told her it was getting quite late. “If you no mind, sir, we be accompanying you to Fairhaven. It do be time for us to return home.†With a smile she gave Adela a little push in the right direction. “Come now, lass. This be no time for dawdling.â€

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Nodding, Reynold touched his heels to his steed to set him in motion. Not that his hand strayed from his pommel at all, something wasn't right, and he was becoming increasingly sure it was the older woman. What was an Illian woman doing in Cairhien of all places? Not that her accent was heavy like one could find in the Perfumed Quarter, but it gave her away easily enough. The younger one he couldn't place, though she was easily of the height to be native. "Ah, the Rashad ranch, do you suppose there would be lodgings anywhere there? I may be here for a few days, and a bed would be welcome compared to the ground under a bush."


A little surprised, but nothing else Adela was. Questions were running through her head, at a quick pace and with each moment, it would gain momentum. Who? Where? What? Why? Oh, how badly she wanted to ask. The silence, as it happened, was not by any means peaceful. To her atleast, it felt uncomfortable- stretched and that too, stretched too much. "Ah, the Rashad ranch, do you suppose there would be lodgings anywhere there? I may be here for a few days, and a bed would be welcome compared to the ground under a bush." No reply came from her and infact, barely any reaction came at all- a quick, questioning glance Nona's way, that was all.


How she hoped he hadn't noticed.


The grip on her little throwing knife loosened a bit as they walked. Not that she couldn’t throw it within a second anyway, but at least her shoulders lost some of the tension. To any watcher she would be the image of someone perfectly calm and in control. “There be many people at the Rashad Ranch, though some be more permanent inhabitants than other.†She smiled reassuringly at Adela once more. “Adela and I do live in one o’ the smaller houses close to the Ranch, but I be sure that there be room for you in the Ranch, or perhaps one of the other houses.â€


"There are abandoned houses? That would certainly be handy, and I wouldn't be underfoot." Musing, Reynold's hand didn't stray as he rode. It would be better to have his own home, even if only for a few days, and he would not have to worry so much at the idea of others interfering with him. As long as he wasn't recognised that was, but it had been a long time since the posters had been distributed about him, and few people had a memory that long. "Who would I have to speak to about the lodgings then? The head of the Rashad I assume?"

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“Nathan Rashad.†Nona stated. A higher Darkfriend. Respected, cold, cruel, and also a good grandfather. She was quite sure Reynold would find him quite agreeable, even if the man did not share their allegiance. “There do be two little houses free for use. I do be sure Nathan Rashad would no mind setting you up in one of those.â€


"And how much coin do you think he would ask?"


How much coin indeed, Adela wondered. It made her curious about what her parents had paid Nathan Rashad when they’d sent her here, or actually, to be precise, what Kayla must’ve grudgingly handed over. Suddenly, she felt a little stupid. She couldn’t remember a single thing Kayla had done upon having greeted Nathan. Her observational skills should bring her an award, she thought a little dryly.


A little smile curved Nona’s lips as she pondered on the right answer to give Kane. The price you paid at the Rashad ranch was never quite the price you expected. Nona had never paid a single penny to Nathan. Instead she worked for him, cooked for his people, and provided with her… cures, where necessary. Kayla, who had delivered Adela to them had paid every single coin she possessed, and even then Nathan had only accepted with a frown, giving Kayla the feeling that she was robbing them. That was a farce though. Nathan would accept any Darkfriend without payment, as long as they made themselves useful.


“Why, that do be depending on how long you be intending to stay, good sir. If it be for but one night, then I do be sure master Rashad will accept whatever you be wishing to spare. But if you do be intending to stay longer, perhaps there do be other arrangements master Rashan be willing to make.†Let him chew on that for a while…


Laughing, Reynold eased back in the saddle slightly. "It appears I may be spending a couple of days on the fields perhaps, or doing other odd jobs, would hardly be the first time though." Grinning easily enough, he let his hand drift, slightly even as he looked at the younger girl.


"You do seem awfully quiet there, Adela wasn't it? I don't frighten you do I?"


“Frighten?†said Adela, speaking as he had correctly stated for the first time. “No, just bore actually- I’m no good with all these questions you’ve been asking.†she said with a small smile. And ironically enough, now she was nervous.


Laughing at her response, Reynold smiled easily as he spoke. "Sprightly lass aren't you? Perhaps you could tell me a bit about the Ranch then, I have never been this way before as you can tell." A day. That was how long he was sure it'd take to break her at most. In fact, he was pretty sure he could break her within minutes, but a day would be as long as he would like to spend. Even as he entertained the notion, he made sure to keep an eye on the older woman. Something about her made him wary still, perhaps he would find out why after they reached the ranch if someone had loose lips.


He was so easygoing, so comfortable. He had smiled more in his little bit of conversation with her than both Nona and her combined had in front him. She didn’t like it. Not much anyway. Part of her wanted to smile back and nod cheerfully. But the other half…


“Perhaps I could. But this is a place you should get to know on your own.â€


Was it strange of her to think of her newest little soft toy, now of all times?


"Now now, that’s not very friendly." A little mocking, but Reynold had already decided he would catch up with her at some point, so it mattered little at this point. "I don't suppose either of you would wish to ride with me? I'd be remiss in not offering to allow one of you to rest your feet for the rest of the way."


At some point during the brief exchange of jibes between Kane and Adela, Nona placed a hand on Adela’s back. It could be no more than the gentle touch of a mother or caretaker, urging the child on, or it could be the touch of the poison maker and caretaker, reminding the girl that she was not alone, and that the man would beg for his death a thousand times over if he wronged either of them. Nona had always tried to keep that part of her work away from the ranch, but sometimes there was little other choice. She wondered briefly if Adela had heard the man who had crossed Nathan break. A glance at Kane told her that he might not be that easy to take care of, but it mattered little. Poison had the same effect in every vein, whether it belonged to a strong or a weak person.


“I do be forced to decline, sir.†She said, glancing at him sideways. “A good walk never hurt a woman.†She looked at Adela. “But perhaps your feet do be tired?â€


Comfort- a word Adela had only recently become acquainted to and had found having done so, that she needed it quite a lot. Was Nona’s hand comfort? Or support? Or an urge? It would be so very pleasant for it to be one of those, “I’m standing here, right beside you†and that too, it was Nona, so it was not strange. But then, it was Nona, so maybe it was something entirely else?


“I prefer walking actually.†On any other day, this might’ve been said mockingly and she would’ve glanced at the person, flashing a smile their way. This however, did not feel like any other day. This Kane Trahil did not seem like any other man. Instinct told her to run. Or maybe that was her brain telling her so. “But thankyou anyway,†she added, as if said in afterthought. Run run run…


“Do you travel much?â€

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  • 2 weeks later...

Well, it would have been nice to have a woman in the saddle with him, but it seemed today wasn't the day. Well, the younger woman at least, he was beginning to develop a certain sense of disquiet in regard to the older woman, having the younger one closer was a natural instinct on Reynold's part, a shield as such. It was annoying though, he couldn't place the reason for the unreasoning unease. Perhaps he would have to take steps to find out later, he didn't like unanswered questions.


The younger one's question continued the conversation at least. "Oh I've traveled about a bit, I tend to find employ here and there in one role or another. In the cities in particular, there are always all manner of jobs and in cities there are people with coin to pay for them. How traveled are you?"


So the conversation flowed into idle chatter, even as they began to approach the ranch. Smoke had given away settlement before the outlines of the houses had become clear, and there were people heading to their homes only now as the sun began to descend rapidly. Amongst them no doubt was the owner, Nathan Rashad, he'd find out about accomodation quickly enough...



Reynold Quaestero


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