A Reunion | Tori Character Story
Though their eyes were veiled by the billowing silk of their headscarves, Tori knew they were gazing at her with an uneven mixture of fear and contempt. The murmuring crowd parted as she approached the market square, and the typical noise that usually accompanied the trader stalls quickly faded into a nervous silence. It had only been a month since the last crackdown in the region and the residents here knew better than to approach a member of the Church.
Perhaps now they’ll finally be open to conversion, Tori thought to herself. Passing through the meandering alleyways, she spotted a group of children hiding behind a crumbling wall, their nervous faces caked in mud and sweat, and thought back to her own memories of growing up in this town. She knew the Church could bring good to this town; armed with a wealth unimaginable for the people here, the Church could build schools, hospitals, concrete roads. And all it would take was for them to surrender their faith, a minor sacrifice compared to the benefits it would bring.
But conversion was not the purpose of her mission; that would have been a far simpler objective. Tightening her grip on the metallic handle of her war hammer, Tori wondered if she was ready for what lay ahead. She had been dreading this day since the very first briefing back at the capital, but she knew the Church’s wishes could not go unanswered.
Making a right down the dusty path, she spotted a flickering neon sign in the shape of a beer barrel hanging precariously off the edge of a metal pipe. Below it was a large rusty metal door, accompanied by two guards. She had arrived at her destination.
The two men eyed her closely as she approached them, their hands slowly reaching for the blades hidden underneath their robes. Observing their movements, Tori noticed a gold Resistance insignia weaved into their garments, granted only to those of significant combat prowess.
“We don’t serve vermin,” one of the guards shouted at her as she drew closer. “If you don’t back away, we’re go–” the hilt of her war hammer struck the man before he could finish his sentence, sending him hurtling into the brick wall behind them.
“Do you wish to suffer the same fate?” Tori raised her weapon towards the other guard as he watched his partner gasp for air. Picking up his injured comrade, the man quickly fled into the shadows of the alleyway, leaving the door unattended.
Entering the pub, her eyes scanned the room for any potential threats — the furniture had only grown more worn since she was last here, and only a handful of weary patrons were present.
“I thought members of the church were prohibited from drinking” a gravelly voice called out to her from behind the bar counter. Looking up, she spotted a large burly man with thick locks of greying hair polishing a half empty bottle of liquor; the label looked like it had deteriorated many years ago.
“Where is she?” She hadn’t come here to exchange pleasantries.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to be a bit more specific,” the man placed the bottle back on the shelf as he replied.
“A girl with red hair. She was last spotted at your bar three days ago.”
“Doesn’t seem to ring a bell,” he said calmly, but Tori could tell he was lying.
The other men in the room stood up from their seats as she approached the counter, but the man waved at them, signaling for them to stay calm. He knew they stood little chance against her, having already disposed of the veteran guards outside.
“I don’t have time for this, Tyrus. Tell me where she is.”
“Ah, so you do remember me after all. It’s certainly been a while, Tori.”
“I’ve asked you twice now. Please don’t make me ask again,” she said as she slowly raised her hammer towards him.
“Alright, there’s no need for violence. I’ll tell you where she is,” Tyrus turned to face her, his face unsmiling, “In the old arena, where the two of you used to train. That’s where you’ll find her.”
“Thank you, Tyrus. I’ll let the Church know that you’ve been cooperative. You’ll receive a reward for your compliance, a shipment of gold will arrive by the end of next week.”
“They can keep their filthy gold,” the disdain in his voice was no longer veiled. “I’m not doing this for you, or for the Church. She told me to let you know – she knew you would’ve destroyed this place otherwise. There, you got what you came for. Now get out of my bar, traitor.”
Tori would have warned him for his choice of words on any other occasion, but her mind was too preoccupied with the task at hand; she still wasn’t sure if she was ready for this mission. Exiting the establishment, her thoughts once again drifted to the distant memories of her childhood as she made her way through the familiar alleyways of the town.
By the time she arrived at the arena, the sun had already begun its descent towards the horizon. Already derelict in her childhood, the rusted gate that once barred the entrance had now completely collapsed. The stone wall surrounding the arena remained intact, however, encompassing an area just large enough for a duel. The wall itself was only slightly taller than her – perhaps she had spent too much time around the capital’s grand coliseums, or maybe it was because she had grown up, but the arena seemed a lot smaller than she remembered. Entering through the unbarred entryway, she spotted something ahead in the dwindling light.
At the center of the arena, a slender figure stood still. Crimson red hair fluttered against the desert wind, moving in time with the silken scarf draped loosely across her neck. Clad in tattered leather, the figure waited patiently as Tori began her approach.
“Vesta, you have committed sins against the Church,” Tori ran her calloused fingers down the warhammer’s cold contours as she called out, readying herself for what was to come. “I have come to deliver justice and retribution.”
“The church knows nothing of justice,” Vesta retorted, her voice unwavering. “You once understood this.”
Two curved blades emerged as Vesta unsheathed her daggers from behind her back, their metal edges reflecting the orange glow of the setting sun.
“I had shunned them in my youthful ignorance, but The Church has shown me the meaning of faith,” Tori paused briefly before continuing. “Suffering only comes to those who refuse their generosity.”
Pensive in her expression, Vesta placed the edges of her blades against the tip of her tongue and slowly drew down . A gentle stream of blood trickled from the incision, washing over the inscriptions etched into the steel. Then, the daggers took fire, illuminating the darkness that had beset the arena. As the flames flickered across Vesta’s face, her eyes finally betrayed the hatred she had been trying to mask.
“I hope your Gods are gentle, Tori. You’ll be with them soon.”
Her blades swung out with unconstrained rage as she charged forwards, leaving a stream of embers in its wake. The hilt of the warhammer shuddered as it leapt up to intercept the blow, the sound of colliding steel now echoing through the arena. Chambering her stance, Tori swung back with full conviction, demolishing the cobblestone floor beneath them. The battle was not over, however; Vesta had already dashed out of reach.
Switching to a one-handed grip, Tori held the warhammer by the base of the hilt and inched forwards on the counter. Swinging her hammer out in a whipping motion, the blows rained down from all directions, but every swing struck only air. Weaving, somersaulting through the sequence of strikes, Vesta had long memorized the tells that preceded each cleave. As this dance drew on further into the night, both knew they would have to switch up their strategy before fatigue overwhelmed them.
Sidestepping another blow from the hammer, Vesta sliced through the scarf around her neck and threw the now burning fabric towards her opponent. Shielding her face with her free hand, Tori failed to see the dagger enter her upper shoulder, searing a passage through her flesh. She stumbled backwards and pulled the blade out before it burnt through her bone, biting down on her tongue to stifle the invasion of the blinding pain.
Unrelenting in her assault, Vesta charged forwards once more. She waited for the hammer’s lateral counter strike before dropping down to the ground, kicking out at the base of Tori’s legs in an attempt to sweep her foe. But Tori was ready this time. For a brief moment, Vesta realized what was going to happen, and her eyes widening in terror. But it was already too late - her momentum sent her directly into Tori’s raised knee, shattering her right orbital on impact.
A heavy boot stomped down on Vesta’s hand as she lay stunned on the ground, forcing her to release her remaining dagger. When she finally regained her vision, Tori was standing over her, warhammer in hand.
“Do you know why the Church is hunting me down?” Vesta asked wearily, still curled up on the ground. She knew she had been defeated.
“You broke into one of our warehouses and took something that did not belong to you.”
“Do you still remember our father?”
“All external connections must be cleansed before you are allowed to enter the Church, Vesta. I’m sure you already kn–”
“He’s dying, Tori. He could no longer afford to pay the requisite tribute. So they burnt down our home while he was still inside,” Vesta looked up at her older sister, searching for something in her expression. “The medicine I stole won’t save him. But it would ease his suffering until he passes.”
A long pause followed before Tori responded. “Vesta. They never told me.”
“You place too much faith in their authority. The medicine I stole is already on its way. It should get to him by tomorrow noon. You can arrest me now, there’s nothing more I need to do out here.”
The sun had finally set, and the desert wind grew colder. In the distance, the howling of wild creatures pierced the evening sky, searching for room in between the deafening silence.
“I wasn’t sent here to arrest you,” Tori said, more quietly this time.
A brief moment passed before Vesta understood the weight of those words. Resting on her knees, as if in prayer, she took one last look at Tori before angling her head down.
“Make it quick.”
Raising her hammer high into the air, Tori looked down on her sister until her vision began to blur; tears had begun to flow down from her tired eyes. Time seemed to stand still as Tori struggled with her conscience, her arms now shaking under the weight of the weapon.
“I don’t need your pity. You chose to betray your people, Now please, just do it,” she uttered her final words with scorn.
“I’m sorry Vesta.”
With another swing of her war hammer, Tori completed her mission, filling the arena with stillness once again.
Story by Roy Loh and Jonathan Wong