So apparently, the Roadhouse Forum has gotten quite quiet of late. Originally, the plan was to do some reviewing in the light of whatever writer's block I've had for the past one week or so. I know I sound weird here, but somehow or another, having a day job is good for inspiring ideas in my head. Even though nothing has anything to do with work. At the same time, this chapter will be extremely light hearted by comparison. Although that's not saying anything much relatively.


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A Ranger's Tale


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Fishes Flying And A Merry Night

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Jase tried catching up with his movements, but Aeranath was way too fast for him. The young scion of House Steele knew not how someone like the Ranger could move about as such with impunity, but there had to be a way somehow. Then his brain went blank.

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"Hey, wake up kid!" the ginger lad only gripped his curved blade tightly as he tried ignoring that man's voice. He knew without words why he was to step into this path unknown, yet a life still worth living for awaited him. It was the kind of life he's used to living and that's why he could never let go of her hand.

"It's fishing time," Jase Steele cared not for whatever words exiting forth into his ears. That's until both cheeks were slapped hard.

"Hey! That hurts!"

Aeranath only smirked knowingly as he finally got Jase to open his sea blue eyes. He would never admit it to anyone else, but he liked the boy before him. He's nowhere similar to Guy, but it had never been a problem. Ziron once taught him the value of living like one who should never be a sheep.

Live like a bastard you're meant to be. Assholes will always believe they're needed and that's why bastards are truly needed.

The ginger lad stomped away with a glower, a strong grip pulled him back by the collar. He tried staring the Ranger down, Aeranath merely shrugged as he turned his back against his reluctant student.

"You should understand why you managed to stand behind my back last night. There's no turning back now, so might as well enjoy life while it lasts."

"Aeranath!" called out a familiar face smiling, "The bolting fish, they're now flying all over again!"

"Yeah I get it!" waved off the True Apostle, "Just make sure the fish don't hit your pretty ass again!"

"Wha… how dare you take liberties with Lady…"

"Karen of House Tenias," said Aeranath with his sigh being a smug answer towards Jase's chagrin, "I'm not a sucker, boy. You can take her if you want. But for now, you can either climb your sorry ass up the deck or stay put here."

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"Crap!" snarled Southgate as he managed to dodge yet another flying fish, "How in the blue hell do these things fling themselves away from home? They don't even have wings dammit!"

"How do I know, Southgate?" said Moggray as he tried stifling a chuckle, "Now I know why Guy asked the two of us to stay back watching the show."

"Two of us?" growled the stocky brunette, "You're the only one watching the show!"

"And you're the one volunteering not to do so," smiled the grizzled veteran with a thumb jerked towards right, "Learn it from Lady Joenne Nances. At least she's clever enough in a ladylike way despite a lack of ladylike figure."

"Sorry, she's not really that clever enough!" called out Aeranath, "A million apologies for taking so long to come out in open!"

Southgate couldn't help chortling to himself despite having the Red Lions' tainted past with this dark sellsword. He was part of the big family just like Moggray and Guy, but all three were no longer one.

"A decent attempt at decent humour there!" hollered Moggray with a wide grin, "Five out of ten for your comment on intelligence and a bonus score of three for how you mock a noble's way of talking!"

Karen squeezed Jase's hand tightly as he drank in the wonderful scene before him. Silver scaled fishes were flying all over the place, their ability to do so way beyond his knowledge. The world had always been one with no limits, but all around him tried convincing him that wasn't to be. Only Karen Tenias agreed with him and even then, he believed her to be merely a patron of his words. But now, he knew that both he and Karen were right after all. Then he sensed something flying from behind. Before he knew it, he blinked himself away from danger with a blushing Karen embraced closely.

"Damn! Casualty number six now! Carry that moron downstairs!" shouted a familiar looking lad with his burnt torso bared.

"Another idiot bites the dust… Southgate Garrat, was he?" smirked Aeranath upon sight of yet another victim unfortunately knocked out. His azure orbs soon turned its gaze towards another figure.

Guy Cody was flipping the bolting fishes into a wicker basket with one hand while the other held the said basket. The smile on his face was still as innocent like that exact little boy more than a decade ago. He once saw the young lion as someone able to live a life he could never be, his sentiments of faith yet to change. He noticed Joenne Nances squealing like an excited little girl years removed, thoughts of making snide remarks remained absent. Leaping about like a playful feline as she gathered the fishes flopping on the deck was a young brunette freshly flowered at the age of fifteen winters. Was her name Joyce? At least that's how Guy addressed her much to her delight. Guy was one lucky bastard being saved and Aeranath understood no regrets behind that very choice reached during that fateful night.

"Pledging my blood to some kid already dead…"

No sooner he uttered those consoling words, a shooting pain coursed from the True Apostle's groin. Managing to retain consciousness was one thing, knowing that a bolting fish had scored a freak hit on his family jewels being quite another.

"Casualty number seven," sighed the burnt lad on lookout, "Take him downstairs."

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"Wow, that was some afternoon!" giggled Joenne, "Did you see that idiot getting castrated, Karen?"

"Joenne, you're using the wrong term," sighed Karen.

"Pfft! Who cares so long as justice is exacted in my favour?" dismissed the firstborn daughter of House Nances, "By the way Karen, what will the three of us do upon a safe return?"

"Three of us?" questioned Karen with a knowing tone.

"Yeah, the Three Northern Beauties! Me, you, and lastly but not the least, Ales!" beamed Joenne.

"Well, Joenne… I… I…" stammered Karen just before Guy entered their cabin.

"Hey, Guy! Don't you know how to knock?" frowned the petite brunette as she twirled her shoulder length wavy locks with an index finger, "Karen and I are having some serious discussions!"

"And Karen has to start preparing dinner," replied Guy with a straight face, "And please don't contest my call here, Joenne. It's Karen's personal decision by the way."

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Jase knew the significance behind the curved sword he held. It wasn't something given to him by his father. Aeranath was the one gifting him the blade. Tis an Elven sabre, he said. Wonderful tales were spun from the enigma that was the Homm'Nua. That's why despite Elves being an occasional occurrence within any civilisation, none could ever breach their wall of aloofness. And every legend of Elven steel regaled would enamour him during his childhood years.

Finely balanced blades wrought, far more durable and keen enough to cleave a fully armoured knight in two.

Then as he entered adolescence, knightly duels declared from afar only served to make him far more a dreamer. For every now and then, wars and battles were a necessity and returning victors would boast of performing these feats of valour upon merit of such weapons. Jase never doubted a single boast and now it seemed that the blade he's holding tight wasn't a myth after all.

Then there was that very moment where he discovered himself to be a Ranger in the making.

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"Damn, your girl is a bloody good cook!"

Guy Cody nearly choked onto a fish bone as he managed to spit it out. His uncle Parky had taught him much on the dangers of unwanted romance and being linked with Karen Tenias was the last thing he desired. Before he could try firing a salvo in return, Joyce stood up and smacked the burnt youth across the head.

"Hey! What's that for, cat girl?"

"Listen well, Lokim," smiled Joyce deceptively as a knowing shiver crept down Lokim's spine, "I do not enjoy stupid talk. You see, hell has no fury like a lady scorned."

As resulting screams of pain ripped apart the silent night, Moggray Tonn and Southgate Garrat merely afforded each other a knowing nod and a bout of chuckles. They had witnessed before the type of punishment dished out by Joyce and they're both thankful for not having their testicles grabbed with insane force.

Joenne and Karen could only look on dumbfounded as Joyce's slight build indeed belied a certain tendency worthy of any man's greatest fear. Staying vigil by their side was Jase Steele smiling and enjoying the impromptu comedy with Aeranath being the only one staying apart from the rest.

The Sea Bro would be nearing the harbours of Histalonia within three full days. No one could foresee whatever lying ahead and that's why every seafaring folk has a common saying:

Tonight we wine, dine, and whore to our hearts' content. For if we know where we will be come to worst, then at least we would have truly lived.

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Karen smiled wistfully as her dark brown eyes indulged themselves in the sight of constellations. She remembered what Alestrial Eliaden had said a few years ago.

They say that there is a pair of stars named the Weaver and the Prince. The Weaver was a poor, but kind hearted girl with a beauty rivaling the stars we're used to seeing now. The Prince was merely a recluse whom no one took seriously beyond his royal status. Both somehow fell in love, yet forbidden to fall in love. The Weaver's friends abandoned her despite years together, the Prince's associates openly despised him in spite of them never being true to him in their hearts. Both died together drowned and happy in some unnamed river. That's how we get the Weaver and the Prince.

"Ales, if only you know what will happen to me after all has been said and done in Histalonia," whispered Karen, "I will be a foreign bride away down the Southlands, to be just one of the numerous objects of desire before a Sudhlit chieftain."

"A fair lady for a fair honour's take. Should it be a given for me to know your fairest name?"

Karen spun around swiftly as a hauntingly comely lad greeted her. A boyish charm was evident in his visage, yet the very same expression carried an unknown burden seemingly weighing him down. His ruby eyes captivated her heart, she knew this lad was one not every lass is worthy of.

"Karen Tenias. You can just call me Karen."

"You can call me a hunter," grinned the golden blond, "Or a Demon Hunter. You probably never heard of it though."

"Wha…"

"What do I want from you?" he said in reply to Karen's half worded request, "Well, I guess I just want to have a little chat, deal?"

"Well, okay…" smiled Karen bashfully.

"So what's bothering you?" began the lad as he lit up a fag while leaning against the deck's side.

"Well, I guess there's such a thing called getting married…"

"And I call that a bartering culture."

"That's rather crude."

"But it's an apt word for an apt practice, no?"

"You really amuse me. You're a funny man."

"And one who can joke and fight. Nowhere underneath the beddings, mind you."

"And why are we going into this strange direction?"

"Because I started it?"

"You're a frank person. I like that in a man."

"Your man, you mean," smiled the youth wryly as he let out a puff of smoke.

"My man?" breathed Karen as a single face surfaced within her mind.

"Uh huh," the lad flicked the glowing stub of his joint into the calm silent sea, "I can't say I'm the best man for a decent girl, but that also means that there are far better men than me, right? You can't really depend on some fella who can only whore decently, you know."

"I…"

"Why are you here?"

A voice familiar but gruff rang out into the ears of both listeners. Karen went wide eyed before the Aeranath before her. A being brimming with hate and anger… why?

"Well, I'm just having a chat with a pretty girl," answered the blond as he eased himself away from the railings, "It's been a long time, old pal."

"Am I your old pal?" snarled the True Apostle in reply, "Old as in every crap is in the past, asshole!"

"We're all murderers, both you and me," hailed the damning verdict.

"Shut the hell up," there was no denial in Aeranath's rage.

"You killed her by your own means, but my folly caused everything..." this was a heavy tone of remorse coming from his object of hatred.

"Lars!"

The final statement too harsh to bear, Aeranath swiftly warped to the left of that golden lad known as Lars. A silvery streak shot out of nowhere as the Ranger swiftly sidestepped away and grabbed the gleaming chain. With a primal roar, he punched Lars across the cheek, Fragarach unsheathed soon after. Yet another silver chain struck forth as lightning raced to meet the attack head on. A brilliant flash blinded Karen for an instant as a scythe was unleashed into Lars' hands. This time round, he was within striking range and the Ranger could never match his adversary reach for reach. A single swing and Aeranath was gone. Aeranath reappeared from behind with a wide swinging arc laced with lightning. Then it all ended abruptly. Fragarach was pressed against Lars' collarbone, threatening to grant him a gruesome death. The blond lad only smiled victoriously against Aeranath's grimace.

"Go on, Aera. Go on and kill me," murmured Lars, "My last name may be Alterfate, but I can never alter whatever I have been given."

If there was any sense of hesitation coming from the last True Apostle, he never made it shown. Then a massive flock of crows suddenly materialised, Aeranath himself knowing why and how. As he stood unblinking amidst countless carrion birds flying away in every direction, the stoic Ranger took no heed towards Karen's startled look with her own hands clasped against her mouth.

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"Will it be a merry game of reunion or will it be a cruel duel to death? If fate is to be our only god, should it then be far better for us all to die?"

There was no mirth in Aor's smile nor was there any angst. The First True Apostle was impossible to read, yet he knew something only Aeranath understood equally well.

One fine day, both would have to duel against each other unto the very bitter end. Not anywhere in this world, but rather standing upon the hallowed earth of Avalon itself…

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So apparently, I've just finished this one the night before, but I was too tired to post this up. Anyway, Chinese New Year is coming soon and I might not be updating this that fast so as to speak. Although my workload today has been ridiculously low.

A/N: The part on fish flying onto the deck of a ship is something pulled out of my ass. While I do somewhat understand the salmon species' absurd ability to battle upstream currents during that most famous salmon run period, I can assure everyone here that everything seen here is basically a figment of my half-assed imagination.

Final A/N: Yay, after such a long time, Aor finally made a mini comeback. Now if only I can get a firm grip on the philosophical way he talks.

Note: The Prince and the Weaver constellations are inspired by the legend of the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl in Chinese mythology. Both are tragic love stories, only one is accounted to have a tragic ending. Guess which one, guys.


Background notes

Bolting fishes are part of the Endless Straits' ecosystem where they got their name from their tendency to propel themselves above the waters during mid-spring. At the same time, they're known to have hard head bones, hence a high chance of random accidents happening. They resemble the trout with a slighter build and shinier scales.