Contrasts:

 

�Show them.�  The voice that spoke was in her mind � and the minds of the other Knights � but there was no gainsaying it.  It caused her very bones to resonate, her muscles moving of their own volition even before her conscious mind took note of it.  The two other Knights took a step back, respectfully, as she walked forward.


Two steps, a short jump � and then down, landing heavily ten feet below, her unnatural vitality already repairing the damage to her knees and ankles; it was of no moment.  There was no pain.  She knew what He wanted, and that was a display; he wanted these overlarge man-giants to understand, and understanding would take the form of actions they could comprehend.


She already held them in contempt, for that is how He viewed them; tools that could not simply be subjugated, as their willing obedience would create far more powerful tools than their enslavement. 


She stalked to the center of the ring, casting off her cloak as she went; she put on a show of it, her every move emphasizing her femininity, her relative softness compared to these giants.  She admitted to herself then that it was purely enjoyable, their contempt, their watchfulness � they knew there had to be some sort of trick, but were unwilling to admit they were not yet sure what that trick was.


She drew the blade easily � its massive weight held easily in a single hand, its whispers ignored as she looked up defiantly at the Vrykul on the walls above.


Her voice was a sultry, hollow laugh � �Bring them.  I am already tired of waiting.�

——————————————————-

The rough wooden table in the basement of the Keep was tucked away in one of the sturdier sections of the disused portion of the dungeon.  In truth, it was unlikely anyone remembered it was there; the Dungeons were rarely used to begin with, and the things stored here were the leftover detritus of the earliest days of the keep�s construction.  Bags of dry masonry, old stoneworking tools, and empty shipping crates were piled haphazardly, awaiting only the day when someone had better use for the space and remembered that it could be cleaned out and thrown away.

It suited Aunne just fine, really.  She could be away from others here, alone with crates and boxes repurposed into planters, dirt dug from beneath flagstones, and her carefully cobbled-together alchemical apparatus, with glasses stolen from the kitchens, tubing from the engineering section � even bits of brass filched from the workings of the captive goblin and his airship.

She hated being a bother.

It took a great effort to maintain her warmth � she was hungry, and keeping her cold at bay made her hungrier still.  This, however, she ignored.  The seeds called her, fascinated her; she could feel their magic, so foreign to her own, and wondered. 

When they arrived?  She was absolutely astounded � it had been so long since anyone had just given her anything, and for no reason, that she actually squealed and bounced and had to be forcibly reminded that she couldn�t tear into it right there in the middle of the entryway, blocking passage for Necessary Keep Business. 

Once she spirited it to her little spot in the basement?  Oh, she spent an hour just poring through its contents.  Soil and pots and seeds and an actual note and someone just gave this all to her.  She resolved, in that moment, to be careful; a gift like this deserved her attention, her focus � and, if she were to be truly honest with herself, she knew she harmed as many seeds as sprouted through inattention alone.

So.

These would be safe.  She forced her cold away with an effort of continued will, and she worked the soil in gloves so that her magic would not seep in and � change things. 

——————————————–


First, they sent wolves � and she laughed contemptuously, freezing them with a twist of her open hand, and then shattering the great, shaggy beasts with quick, smashing cuts of that massive runeblade.


Then, they sent a frostwyrm, and she met it with speed and agility, forcing it to double back on itself again and again as she battered it with rot and disease and the cuts of her blade until it made a strange, shuddering, keening noise, and lied still.

Now?  One of their best was putting on his armor, strapping his shield to his arm � eleven feet of battle-hardened muscle and sinew and bone, with a snarl and an expression of haughty hatred.


�Little girl, those were but dumb beasts.  You face now a true warrior, and your witchery will not save you.�


�I am death,� she answered, �and I do not fear you.  Come.�


———————————————-

The plants grew with unnatural speed over only a period of days � she could feel the magic unfolding within the seeds, unable to resist touching that magic with her own here and there, giggling with the joy of it.  She felt the life at her hands, and reveled in it, the simple act of watering, of watching as leaves unfolded and stalks grew.

The flytraps were large and animated and tinged with green � as she touched them, they snuggled into her carress, and almost seemed to purr.  One of them nipped at her hand; she tapped it gently with a finger. �Now , now � we will play later, yes?�  She fed one absently, tossing it a rat caught by the keep’s ratcatcher.  

Come to think of it, he seemed terribly surprised that she wanted them alive.  Ah, well.

The silverthorn positively shone, illuminating the dark space with a gentle moonlight radiance that chimed with the soft movement of its leaves in the absence of wind.  Its roots went deep; through the pot, through the flagstone, and into the soil below the keep, and it was tall; so tall that it nearly brushed the rafters.  In her hands, the leaves blackened quickly � she was cautious not to touch it more than she must, because the lights as the gleamed from the edges of its leaves were too beautiful for her to hurt, and she still regretted the ones she destroyed in learning that it would not suffer her to be so close.

But the roses � oh, the roses.  Mostly black, they were; she had been careless early, and the thorns were sharp and dripped with something that shimmered and burned even her skin.  Their fragrance was powerful, sweet and bright and with all the promise of summer, even as their petals kept only the faintest touch of red at the tips.  They grew reluctantly, each one unfolding alone, each bloom almost cautious in revealing itself, flinching from the silverthorn.

That one grew better after she hung a curtain between the two plants, and the rosebush clung to the wall now, sending creepers into the stone to hold itself upright.

——————————–


His attacks were strong � stronger than she expected.  At first, he pressed hard against her guard, his blade scoring hits against her armor, causing the metal to spark and shriek in protest.


She grew angry.


Around them, the ground cracked and burned, rot and heat boiling up to sear their boots where they fought, the runes on her blade pulsing in time with its eruptions.  Around her, the cold seemed to collapse inward, and, as she parried a heavy overhand blow, it burst forward into a storm of sudden frost and sleet that battered at him, slowing him, grabbing at his arms and sword and legs, the fury of winter driving ice into every exposed inch of skin and freezing his armor solid.


She smashed her blade into him again and again, suddenly battering him back, against the walls, the spikes meant to keep the combatants closer to the center of the ring. With a dark laugh, she launched a kick into his knee that shattered bone, sending him sprawling.


She did not stop � she reveled in his fear as she took him apart, one joint at a time, stopping only when all that remained was a frozen, sodden mess ground into the hard-packed dirt of the ring.


Well done.�  It was an unnecessary comment from him � given more for the benefit of the Jarl than for her.  She knew he was satisfied, and how little he cared; it was enough.  She would continue to exist.


You see, Jarl?� He said, a gauntleted hand pointing to the ring. �All of this and more will be yours � or I will have her and these two destroy you, and you will serve me in death.  This, then, is your choice.�


———————————-

Aunne assembled the plants carefully, into simple bouquets � for Arialynn, for Nereia, for the timid wolf and the brazen one, for the Captain and on, to each of the Templars in turn.  A black rose, glowing silver branch, a currently-queiscent flytrap, each in a pretty scrap of ribbon, carefully hoarded from who-knows-where. 

Given her memory, she knew she missed some � and she did not know everyone�s name, so she bothered not with notes.  It was enough; someone gave her a gift, you see.  She had to give in return; they asked of her so very little.  It felt right, and she looked on the growing pile of flowers with satisfaction. 

One of the flytraps whined, and she shushed it, �They will like you.  You will see!�

And so the knight set out with purpose � she had a little gold, and the squires had so very little to do.  They could deliver, them, yes?  She had to man the wall, and the Captain would be leaving soon.

(Auth note:  I find myself more or less always looking into what I envision for Aunne’s past to figure out why she reacts as she does.  Hopefully, future stories won’t have quite so much of that, but it felt appropriate this time.


Ya’ll have fun with those bouquets.  Yes, I imagine the roses as … creatively and incoveniently poisonous, though not life-threatening.  If it’s any help – potions of dream and nightmare both take Northrend rose-type flowers, and they’d certainly not react the same to every person.


Yes, the flytraps eat meat.  And they get surly. The also like petting!)

Author Aunne
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