The Cursed Darkness - Octavia - Diaries - Intro

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Enter Octavia

Synopsis: Octavia patrols the blight in Garnath.

A winter morning chill and cloying mist covers the Valley of Garnath. Looming out of the mist are large and twisted trees of the once great wood, now blackened by fire, and perhaps also by something else. There is the smell of ash, of damp, and of dead things. The tree branches twist around each other, forming an unwelcoming barrier against intrusion. Occasionally there is a flicker of blackness between the trees, accompanied by strange rustling and howling sounds, as if a wind were blowing in the valley. However, the leafless branches fail to stir in this stagnant air.


Octavia stares into the dark, dead place, her green eyes searching warily for enemies. One gloved hand holds the reins of the big chestnut horse she rides; the other is tucked into the pocket of her dark blue coat for warmth. She is entirely in dark blue, in fact, except for a thin band of piping along the seam of her trousers and a band of feminine blue-and-white ribbon at throat and cuffs on her shirt. Her brown hair is pulled back tightly, as she's done too many times to count in years past; the effect is surprisingly boyish on such a pretty woman, and the cavalry saber hanging at her side doesn't help the illusion, even with the roses and vines worked into hilt and scabbard.


She nudges the stallion to the left, following the narrow trail that parallels the edge of the barrier. "Doucement, doucement, vous grande bête idiote," she murmurs to his twitching ears. "C'est le vent, Voltaire. Just the wind."


The chestnut snorts as though in answer, echoing her gut feeling. You do not believe that any more than he does. There is no wind, just the sounds of it, and the calls of wolves waiting for the moment to strike.


Her hand leaves its pocket and comes to rest near her blade instead as the rest of the patrol filters on the track around her. Now is not the time to have a hand bound, I think.


Octavia senses the disturbance a moment before it happens. Ahead, on the narrow trail leading between darkened forest and rocky hills leading to mountains, there is sudden movement. Several ungainly black shapes lurch from out of the gnarled trees, and attack the patrol. The beings are gorilla like, with long arms flailing about, the glint of sharp claws and teeth flashing in the mist.


Under her breath, Octavia swears softly. Neither wind nor wolf. Are those apes? She shakes her head sharply in annoyance and digs her heels into Voltaire's side. L'Aiguillion, the blade of the roses and vines, comes into her hand as though it was meant to be there; she corrects their course with a touch of the reins, edging aside to put the group between her and the dark barrier, and then the chestnut stallion and his mistress are upon the creatures.


L'Aiguillion licks out once, twice, three times, rending flesh as they pass, and then bites in deeply, sliding though flesh and bone in a fatal stroke - and then they are out and through the other side. A touch of hand on rein, and Voltaire gathers himself, sliding into a spin that reverses their direction, leaping forward again before Octavia thinks to urge him on. His ears are pricked; this is a horse that knows his job and rather enjoys it.


The apes are paying more attention this time, and the progress is not so smooth. They are forced to move more slowly, and to vault the fallen beast; a touch of a gentle cue, and the stallion lashes out as he leaps, his hooves catching an ape as it moves behind them. It stumbles back as they land, and Octavia twists in the saddle to lash out with her blade, catching an attacking beast full in the throat. The head comes sliding off at a crazy angle as L'Aiguillion passes through; the body staggers closer until she kicks out sideways at it and it falls off-balance beside Voltaire's feet. Another stride or two, the blade still licking out sharply at the heavy beasts, and they leap free and hurtle back along the path.


Further along the path stands a man, dressed in a black, shimmering cloak. His hair and eyes are likewise black. He casts his right hand high, and black tendrils extend from his arm, encircling Octavia and her steed, threatening to encircle and ensnare them both.


Octavia hauls on the reins, and her stallion skids under her, ears pinned as he tries to obey the cue. They are slowing - slowing - and then she boots him into a sharp left turn; a stride and a bounce of a jump take them free of the circling black. "Bon," she murmurs to Voltaire as she reins him into another sharp turn, this one to the right. His ears prick again as she loosens the reins and kicks him towards the black-clad man, her blade at the ready. Monkeys and mages. I do not dare ask what next.