"Do you need any healing Vincent? Are you alright?"
The wolf kept gazing through the bridge and shook his head, his figure clearly showing off he was rather traumatized too from the most recent events; with his shake, he blinked slowly and muttered a croaky "No" and shifted his gaze down. Knowing Alexandra, though, she still offered to heal his rather crooked snout and a gash he was unaware of; he squirmed in place for a couple of moments, chanting "Don't touch me!" until she was done, only to turn around and head over to the rest of the crew. The wolf sighed and covered his eyes, groaning at the pulsating, dull pain in his snout while it healed itself up but once it was gone, he finally realized he was being all morose for what? He turned his head over to the leaving Alexandra and muttered a furtive "Thank you." Soon, though, he picked himself up and regrouped, they had to continue their journey while there was still any light left; he pushed himself up and lead the group until the darkness slowly engulfed their surroundings, forcing Arianna to take point and light the way with her staff, proving to be a difficult task as she also had to keep balance on her horse AND to lead the horse forward. That until they finally stumbled upon a grove befit to house four young, starving and tired heroes, which Vincent claimed with no second thoughts; he silently helped setting up camp, attempting to feed the horses which thoroughly refused any kind of bribery, snap some twigs and some larger, dead branches for a fire and start a campfire. Not without nearly burning the tip of his tail, though; he swore he sometimes forgets that he also has a fifth limb, compared to his more human companions. Just as the fire tried to gain power, but managed to only produce smoke with a tiny fire somewhere under the stack of wood, Vincent remembered about that curious sword the capt- commander gave him and the advice he gave him; he couldn't remember word by word, for that matter, but he did remember it had something to do with a campfire. As such, the wolf returned to his reluctant destrider, which clearly did not forget Vincent painfully pinching him not too long ago, and pulled the worn scabbard of the oh-so-precious-heirloom and produced the dented, rusty steel from it's sheathe.
Vincent nearly dropped the object as he felt an eerie pulsation surprise his palm; he quickly grabbed it with his other free hand to keep control of the thing. His initial idea to poke the fire with it quickly disappeared as the most recent shock made him reconsider his thoughts and follow the pulsation, as, the closer he got the supposed center of their camp, where the fire tried to burst. His initial thought returned to him somewhere in the corner of his more mischievous mind, but really, he knew exactly what he was supposed to be doing; he took a better grip of the sword and raised it above his head and with a fierce plunge, he sunk the blade into the earth right through the tiny flame they could barely maintain while being witnessed by his confused team. A monumentally large flame erupted from where he planted the sword, forcing Vincent to throw himself away from the fire so he could protect the fur of his face; he regained his balance and stood up on his legs to look back at what just happened, only to see that the wood they gathered turned into a pile of ashes, lazy licks of flames danced up to the sky and dissipated in a red mist of sorts. For a few moments, he regretted his decision to actually use the object, until he reached for the queer display, only to feel the warmth akin to a campfire; he blinked in disbelief as he approached his hand to the flames, feeling the same warmth without burning the fur and leather on his hand. He even stuck his hand into the ashes below, yet, he wasn't burnt. Arianna joined in as she also started to test the flames with her own hand and of all people, she was the one to ask the rest what was this thing; obviously with no answer to give, the wolf kept silent and turned his head towards the girl, giving her a simple shrug of his shoulders. But he could admit to himself that, for once in a very long time, he felt as though he was growing... safe near this fire; funny, thinking that feral wolves were scared out of their minds when fire was presented to them. Soon, their food was set to cook, the flames were indeed able to heat the pot up and boil the chicken meat and the potatoes; to him, it was a mystery how the flame was able to remain at a constant temperature in it's whole area of effect and still cook the food as if it were a normal fire. Truly, Vincent could never understand the logic of magic, if there was any within the concept; true, he learnt the mechanics and such, but only to pass his exams, he still did not understand a single word of all that silly nonsense.
Now that everyone was finally at rest, their food cooking up nicely and himself calm enough after the events of that day, the wolf took himself a few moments to rest in his tent and take off his travelling clothes and all of the gear and weapons he was carrying on him; even with all these, he managed to keep his small tent nice and tidy, he couldn't sleep well if his surroundings were a glorious mess. He laid on his back for a little while, trying to wind things down; taking a few deep breaths and closing his eyes, he could already feel sleep tickling at his eyes, so he did not allow himself to doze off, he still had to eat and confront his squadmates about the rather unhappy event they've been through. Vincent crept out of his tent, dressed in his heavy trousers, boots and the comfortable white undershirt he usually wears before sleep; he took a deep breath before deciding who he shall talk with first, feeling rather uncomfortable about his own actions after the fight. Like always, the first one he always ran to was Arianna, she always had something smart to say... or something so utterly innocent it made Vincent laugh inside and brighten up his mood. He settled himself on the blanket next to the girl as she was reading yet another book Vincent did not recognize by the cover, as it said nothing on it.
"Do tell, you really have no clue what sort of... thing is that madness?" he said, pointing at the bonfire with an incredulous look on his snout.
"I'm not sure. Obviously it must be some sort of magic but...well..I never heard of any magic like this before." she replied. The wolf could only shrug.
"Glad we have it, though. Much easier to maintain than a normal fire, I mean you don't have to feed it anything." but with their conversation drifting off, it was inevitable to reach a more sensible subject that they just had to talk about, in the end. "Ari... about today, on the bridge. I- ugh, are you alright? Ari?" noting her understandable reluctance towards the discussion, Vincent placed his hand on her right shoulder and gave her a reassuring grip until she could finally confess.
"I only hoped that maybe we could have avoided resorting to violence... but I guess there wasn't any other choice. Not with those... sort..."
"Honestly, I would have also preferred to go past without incidents, but there was really no option: walking around would have taken precious amounts of days and resources, swimming across was a bad idea and giving them two hundred gold pieces, with such a limited budget, would have been the worst idea. We'd encourage them to keep shaking innocent people off, or worse should they not comply. Everyone that matters is alive and we've shut down a dirty operation... sure, with more dirty business, but there were very few options, de- Ari."
"I guess you're right... but..." Arianna clearly had something to say, yet, she kept it inside with some stubbornness. As such, Vincent sighed an with his free hand, he pushes the book down from her gaze and closes it shut so he could put it away and encourage her to focus her attention on what they were talking about. He gave her another reassuring grip and lowered his head, hinting that if it's a secret, he was willing to listen to it. Finally, she opened up:
"It's just that... Vincent, I can understand necessity but it seemed to me like... like.. " Arianna averted her eyes for a moment, but the wolf insisted with a nod and whispering "Go on."
"It was like... the fighting changed us all. You, Alexandra and Xilan. I almost didn't recognize Xilan back there... he was... I don't know... different. It scared me." she finished, pointing at exactly what Vincent feared she would talk about. He sighed once more and blinked heavily, knowing too well what she was talking about. At first, he did not know what to say, feeling that excusing his actions would be just childish, so all he could do now was to be honest. With great reluctance, something rather unusual when talking about Vincent, he removes his hand from her shoulder and, instead, lays it on her pale hand; Xilan laughs at your face, fool he could hear his mind rebuking his action, yet, he flustered and the cold, icy thing he had for a heart skipped a few beats out of utter shock due to Vincent's sudden gesture.
"I know. I've went overboard, I was... I don't know, I had that feeling of exultation when you beat down a bully and give him a piece of his own treatment. In THAT moment, it felt amazing; now, I regret every second of it, to the point that I fear to go to sleep." Do you, now? I wouldn't be surprised, whelp he commented at himself. "As for the others, I will have a talk with them, surely. When you're under the stress to survive a fight, I guess you can't be all cheeky and cheery as Xilan usually is; paladins are taught to fight too, Alex did very well under the stress, she is well educated. But us three, well, we still have work to do; and we can't work on it individually, we have to put our efforts together. We can't work as a team, we will fail... working as one, though, is a totally different aspect. We didn't really have the chance to learn from one another just yet, but is there something we can't do? We are four of the top fifteen students from the Avalon Academy, surely we'll figure this one quick, alright?" he smiled and shook her gently. "As for myself, I promise not to lose it like that ever again, for everyone's sake. If there's anything else that bugs you out, you know where to find me." and although he always offered, she never seemed to need his help ever. Maybe she indeed had a better mental health than himself, after all.
He reluctantly left her side and headed straight to Xilan, which was stirring at the stew and just as Vincent sat himself in front of the fire, the elf promptly added another pinch of salt. The wolf grunted, a smirk crept up his snout.
"No matter what, you always add a lot of salt. If it were required in lemon cakes, you'd top the cream with a fistful of salt too."
"Unique tastes my furry friend, unique tastes."
"And then you wonder why you drink so much." seeing Xilan in his usual demeanor made the wolf nearly forget that the elf had a small outburst himself during the fight. "But rest assured, you're not the only one eating so salty; men-at-arms love salt beef, in absence of anything else to eat. Alright, Xilan, listen: the fight we had today was some event, but I've heard some worrying things from Ari. Is something wrong?"
"Well...Look at this Vincent." Xilan brought Vincent's attention to his Hero badge "We are Heroes of Avalon now."
"Junior Heroes, but yes, keep going." he interrupted him with a cheeky smile.
"We have sworn an oath to protect Avalon from any threats no matter the form. At any cost." Seeing Xilan's smile vanishing from his face when he started to say that, Vincent's smile also perished; it seemed that the elf was actually trying to talk something with sense and seriousness, a notion that rarely occurs. Vincent leaned in, resting his arms on his knees to listen carefully to what Xilan had to say, knowing too well how the elf would conceal some of his thoughts from the wolf most of the times. Xilan took a small sip from the stew and apparently decided that it was good since he resumed to stirring it as he continued "Those scum were a threat. You think so too right? By ending their little operation we just made the roads a little more secure for the innocent."
Vincent leaned back and crossed his arms: "Huh. This is interesting, you thinking of the innocent and other notions that once seemed silly to you. What's with the sudden change of heart?".
That seemed to take Xilan a bit off guard "Well ...I..." the elf gave a brief sigh as to calm himself "Well...Let's just say that I suddenly realized the weight of your responsibility... and leave it at that." Clearly the elf was not yet ready to talk about that, perhaps he himself was unsure of how he felt about that situation so Vincent decided not to push him... too hard. He did not want to leave any internal conflict of his friends unresolved. "Xilan, your attempts to hide your conflicting emotions from me are forfeit in front of my eyes. But seriously now, whatever's bugging you, let it go. You enjoyed killing them all? Good, great, you have warrior blood in you... if not, well, I'll make a warrior out of you yet."
Xilan gave a small chuckle at his remark. "You always sniff me out when I'm hiding something don't you?"
"I believe I do resemble a distant cousin of the common dog, so, yes. I sniff your butt- no, I mean your secrets." he intentionally slipped, just to relieve some of the growing tension. Xilan took a small pause before continuing "Well...during the battle I wanted to shock one of those brigands into unconsciousness... but..." Xilan brought his hand close to his face and stared at it for a few seconds before closing it into a fist and continuing "...something happened. I lost control and the spell was more powerful than I wanted. It fried that guy's insides to a crisp...." Xilan then turned his gaze at Vincent, at spark of worry in his green eyes. "Vincent, what if I lose control over my powers in the worst of moments? What if I hurt an innocent...what if I hurt you or Ari or Alex?" It was true that Xilan always had a bit of control problems with his magic given the natural volatile nature of his spells. However, Vincent seemed to trust his elf friend, dismissing such a thought with the wave of his hand.
"Nonsense, Xilan. You and I both know you currently suck at elemental magic, but only through practice will you learn to master it; yes, you may burn people into a stick of charcoal or electrocute hedges into oblivion, but don't we all make mistakes when we learn? Remember when I shot professor Gordon's foot when I first used a revolver? Wait, you weren't in that class... none the less, yes, I shot my professor in the foot with a gun, just after I shot my own. And look at me now, I can't imagine living my life without my revolver; as for you, I'm pretty sure you're a kind enough person not to hit Ari or Alex, unless they piss you off someway. Still, do be careful about your spells... only with enough caution could I avoid any other foot-shooting accidents. And practice."
Vincent's words of consolation and display of trust seemed to have reached him for the elf smiled and nodded "If you say so. You always was the smarter one from us too, so if you think I can keep it under control...I will do my best. Thanks Vincent."
"Of course I'm the smartest ever, I-" and as he rose, his revolver shot, he grunted loudly and knelt back down to grab his foot. He then started to laugh hysterically as the elf noticed that he, in fact, did not just shoot his own foot by accident and playfully pushed the wolf over. He rose once more from the ground and clapped the elf's shoulder with a toothy grin on his snout.
With Xilan reassured, Vincent approached Alexandra who was reading from her tome of sorts. Vincent sneaked up behind the girl so he could take a sneak peek over the contents of the page she was currently reading, but what Vincent saw were a bunch of small runic-like symbols in place of words. Vincent scratched the back of his head, hoping he would find at least one symbol he would recognize, but alas, to no avail.
"I do not understand one single thing from whatever's there, bloody boot..." he muttered
Alexandra closed the tome. "All tomes are written in a coded scripture that only the Paladins and the disciples of the Church of Light are able to understand."
Vincent could only cock his head backwards and frown "That's a paranoid thing to do... why the secrecy?"
"I'm not sure, maybe the faithful are paranoid that the wrong person may learn their secrets." As with the rest, the conversation turned to regarding today's events.
"Well, that means they're hiding something dangerous among those lines. Are they hiding something dangerous among those lines?" he asked with a grin on his snout, but seeing that he is not given an answer, he waved the question away and instead, engaged in a light chat, until he asked the question he prepared for Alex.
About today's shenanigan... it's been one tough decision to take, but I really don't think we should give up gold to everyone we find on our journey; other than rerouting and losing precious time on walking around the river and to cross the river by swimming, I honestly couldn't see any other way but to put those mongrels down... but was it right that I did so? What do you think? You're the most knowledgeable about this subject in this camp..."
Alex answered promptly, Vincent was rather surprised by her take: "You shouldn't doubt yourself Vincent. We were left without an option. One way or another we had to end their operations."
The wolf nodded "I thought the same, really, but... I'm worried for Ari and Xilan, you see. They're not taking this whole accident very well, I'm really hoping they are going to adapt."
Alexandra took a few moments to contemplate and then responded "I believe both Arianna and Xilan simply need a bit of time to adjust. If you are worried about your and Xilan's... eehh... behavior during the battle, I can only recommend you contemplate on a passage from this..." She pointed at her Paladin Tome and then recited the said passage "In all things, a calm heart must prevail" Vincent, for some reason, expected to have some sort of riddle to be recited for him to decipher, alas, there wasn't much to contemplate over a well known saying. He raised his head to look at Alex with a face that said Are you kidding me?, making her scratch her head with a hint of embarrassment "I guess it's not much use, I'm sorry I can't help you more with this." but then she gazed at Vincent and gave him a small reassuring smile "Regardless, I am fairly sure that both Xilan and Arianna are glad to have a friend such as yourself to confine in. As do I."
Still, the wolf chuckled and waved off "Hey, we're all lucky to have each other, Alex. Sure, we didn't get to talk too much within the academy, but I am more than thankful to have you here with us. Don't consider yourself a part of the team, consider yourself a part of us as one unit. We must all work together like a clock, not each piece separately. Anything that bugs you off, you can always talk to me, Alex." he playfully nudged the lady knight at the end of the sentence.
A few silent moments passed and then Alexandra widen her eyes for a moment as if she suddenly recalled something. "By the way, Vincent. Don't tell Xilan and Arianna this, I don't want to alarm them for no reason, but..." The Lady-Knight gazed around her as if to make sure no one was listening, the wolf leaned in to listen what Alex had noticed "... I have this... strange feeling like we are being followed. I've had that since we passed the forest on our way to the bridge. It probably is just my imagination but... Perhaps it would be wise to keep an eye open... just in case."
He also raised his head to peer around, yet, he saw nothing but their own camp being lit by fire, trees and the bridge far behind them. He could hear some bats and night birds, the river crossing somewhere in the distance, yet, not wolves howled at night. He shrugged, but still considered Alex's warning.
Finally, Xilan announced that dinner was ready, Vincent was sure to come and grab himself a bowl of the surprisingly good stew Xilan came up with... although, admittedly, it was a bit too salty. As they enjoyed the hot meal, Vincent brought up the tome to sit down and think on their next moves, but it did not take too long for them to set up a safe, but quick enough route to their destination; they had to avoid Eagleblade for now, Arianna seemed especially glad of that idea. All that Vincent knew about Arianna's quarrel with this city was that she was born there, but knew nothing of her troubling past... funny how everyone else knew he was an orphan adopted by high elves, but knew very little about the two girls. For now, they will have to rest and carry on with their duties for the next day, yet, as everyone retreated to their own tents, Vincent stood behind to watch the flames for a little before he called them back to the fire:
"Guys? Wait, get back here." as soon as everyone reached back to Vincent, the wolf stood up and turned around to gaze at their faces, the two human girls and his best friend elf. He smirked and urged them to sit down, sensing a slight feeling of worry coming from them. "Alright, guys, it is safe to say that we all had an interesting day, to say the least. We've faced today a tough decision and a difficult situation, yet, here we stand. We've all had our moments of loss during the fight, yes, that is true... but don't we all make mistakes? I've gone overboard and downgraded myself lower than the scum we fought against, Xilan has gotten angry, if you can believe that, Ari lost her focus and Alex..." he stood for a moment, trying to remember what she had done, but to no avail. "...what did Alex do again? Never mind, important is that we learn from what happened today: sometimes, as much as we try to bring peace in a land plagued by problems, we too have to resort to conflict; we are all definitely GOOD beings, we all dislike having to fight against another living thing, compared to rekilling walking corpses. Neither of us should hide behind the finger and let our won thoughts cloud our judgment and thinking, we must be open one to another, how else are we going to take this mission to an end if we act as ONE strong warrior, rather than a team of four kids playing Scout?
Ari: you're wise, smart and you always think a few steps ahead, you should cherish that over brute force and always think that we all must survive in a battle against someone else; it is us that matters most in this moment, we have an important mission we must bring to an end at all costs and with all of us intact. I can understand that it's hard, but you know best: through perseverance, you can best yourself. Keep at it, girl!
Xilan: so what if a spell goes wrong, spells go wrong all the time, even for Archmages! So long you practice and learn to calm yourself down in the middle of a battle, you'll be fine. You ARE Magicbron, don't forget! Feel the magic, taste the magic, become the magic, you ARE the MAGIC! You turn someone's inside into porridge? WHOOPS, too bad, next time you'll know to think less about food.
Alex: your experience and discipline clearly shows off in tense situations and if you could share some of your training and knowledge with us bookworms, we can all end up as calm and as efficient as our lady-knight here. Tell me, have any of you guys seen a single male knight as tough, hardy, trustworthy and disciplined as Alex? I think not!
As for myself, I need to learn to stop venting my anger upon the weak, for I gain nothing but sorrow from it after a few moments of brutal satisfaction. I also need to learn to write down speeches since I have this knack at forgetting important matters I want to talk about, yes; that and, also, to become the head of our operation. If I cannot handle all of the troubles and problems we come across, then who will? We all still have a lot to learn, we can all agree to that, but that doesn't mean we have to cry over it at nights; we go out and learn to work together, work as one single unit, BE one unit!" he continued on as he paced in front of them, his hands at his back, seeing positive results on the three people in front of him. Suddenly, he raises his finger and points at each of them, his voice turning into a commanding shout:
"ALEX, shield up, push enemy back! Xilan, blink behind enemy, arcane volley! Ari, barrier me! Myself, take aim and fire at will!" he chuckled at their surprised faced as the wolf took a crouched firing stance, holding an imaginary rifle in his two hands. "See? We need to act just so, only better. From tomorrow on, we start working on plans and attack patterns, no more chaotic sorties, understood? Squad, DIS-MISSED!"
And with that done, the wolf retreated to his own tent where he laid down on his bedroll, deciding not to cover himself as it was warm enough outside; he really hoped that his body will try to protest against sleeping on the floor instead of an actual bed, yet, sleep came to him surprisingly fast, the wolf was already dreaming within the first few minutes he closed his eyes. He felt safe, he could feel his body resting even though he was dreaming that he was vertically walking up on trees and walls like in dubious myths...
Yet, he still felt alone.