It was an unusually warm morning and Cherry remained in the water after cleaning herself. When the two visitors arrived she was sitting there half submerged and facing away from the shore, leaning back on both arms, legs spread open and floating off the riverbed, knees periodically breaking the reflective surface of the water. She was in a shaded area of the shallows, beneath the palm-like looming limbs of a fretter tree while rays of golden sunlight poked and prodded at the water all around her. If not for the visitors turning up unannounced and uninvited, it would have been a perfectly peaceful morning.
They hadn’t made a lot of noise - the two visitors, that is - but they hadn’t made any secret of their arrival, either. Even without the crackling of litter underfoot and the murmured conversation they were having, the potent scent of a woman - probably a Vanylan by the specific perfume type - would have given them away. Judging by the voices of their murmured conversation, the other of the pair was a man. Both of them, too, may have been aware that Cherry was aware of their arrival, though she made no indication of such. She ignored them. Pretended they weren’t there. Hoping they’d lose whatever interest they may have had in her and leave. Hoping more than anything that neither of them would spoil the atmosphere any more than it already was by actually saying something.
It wasn’t to be.
One of them, the man as it were, prepared to speak with a rather loud clearing of his throat.
"Look…" She said, before he could commence with his introduction. The irritation was clear in her voice. She didn’t bother looking back to see them. "…Make it quick then leave. I’m not in the mood for problems today."
There was a moment of quiet. Cherry could imagine them looking peculiarly at each other. It was quickly obvious to anyone who met Cherry that she wasn’t big on social conduct. And now they knew that too.
‘We are here on business." Said the Vanylan. Apparently they now found it more appropriate that the woman does the talking, which, and in combination with her telling tone, indicated that the man was a Danorian. And that made Cherry instantly curious. "This will not take long," continued the woman, "if you don’t like what we are proposing we will leave and you will not hear from us again. On one condition."
Cherry almost laughed but refrained. But her eyebrows furrowed and she looked back over her shoulder for the first time and glared at them both. "Condition??" She almost yelled. "You’re making a condition for something that you are imposing on me? Are you out of your mind, woman? Well now I’ve just heard it all!"
In a moment Cherry was standing, water streaming off her fresh, naked body as she walked towards a small bundle of clothes on the shore in front of the visitors – and they were suddenly cautious, stepping a few steps back as she approached. The man was more than just cautious, though. His eyes were wide, face reddening with both embarrassment and excitement, one hand gripping white-knuckled to the handle of the knife on his belt like it might provide him some security - security from the overwhelming sense of sensuality that was currently attacking him.
"If you have coin," Cherry suggested with a sneer while tugging on her trousers, "you can take more than a look." As she tied the string to hold the trousers around her waist, she jerked her head in direction of her home – little more than a rundown shack – and added, "Not in my home, though, don’t want it tainted with the smell of sex, we’ll have to go do it in the bushes –"
"That won’t be necessary!" The Vanylan intervened sharply before the Danorian could find any way to respond. She was shocked, appalled, completely unprepared to hear that sort of profane conduct born from the mouth of another woman, Vanylan or otherwise. "We are not here on that sort of business – And I would appreciate it if you kept that sort of filth stealthy in my presence."
Cherry gave the man a playful wink as she slipped on her pale-green short sleeve top. "No." She then said to the woman. "This is where I live, you understand? You come around to my home, disturb my bath, and expect me to conform to your principles? Your ways? No way, sister. You don’t like what I say, what I do, then you know where the road out of here is." She gave both her visitors a severe, ominous look. "Doesn’t matter anyway, because I’ll tell you what." She paused to grin. "You tell me what my name is, and you can stay and we can chat. You can’t tell my name, you can piss off right now.’
This was a trick ultimatum from Cherry, and there were several moment of silence to follow. The visitors, whatever they wanted from her, had not known what to expect from Cherry, and what they had discovered had not helped in the process of their decision making on that matter. They both just stared dumbly, gave each other baffled looks, and then stared dumbly at her some more. Both of them were taller than Cherry, though the woman was taller than the man with the typical broad shoulders and athletic build of a Vanylan woman, which were also physical attributes that Cherry herself lacked. The woman’s face was equally broad, strong jawline, pointy chin, with fiery red frizzy hair and pale blue eyes. Red hair was actually unusual for any Vanylan. The man, however, was a little on the pudgy side. Not fat per se, but not exactly supporting a physique worthy of prestige in a land bent on war. His features were rather ordinary, too. Dark hair. Dark eyes. A little stubble around baby-fat cheeks and chin. One of those people who are difficult to define when it comes to physical descriptions. Fortunately, and in spite of the shocking proposal Cherry had just made, he was quickly getting over his sexual insecurity. The redness drained from his face, the grip on his knife loosened, and the rhythm of his breathing returning to a less stressful level as he decided to be the next person to speak:
"We apologize for our seemingly intrusive and ill-informed conduct. We aren’t sure of your name but were hoping to find out today." His tone took on one of apparent, though subtle admiration. "Please allow us to introduce ourselves. This is Aysha, a Vanylan, and my name is Zein, I am Danorian.’
Aysha and Zein both looked at Cherry expectantly, as though she should have been taken aback or even impressed by what he had said. She wasn’t. She couldn’t have cared less if a Vanylan and Danorian could be comrades. But she did learn what she had intended to learn from his response to her request. They hadn’t asked around about her, not even so much as to find out her name, which meant that the reason they had for visiting her was secret.
Curious, but not showing with visual expression, she replied candidly, "Call me Cherry if you want. Never knew my birth name. What’s so big a secret, besides consorting with the enemy – a fact no one would know for sure unless you told them anyway – would be so big and hush-hush that you couldn’t even ask around in Bellsound (the nearby Vanylan town) for my name?"
Again the two visitors appeared set back, but this time by her whit. They didn't appear to have expected someone with a brain.
"And another thing," Cherry continued brazenly, "if your cause is so secret, and you are determined for word about it not to get out, then am I to assume you plan to kill me if I’m less than receptive to your cause than you had of hoped? Because I can tell you now, I’m going to be less receptive than you hope. But I can also tell you that I care so little about your cause, whatever it might be, that I wouldn’t even consider telling anyone. So you
can tell whoever you have hiding behind that shrub to the east to come out from hiding. He’ll be the one to die before ever getting the chance to kill me."
Both visitors were momentarily dumbfounded. No longer feeling safe to be standing anywhere near Cherry, they took another step back in unison. Aysha then looked towards the tree line to the east and nodded to the person hiding in the bushes. A moment passed before a middle-aged man stepped out with a bow lowered to his side, an apologetic look on his face.
"Now…" Cherry said, refraining from sighing, "Why don’t you idiots tell me why you’re here now. And make it snappy, I told you before that I don’t like wasting time."
Aysha and Zein briefed each other with a short look before Aysha started to explain as briefly and concisely as she could:
"We are part of a society, if you will, called Goldroot, an organization of both Vanylan and Danorian who have grown weary of the conflict between our peoples and want nothing more than to bring this war to an end. As you can imagine, Cherry, this is easier said than done. We aren’t big or strong enough yet to simply intervene directly in any effective way. But we have recently devised a plan that may help our cause. Be it a great uncertainty of success, of course, but we are willing to try anything at this point." She paused to compose herself in a way that someone might prepare not to look foolish for saying something that is obviously a foolish thing to say: "Have you heard of The Beggars Glaive?"
Cherry sneered mockingly as Aysha explain Goldroot to her, and then actually laughed when she asked about The Beggars Glaive.
"I may be a recluse," she answered, "but would literally have to of been hiding under a rock all my life not have heard about the Glaive at some point. It’s like one of the most well-known fairy tales around. A freaking bedtime story for any kid who has ever been told a bedtime story. What’s your point? Oh! Wait, let me guess." She laughed some more, continuing to make no secret of her mockery. "You extremist nuts actually think the thing is real and plan to find it. Am I right?"
"We have reason to believe it is more than just a myth." Said Zein, making an obvious effort not to let his integrity be affected in a negative way by Cherry’s insolence. "In fact, we have it on good authority that it resides in a place called Ghostmans Pit in The Forest of Assis."
"You have it on good authority, do you?" She replied snidely, "That a mythical weapon resides in a place that has also never been proven to exist. You guys are really something, let me tell ya."
Aysha was offended now. "I assure you that The Forest of Assis is a place. I’ve been there myself."
"You know full well I’m not talking about Assis, you idiot." Cherry turned her nose up. "Just tell me one person you know that can say the same about Ghostmans Pit? A place of monsters and other supernatural perils created by the malevolent Gods? Give me a break, woman."
Aysha swallowed hard. She seemed hurt, regretting having ever met Cherry. Zein on the other hand was making a decent effort of keeping his positivity, even if it meant lying to Cherry.
"We know someone who has been there." He said, raising his chin a little and squinting as if preparing to be sprayed in the face by something.
"No you don’t." Cherry told him.
His shoulders slumped a little.
"Look…" Cherry continued, "I realize how important your cause must seem to you, but it isn’t to me. For all I care the war can continue without end, amen. But tell me something," She said with a sudden change of tone, as if she had just realized something that might actually be of importance to her, "What exactly would you guys want me to do? And uh… why me, exactly?"
Both Zein and Aysha were visibly suspicious of Cherry’s change of demeanor, but humored her request nonetheless.
"The task would be very simple," Said Zein, "though it would have its fair share of dangers. You would go find the Beggars Glaive and bring it back to us. That is all. We would of course be willing to pay you handsomely for it."
"We chose you because of what you are," Aysha added, new hope forming in her words, "You were witnessed in Oakfish Bay some time ago. You were involved in a brawl that took place, between you and several others, including a man known as Morvayn. You do remember the occasion, I presume?"
"I do indeed." Cherry smirked, amused by the memory.
"It was on that day that your witch abilities were witnessed. They are… something few, if any, have seen before. In light of those abilities and the circumstances that took place around the incident in Oakfish we… we felt that you may be the perfect choice for this mission."
"And I knew I’d come to regret that night more than I already did." Cherry murmured and rolled her eyes. "But that’s what I get for drinking too much."
"But you wouldn’t be going alone." Zein informed her. "We have at least one other to accompany you. We feel it would be safer that way."
"You mean you don’t trust me." Cherry replied.
"Would you trust you in our position?" Aysha asked.
"Fair point." Cherry winked. "So just one other?"
"We haven’t decided yet if sending more than two is necessary." Said Zein.
"And how much would I be getting paid?" Cherry asked. "That is if I even make it back alive?"
Aysha glanced at Zein who gave her a confirming nod.
Zein said, "More gold than you’d need to live on for several years."
Cherry let go of any remaining mocking demeanor and thought seriously for a moment. "Then tell me, who is this person Goldroot have chosen as my companion?"
They told her, and at first Cherry thought they were making a joke, some sort of payback for her own mockery. But they weren’t, and she became expressionless as she turned her back to them. She walked to the water’s edge and considered the proposal. It was true that she didn’t care for the war or their cause, and it wasn’t like she really needed the coin, either. But there was something, something more personal about the mission that had piqued her interest. Something that would keep nagging at her for a very long time if she were to pass up this opportunity. At the same time, she couldn’t possibly divulge this reasoning to these Goldroot's, so she decided to make it about the money, and a little about boredom, as she turned back towards them with a sloppy shrug of her shoulders:
"Alright then, sure. I have nothing else on my plate at the moment, and to be fair
I could do with the coin. Who couldn’t, right? So when does this happen?"