The wind nipped at Faeryn's cheeks, causing her to wrap her arms around her chest and shiver. Her thin black dress and cloak barely warded off the cold, but everyone wore similar clothing no matter the weather. Her father had claimed it was the will of the Blood God, but sometimes Faeryn wondered if it was to also help with resources and to save time. But at least her long, loose hair provided a small amount of protection around her shoulders and neck.
She'd wandered closer to the edge of Perseus in search of mushrooms. The type she wanted only grew near the graveyard. They weren't to eat but they were needed and helpful nonetheless. Her basket was nearly full now and the sun was starting to go down, so she knew she needed to return home soon.
As she plucked one more mushroom she heard the sound of leaves cracking and footsteps. A cold rush of fear washed over her, forcing her to grab her basket and stand to her feet instantly. Faeryn ran behind a tree, peaking out to look around. It wasn't long until she spotted a group of men.
That they were alive and human soothed her nerves somewhat, but she did not recognize them which meant they were outsiders, something that both surprised her and peaked her interest. It also meant they'd probably be in deep trouble if they kept going deeper into Perseus. Part of her wanted to stop them, but still she did not speak up. They were not just outsiders but strangers. If any of them looked she'd duck behind the tree.
A thick fog clung to the morning air, as the vibrant green grass was still damp from Mother Morning's tears. It had taken nearly three weeks to travel from the vibrant island of Ouclia to the downtrodden and mysterious wooded forests of Perseus, a city that clung deep within the woods of the Empire's heartland; Though to claim it was a city would be foolish, it was nothing more than a ghostly town, that clung with decaying walls and deep rooted willow trees that sank their branches low to the earth, almost as if they were weeping from so much death and decay.
"They say two decades ago that this place fell ill to the Hollowing Gut," a curly haired and plump teen whose vest was a shade too small for his waist said with a short breath.
"Yeah and you're full of Sphinx shit, the Hollowing Gut isn't real Garius," grunted a tall and slender boy, whose flowing black hair clung around the sides of his tanned neck. "A disease that rots your insides out, is Old Yam stories."
"Old Yam's stories are true, you just don't believe them!"
A little boy peered up to Nereus with bright Opal eyes, his little head bobbing as he clung to the reigns of his brother's large workhorse. "Neery, what's Sphinx S-..."
The young lord would cut his words short, "It doesn't matter," he'd say with some reluctance as he peered towards his two teen brothers, "And that's enough from the lot of you, pay the respects to the dead."
The town held nothing in particular, and the House in charge who bore the same name had lost almost all of its prominence with whatever curse plagued these lands. It was poetic in a way, for their house bore the sigil of a bloodstained skull, the same colors filled the roads with the chunky mix of vomit and blood if the Maesters in the Capital were to be believed. Still it seemed odd for his father to keep his promise to this lowly house, regardless if the two men had been good friends prior.
As the little band of Vellors approached the walls the eerie feeling would settle in. A few men clad in black tunics and dulled iron helms stood at the gate, though their eyes seemed almost lifeless and empty, neither turning towards he four boys as they passed through the gates.
The inside of the walls was no better, only a few men and women clung to the desolate cobble streets, clad in black robes and faces covered. The boys, dressed in fine shades of Orange and Red, with Nereus clad in the purple tunic and garb of the Spearfish stood out among the empty streets.
Emmos, the young boy peered up towards his brother as he scooted back into the young Lord, and Nereus felt it too. His gloved hand would rest against his brother's shoulder as even his two wild brothers fell ill for words.
The young Noble would catch a glimpse of a pale girl who vanished behind a tree, causing the man to stop his horse. "Excuse me," he'd call out, hoping she would reveal herself. "I am looking for Lord Perseus." He'd pause, "My name is Lord Nereus Vellor and these are my three brothers..Gaius, Prento, and Emmos." The Lord would give a toothy smile--hoping that his normally bright demeanor would bring some light to this dreary place. Oh Father, what have you pulled me into now?
One of the men gazed at her and she promptly hid behind the tree, feeling her heart suddenly beat much too quickly. The rush of adrenaline made her body shake, and the thrumming of rushing blood in her ears almost drowned out what the man said until he said the name Vellor.
It took a few seconds for her to process that the man might be who she was promised to, which steadied her enough to realize they may not attack. Her curiousty and courage grew till she looked back around the tree. She didn't say anything at first, instead suddenly staring at the horses. Something clicked in her mind before stepping out from behind the tree and placing her basket down.
Faeryn tipped her head slightly, feeling brave enough to step forward until she was before Nereus horse. She placed a hand on it's snout and finally began to speak, "Horses..." she said softly at first, staring up at the lord after, her eyes widening. "Amethyst eyes... gold flecks among a sea of hazel strands."
She stepped back, suddenly shaking and placing a hand carefully on her throat. "And slit throats... the taste of blood." Faeryn looked away. "You're in danger...or am I?" she added in a voice scarcely above a whisper, but turned away and walked to her basket.
Her shivers from recalling her vision had stopped, but she still shivered from the cold as she picked up and clutched the basket to her chest. It was probably best to tell them to leave, but she knew her father would be furious of she did. "I'll bring you to him..." she said before turning and walking towards the road that lead to the Perseus estate.
The young lord would peer towards the strange girl, she looked no older than seventeen or eighteen at the most, her skin pale as the moonlight and hair a serene white-blonde and icy blue eyes that seemed to look past him at that moment. He watched her step back covering her mouth with her frail hands as a shiver ran down her spine.
"Lady Perseus?" His amethyst eyes nearly widened as he let out a bit of a chuckle, he'd motion for Emmos to take control of the horse as he pulled himself down. "The pleasure is mine, truly." The former sellsword would give a gentle bow as his eyes never left her.
He stood up, towering over the meek looking woman, though he meant no content, instead he would remove the cloak he bore, a golden silken cloak with the etchings of a Spearfish running across the center. He would move behind her, strapping it around her small shoulders--it was far too big for her, and it became more a blanket that threatened to swallow her.
"Let me take that for you," he'd peer towards the basket, holding his hand out to hold it, and slowly they would walk towards the haunted halls of blood.
Faeryn was surprised when he recognized her, it made her pause while she watched him bow. She didn't return the bow, or answer anything even as he placed his cloak over her. And when he asked for the mushroom basket she blinked at him and slowly...very slowly handed it over. He didn't scare her anymore, she just wasn't entirely sure how to react to the very friendly outsider.
When he took it, she'd walk along side of him and begin to run her hand down the fabric of his cloak. "This is very warm," she said, a small smile finally forming on her lips, but it vanished shortly after. "But father may be mad that I'm wearing it..." she added, though she made no move to take it off.
It wouldn't take them long to reach the estate, and while they walked to the door Faeryn could not help but speak. It was risky, very risky because if her father found out she could be in deep trouble, but she didn't want to see death come to this outsider. "If father gets angry, please do not meet him with your own," she said in a hushed voice before they entered.
They were all met with stares, and most of the cloaked men and women moved away or went into another room. The ones that did not move wore old helms and stood by the doorways almost as still as statues. "Oh, oh my, it's my honored guests!" a cheery voice rang out from the other end of the room.
The Lord of the land stepped forward revealing the voice to be his, and then his eyes fell on Faeryn. "What in the Myst are you wearing?! OFF WITH IT!" he growled, nearly spitting. His voice switched from happy to anger in a second flat. Faeryn did as commanded as fast as she could, though the cloak was fairly heavy.
"I'd tell you to leave now since you already have my daughter," the odd lord continued in a low threatening voice, but added in his friendly voice right after, "But you must stay for dinner and I would not have you travel during the night!"
A cool chill ran across the yard as the four boys made their way towards the entrance of Faeryn's home, she warned him about her father, and it brought some pause to the young lord. He really hoped that the man wouldn't be one of those types of lords, with illusions of supreme beings that controlled and managed every single part of their family's life.
"You father will respect me as a fellow Lord of our Empire," he'd say quietly to the young woman as he entered their decrepit home. Nereus' brothers clung to the side of the young man as they looked out towards the dimly lit home which was clad in black and red tapestries that adorned dark blackened wood floors.
The smell of the home was filled with strange spices and herbs, certainly the work of magi and their constant meddling with the arcane, which brought up the senses in the young man. He didn't quite trust a Wizard, They talk far too much, and mostly about themselves.
Then there was the strange Lord who seemed all too threatening, his words laced with venom towards his daughter and his guests. "Your Grace," he'd say sharply, as he stepped between his soon to be wife and his brothers. "I ran into Lady Faeryn on the way in, it was cold so I placed my cloak around her, I meant nothing by it." He'd say with a sharp and strong tone.
"I am Lord Nereus of House Vellor, and it's finally a pleasure to meet you. My father mentions you quite a bit, he said that you and him were good friends during the old wars, so you have my upmost respect." He'd say with a sharp bow, his hand moving to his brothers to do the same.
"We shall eat with you, and then we will depart, once Lady Faeryn is ready," his bright purple eyes would peer back towards the pale woman.
"Of course you meant nothing by it, you knew no better," the lord said plainly. He stood listening to the rest of what his guest had to say, and at the same time another cloaked man came out from the room beside him. The door groaned and creaked against it's degrading hinges as it swung open to reveal the figure. This cloaked man wore a long chain necklace with gems affixed to human bones at the end of it, and what looked like a skull of some creature as a mask, but he said nothing at first.
"Your father..." the odd Lord said, staring past his guest now. A quietness filled the air for a handful of heartbeats, and a look of distance took over his countenance. "Your father is a good man," he proceeded to say after. The sentence caused Faeryn to lift her head up and stare at her father with a shocked look; it was extremely rare for him to complement someone. They must have been true friends if even in the depths of his insanity he remembered it fondly enough complement him.
But her fathers instability held true when he heard Nereus proclaim they'd leave after dinner. Zephyrus would not allow this young lord to challenge his authority. He'd learn a lesson, and Zephyrus would see to it, but before the lord spoke again the skull masked man tipped to the side and whispered something in his ear. This made Faeryn tense up and look back down at the ground immediately. She knew nothing that came from that man's whispers was right. Even though he claimed to hear the words of the Blood God and her father believed it... she just knew it was wrong.
"Come here Faeryn," Zephyrus suddenly barked. "And bring the mushrooms." She nearly jumped but obeyed, taking the basket gently from Nereus if he allowed. She walked up to her father and he jerked suddenly and grabbed a handful of her hair at the top of her head. Faeryn tried to stifle the cry of pain and panic that struck her in that moment, but it was impossible due to how tightly he'd gripped her. Her father just held her there however, instead of striking her too like she expected. She could only assume he was still angry about her wearing the unsanctioned cloak, but he was mostly exercising his authority over the young Lord.
"No, you'll all stay for the night. It is my wish and command. Elden will show you to your rooms," he said, waving his other hand towards the skull masked man. "And will summon you to the dinning room once the table is set."
The young lord watched as the masked man came from the shadows, his presence felt cool and dark, and the smell of death seemed to cling to the air. There had always been rumors that the fringe portions of the Empire and in the deep underbelly of the capital itself that the strange the occult were worshiped.
The Goat of Al-Kashur, The Shadow Faced God, The Snake Man of the East, and The Blood God came to mind, but even the young Lord understood that there was possibly thousands of lesser beings and cults of personality being worshiped under the defiance of Imperial Law. Only the Twelve are the True gods of our people.
Whoever this man was, did not seem to be a practitioner of the current laws in place, the whole town felt cursed and a dread sickness seemed to fill the air. Nereus made note to bring it up with his father, and for a proper Imperial envoy to be sent to the town, but for now he had more pressing concerns .
He saw Faeryn's golden locks being clenched and dragged by her father whose lifeless eyes seemed to fill with venom. Emmos, the youngest of the Vellor brothers gasped for a moment as he brought his little hands to cover his mouth. To show such a display was common among nobles, but for the house of sharks, it was only honor that they strove for, and Faeryn was now a Vellor.
With little hesitation he motioned towards his two older brothers to watch over Emmos as he stepped forward, sliding his silver shortsword which had been encrusted with golden waves along the hilt. "You will let go of her," he'd say with a stern voice. "Per the agreements of our House ancient laws, placing your hands on our women is a provocation of war," he'd hold the blade out towards the man, "You will release her, and let her return to our home at once."
As soon as the young lord pulled his sword, all the statue-like men draw swords and staves and stepped forward, facing towards the group of boys. By the way they moved the guests of the estate would be able to tell they were undead, and ready to charge at any second. There were six of them in the room, two per door and many more throughout the household.
Lord Zephyrus' face reddened as the undead moved. "You little ba-" he startedm but was cut off when the skull mask man leaned over again to whisper in his ear.
Faeryn could not shift to see Lord Nereus but she felt more panicked than before, because she knew her father would not take that. She wasn't sure if Nereus was trying to help or simply enforcing the laws of his land, but he had been kind to her and didn't deserve the cruel fate that laid in wait for him.
Though she would be surprised; pain shot through her body suddenly causing her to let out another cry, but instead of it being a slap she fell forward to the ground, closer to Nereus. A sharp breath escaped her as she collided hard with the floor.
"I was not aware of your laws. I care not for a war," the crazed lord said, the redness of his face waning. "But as I said, you will stay the night. Perseus has hoards of undead summoned at all times by various mages, and at night as their masters sleep they can be unpredictable."
As her father talked, Faeryn lifted herself off the floor and carefully walked towards Nereus. She, at least, knew that the undead wouldn't react to her moving towards him. It still risked her fathers ire but she felt the need to say something.
"Please Lord," she said as quietly as she could when she walked past him. "My father will try to kill you, you need to find a way out," she added as quickly as she could before stopping behind him and lowering her head. She didn't mean he should fight, there was other ways out but she could only say so much so quickly. She also did not know Nereus' temperament and how he'd react to her father's undead threatening him or his refusal to let the group leave. She also did not know if her irrational and unpredictable father would attack even if Nereus agreed.The tension in the air was palpable and one wrong movement or word could set it ablaze.
From the shadows the set of armor would animate to life, their creaks and groans came with unnatural twists and turns, they were certainly the mark of undead thralls, and it caught the young Lord off guard for a moment. His bright purple eyes widened a bit as he backed up, his hand slowly bringing the sword back to his side.
He could feel Emmos move to cling to the back of his back, with a soft whimper, and the two older brothers normally loud and boisterous were stone cold silent, their normal olive skin had been flushed pale with white.
He saw Faeryn approach, her words a soft whisper as she mentioned her fathers true intentions. A pit in his stomach built up and he knew something was off, but with the amount of undead and the strange masked man, the young shark knew that it would be foolish and brash. "Please forgive me my lord," he'd say as he brought the blade back to his side. "We will prepare our stuff for the night, and we look forward to our feast your grace."
He'd say with a bow, though he had no intentions on keeping such a promise, instead if they made it into the hallways of her ancient forboding home, he would lean in to whisper to his soon to be wife, "Are there catacombs, surely you know this home better than the four of us, how do we get out of here?" Hopefully her father hadn't caught their words.
Elden, the skull masked man, took lead when the young lord agreed. Zephyrus seem pleased with himself, though he frowned as his daughter passed him with the group of Vellors. Faeryn looked down when she noticed her fathers gaze, then tipped her head a bit to listen to Nereus' whisper.
Faeryn nodded. "There is," she said softly, though when Elden turned his head and looked back for a second she went quiet again. Elden lead the Vellors to a long hallway with at least four rooms down it. "The first room was reserved for you, Nereus, the others were cleaned for whatever other guests accompanied you," Elden said, blatantly leaving out Nereus' title. He looked at Faeryn again, as if he wanted to say something, but turned after and walked away without another word.
Whatever room Nereus walked in, Faeyn followed so they could talk in private. "Many rooms throughout the estate have secret doors. If you went into one of the doors without knowing which turns to take, you'd probably get hopelessly lost... but if you know the right way you can make it to the catacombs. The catacomb stretch much further than whats used of them, all the way outside of Perseus."
The young blood mage went to a mirror, pushing it to the side and then pressing on the wall. The wall shifted and kicked up dust, clearly showing that it could be pushed open. But Faeryn shifted too, nervously looking down. "But one of my brothers tried to use them to escape Perseus. Somehow...somehow Elden knew. He found my brother in the catacombs and brought him back. He was sacrificed to the Blood God shortly after," she admitted, a mixture of fear and sadness in her eyes. She knew that she wasn't suppose to speak of the Blood God to outsiders, but if she survived this Nereus would be her husband and she could not hide her god from him. "Elden claims the Blood God speaks to him...I don't know if I believe it but I don't know how to explain how he found out."
Nereus and his three brothers clung close to the pale girl's side, though the young Lord himself never took his purple eyes off the masked man, something about him, his personality seemed to reek of death and insidious planning, it was needless to say that the young Imperial did not trust the masked man nor his intent.
But, if these catacombs could prove useful in an escape, but they would have to be careful, he had heard stories from the Oracles and Maesters of the Citadel say that there was magic that could allow you to have watchers in paintings, even little statues or objects.
When the young girl brought up this fact, it made him consider it for a moment, Is that how her brother was caught? This masked prophet was most likely the true danger here and the one that had spread the ideas of false gods onto the people of this once proud town.
Nereus motioned his brothers into his room, defying the masked man's attempts to put his brothers separate of each other. The four of them stepped into the room, and he hoped that his future wife would join him. "If your brother died in these tunnels, then what do you suggest?"
"I think... I think we might be safer because we are five," she said. Though she seemed not entirely sure, there was a small bit of hope in her eyes. "The only other way out is to fight all my fathers undead, and possibly Elden too."
The young necromancer pressed the wall three times and it swung open to the pattern. If Nereus looked like he was willing to go, Faeryn would go in and start walking through the halls. She'd walk and turn corners with an air of confidence she didn't have before, but it was because she had a perfect map of the corridors in her mind. She'd studied and walked through them dozens of times, though never dared to go into the catacombs until now.
When they reached the stairs to the catacombs she hesitated for a handful of heartbeats before starting to walk down. But before she hit the last few steps a figure blocked the light at the end, and then another figure blocked the top of the stairwell. Elden stood at the end, and some undead stood at the start of the stairwell. "El-Elden," Faeryn said with a stutter, taking a few step backwards and bumping into Nereus.
"You doubt the blood god," Elden said, removing his mask to reveal the pale face and fangs of a vampire. It'd explain how he could move so quickly, and possibly explain how he knew about their plan. Some vampires had amazing hearing, and Elden was likely one. "Yet, I have seen him in the flesh. I have spoken to him time and time again. Your people," the vampire looked at Nereus. "may call him a false god, but that means nothing except that they're ignorant and accept lies." As he spoke, undead started to pour down the stairwell.