The Adventures of Rivera & Ornianna #1: "New Beginnings"

I felt myself coming in and out of consciousness following the explosions in Ginstock. I vaguely recall being stabbed in the back by Crick and Tanis after we killed the guard captain and the city begin to crumble. I was bleeding out when Ornianna risked her own life to escape from the crumbling tower with me thrown over her small frame. It was days before I finally regained enough strength and came to somewhere deep in the forests. I sat up with a groan, bloodied bandages surrounding my torso and a gnome with a sheepish grin sitting nearby. She was sitting around a fire, drink in hand when she watched me come to. She perked up and rushed towards me, her black panther lifting it’s head from a restful nap. “You’re finally awake. You had me worried.” She shoved the bottle towards me.

Taking a deep swig of the sweet whiskey, I groaned. “Worried about little old me? How cute.” I smirked, confidence unwavering despite everything. “Where are we?” I looked around at the unfamiliar forest. Ornianna took a deep breath as she looked around as well. I could see the discomfort in her eyes. “I’m not the only one who was in Ginstock for a bad reason, am I?” I reached towards her placing a hand on her shoulder. Ornianna was staring off deeper into the woods, saying little with her words but much with her eyes.

“I don’t talk about it, really. I grew up here in the woods. I was a guide through the wilds for anyone willing to pay, but I never really did the whole people thing. Me and Zany used to hunt and track fey creatures for fun, but we never really hurt them. This was their home just as much as it was mine. I’m just a gnome, you know? But then there was this family just trying to make it through the woods…” She hesitated. I hadn’t known her very long, but Ornianna never appeared to be an emotional one. She was socially awkward and almost always wearing a simple smile. I found her charming in a way. Seeing her like this was surprising, but equally saddening. “There were these Orcs. I tried to protect them but Zany and I barely survived the attack. That was only a few weeks before I landed in Ginstock and, well, met you.” She looked back at me, placing her hand over mine on her shoulder.

“I haven’t trusted anyone since Nova died.” I caught myself staring at my feet, blue with talons for toes. “She was a human, but she loved me anyway. I was born like this, despite my parents being normal people. They abandoned me because I was a tiefling, an abomination people say. These horns have scared people ever since they popped out of my skull, but she met me as a young girl and embraced me as a friend.” Ornianna was staring at me now as our eyes met. “She and I fell in love and played music together. That fiddle I have was hers. When the guards came denouncing music, I stood up and fought back. I refused to let them take my music away from me, and they made me pay for it. They had beaten me nearly half to death when Nova intervened. I was looking up at her from the ground when I watched the guard captain put a sword through her belly and she collapsed into my arms.” I sighed deeply. “And then I met you.”

Ornianna seemed taken aback as I stood up. I was still wearing the skin tight leather garments I nearly died in just days earlier. “I guess I have a habit of being saved by strong and beautiful women.” I winked and moved towards the pile of stuff Orniana must have pulled off my body after pulling me from the collapsing tower and escaping the town with me. I picked up my fiddle, scratched and dinged up, but still in working order. I sat near the fire and began to play as Ornianna made her way around to her original spot, watching me.

“They made me a devil,

They called me sin.

Tortured and tormented,

Alone and forsaken.

But saved by a hand,

Held and called beautiful.

A heart in exchange for a heart.”

I stopped playing, looking towards the small gnome. I had no idea how she managed to pull off such a feat as saving my life the way she did, but I admired her for it. “I know what it’s like to lose the thing that makes you whole.” She took another drink, appearing to be a little tipsy from a small amount. “But you’re not alone. We can be broken pieces together.” I held my hand out to her and she extended hers back. We shook on it and smiled as this seemed to be the start of a beautiful new partnership.

“I suppose I can get behind that.” Ornianna reached towards Zany as the panther made its way closer to us now. “Right? Rivera can travel with us from now on.” The jungle cat purred as she scratched behind its ears. “What was it like to love another person like that?” She looked to me, catching me a bit off guard with her question.

“It’s… Different. I loved her with all my heart. She was my very best friend and I would trade places with her in a heartbeat. She made me feel like I belonged, like I could do anything I set my mind too. She was the fire behind my spirit. No one was like her, and no one ever will be. But I had to move on, I suppose. I couldn’t dwell on her death and mourn her forever, she wouldn’t have wanted that. So I set my heart on vengeance, and now that I have that I just want to find my place. I want to love someone like that again too.” I looked up at the tree tops, sun rays breaking through the small cracks between the leaves. Ornianna moved closer to me, grabbing my hand with hers and pointing towards the west.

“The coast is that way. We should go there. I have a feeling we’ll find what we’re looking for out there.” She smiled at me and I smiled back. We held hands for a few minutes in silence taking in the serenity of the forest. “We’ll start moving once you feel ready.” She got up and started walking towards the trees with Zany. “We’re going on a small little hunt for food. Sit tight.” And then they disappeared in the foliage beyond our little campsite.

I unwrapped the bandages around my torso, my wounds beginning to scar from the attack. I ran my sharp black nails against them, wincing. My armor was damaged, but I began to put it back on regardless. I had my form flattering attire and my rapier back by my side. I was limping around, barely recovered. My long white hair disheveled and unkempt, I began walking into the woods alone. My eyes were open and searching for a water source, but I hadn’t spent much time in the wilderness. The noises of the wild crept around me, skulking in the shadows were creatures of varying shapes and sizes. I scurried through the brush as the sounds of rushing water grew nearer.

I was shoved down to the ground I neared the edge of the tree line, Ornianna collapsing on top of me as I slammed on the forest floor. I writhed in pain, but she was shushing me. Beyond us at the river was a trio of Orcs, bloodied and rusted axes at their side while they washed their faces in the river. I heard them speaking but I couldn’t understand them. “What are they saying?” I whispered, realizing Ornianna was eavesdropping on their conversation.

“Something about a raid. They’re going to kill someone.” The urgency in her voice sparked as she bolted through the bushes, wielding her bow with Zany sprinting ahead of her. The Orcs whipped around, brandishing their weapons as they engaged. Ornianna knocked and arrow and fired at the largest orc, releasing and lodging and arrow in his chest. Zany began to maul the smallest one, fighting tooth and nail to tear him apart. Ornianna was firing arrows as quickly as she could while two Orcs charged at her, battle axes at the ready. I couldn’t sit by and watch, taking my fiddle off my back and rushing forward. I slid through the dirt, coming between both Orcs and landing between all three occupied enemies.

“Roaring thunder!” I shouted, striking my fiddle and playing a heavy, fast paced tune. Suddenly, a wave of thunder echoed with me at it’s core, striking the three orcs and throwing them back and to the ground. Ornianna pulled out a shortsword and made quick work of the other two Orcs, slicing and dicing while Zany sent her claws ripping through the neck of the third. It was a brief encounter, but we were victorious nevertheless. I fell to my knees, my body trembling in pain as it cleary wasn’t ready for that level of exertion yet. Ornianna came rushing to my aid.

“You might be pretty, but you seem to find ways to hurt yourself a lot.” She smiled, helping me towards the river. “We should probably wash out your wounds and change the bandages though. I’m gonna need you to take your armor back off.” She pulled a small bucket and some linen wraps from her pack.

“If you wanted to get me out of my clothes, you could have just said so.” I joked, but I caught Ornianna blushing before letting out a soft laugh. I stripped off my armor and unwrapped the bandages again. She begin to soak a cloth in the bucket before helping me clean up my injuries. She had clearly done this quite often before, but her touch was gentle despite how tender the wounds had been. She made sure not to cause me any pain. “I owe you my life, you know.”

“Nah.” She shook her head, dipping the cloth back into the bucket as she began to wrap my body with the linen. “You don’t owe me anything. I just like to help.” As she finished redressing my wounds and packing back up, I grabbed her by the arm and pulled her back to me.

“Orni… I know we don’t know each other all that well, but I appreciate you very much. You don’t have to feel like I owe you something, but I’m going to repay it anyway. Don’t let my confidence fool you, I can be sentimental too.” She laughed, smiling and cupping my face with her hands.

“Whatever makes you happy.” She went back to packing up. I washed my face and my hair in the river quickly, using this opportunity to put my hair back into the twin braids I had back in Ginstock. “Hm. I kind of liked it down better.” Ornianna smiled at me before she and Zany made their way back into the woods. I fiddled with my hair subconsciously as I followed behind them. We found our way back to our quite little campsite, sun beginning to set above us as we settled in for a rest. “So, what do you think about the coast?” Ornianna questioned, setting up her bedroll.

“Tomorrow we travel. I’m ready to go.” I settled back into the spot I’d been recovering in, not too far from where Orni and Zany curled up for the night. “A fresh start.”

Ornianna smiled, staring up at the trees as the sky grew darker with every passing minute. “A new beginning.” She rolled over, facing me with her eyes closed. “Goodnight, Rivera.”

“Goodnight, Orni.” I watched her for awhile that night, finally closing my eyes and slipping into a gentle sleep. My head swarmed with hope for the future and excitement for the coming adventure. I felt as though I were already becoming whole once again.

The Spookmaster