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Chapter 7: Cortona
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Author:Keanu_Reaver
IP:ip68-230XXXX
Date: 12/02/04 02:12
Game Type: Starcraft
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Cortona

 



                A few listless days traveled slowly by. Jarius discovered his niche as a hunter, much to the glee of the other townsfolk who now had plenty of fresh meat to dine on. They welcomed him with open arms; as Jarius soon learned, most of the men able to fight now fought in the war to the north, so having an adept hunter was quite the asset.

                When not hunting, Jarius absorbed knowledge from the various denizens of this town. He learned the town was named Cortona, after the priestess who settled this town. It was always just a small village, remaining secluded due primarily to the now dead forest to the west and south, and a treacherous river traveling from the north to the east.

                Being a small village of less than one hundred members, it had no true form of currency, people simply trade as it’s required. Everyone has their own duties, and their own abilities; and they work together to manage everyone’s needs.

               

                Jarius awoke slovenly to the scent of Timeo’s freshly baked rolls. Drunkenly, he stood up and dawned the disheveled hunters garments given to him. In Padorim, he had no true concept of night and day, people simply did what was needed while awake and slept when need be; getting used to the now strict sleep schedule this town imposes was still a work in progress. Still, waking up to Timeo’s morning rolls certainly helped matters.

                Jarius, now fully awake, hopped into the lobby of the inn and quickly downed the fattest two rolls he could find. They tasted especially delicious this morning, like balls of sweet fluff melting in his mouth…far more appetizing than the leaf berry sandwiches they ate traveling through the forest, and almost as energizing.

                He quickly gulped down a small pitcher of ale sitting next to the basket for him and prepared to jaunt outside when the silhouette of Lucia appeared amidst the sunrise at the doorway. She wandered in to greet Jarius with a half hearted smile.

                Lucia had a very worn look to her, as if she hadn’t slept for many days. Her body slumped and dark circles encased her large brown eyes. While her hair was in its usual braid, a few strands were strewn across her face and forehead. Even her odor reminded Jarius of the end of some of the longer battles he fought in, he had a hard time not insulting her with a grimace.

                “Would you like to walk with me?” Lucia said, not bothering to feign a smile.

                “To where? I should probably go see my brother and…” Jarius started, looking for a reason to avoid her for the time being.

                “We’re going west. I asked only to be cordial, you don’t have a choice in the matter.”

                With an exasperated sigh, Jarius begrudgingly nodded and followed her out the door. Day was just breaking, yet the townsfolk were already out performing their daily chores. It gave the small town an aura of activity, like worker bees in a hive, all of them working without a second thought or a moment of let up, all of them ensuring yet another day would pass by comfortably and ready to take on the days after that.

                As the two wandered towards the western edge of the town, Jarius caught sight of Deina from the corner of his eye. Crouched down and with spade in hand, she dutifully cultivated a small patch of cooking herbs planted in front of her house.

                “Hey Deina!” Jarius shouted, waving his hand merrily.

                Deina quickly shot her head up and returned Jarius’ smile with one of her own. Catching sight of Lucia, she darted towards the two not bothering to brush off the dirt from her dress.

                “Hello miss Lucia! Where are you headed in such a rush today?” Deina said as she approached, hiding a grimace just as Jarius did.

                “To where I found these two, we’re going to have a talk.” Lucia responded.

                “Oh,” Deina frowned, looking down at the ground. “I picked some wild berries yesterday if you two would like to have a snack on your way there, they’re especially ripe.”

                “No thank you. And just as a warning: Do not travel too far outside the village unless it is an absolute necessity.”

                Deina simply nodded, then shooting Jarius one last smile she scampered back to her herbs. Lucia sighed and, wincing, rubbed her temple before continuing on. Jarius trudged behind her.

                The two exited town and began trekking through the lush valley. The grass gleamed gloriously as the light from the morning sun reflected off of the dew. Bits of black rock speckled the valley, often times hidden so perfectly that even the most sure-footed adventurer would slip on their wet surface. Jarius quickly identified it as the material used to make the spearheads of the town. He quickly grabbed some of the more sturdy and large specimens to take to Paolo.

                The hills were not particularly treacherous but Lucia found it uncommonly difficult. Often times she would find herself on one knee gasping for breath, or clutching Jarius hand as he assisted her to the apex of a steep hill. More than once she found herself on the ground from slipping on a black rock, and each time she was thankful for it to give her an opportunity to rest.

                The ordinarily hour long hike took them well over two hours, and the sun beamed upon them warming them and drying Lucia’s dew-soggy robe. As they approached the forest, Jarius saw and remembered the devastation he experienced no more than ten days ago. Trees that once made even this gorgeous valley rife with envy now stood barren and life-less. The ground was a murky concoction of dead leaves and an ashy mud, Jarius had vivid memories of that spongy ground clawing and latching onto his feet as he tried in vain to escape the nightmare he was now face to face with once again. The forest loomed in an eerie silence; the hoot of an owl, the scampering of a lynx, the howl of a wolf; sounds Jarius once took for granted were heard no more from this place.

                “Didn’t think I’d ever return to this place…at least not for a long time,” Jarius said, breaking a tense silence as the two stopped only a few paces away from the entrance to the forest.

                Lucia stared into the forest, deliberately ignoring the attempt at conversation. Her face was twisted into both a look of deep thought and disdain, Jarius soon concluded her memories of this forest weren’t fond either. She turned her head and, with arms folded under her chest, she attached her gaze to Jarius.

                “Who are you?” Lucia asked after a long tense period of gathering her thoughts.

                “What do you mean?” Jarius shifted his weight nervously to his other foot.

                Lucia approached Jarius then, from exhaustion, collapsed to the ground and motioned for Jarius to sit down as well. The two were almost within arms length now but the stern gaze from Lucia distanced the two further a part than they could ever achieve alone. She folded her legs under her body, sitting on her feet, while Jarius rested his weight on his arms behind him with his legs spread out in front.

                “You had me fooled, Jarius. You have all of them fooled. We all thought you were like us…maybe a bit taller and more lanky, but still all of our features. Even your skin, pale as it is, is looking healthier since you’ve been here. But you aren’t like us, you’re different. Who are you Jarius, and what happened in this forest?”

                “Why all of this all of a sudden? We’re travelers with an urgent mission up to the north, and were attacked on the way…what has driven you to such paranoia?”

                “I used to play in this forest as a girl. It’s a restricted area you know, a lot of spooky beliefs and traditions surround it. When Cortona-Lea settled our village hundreds of years ago, they say she settled it as a refuge, and that the demons chasing her settled their own village in the forest, awaiting the day they could strike and kill off the descendants of Cortona and those that protected her. But still I came here, curiosity I suppose, and didn’t find anything like the demons they spoke of. It was my favorite place as a child, it was so beautiful and lush, I would climb the trees and dig holes without anyone to know where I was and what I was doing. One day when I was climbing a tree, the branch under me broke, and I fell and broke my leg, it was then that I learned I was a priestess myself, that I could heal without medicines and treat without tools,” Lucia gazed longingly into the forest as she explained herself to Jarius, often times her voice cracking as her eyes would submerge themselves in tears. “I loved this forest, almost as much as I love the village, but it’s gone now…now it truly is a restricted area for demons do roam about in there. I walked in, looking for some seclusion, only to be attacked by a creature missing its left arm. I wanted to investigate, but I found you two, and I had an obligation to rescue you…still, I can’t seem to figure out why this forest changed. You know why, I know you do because your brother, or what’s inside of your brother, told me. Now I only wish for you to share what you know.”

                Jarius tilted his head down, absorbing what Lucia had told him. He did so want to explain to Lucia what had happened, but he wasn’t sure himself, and what he did know he felt he couldn’t properly explain. Thoughts of his brother overwhelmed him, what could possibly be inside him and how it could actually communicate with Lucia.

                “I will tell you all that I know, but first I want to know what’s wrong with my brother, and how an infection could tell you I knew what happened here,” Jarius said.

                “Because I asked it,” Lucia said, smirking.

                “Please, Lucia.”

                “Alright, a fair trade after all. I was wrong in my first conclusion, it has not taken residence in his body. What’s inside your brother was not put there…in the sense that his body has never existed without it being around. From the day of conception your brother has had this inside of him, what happened in the forest only woke it up, or brought it out, and that’s when it began sapping his strength. As much as I can tell, it doesn’t seem aware it’s actually a part of your brother,” Lucia bit her bottom lip. “In fact, it sounded startled that I spoke to it. What it is, though, I don’t know. I’ve never read nor heard anything about it before, and I know of no one who could possibly know anything about it either. The sorcerer archives in the kingdom of Dreynarn may have some information in it, as might your Shadow Forest, but for now this is all I can say.”

                “Then it can’t be removed?”

                “Yes it could, but it would kill your brother, I’m certain we can find a better solution than that. It’s your turn, tell me what happened here.”

                “I don’t know too much, as everything seemed to happen so fast. There indeed is a village in this forest, or at least there was, but it’s gone now. A tall man named Daaman, a sorcerer much like you, assassinated our village chief. Shortly after, the forest seemed to die, including everyone from our village,” Jarius sighed, exasperated, as if he hated his own words. “They were all good people Lucia, battle hardened but good. It seems to me that Daaman caused the forest and my people to die. The forest itself seemed to hunt us as we tried to escape, and exhaustion finally took its toll, I suppose that’s when you came. It was Daaman who stabbed my brother while we were distracted by another man, I still don’t understand why he didn’t kill him.”

                “Well, that blow was intended to kill, it wasn’t easy to heal. What’s inside your brother is much harder to kill than this Daaman person realizes though. Why are you so intent on going to the Shadow forest?”

                “We were given a mission by our chief just before he died, to take an old tome to the shadow forest where the rest of my people live. Unfortunately, Daaman took it when he stabbed Zacharim, so now we go there to seek help to recover the tome. I’m sorry Lucia, this is all I know, but now that you understand can I trust you not to keep us from our mission when Zacharim awakens?”

                “Thank you, Jarius. I’ve made my decision, I will wake your brother up after the festival of the boar then we will discuss matters with Gaeton. But for now, I need to rest, I’ve worked on your brother far too long without sleep.”

                Lucia’s fingers became distorted and wavy as she stuck her hand into the forest, as if she was sticking her hand into a body of water. She smirked slightly then struggled to her feet.

                “Whatever is in there won’t be coming out this way,” Lucia said with a laugh.

                With that, Lucia began the journey back to the village with Jarius helping as needed.

 

                A few more days passed with life continuing on as normal. Jarius was in the midst of another hunt with Timeo, this time in mid-day. The two caught sight of a large herd of deer bounding across the valley and decided they would treat the village this night. As is the norm for their hunts, Timeo only snagged the few blades of grass his spear pierced while Jarius felled a large majestic stag. The herd scampered off in a rush leaving only the two spears and dead deer in the middle of the field.

                Jarius and Timeo both rushed to the stag’s side and drained it of its blood, preparing it for the hike back to the village and for the upcoming roast. Soon, the two took opposing ends and hunched the deer up off the ground and began making their way back to the village.

                “Another great beast! This will make quite the treat tonight lad!” Timeo hollered back to Jarius, who was carrying the back end.

                “I don’t think I’ve ever had deer before, I’m looking forward to it,” Jarius replied.

                “You know lad, you should consider staying with us. Deina would make a lovely wife for you and we all benefit so much from your hunting ability, what do you say?”

                Jarius blushed slightly then passed it off with a laugh, “maybe when I accomplish my mission, we’ll see.”

                “Hoho! That’s the spirit lad, you’ll always be welcomed here!”

                The two continued on for some time without another word said. Occasionally they had to shift their hands as the weight of the stag became more and more unbearable. Jarius had much on his mind, about his brother but also of Lucia.

                “I have a question for you Timeo,” Jarius said, breaking the silence.

                “By all means ask!” Timeo merrily replied.

                “Where I come from, we had someone like Lucia. He gained his abilities through many long years of hard training, yet your daughter is so young and inexperience. How could she possibly be able to do what she does?”

                Timeo wrinkled his nose before he replied, “well, it’s the nature of our village. Every once in a while a girl is born with the abilities of Cortona-Lea, the priestess who settled this village, it’s steeped in a lot of tradition.”

                “So Lucia is a descendant of Cortona?”

                “Hoho! No I’m afraid not, priestesses aren’t allowed to marry, nor bear children. Tradition has it that on her death bed Cortona spread herself amongst this village, so that’s how a child will be born with her powers. That tradition also states that the father of that child would become village chief, which suits me just fine,” Timeo added a laugh on the end before continuing. “It is an awkward situation for me though.”

                “How so?”

                “Well you have to understand, lad, that while we have had priestesses here before, we’ve never had someone like my child. Most priestesses are only able to heal minor cuts and bruises, the stronger ones could barely handle broken bones. Our library states that even Cortona-Lea herself couldn’t bring a soldier back from the brink of death, yet Lucia can. She’s quite a powerful girl, and because she’s young and inexperienced, it’s made her somewhat arrogant. Youth and power is a bad combination, and its going to hurt her because I can tell her destiny will lead her to bigger things than just helping this village,” Timeo dropped his end of the deer and sighed, clenching his fists tightly before continuing. “And that’s what worries me the most, the world has become a dangerous place what with all these wars and…I just don’t want to see my daughter go. It was our first child, and her mother died birthing her, she’s the only piece of my wife I have left and I don’t want her to be taken by this world.”

                “Well…Lucia can take care of herself, I certainly wouldn’t want to find myself on the wrong side of her wrath.”

                “That she can, lad, that she can…”

                The rest of the journey back was difficult but uneventful, and shrouded in silence. In his mind, Timeo knew the boy behind him and the one resting in his inn would be the ones to take Lucia away and onto greater things, that the upcoming festival of the boar would be the last he has with his daughter. All he had to do now was accept it.

 

                Another few days passed, during that time Jarius found himself spending more time with Deina. She had a certain positive cheer about her, it drew Jarius to her and often he would find himself spending an entire day with her. While not comparable to the beauty Lucia had, Deina was beautiful in her own way. She was much shorter than Jarius, with a toned figure from years of harvesting crops. Her blonde hair stopped at her shoulders and was usually in a short ponytail, though she preferred it without. She had an innocent face that always seemed to have a smile painted across it, highlighted by light blue eyes.

                The two once again found themselves together, this time after Jarius finished his hunt and Deina had prepared dinner for herself, Jarius, and her mother. The two were lying down on a hill together, the sun already passed its apex, signaling afternoon. The sky was especially blue this afternoon, with a few clouds floating lazily by.

                Deina sighed as she began studying the sky. The clouds gracefully danced about in unison to her ever-watchful eye. She would occasionally flash Jarius a look, sometimes of frustration others of hope, before returning her gaze to every detail above her.

                “You know, your parents may very well be up there Jarius,” Deina said, recalling when Jarius told her about his life before coming to Cortona.

                “They are gone. They served and defended to the best of their abilities, now they lie beneath the forest floor,” Jarius retorted matter-of-factly.

                “Is that it? If so I can’t believe it.”

                “Then what do you believe?”

                “Up in the sky is where people go when they die, to become the clouds. They watch over us, happy as they are now or sad, with their tears feeding our crops. Sometimes they’ll send us signs, they’ll assume different shapes to tell us different things. I’m not very good at reading their signs though, Lucia is far better than me.”

                “That’s ridiculous,” Jarius reflexively blurted out before shutting his eyes tight at his rudeness.

                “Ridiculous or not, they are a part of me,” Deina said sitting up and staring directly down at the ashamed elf. “I would think you of all people would understand the need to feel like there was some greater purpose behind death.”

                “I’ve never thought about it, death was always too large and consuming for us to be able to see what could be waiting for us behind it.”

                “That’s too bad, I couldn’t possibly understand what such a life would be like.”

                Deina lay back down at Jarius side, once again affixing her gaze to the clouds. Jarius sighed and began drifting into sleep before being awakened by a laugh.

                “I think I got it this time! Look!” Deina shouted, pointing to a small formation of clouds. “It looks like a horse and a fire! I think it means we’ll be having a great festival this year!”

                Jarius smiled somewhat, seeing the semblance in the clouds. The two whittled away the hours together, until the day succumbed to night, and the passing of the first moon.


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