Kassia and Xander take on a job that turns out to be a bit much for them, but it leads them to a fateful meeting.
"Rosekeep" is Chapter 3 of the novel. It's the chapter where our heroes first meet each other, kicking off their journey together. The novel in itself is unedited and unfinished, but this chapter is one I will always keep.
To the people of Eriden, Lightdale was the most beautiful place in the continent, but Rosekeep was a close second. It is a paradise of flowers. Different blossoms grew in what seemed like endless fields. Even the mountains were splashed with color. There was a monthly parade of flowers in the town proper of Rosekeep that was something that tourists and locals alike did not miss. Beautiful ladies and gentlemen dressed as princes, princesses, elves and fairies, carriages and wagons decorated with blossoms in all arrangements, shapes and sizes... It was a sight to behold.
Kassia was eighteen and Xander was fifteen when they first stepped foot in the town, just a day before the parade. Back then, both of them did whatever odd jobs they could find in whatever town they were currently in, just to get by. They simply made enough for food and necessities plus traveling expenses. If they were lucky they'd manage to get a room in an inn. Otherwise, they pretty much slept in the wild. Mostly, they preferred sleeping in the wild to save up - spare coins enough for Kassia to buy little souvenirs and send letters home to her brother, or for Xander to buy scrolls, pen, paper, herbs, potions and other such supplies.
When they arrived in Rosekeep, they found a job. Well, Xander found it and didn't want to go through with it because it wasn't their usual thing, but Kassia accepted. He didn't give that much of a fight because she was right - it paid really really well.
The job was to help guard a mysterious little package. They were joined by three of their employer's own men, serving as a substitute for two members of the group who apparently had been drunk and got in an accident the night prior.
While they would miss the parade on the streets, they had a good view from the balcony of the inn where they were assigned to. Apparently, the man who hired them didn't want to keep the item in his home any longer and just reserved a room for the people who were coming to fetch it. He said it brought bad luck to his manor and he was lucky that he was finally being relieved of it. Kassia, Xander and the others were to keep an eye on it until it was picked up, and then they will get paid in full. While they were guarding it, they had free food and lodging. It sounded like a fair trade.
"What do you think it is?" Kassia asked, standing by the balcony of the inn room, turning from the parade preparations and towards her companions. The package, wrapped securely, was in a table at the center of the room. Xander sat on a chair at the same table, reading through a scroll. Two other guards were sitting on the floor by the doorway, while one stood guard just outside the room.
"He said it brought bad luck. Must be some kind of cursed... thing." Xander answered absentmindedly.
"Cursed? You believe in those, then?"
"Well, magic is real." Xander shrugged. "Why not curses?"
Kassia shrugged back. She had nothing to say to that. Still, it made her curious. This time, she addressed the guards playing cards by the doorway. "Are we really expecting people to target this? Is it like, really expensive or something?"
"The master's just being careful, miss." one of them answered. "That thing's been guarded for months but he won't tell us what it is. Now, no more questions. We probably dunno the answer anyway."
It was almost nightfall when they all changed shifts. Kassia was now the one standing guard by the door, eating some fruits that were offered to her by the innkeeper. Xander was still on the table reading, joined by another guard who was sharpening his knife. The other two were now on the balcony.
It happened so fast.
The ones on the balcony were knocked out first. A group of bandits rushed inside the room, stepping over the men's unconscious bodies.
Xander dropped his scroll and quickly called out, "Kassia!" As the remaining guard moved to attack the trespassers, he quickly moved to grab the package they were supposed to protect. Two things happened at once: the guard was shoved roughly backwards, body slamming against the door, and a knife that was sent flying towards Xander, making him jump away before he could get to the package.
The door opened only for Kassia to see the bandits leaving through the balcony, the package in their custody.
"Go after them!" the guard said, injured on the floor. "Don't lose them! I'll follow!"
Kassia needed no further instructions as she grabbed her sword and called out, "Xandy, let's go!" and then she jumped from the balcony.
The guard gaped as he struggled to sit up while Xander grabbed his pack of supplies. "Did she just-"
"Yeah, she does that." Xander mumbled. "Some of us need stairs, though." - and then he ran out the door. He wasn't one of those people who jumped off the four-story buildings. "Bring back-up!" he called back.
He had to run with all his might to catch up to Kassia, and even then they almost lost the group of bandits.
The wild chase somehow led deep into the woods. Xander shouted for Kassia that they should wait for the others to catch up to them since it was getting dark and they were almost reaching the Orod Forest. It was known for its dangerous creatures, even during the day. What more in the night time?
"We can't lose them!" Kassia insisted.
"How many are there?"
"Four! We just have to catch up and try not to die before the others- SHIT, DUCK!"
Before Xander knew what was happening, Kassia had quickly whirled around and tackled him, leaving them rolling together in a heap on the ground.
"What the hell-"
Xander stopped abruptly when a blast of energy landed a feet away from them. Kassia stood up quickly, cursing. Xander looked up at her, then at the spot where the blast landed.
"Yes." Kassia growled irritably under her breath, grabbing the younger teen's collar to help him up. "We didn't know that when we started chasing them, right?"
"Okay, we have no way to fight these guys-"
"-but we can't let them get away!"
"Guess what, we just did!"
He was right. Both of them looked around them warily. The forest was dark and quiet - they were lucky that the moon was full and bright.
Xander sighed. "We should go back. Tell 'em we got attacked-"
He got cut off when Kassia grabbed his arm and shoved him behind her, at the same time drawing her sword out, just in time to clash against the blade of a large knife.
But the bandit who attacked her was stronger and was able to push her backwards. Kassia stumbled but didn't fall. She simply attacked again, trying to match the enemy's blow.
"You don't know how to use a sword, do you, miss?" the bandit laughed. Kassia was still being pushed backwards, and when her back met a tree, she had to crouch down to avoid the enemy's slash.
She glanced to her right, only to see Xander helplessly running around, trying to dodge fireballs sent his way. The boy grabbed a rock from the ground and threw it towards the direction where the attacks came from. He stopped momentarily when he heard a yelp, followed by the sound of someone falling to the ground.
He got lucky.
"I think I got him!"
"Two more!" Kassia shot back, still engaged (and losing) in her own swordfight.
Xander wasn't able to dodge a ball of energy and he got blown away towards a nearby tree. He tried to stand up, but before he could, he had to jump out of the way again, this time to avoid a ball of fire.
Kassia grunted against the man who had cornered her against another tree. "Give back our damn-... thingy-... asshole!" Then she raised her knee and kicked the bandit in the stomach, pushing him away before charging again, trying to knock him off balance. She succeeded in that, and was about to knock the bandit off completely, but then another man came charging in, this time holding an axe.
"You really dunno how to use that sword, do 'ya, missy?" the bandit jeered.
Kassia knew then and there that there was no way her sword could shield that hit, and she barely managed to dodge. Doing so made her lose her balance and she fell to the ground, revealing more than enough opening for the bandits to knock her skull open-
Then all of a sudden, her attacker was blown away by a gust of wind. He was slammed against a nearby tree, falling unconscious. The bandit with the knife got up, but was similarly sent flying towards another tree before passing out.
Kassia looked around to see Xander dodging a fireball. Then, from the direction of the attacks, the mage went flying forward in plain sight. He sat up quickly and raised a hand to send another fireball towards whoever his attacker was, but as soon as he casted the fireball, an arrow came flying straight towards him. The arrow caught the man's sleeve and pinned it to the ground, rendering him unable to properly lift his arm for another spell.
An unfamiliar voice was heard. "Don't move. Or the next shot won't miss your hand."
Kassia and Xander turned to see a short, lithe young woman step out from the shadows of the trees. She didn't look like one of the bandits. She had dark skin, golden eyes and rose pink hair in a braid, a ribbon tied at the back of her head. She wore a dark red cape and held a dagger in one hand. The two watched her lift an arm and hold her dagger above it, then bring it down. As soon as they thought she was going to stab herself, the dagger simply disappeared in a faint light and then a tattoo in the shape of the dagger formed on her skin.
The bandit shouted back at her. "You little-!!! I still have my other hand, you b-" but before he could say anything else, she kicked him on the head, knocking him unconscious.
She looked at Kassia and Xander, smiling a friendly smile. "Are you guys okay?"
The two slowly nodded. Then they heard another voice, coming from the direction of Xander's first attacker, the one he knocked out with a miracle throw. "We got it!"
Another young woman approached them. Like her companion, she was dark-skinned and golden-eyed, but her hair was dark red, falling into curls on her shoulder. She wore a hooded jacket and on her shoulder was a bow and a set of arrows. She carried a book, together with the package that Xander and Kassia were supposed to guard.
Kassia finally snapped out of it and stepped forward. "Hey, that-... thing-... That's ours!"
The pink-haired girl crossed her arms across her chest, tilting her head, all confidence and familiarity. "Don't worry, we'll take it from here."
"You must be the guards? Thanks for holding these thieves off." the red-head said, addressing Kassia and Xander. "We couldn't have gotten here on time."
Xander raised an eyebrow. "Who are you, exactly?"
"I'm Aoife." the one with pink hair replied, then she pointed to her friend. "That's Enda. We came to the inn to pick that up but the others said it was stolen, so we decided to follow you."
"You're the ones supposed to fetch it?" Kassia asked, a hint of doubt in her voice. No matter how she looked at it, the two looked like ordinary maidens in hunting or traveling attire. They were both shorter than Kassia was, and looked too... soft... to be the ones shooting arrows and kicking bandits on the head.
"Yes, that would be us." Enda said, smiling softly as she looked down at the package. "But to be sure, let's check."
She then unwrapped the package, only to reveal a thick old hardbound tome. She blew on the cover before wiping the remaining dust off.
"A book." Xander said, shaking his head in disbelief as he sat on the ground, exhaustion catching up to him. "I almost died for a book."
"You don't like books?" Aoife asked, her hands on her hips, raising an eyebrow at him.
"No, I just... uhh..."
"We thought it'll be something more... interesting." Kassia said, leaving her sword stuck on the ground. "You're mages? Come to pick up that cursed book?"
"Don't be mean. It's not cursed." Enda said softly, already engrossed as she scanned the contents of the book. "It's just misunderstood, that's all."
"Misunderstood." Kassia repeated, brows furrowing. The red-head - Enda - seemed kinda out of it, mouthing the words that she was reading.
"Don't distract her, she's trying to focus." Aoife said, sitting down as if preparing to wait as long as necessary. "She's a librarian."
"In-training." Enda added quickly, then was back to her reading.
"Librarian as in from Spellhall?" Xander asked, watching the reading girl curiously.
Aoife answered for her friend, "Yep, we're supposed to bring that book there. Enda's just making sure it's not dangerous. We're in the Orod Forest and that book seems to be attracting negative elements, so we better make sure it's safe before we go crossing the woods again."
"Negative elements? So it really is cursed?"
Aoife squinted in thought, considering. "I... wouldn't call it that. I'm not the expert here, but... it's more complicated, I think."
"What about you?" Kassia asked, eyeing the markings on the girl's arm. "She's a librarian, and you are?"
"I'm just tagging along." she said with a smile, then turned her gaze towards the sword that Kassia stuck to the ground. "Don't do that to your sword, it's not good for the blade. Also, your posture was terrible, weren't even holding it properly. No wonder you were losing to a knife a while ago."
"What?" Kassia asked, narrowing her eyes at the stranger.
"The thief was right." Aoife said, all-too nonchalantly for Kassia's liking. "You don't know how to use a sword. You were just striking blindly and trying to force your way through. An axe or a mallet would've done you better. I mean, I haven't fought with a sword ever but I can see that much." She sighed absently, twirling a pink hair on her finger.
Kassia was about to talk back when a faint glow came from the old book that Enda was reading. They turned in time to see the glow fade away, and Enda finally smiled and closed the book again. She looked up. "I think we can head back safely now."
"What did you do?" Xander asked. He had not looked away from her even once as she read through the book.
"I just read it properly." Enda said.
"Why do you need to do that?"
Enda smiled in amusement at the boy's curious questions. She extended a hand towards him. "I'll explain on the way. We should get going."
Xander accepted her offer and let her help him stand back up before picking up his bag and dusting off his pants. Enda wrapped the book again and tucked it under her arm. Aoife also stood, flipping her hair behind her shoulder. Kassia followed them as they started to walk through the woods, back to the town.
As they got into the darker parts of the forest, Aoife complained about the lack of light. They stopped to watch Enda take out her own book, open it, and then place her hand above the page. She whispered something, and a little ball of light surfaced from the page and hovered above the open book.
"Whoa." Kassia breathed.
Xander agreed, "That's cool."
Enda laughed gently. "Want to hold it?" she asked the boy.
"May I?" he said, eager. Enda passed the book to him and he held it carefully in his hands as they continued walking. Enda began explaining to the boy all about the old book they all risked their lives for. Xander listened intently, never letting a learning opportunity pass.
Kassia watched them warily as the two led the way while walking. Beside her, Aoife let out a small amused laugh. "Looks like she found another nerd to hang out with."
Kassia nodded coldly. "Seems like it." She still thought that the other girl sounded overconfident when she was commenting on Kassia's swordsmanship.
Aoife stretched and yawned, complaining. "Man, I'm beat! Imagine we just got here and then the guys at the inn are knocked out and they just said follow the blond kid and the girl with the big sword and we had to drop everything and run. Hey Enda, you oughtta ask for the ol' geezer to pay us extra!"
Enda didn't stop walking, but she tilted her head to look back at her companion. "He's already paying us more than enough to take the book, and we're doing just that..."
"Well, chasin' crazy-ass thieves was not in the job description." Aoife whined.
"I don't know, really..." Enda said, sounding tentative as she went back to looking forward to the woods ahead of them.
"We're gonna ask for extra too..." Kassia sighed. "They didn't tell us that fireball-throwin' jerks were in the package."
"They were weak, though. I mean, knife dude and axe dude were big, but they fight shitty. Blondie there knocked one out with a rock and he never got back up. Those guys were easy peas. How did you land this job?" Aoife asked, skeptical. "'Cause you kinda suck with the sword-"
Kassia snapped. "Alright, what's your problem with me?"
They stopped walking.
Aoife blinked. "Me? Nothing, I was just sayin', I expected better-... err-... skill-"
"Oh. Better skill. Says the little girl who let the librarian over there do everything until she can push a wimpy mage forward and kick him on the head when he was about to lose anyway."
"Oh hell no, you're not talkin' about how we do things 'cause you don't understand-"
"Well you don't get to talk about how I fight either!"
"It's 'cause I just thought you'd be better if you're takin' dangerous jobs like these!"
"Well I'm sorry I'm not good enough-"
"You better be! 'Cause you're holdin' a sword, and swords - real swords - are not toys, and they shouldn't be carried around by amateurs-"
Kassia scoffs. "You think I don't know that?"
"It looks like it. You have to be trained, and prepared, and you should at least know how to hold it, how to stand while holding it, or you're just going to kill yourself-"
"Oh yeah, and have you ever used one before?"
"Okay, that's enough." Enda's voice rang, gentle but scolding, making them both stop and look at her. She looked at her traveling companion. "Aoife, I think you've made your point." Aoife huffed, looking away. Then Enda turned to Kassia. "She's right. A sword isn't a toy and it's really dangerous to use it without proper training-"
Kassia scowled. "Oh, I thought the point's been made-"
"-but if you're self-taught, it's a completely different matter altogether."
Kassia stopped. "What?"
Enda sighed. "It's alright to choose a sword for self-defense while simply traveling, training or no. Many people do that. But you have to let your smith or your dealer know. There are swords made to cater to untrained people. If your weaponsmith knows that you don't have much experience, they can make the hilt easier to hold, make the blade lighter and less riskier while still maintaining the sharpness, and other factors that would make using the sword easier. They won't be as strong as ones made for trained swordsmen, but they will do the job."
"R-Really?" Kassia asked, this time surprised at how simple yet very... informative... that sounded.
"Yes. May I see your sword?" Enda asked, extending a hand. Hesitantly, Kassia handed her the sword, still in its scabbard. The girl immediately frowned as she weighed the weapon in her hands. "Too heavy." Then she drew it out, giving the scabbard back to Kassia. "Still heavy, even without the sheath. The blade... hm. Not bad, but not right for a beginner. Too thick and wide." Then she reached out and took Kassia's hand. Kassia blinked in surprise but didn't withdraw as the girl lined up her hand with the sword's hilt. "And not fit for your hands."
Finally, the librarian gave the weapon back, and Kassia quickly sheathed it.
Enda continued. "That sword is well-made, but it's for a seasoned fighter. It's too heavy and the hilt is an awkward fit for your hands, so you're probably straining your wrists too much and... I assume you always need both hands to use it? Am I right?"
"You're also lucky you haven't cut yourself in your fights. You should get something with a thinner and lighter blade, and a smaller hilt. Preferably shorter, too. Start with that and train until you're used to heavier weapons. By then I'm sure you'll be able to put this one to good use."
"Uh... okay. Thanks."
Enda smiled happily. "You're welcome."
"Told 'ya." Aoife quipped with a sly smile of her own, looking away when Kassia glared at her.
"You could've given useful critique without offending, you know." Enda said, scolding her friend lightly as they all began walking again.
"Alright, alright. I'm sorry." Aoife groaned. "I was just sayin' what I noticed! It's just what everyone knows, not my fault you're the expert."
Kassia kept silent after that, but couldn't help but adjust the sword strapped on her back every now and then. Yes, it was indeed heavier than what was convenient. Kassia always assumed that swords were really made that way, though. She thought she'd just... get used to it.
"Are weapons part of your training? You know so much about 'em." Xander asked the older teen walking beside him.
Enda chuckled. "No, it's not that."
"We're from Falconport, kid." Aoife answered for both of them. Then she caught Kassia's surprised look at her and winked. "We know our weapons."
When they arrived at the inn, their employer - the rich old man who owned the book - was there pacing, and as soon as he saw them, he apologized for his guards' uselessness. He invited Aoife and Enda for dinner in his manor after they assured him that everything went fine and the book is now safe.
As for Kassia and Xander, they did not even have to ask, as the man very willingly gave them a huge tip along with their pay, and also told the innkeeper to send him the bill for their food and lodging, covering up to the next few days.
That night, Kassia found herself sitting on her bed in silence, staring at her sword while Xander laid on the other bed, writing something on his notebook.
"Hey, Xandy, what d'you think 'bout me trading this thing for something lighter?"
When she received no reply, she turned to look at her companion only to find the younger teen sleeping soundly, pen and notebook still in hand.
The next day, as they stood among tourists and locals in the streets of Rosekeep watching the beautiful parade of flowers, they bumped into the two girls again.
They weren't wearing their traveling outfits from the night prior. Instead, Enda and Aoife had their hair down and were donning matching white dresses as they stood among the crowd, along enjoying the show. Kassia and Xander did not recognize them at first, not until Aoife turned towards them and said, "Hey, it's you two!"
Enda also turned and gave her own bright smile. "It's nice to see you guys again."
Kassia couldn't help but smile back. In the light of day, the two looked even prettier, with their sun-kissed skin and bright hair standing out from most of the people in the crowd. She also noted the necklaces on their necks.
"You're still doing the fairystone thing in Falconport?" Kassia asked. "Giving amulets to girls?"
Aoife absently fingered her necklace, an intricate gold design, laden with a pink teardrop-shaped crystal in the center. It rested on her collar and complimented her white dress perfectly. "Oh. Yeah. It's still done, I guess. Y'know, city of smiths."
"Falconport's big on traditions." Enda added. Her necklace was a simpler one, but it also had the same pink crystal set in a small simple gold plate, adorned with beads. "And fairystone is still an effective form of protection. How about you?"
Kassia shrugged. "There's not much of those in Pineshore. Trees, yeah. Precious fairystone? Nope." The two girls only smiled and nodded.
Xander asked them then, "Enjoying the parade?"
"Of course!" Aoife answered cheerfully.
"The pictures and paintings don't give it justice." Enda nodded, then paused abruptly. "Come to think of it, we never got your names." she continued, looking guilty. "I'm sorry, that must be awfully rude of us..."
"It's no problem!" Kassia assured her, offering her hand. "I'm Kassia. Uh. On a trip, takin' all sorts of jobs to get by. Planning to settle on hunting 'cause I suck at the sword so far, as you already know..." she trailed off sheepishly, then gestured to the blond beside her. "This is Xan-... Huh?" She blinked, as the boy was nowhere to be found. She looked around. "Where'd that little squirt go?"
Then Kassia heard the boy's familiar voice coming from behind the librarian and her companion. "Xander. Studying healing. Nice to meet you. Thanks again for saving us last night."
When Enda and Aoife turned around, the boy was holding out two roses, a pink one and a red one, the same colors as their hair.
"Aw, you sweetheart! You're welcome!" Aoife said, accepting the pink flower before practically tackling the boy, wrapping her arms around him and squeezing him against her.
Enda took the red one, smiling at him softly. "This is terribly sweet of you."
Then both girls gave the boy a kiss on each cheek.
Kassia gaped before coming back to her senses. She said, "You smooth little shit, I take my eyes off you for a while and you're already hitting on girls! And you ain't even tall as them yet!"
Aoife and Enda laughed, Aoife still not letting go of the boy.
"W-What?" Xander shot back at Kassia, visibly blushing. "It's thanks for last night!"
"You could've just said 'thank you', though!"
"I thought it'd be nice to give nice flowers to nice girls, unlike you!"
"You have a crush on these girls, don'tcha?!"
"W-W-Well, I-..." Xander stammered, looking at Aoife, whose pretty face was too close for comfort as she was being very comfortable clinging to him, and then at Enda who looked stunning, just looking at him with an amused smile. Then finally he pouted defiantly at Kassia, blushing harder as he said, "Well, why not?!"
Kassia rolled her eyes, admitting defeat, while beside her, Enda giggled. Aoife laughed heartily and ruffled the boy's hair fondly, saying again how cute he was.
Kassia and Enda remained standing together as Aoife dragged Xander with her in the crowd to get a better view of the parade, saying something about wanting to see the adorable little children dressed like pixies up-close.
"So, last night, about the whole sword thing..." Kassia started, catching the librarian-in-training's attention. "Truth is, I got it second-hand from... a trader. I didn't really have... a weaponsmith? I didn't think too much 'bout it when I first brought that sword to keep with me while travelin', I just thought it was a good trade, y'know, it looked strong and sturdy? So after last night, I thought, why not follow your advice and get a new one, right? And I was thinkin'... to save up some money, I'll just trade that sword for a better one, y'know, something actually fit for me like you said."
"That's a good idea." Enda replied, nodding. "People don't always trade a fighter's sword with a casual one, but I guess it'll still be a fair trade. Swords for beginners aren't that easy to make, either."
"Oh. Great to hear that. I hope I can strike a good deal."
"Good luck to you, then."
"Ummm, and so... uh, there's some decent weapon sellers at the market, I've been told..."
"Yes, I've heard of those too."
"And I was thinking, err..." the brunette scratched her head, then fiddled with the end of her ponytail. "I was thinking if you'd, uh, want to go with me? Um, y'know, I mean, I could use some advice from... someone like you. I was thinking I could treat you something while at it, too... as... thanks for last night. Ah, but if you're busy it's fine! I'm sure you have other stuff to do and-"
Enda answered with a small smile. "I'd love to go with you."
"Mm-hm." she said, looking down as she played with the single rose that Xander gave her. "It looks like Aoife's taken a liking to your companion, anyway. Once she starts that, it'll take a while before she leaves him alone."
Kassia mentally pat herself on the back. She didn't know why, but she felt like doing (well, thinking) so.
At the time, Kassia thought that all four of them leaving Rosekeep and setting off for the same neighboring town at the same time the following day was just a coincidence.
She had no idea that they'll be sticking together for much longer than that.
*whispers* Kassia had no idea she'll be loving that overconfident tattoo girl like a sister and that she'll be marrying that nice librarian ahahaha ;v;)/