The ivory blanket of snow covered the forest, pristine in it's perfection, as far as one's eye could see. And in the light of the full moon, the brilliance of Luna was reflected along the forest floor. It would be under her watchful gaze that he hunched in the boughs of a broken tree, cloaked in the shades of hunter and ebony, his eyes a matching hue as he looked to the distance. Below him, the frost was broken only by the pawsteps of the timber wolf that huddled below him. It was clear by his training that he was well versed in protecting himself by wrapping the shadows around him, and he used that to his advantage, leaping from branch to branch with ease, the wolf keeping time with him on the ground. The cloak parted to reveal a ranger's attire of leather protecting him from the elements. Closer he made his way toward the target he sought, and his mind pieced together his recent travels.
It had begun a full year prior to this, in a tavern near Siren's Cove, when he'd last seen his prey. He had traveled along side her for a long while, but that night rang in his memory for the pain that it had caused. The pirate "lord" as he'd fashioned himself had romanced her with song and word, but when it came down to it he was a rogue that only sought her fortune and her virtue. Luckily he had failed in gathering both, thanks to this hunter's protections over her. But when the rogue had departed, he had taken the lady's heart and splintered it into a thousand slivers the shape of a needle's eye. It was with a voice of the dead that she spoke of refusing to ever love again due to his macinations. That left the hunter only one choice - to swear on his sword, on his ship, and on his blood itself that he would bring her that which she had lost and return it intact before the winter solstice. That event was two nights from now, and he was making haste to her location, bringing more than he had initially promised.
Through the depths of Kel'var, over the valley of Cuchegoth, from the river Seretei and the woods of Nar'geth he had wandered. His eyes knew what they sought as if they were already part of him, and reality they were. With only his canine companion to protect him, he fought the giant Dalrohk to a standstill; he traded stories in the Captain's Table with a woman who's skin was blue as a summer's sky, with eyes like ice; he plumbed the darker reaches of Ki-Ra-Tar to duel with the Maidens of the Gh'kra; he combed the beaches of Vel Wreth and even returned to his own Zel'aran homeland to gather all that had been sent asunder. He walked all paths known to Men, Imperian Velaran, and Zel'arans alike with only his memories of her to fuel him. Now he was so close to his final reward, and he would not stop until he had it.
But more than that spurred his increase in speed. He'd remembered rumors that several traitors were keeping camp with her in recent days, including a recent turncoat from a clan loyal to hers that had just arrived. He growled savagely at the though of the Lord who joined her now, thankful of the man's sister who had informed him of the treachery. The same sister who was keeping the first mate of his ship company with the stories of what had happened while he was away. Stopping for a moment he cringed, remembering a meal the lass had once made, and how the young Maxter lad who was his squire had stated he thought she'd cooked the stew in sea water... he missed that boy and was glad that he'd kept his ship intact. It was the boy and his lass who'd put him on the final part of this trail that he'd thought had gone cold. After all, a year from her had caused a little difficulty in picking up her scent and following it. But he was lucky that her heart had guided him true as always and put the Lady MacWellan in his path and pointed true to this place.
Already he could see the mountains beginning to solidify in the distance, and his sharp orbs caught the flicker of the barest of fires. Guiding on it man and beast pivoted their movements to it, and they began the leaping again. He cared not if it was cold, or that it was the middle of the night. They had spent many a night at the tavern, on the road, and in the keep up at all hours of the day with stories and enjoying each other's company. The challenges of throwing the dirk, the tinkering of blades to blades as they fenced in their particular styles. Stopping agian now he crouched deeper into the tree's embrace, his gloved hand stroking over the dying bark, as he sought it's knowledge.
Yes... he was here too. He'd worried that the sorrcerer was back up to his old tricks, and this tree and it's brethren confirmed it. His quary had traveled through here only a day prior, and the spirits of the wood had heard the conversations of she who traveled with her own companion. It seemed her sister was once more being sought by one who desired her crown, and it fell to his quary to retrieve her twin and try to face down the tyrant. But he knew too well the macinations of the Dark Lord, and what powers he envoked. Yes he remembered far too well as his own twin was separated from him when they were young due to a war lead by this man to weaken the Zel'arans. But they didn't understand why at the time - so what if his mother was an illigitimate child of the High King of the Zel'arans. She had forsaken any claim to those lands to dwell in the land of Comet with her husband and their septuplets...
He shook the memory away as he released the contact over the wood, and looked below him at his companion stared back at him with cobalt eyes. She had been a good friend to him, and had encouraged him the entire way to do what he must to make himself and his Lady whole. Giving the smallest of chuckles he saw the canine's tail wagging, for she'd picked up the other that traveled, and looked forward to engaging in a challenge of alphas with him. Nodding he guaged their distance, and knew for most at their snails pace it would be several hours to the cave that he was detecting. But for him, he would be there in the hour, and his reunion would be glorious.
Taking off again, his pace almost reckless, he pondered the words of another he'd spoken to. Having traveled the length and breadth of several lands not even on the same plane as this, he had come across one he had not expected. The blonde woman had eyes that were older than the land that he traversed, and there was a power in her that he'd only seen in one other. She confirmed his suspicions and he told her of his quest. The Elder approved of him after a trial of wills, which he had proven his heart had been forged in the fires of pain, loss, betrayal, but quenched in hope to strengthen him. Conveying on him a token of her good will he continued his quest, but took to heart her words. "Remember, Zel'aran, that the one you seek will always be in danger of falling to darkness. When you find her, you would do well to remind her of not only you and your place with her but also what her place within her own family is."
Those thoughts caused the hour to pass quickly as he recounted in his mind all the things that had been done to complete his task, and it brought him to stop just in sight of the clearing. "Alright Victoria..." He said as he jumped to the ground, near the tracks of the Lord MacWellan, his thumb loosening the blade at his belt from it's saya, "It's time that we get back what is rightfully ours, neh?" And so he pulled back his hood revealing mahogany locks that were wild around his head. He saw the Lord and his final goal speaking amongst themselves, and was surprised that she was pretending not to notice him along the shadows. So he steped forward, his footfalls like velvet over the crystals strewn opon the ground, and gave her a small smile. Not the roguish grin of the Pirate, but the slightly tricksy smile she'd loved when he climbed the balcony to speak with her by the sea. "If there is one thing about you Lady Kaylia that has not changed, it's your envocation of the chimes of Hades."
Were she to see him now, the memories would flood back to her; the swordsman who could barely fight her to a draw; the one who would sit and drink with her as she drank most men under the table; the loyal watchdog who had chased away those whom he knew were not after her for love but for coin; the companion and friend when all had forsaken her, and her breath caught in her throat as she spoke his name with a whisper that most would wish their ears would detect from her lips. "Athos Jememy..." He nodded, and stepped fully into the light of the fire, revealing his emerald and golden personal colors, and at his belt a pair of curved eastern blades which she knew well were the Shiryu Daisho that he'd aquired in his travels and were as much part of him as his blood. "Hail to thee, Lady of the Merrick Clan."
"Athos... why would you return now?" She was wondering if he was intentionally coming back as the shadow of the things she was never meant to have...