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The heavy beat of a warhorse's hooves alerted Isolde to the arrival of the priestess, so she had plenty of time to draw a chair close to the fire and settle herself casually upon it, flask in hand. The usual rattle of her breath in her lungs irritated her some, but she was confident that Miriah would not notice her. The woman was used to enemies that either oozed terror or malice; she'd not pay a casual drinker much attention.
She took a long sip from her whiskey, watered down to last her until she could locate some more, and listened attentively to the clink of metal buckles and the creak of leather cinched tight as the Hand of Sylvanas tied up her horse outside. There was a heavy thud, a grunt and then the sound of something being dragged before she finally staggered through the doorway, struggling with a canvas sack. From the angles pressing against the material and the way the slight woman struggled with the weight, Isolde suspected it was full of books: unnecessary baggage.
"Renee," called Miriah, lifting her gaze to the innkeeper, who scrubbed at the ever-grimy counter at the back of the inn tenaciously, "Help me with this."
The irritable Forsaken glared at the priestess, the movement of the wet cloth slowing.
"I’ve done enough for you lately, ‘Ubris," she snapped, "Handle it yourself!"
Isolde observed as the shadow cast by her sword began to extend abnormally toward Miriah, the woman opening her mouth to snarl out an angry retort, and stood swiftly, striding over to her and clamping her gauntleted hand on the smaller woman’s shoulder. The shadowcaster jumped, startled, and turned quickly, the bag dropping to the floor.
"I’ll help," Isolde offered.
Flustered and reeking of smoke, Miriah was not an imposing sight. If she was five feet tall it was by a tiny margine, and Isolde towered over her as a result, the priestess’s long, ragged blond fringe obviously impairing her vision as the two locked gazes. Her shoulder was slim and delicate in the warrior’s grip, easily broken, and the woman’s slender arms boasted no redeeming musculature. Yes, if Hecter had not already told Isolde of this physically feeble woman’s strength in shadow as though it were a threat to anyone, and if Miriah lacked the air of self-importance Isolde had observed her enveloping the people around here with, she would have dismissed her as another worthless upper class twit - highly decorated with words and silken finery but entirely hollow. As it was, she would afford the woman a chance to redeem herself, if only for Hecter’s sake.
"For payment, I assume," responded the Hand coldly, frowning as she looked the armoured mercenary over.
"Yes. If I carry the bag."
She looked over Miriah's shoulder to Renee as she appeared from the back room, holding a gurgling bundle of linen awkwardly in her arm. Something prickled in the back of her mind.
"If you move the bag and I watch the child, no fee."
The shadowpriestess's snarl was instantaneous, jerking her shoulder free of Isolde's grasp and tossing a single silver piece in her direction as she hurried over to relieve Renee of Praelia, "Take the bag... and keep in mind that if you so much as touch my daughter I shall commission your epitaph myself - 'lived a warrior, died a porter'."
Isolde smirked, shouldering the bag with ease, "I see."
Miriah calmed gradually once her daughter was back safely in her arms, instructing Isolde curtly but not unkindly as the mercenary moved her various bags from her mount, Erebus, to a room upstairs. Temporary lodgings. Eventually they found themselves seated on the edge of the bed, Praelia gumming absently at her mother's wand.
"Well," Isolde said simply.
"Well indeed," agreed the priestess, allowing her attention to focus properly on Hecter's 'someone new'.
Tall and wide-shouldered, Isolde's silvery mail covered most of her body, those parts of her arms and legs that were bare revealing staunch muscle beneath dry, papery skin. Her hair, oddly green in shade, was cut efficiently short in the front but grown long in the back in some attempt at femininity, and her features were angular, hawk-like, that odd skin pulled taut over her prominent cheekbones.
Her predatory eyes unblinking, she appeared to be waiting for Miriah to say something, although quite what the priestess couldn't decipher.
"I suspect I should at least attempt to get to know you, if you are Hecter's friend," she commented somewhat hesitantly.
"Lover," Isolde corrected bluntly, "Why are you burnt?"
Miriah blinked, taken aback by the swift change in subject, and adjusted the lay of her sleeve to conceal the seeping wound, "Because there was a fire, if you must know."
A brief silence, Isolde's expression attentive, Miriah's flabbergasted.
"Who caused it?" the mercenary finally prompted.
"Oh. I see."
"It wasn't precisely my original intention."
"But you did it."
"Aye, I did."
Miriah turned her gaze away, gritting her teeth and steadying herself as the memory of Damius's horrified expression swept through her mind.
"Happens," Isolde commented, frowning at the other woman's lack of control. Turning away should not have been necessary.
"Aye, I suppose it does," Miriah managed to respond quickly, suddenly finding herself wanting control of the conversation, "Things you don't expect or plan to happen occur, and there is little you can do about it when the emotion emerges."
Isolde blinked for the first time Miriah had witnessed, revealing eyelids cracked from dehydration, and the Hand knew she had hit upon something, although she was quite unsure as to what.
"You've had that happen, then, I suppose."
"Although I hope it didn't end in the burning down of houses, it seems a destructive outlet."
Miriah grinned jokingly, but the attempt at temporary friendship apparently fell on deaf ears, for Isolde's reply was similarly monosyllabic to those previous: "Yes."
"Yes, you burned a house or yes, it's destructive?"
They lapsed into uncomfortable silence once again, Miriah taking the chance to shush Praelia, who had begun the first pitiful mewlings of a hungry infant, by opening her robe and casting the brief regenerative spell that allowed the child to breastfeed. Although she kept her eyes trained on the tiny baby, she was well aware of the warrior's gaze inching over to her, curiosity overcoming the stoic woman's mercenary detachment. She feigned a wince, although the girl was being thankfully gentle in her suckling today, and managed to glimpse Isolde's expression undetected.
Despite herself, Miriah's own eyes narrowed. There was something predatory in Isolde's focused stare, something hungry and desperate. The Hand had assumed Isolde's point of discomfort concerned Hecter, but the way the woman was looking at her child was suggesting something else, and something sinister. Her attempt to form an exploitable raport through shared maternal instinct had evidentally uncovered something else.
Again it was Isolde's turn to break the silence, falling into a coughing fit that shook her powerful frame. She could feel the deadly grains carving up her delicate lung lining and struggled to halt the destructive spasms, uncapping her flask and taking quick sips between coughs. Cursing inwardly at this display of weakness, she winced and spat sand wet with blood into her hand as Miriah stood, pulling up the neck of her robe. Gasping for breath, the mercenary stared at the smaller female as her golden gaze swept the gory discharge, moulding her expression into cold apathy.
"That's a nasty cough," Miriah commented unnecessarily, shifting her offspring's weight to her hip to free one hand, "How long have you had it?"
"Doesn't matter," Isolde rasped out in reply.
The priestess's movements were surprisingly fast. Her pallid hand closed around Isolde's wrist before the warrior even realised she'd struck, Miriah ducking her head to inspect the bloodied sand. Furious, Isolde yanked her hand free with a far harder tug than was necessary to dislodge the other woman's grip, closing her fingers swiftly over the evidence.
"Having that much sand in your lungs will destroy the lining, Isolde... Especially considering your fighting style, when you have to breathe so heavily."
The priestess extended a hand, but the mercenary batted it away.
"Stop being ridiculous, woman," Miriah snapped irritably, "Repairing some of the damage shall be quite easy, and it's in your own interests to let me do so."
"You won't even be able to breathe much longer! Why've you even allowed it to progress this far? The Apothecaries could wash it out quite easily."
"Costs money." She was almost growling now, feeling much like a sulking little child.
"I thought you were a tremendous mercenary," Miriah pointed out snidely, narrowing her eyes to cast the minor healing spell from a further distance than she would have liked, "Surely someone of your calibre could find herself a good enough mission to afford treatment."
Isolde's eyes darted involuntarily to Praelia, and Miriah felt something cold coil around her gut, the healing spell dowsed by her hesitation.
Isolde peered at her searchingly, "Ah?"
"Aye, ah," she searched for something to explain herself with, and settled upon the fear factor, "The damage is far worse than I suspected. I suggest you find those funds sooner rather than later..."
Her whole body was tensed now, a steady ache building in her shoulders as she stared at the damaged mercenary. She'd looked to Praelia. At the mention of a good enough mission. And she'd looked guilty... Her thoughts swung momentarily to Hecter and her promises of trust to him, but maternal instinct blugeoned through, and with the slightest exhale of breath, Miriah extended her awareness beyond the limitations of her corporeal form.
"I will," Isolde was saying, and the sound rippled over the priestess's externalised conciousness as she drew close and slipped into the warrior's mind, a silent passenger. Inside the woman's head, Miriah found her mind to be smooth and cold like the shell of a hunter's bullet, as ordered and refined as that of one of the sharks that dwelled in the deeper waters of the world. She found herself marvelling at the sheer organisation here: a decade of imprisonment in her own head had not been enough time to achieve such mental discipline. She felt her own distrust building, and, shifting her mental form to make herself smooth and as maluable as liquid, she crept deeper into Isolde's conciousness.
Where is it? She urged herself on, trailing ghostly fingers over filed memories of war and butchery; of people long dead; of a vast expanse of sand. As she progressed further she felt her own self confidence grow; she knew it was here, and there was no doubt about that at all. Whyever should there be doubt? She knew herself. That was enough.
She stopped suddenly, checking herself. Something was not right here. Isolde's mind was steeped in... in what could only be described as complete and utter faith in one person - herself. She was saturated in it, and suddenly Miriah realised that she was floating in that sort of confidence, absorbing it without even thinking about it. It was so pleasant, so peaceful. What would it be like to remain here, to stay so sure in herself? Things were so much clearer this way: Damius was wrong, she was right; Praetoria dwindled to a minor pest; the deaths of others... well, it happened, didn't it? Little you could do about that...
Miriah was happy to find that she was far stronger in this ethereal form than back in her body. The force of her own mental slap sent her reeling, backed with memories of Lord Gahs' teaching: never go too deep. She conjuered quickly the memory of Faatimah, of her own failure, of her own breaching of that other woman's privacy so long ago.
I am not infalible.
As painful as it was to do, Miriah drew up her self-doubt, her few straints of modesty, her... her insecurities, as Hecter had so bluntly put it. Pulling herself back together, she probed deeper, swathed in layers of pure El'Ubrian determination, until recent memories, as well organised as the rest, rolled up to meet her. Blood and strife and pleasure... she flew over it all, uncaring about anything but that one thing - the mission.
It stood out, once she found it. Two hundred gold. The baby. Bring her to me. You needn't know my name.
But Miriah knew the face. Drakarm.
She fought back the urge to draw in all the shadow energy should could find and manifest herself as a destructive blast from here, the very core of the infiltrator's mind, forcing herself to focus on Hecter and friendship. Black fury colouring her aura in shades of scarcely controlled hatred, she forced herself to search the memory again, as a mental object this time, instead of a past event. It did not seem as clinically devoid of feeling as the rest. No, in fact...
She roved around the memory, finding a strand of startlingly strong emotion trailing from it. The attachment stood out in stark contrast to the rest of this vigorously controlled enviroment, and as she wrapped her own essence around it, letting its meaning pulse through her, she heard the mercenary's voice pulsate through her.
Must not do this to him.
Something smacked her in the chest, hard, and Miriah doubled over, winded and shocked.
"What was... what was that?!" she managed to gasp in due time, loosening her grip on Praelia, who had begun to squawl in protest to being crushed.
The warrior towered over her, stroking her fist thoughtfully.
"I truly doubt that," wheezed the Forsaken, forcing herself to her feet.
"Somehow, I'm not surprised."
The two women stood facing one another, almost toe to toe, priestess inclining her head upwards to make eye contact with the far taller mercenary. Miriah's indignation met Isolde's brash self confidence; neither woman was inclined to look away first.
"Listen, for the sake of Hecter alone," Miriah finally said, still refusing to drop Isolde's gaze, "I suggest a truce."
"Truce," Isolde repeated in agreement.
"Very good... I think I'll have a job for you later."
"All in due course..."