Houndmaster

This chapter was written by Scylla.

The dreams had returned again.  And this time, she could no longer ignore them.

Despite the fact that it always played out the same ending, there was always the same endless depth of horror and fear.  She was the hunted, lungs burning as she turned the corner of a great hall, running from the hound-master.  

The dream was nonsensical; hunts were common in the deep forests beyond Bentbranch, but this hunt was in a tower of mirrored floors and long guilded stairwells.  No matter what path she took in the maze of the great spire, no matter what magic she would throw, they would always overtake her, with ever-approaching howls and barking of the hounds.  

The beginning of the end was always the same. First came the searing pain as pointed rows of taint-rotted teeth sunk into the flesh of her ankles.  Then there was the sudden jarring impact of the floor as she fell to the surrounding weight of the beasts.

And then there was him.  The huntmaster would always follow, dressed in his robes of scarlet and lavender, flame trailing into the darkness around his form.  He had to be a monster, perhaps a primal – he stood at least three or four times the height of any Elezen or Roegadyn that her memory allowed. It would always be the same ten measured steps as he approached, looking down through the skull-formed mask. He leaned over as a hunter examining his downed prize, pressing his boot into her already broken ribs.  

He spoke to her with a lightly accented voice, the echo of void-taint on the edge of his words as the darkness closed in on her vision.

“My dear… there is no escape from the hounds.”

It would always be the same words… the tipped ears, cold mask, feathered hat and cruel, piercing, golden eyes.  

It was the same dream that she had first awakened from in Gridania, flailing and screaming like a mad-tempered woman, frothing at the mouth as she tried to break loose from the healing chambers near the glade.  It would be another moon before the bouts of fever-sicknesses passed enough for her to stay awake for meaningful periods of time.  Maroile had commented that she had nearly died had it not been for the Elder Seedseer’s direct intervention.

When the girl finally could retain consciousness for more than a few moments, the only thing she could remember very clearly was her name – Scylla.  She had been found with no possessions, laying prone in the untamed wastelands of Mor Dhona, a land far away from the Gridanian forestlands that she had called her home for these several moons. It was here that she had a made a home, amongst the trees, ruled by the strange-horned adult-children and their whispering elementals.  Some tickle in the back of her mind scoffed at the strangeness and innocence of this place, built in wood and leaf as opposed to gold and marble.

Scylla was content to leave the dreams of darkness behind.  She had trained in conjury, as the magic arts came remarkably fast to her as if in a past life.  She had a way with getting into trouble and snooping into things “beyond her understanding.”  There were times that she overheard several council members arguing against her training with the conjury master, E-Sumi-Yan.  Despite objections, E-Sumi had believed in her – not only allowing her to train as a conjurer, but also arranging for her advanced white magery training in Camp Tranquil to the south.

She might have been perfectly content to find a life amongst the shaded forests… perhaps in the meadows Bentbranch, or to the north in Fallguard, at the river-crossing.  People living in the wilderness were friendly enough and appreciative of her skills, particularly in the outreaches.

Everything would have been fine if it hadn’t been for that tall, lanky voids-dammed Elezen with the Eyes!  

Scylla had only caught a glimpse, but it was definitely those eyes… the same ones from the houndmaster.   She had seen other Elezen with golden eyes before, but this one was different.  He ran with the other archers, clearing toadstools and the other overgrown plant-kin that often approached the gates of Gridania.  

The dreams that had faded returned, more vivid and terrifying than before, nearly every night. Mother Mionne had procured various sleep concoctions for her over at the adventurer’s guild, but even the strongest were not enough to keep the nightmares away.  

In her sleepless desperation, it was then that she decided to be resourceful and go to the archer’s guild and find out more information on who this man was.  Instead, what she found was layers of frustration and run-arounds.

They acted like they had no record of this man. But I know he was there!

Every time, she would get the same confused smile from the receptionist, despite her angry protests.  Unfortunately, it had to be Silvairre who caught her attempting to break into the God’s Quiver paperwork lockers.  In his uppity way, he had her goose-marched straight to E-Sumi-Yan’s cave, giving her a lecture all the way across the town center.  The whole of the council had followed scarcely five minutes later, all giving her looks of distrust as they walked inside.

Scylla huffed as she leaned against the gnarled-wood entrance, kicking a small pebble towards the conjury guild guard.

“It was just a little snooping? They act as if I have brought the second coming of the Calamity.” She threw her arms up in frustration.

“Unauthorized entry into God’s Quiver’s vaults is a serious crime, Mistress Scylla.” Kinnison always spoke in a matter of fact way.

“Attempted.”  The girl snorted. “I wouldn’t have to break into anything if people would just stop trying to hide the information that I ne—”

Kinnison continued to speak over Scylla, with extra emphasis in his voice. “Punishable by a number of years in the city gaol.  If the council decides it.”

“Is that what you want?” The girl huffed.

The guard repeated in flat of his voice. “If the council decides it.”

“That is what you always wanted!” Scylla shouted, letting her temper rise to the surface, her face molded into a scowl.  

“Thy countenance betrays thy true thoughts about the situation! If ’t be true thee desire, runneth me through!”

Scylla covered her mouth in surprise, as if trying to stop the strange words from spilling out. Sometimes she would speak in another voice… one not her own, especially when she would get angry.  It seemed to be happening more often, especially with the return of the dreams.

“Such a waste of talent to impale on the end of a spear.” A gentle voice sounded from the opening of the cave with a lilt of familiar humor.

Kinnison bowed slightly in his usual silent way, as E-Sumi-Yan strode out amongst the stream of council members leaving, waving Scylla in.  

She walked with the Seedseer, a head above him. His graying hair and dark tipped horns always set her off guard, though she tried to hide it.  

“So… E, are you going to throw me to the wolves in the deepest darkest gaol that the God’s Quiver can find?”   She was fond of calling the all-high-guildmaster by his single-vowel first name, something that earned her many frowns from her fellow classmates.  

“You do a good enough job of that to yourself every night, dear Sister Scylla.”  He made emphasis on the title, as if to chide her.

“So what am I in for?” Scylla gave a deep sigh as she trudged carefully behind the Padjal.  “Silvairre probably has me in for cleaning the choco-stables for six moons.”

“No.” E-Sumi-Yan paused. “But breaking into the God’s Quiver lockers isn’t a petty incident, Scylla. Particularly for a foundling who has a penchant for using her silver tongue.”

The girl leaned back on her heels in protest, leaning her arms straight in front of her to balance. “It wasn’t my fault!  Adventurer logs are supposed to be public knowledge!”

The Seedseer wasn’t impressed.

“Last I checked, they were clearly posted on the walls for anyone to view.”

“They are hiding him particularly from me!” Scylla protested loudly. “He wasn’t there!”

“Who?”  

“The Elezen with the golden eyes!” The girl cried out, memories flooding from her dreams.

E-Sumi-Yan spoke in a level voice, trying to flatten the emotion in the room. “That could describe many people, child.”

“No, it was him! Him!  The man in my dreams!  It was him… I know it!”

“Why would a man in your dreams be a low-bought archer in the service of the good people of Gridania?

“I know it doesn’t make sense… but I think it was him.”  Scylla struggled with her own self-doubt.  “I know it was him.”

He probably thinks I’ve finally gone temple-bat-guan mad… as mad as one of those Ifrit-bound tempered.  If I could only remember something… something more.  If only I could remember more…

The name came to her lips, welling up in her desperation.  She did not know where the name came from.

“Amon.”  Scylla’s eyes widened as she repeated. “Amon! I remember! That’s his name!”  

She swore that she could see the Padjal’s eyebrow twitch when she spoke.

That one word.  A singular name.  That had been more than a moon before.  Now she found herself journeying on a small ship, approaching the docks of a foreign land.  

He said I would find answers here.  

Scylla sighed as she stepped onto the docks, looking up the hill towards the small house in the hills.  

Or maybe Silvairre really did arrange for me to be exiled to the end of Hydelyn?

She knocked on the door, stepping back on her guard, partly listening if she could hear the sound of barking behind the walls.

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