Kaustir, Chapter 5

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  1. Chapter 5

    Avarice and Ambition

    The Right Honorable Gulzar Ganguly knew that this was only a matter of time. Like a black miasma, High Inquisitor Lut Sar's caravan arrived at the front of his gates. He watched from his penthouse as his city guards put up a token resistance, bending before Lut Sar's Imperial Seal and opening the gates for them.

    If Zirako was the Burning Czar's body, Avarath was the Draken Merchant's body. While the Nocturne was not exactly a foreign invader, he was something Gulzar battled with many times. On one hand, the Mayor of Avarath dealt with the avatars of greed, the Hosian and Avarathian merchants ... and in the other, the avatar of death, Lut Sar, his imperial seal, and behind it all, the Czar. Pressed between the two, he converted raw materials, secrets, and goods into ordnance for the Empire. And he was rewarded handsomely for performing his part in the delicate dance.

    [​IMG]

    All his life he had no want, nothing that gold could not acquire. But now, he felt the twangs of ambition. He wanted something ... something more. Something no amount of gold could buy. From his penthouse, he could see Lut Sar moving towards him as the rest of the Inquisitor's caravan spread into the city.

    He didn't need his Advent to know that Lut Sar was looking at him from under the brim of the parasol.

    .
    .
    .​

    "Mayor." Lut Sar leaned deep into the recliner in Gulzar's office, legs crossed.

    "High Inquisitor." Ganguly tapped his fingers on the overstuffed armrest, leaning ever so slightly forward behind his desk.

    "What a comfortable place you have built for yourself, in Avarath." Lut tested the spring in his chair. "Quite honestly, I am uncomfortable sitting in such luxury! I am used to the bite of raw wood and reed mat."

    A scaled finger pushed forward a cup of Kresnick, ice, and fresh blood. "Marshal Sar, that is precisely why I oversee Avarath. To provide comforts to the ones who struggle in the daily sand, so that Kaustir may continue."

    Lut wrapped three fingers around the cup's stem and took a long, brooding sip.

    "I .. am worried .. that the merchants of Avarath .. have forgotten what suffering means."

    "Nonsense, Marshal Sar. We struggle everyday to secure the best deals for our trade, so that Zirako and Dorgrad are paid their deserved dues in gold and material."

    Lut delicately placed the cup, still half full, on Gulzar's desk.

    "And where does K'Larr's betrayal fall into your plan?"

    "Is it part of your struggle?"


    "K'Larr is a traitor," Gulzar smoothly responded. "But the pursuit is difficult and endangers the port authority. He has fled into the Prosperos sea with the best ships of our age."

    "Yet we hold the best engineers, Mayor. Ships are not the problem; rather, it seems that the port authorities are not cooperating fully with General Kirtin." Melting ice clinked in the cup, and Lut reached forward, brushing a few drops of condensation off the golden metal side.

    "I expect your full cooperation going forward."

    Just prior "Arania. We finally have arrived at your home." Lut Sar glanced back at the pair, sitting in the dark confines of his carriage. Despite the lack of sun and the stifling atmosphere, the arid desert air left the wood smelling fresh and unrotten. It had been an unprecedented month (two?). Lut had traveled the entire length of Kaustir more times than he cared to admit, doing what he felt was like patching up a leaking water clock.

    [​IMG]

    They paused at the entrance. Takeda alighted first, extending a hand to help Arania down, the other clutching a parasol that he used to shade the Nocturne. The Eastern man turned to face Lut.

    "Takeda. My teacher and soldier." Lut clapped his shoulders. "You have taken your military leave, and requested a ship for Viridos. It ... is none of my business what you do there. I only have two requests for you."

    "One. When you are in Viridos, you are a citizen of Kaustir, not a commissioned officer. Two, don't get caught by the Kindly Ones."
    Lut pressed a piece of leather into Takeda's hand, engraved with his personal seal. "If you meet them, use this as a last resort."

    "I will not. Thank you, Marshal Sar."

    The salty sea air that meandered its way through Avarath's streets smelled of the great tides of change.
     
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  2. Three Days After the Soiree Amalia had explained to both Rakar and K'jol that Takeda and Arania were taking their leave so they could find a healer for her condition, and for Arania to find her real family. She remained expressionless during this announcement, and any questions they asked, she silenced with a hand. The First General then explained that they were responsible for dealing with the disruption near Dorgrad.

    That morning she ordered her meager caravan to get ready. One wagon held all of their needs, filled with their supplies, weapons, and other necessities for traveling the desert. Instructed by Lut Sar himself, fire scarabs were deployed as their mounts.

    [​IMG]

    "The disturbance has made the area molten and hot. Our regular mounts wouldn't be able to handle such temperatures," she told Rakar and K'jol at the meeting. "Scouts have reported the appearance of glass bridges, so we must be careful. As to what we will find, I haven't a clue. I leave you with your assumptions."

    As the First General left her soldiers to their own devices, she wondered if the others would answer her summons. Under normal circumstances, the woman wouldn't have asked for more help, but with the departure of Arania and Takeda, Amalia felt uneasy. A missive was sent to Theo and Draegal, along with a summons for another healer, whether it be magical or methodical. She would have their answer if they turned up here. Concerns about them meshing together with her current party was not her highest concern. After all, Amalia had despised K'jol and held Rakar in contempt, but her attitude towards them changed magnificently over the past month. Perhaps these newcomers could do the same.

    All that had to happen now was for them to turn up.

    "We'll leave in an hour," announced Amalia. Matil's tail twitched from her perch on the general's shoulder. "Until then we'll wait for others to show up."
     
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  3. Theo and Amalia

    Theo thought back to receiving the letter, now tightly clenched in his fist.

    It had taken him a while to digest the offer and decide it was what he was going to do. Orvak had made it clear he could not return home. But he couldn't do nothing - he needed to be productive, to move ahead with things and achieve goals. It was a bitter acceptance that he couldn't think of any his own, but he could definitely help Amalia with hers.

    And so he found himself standing outside her caravan, inexplicably nervous and tense. He had tried to block out the events that had transpired before and after the Soiree, but she would want to know. She had a right to know. He took a deep breath and knocked.

    The general was in the wagon, sorting through all of their supplies and ensuring that everything was accounted for. The knock however, startled the woman, and her katana was half drawn when she spotted the centaur through the caravan's opening. Slowly, cautiously, Amalia slid her sword back into its sheath.

    "So my eyes weren't lying. You are here. And alive. Explain yourself. What happened after you were taken?"

    Theo sighed and stepped inside. It was amusing, and slightly intimidating, seeing such a large creature walk inside the caravan.

    "First General," he began, slowly, all preparation for the moment gone. in an instant. "I was taken by Nassad to Zirako. I was... I was taken to a..." He hesitated and in a split-second decision, opted to omit certain details. He wasn't quite over the denial. "A slaughterhouse. And then I... I was taken to the Czar. He said I wasn't ready, and ordered his men to free me. I don't know what's going on, or if it was connected."

    "A slaughter house? You were kidnapped and taken to a slaughterhouse, where you were then taken away and met the Czar? I don't... This is bizarre." Quite frankly this was a lot for Amalia to take in, and she wasn't sure if she was ready to believe him.

    He glanced around, eager to change the subject. "What about all of you? What happened after those assassins hit?"

    "The assassins were disposed of. Gulzar helped, and almost lost his life if it weren't for his bodyguard. Seiyr..." The First Genera paused, hand trembling as she held a piece of parchment. "Seiyr is dead. She sacrificed herself to save me. One of them had a knife to my neck and I -" She cleared her throat and busied herself with taking inventory. "You seem to be taking this very well. Your sudden capture and freedom. What will you do now?"

    "I'm. ..." taking it well? Is that what he was doing? "First General." He held up the missive. "This is all I have now. The way home for me is barred and..." He took another deep breath. "Forgive me. I'm sorry about Seiyr. I'm sorry for a lot. I wish I could explain myself better. I wish someone could explain it to me."

    "Well I'm not the one to give you explanations," Amalia said. "There are things I don't understand myself."

    Glass bottles clinked as she moved aside crates to give them space. Her eyes remained downcast, roving between her fingers and the caravan floor.

    "I am sorry I couldn't have prevented your capture in Avarath. I shouldn't have sat there and cried. I should've done something, anything. I understand I am not the best general and I have a lot to prove to you and everyone else. That being said..." She looked up, tears twinkling from her eyes. "Do you still want to come with me?"

    "That's what I'm here for," he replied gently. "What I know of you so far. .. you are someone worth following. Even if you don't see it yet."

    With that, he averted his eyes, hoping that hadn't been too forward in his attempt to be comforting. Clearly the woman had her own issues to overcome.

    He cleared his throat. "Anyway, thank you for having me. I'll take my leave now."

    Amalia nodded, her heart swelling with pride and comfort.

    "Make sure you have anything you need. We'll be leaving shortly."

     
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  4. Flash Back: Confession
    The healers came shortly after Amalia laid in bed. Rakar stood off to the side, ever vigilant of his general. As the healers stripped her of her clothing, wiped off her makeup, and began the healing process, Amalia tried to fight it. It was a matter of pride, and she would show the nocturnes that she would be strong and weather off the illness on her own. But four healers against one meant Amalia lost. For two days, she sweated, trembled, and vomited, all from her bed.
    She knew from their faces that they were the healers Amalia worked with, the ones who mocked her for becoming First General, but that mockery was gone from their faces. She wondered if they had any criticisms of her now, especially when they saw her scars.

    On the second day, after she endured an intensive healing process involving hot stones, Amalia called Takeda and Arania into her bedroom. She remembered the warrior's words with her at the Soiree, and she wasn't one to forget such requests, even if Amalia didn't want to see him.

    Clad in thick yellow silk robes, the General stood in the center of her room with her hands clasped in front of her. Rakar was by the door, stoic and silent. Matil sat by her side, unmovable.

    "You wished to talk to me Takeda?"

    Takeda gave the biggest bow he could. "I thank you for seeing us in your sickness." he spoke in the most respectful tone he could. He rose back up "General I need to start by apologizing, something I'm sure your sick of hearing now, but I mean it from the bottom of my heart. I betrayed your trust, and stupidity cost us the life of Seyir which will haunt me forever." he glanced at Rakar and Arania "I betrayed our entire group." he looked down at the floor and clutched the hilt of his blade "My worst sin against you is that I raised my hand to you." Arania tried to protest that Takeda wasn't in his right mind, but he raised his hand telling her to stop. "It's unforgivable what I did no matter the state of mind." he commanded. He looked up to Amalia her back still turned.

    Arania tugged on Takeda's sleeve "Tell her Takeda." she said quietly. The swordsman took a deep breath "The reason I asked audience with you is to tell you that Arania has cured my illness... but in turn has adopted the evil creature I once hosted." his thankful tone was laced with regret. Amalia tilted her head in disbelief. "She insisted that she heal me, and for that I am eternally grateful." Takeda waited for Amalia's harsh tone or Matil to order him dead.

    But the General was neither harsh or angry. If anything Amalia was shocked. She turned to Arania, eyes crinkling in puzzlement and jealousy.

    "You healed him? You actually healed him? How?"

    "It is my Advent, General. I am able to comfort those who are physically and mentally ill."
    A wave of jealously passed over Amalia, and a look of deep longing reflected in her eyes for a second before she wiped it away. Arania looked pained, perhaps because she saw the longing, or perhaps because the mental battle was sapping her of her energy.

    "However, I've taken the dark spirit within me. And it seems like it's not going away."

    "So we'll have to contend with it being in the party?" The General glanced between the two, eyes weary and cautious. "Because I can't have something so dangerous as an ally."

    Takeda shook his head "No General it won't be a problem, but..." he was apprehensive. "The second reason why we have come before you today is to ask for leave to Viridos. We believe their methods of healing can purge the forsaken spirit from her mind." he clung to his words hoping that Amalia would believe him. "I know you would probably send Arania off on her own, but I have debt to repay and a friend in need. I wish not to turn my back on another again." he explained.

    "And there's another reason why we're going there." said Arania.

    "What would that reason be?"

    Arania took a breath and steeled herself. "I've family in Viridos. Family I've never met, or even known about."

    Amalia raised an eyebrow at this. "How did you come to this information?"

    "At the Soiree. I ran into someone, someone who looked almost like me. I inquired about them, and Lut Sar says they are a rich and wealthy family based in Viridos." She fidgeted with the folds of her dress. "I would like to see if there is any truth in his words."

    The First General was quiet for some time, Aux and Crux deliberating this information.

    "How do I know that you won't run away? You say this evil spirit is still in you. How do I know that you won't kill an innocent village, or worse, collaborate with the enemy?"

    The swordsman stepped forward, untied his katanas from his hip, knelt down one knee, and placed his swords in front of him. "First General Lortik I, Takeda Shingen of the Imperial Guard, here by swear my life to you." his tone was serious. A small breeze ran through the arid room, making a small howling at the windowsill. "I promise, from now until the desert swallows me, to obey your every order with out doubt or hesitation. Whatever you will shall be done. I will not betray or dishonor you, nor will I betray Kaustir. You have my word that we will not run or share secrets with our enemies." Takeda's voice was true and unwavering. The warrior was giving someone his life and he hoped she would accept it.

    Arania bowed deeply from the waist, blonde hair cascading forward and catching the morning light.

    "First General Lortik, I too pledge my life to you. Believe me, I will return once I've been cured and found all I can about my family."

    The sand cat padded forward, amber eyes fierce. The normally small cat had grown in size and almost reached eye level with the warrior. When Matil spoke, Takeda received an eyeful of her fangs.

    "As a soldier of Kaustir, you've made this pledge before. You've pledged to uphold your country and never to betray it. I cannot accept this because this pledge has been made before. You must do more to show me your loyalty."

    "Arania, you're in good standing with me, and are not of the military. I accept your pledge. I wish you well with your quest, and I hope you will rid yourself of that accused spirit."

    Amalia stepped forward, hands clasped to her chest. A plan had formed as her Aux spoke, a plan that hopefully would tell her where the warrior stood in her company.

    "You can go on a quest. A mission of sorts. Would you be interested Takeda?"

    "Damn that blasted cat!" Takeda roared in his mind. The swordsman remained kneeling "Of course General, anything to prove my loyalty to you." his words were rapid.

    Matil padded to her Crux, sat by Amalia's feet, and began grooming herself.

    "I am looking for a husband," she said simply. "But given my current circumstances, I can't begin courting. I have yet to meet a man in Kaustir that has kept my interest - "

    Liar.

    "So perhaps your trip to Viridos will help me find potential suitors. I want you to find one who you think will suit me."

    The cat paused in her grooming. "If you find someone who we think is commendable, then I will consider you loyal. Will you take this mission?"

    Suitor? Husband? Marriage? This was not the quest Takeda was expecting. "Yes of course I will take this mission. I will find you the best man Viridos has to offer." his hesitation didn't show in his words, but Takeda's mind was racing. He took a deep breath and collected himself. "I will not return until I find one that suits you General." he stayed kneeling.

    "Viridos, Pegulis, Kaustir. I am open to all... And the complications that will come with it."
    She flashed the man a sympathetic smile as he remained kneeling. The woman was getting into the habit of masking her kindness, but here it was shining through.

    "You may your take leave. You have my blessing and may your journey be safe and informative."

    Brown eyes lingered on Arania. "I am envious of you and out of everyone in my party, I've yet to get to know you. I hope this will change once you return."

    Arania smiled back "I wish the same. Thank you General."

    Takeda got back up and re-equipped himself. With the General's blessing the swordsman and healer began their journey.


    The Docks
    Takeda stuffed Lut's seal into his uniform and gave a slight bow. He looked out over the port, eyes squinted against the sea breeze "Now what ship would be the best our travels. I assume the smaller the ship the better? We would need a captain that knows the ins and outs Viridos ports. I think the right amount of gold should solve these problems." he looked back at Lut. His eyes locked with Lut's "Marshal I have a favor to ask, and you being a busy man I would understand if you decline." Takeda's tone was low and serious "I come to you as a friend in need not as a teacher or soldier, but as a friend." he paused. "A weeks journey, east, out of Avarath there is a small village covered in scorched homes and unmarked graves. Near there center of village is a large ruined home, and in the small reading room of that home, tucked under the floorboards, is a sword wrapped in camel skin." he bowed as deep as his body would let him. "I humbly request that it returns to me by your hand." he paused "I can't trust anyone else in retrieving the blade, it's far to valuable and dangerous. So I ask you Marshal Sar will you do this for me?"
     
    #4 Tone 6th, Jul 16, 2014
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2014
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  5. Many years ago The skin was stretched taught over great frames of balsa wood, which creaked under the tension.

    "Flap it!" A group of mighty Drakens cranked a giant gear shaft, swinging the wing up and down. A piece of paper on the other side of hall, its end wet with black ink, fluttered and smeared a mark on measuring stick.

    "Ten chi." Seiyr bit her her finger. "Not good enough."
    A year ago Seiyr laid on the blood stained sheets with Lukesh.

    "What if we could swim through air like fish swim in water?"

    The Czar traced a hand along her curves. His fingers explored the warm, pink flesh between her legs, smearing the ample, dark red, sticky wetness up and around her belly to trace a light pink curve of her breast. "But we can't. The air is too feeble to support our weight, unlike the Water Below."

    "Yes ..." Seiyr mounted the Czar, and lowered her mouth down, past his lips, neck, chest, and belly ...

    "The Alate will make the air our water." The rest of what she said was muffled.
    A week ago The Alate ... a sphere in perfection and beyond perfection, spun inside a tank of water, deep in the bowels of Zirako. It altered the medium around it .. it seemed to make anything around it lighter, and in return it sunk to the bottom of the water as the water rose around it. Equal and opposite reactions.
    Yesterday The Czar gasped, and woke. But he did not wake up to Korsch's hand on his brow, nor did he wake up to the dim light of the night torches from the Grey Tower. No, he woke up, on the sixtieth step down the black tower. Aukhmos was a pile of steaming sludge next to him, an incorporeal mass that struggled again and again to reform itself as it continuously dissolved.

    [​IMG]

    The physical pain had long passed. He did not even know whether or not his body existed anymore. All he could do was swivel his eyes and gaze at his hand, which seemed incorporeal. The tower had taken away everything from him, stripped his memories, sin, achievements, and finally body, and beat his soul mercilessly with it until he was ready to expire.

    Yet ... he still existed at the bottom of the sixtieth step.

    The pair of doors stood before him, slightly cracked, deliberately opened to reveal the occupant within. Her eyes gazed back, the rest of her figure bound in countless leather straps, innumerable chains restricting her movement to the chamber within. Air, purifying currents, poured from the gap, a white fog that rushed out with great force and made its way back up to the top of the tower.

    "Why ..."

    "Why can't you hate me?"


    Her eyes were filled with pity as Korsch descended the steps with a stretcher.
     
    #5 unanun, Jul 16, 2014
    Last edited: Jul 18, 2014
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  6. The Journey to Avarath from Zirako This was perhaps Shae's third or fourth journey across the desert wastes. And it was definitely her first on the long haul from Zirako to Avarath. The scenes around them were incredibly barren in comparison to the northern border, where salt-rich sea mists and winds fed red and green lichen on the sand. Here, the sun burned above, nary a cloud in sight, and for as far as the eye could see, there was only fine, flowing yellow sand. And bones. Massive bones that belonged to creatures that may have reached into the sky to grasp the stars.

    Her attention was drawn by a dense cluster of clouds hovering over an oasis to the far south. Her eyes widened in shock. She could not close her mouth, and ignored the burning feeling slowly growing on her arms and legs that were lit by the sun. Lut parted the curtains on his carriage and sat next to her in the shade of a canvas overhang. The Wraith driver idly flicked the reins, giving the pulling oryx a light but unnecessary tap. Sand and pebble rattled underneath the wagon wheels, which were bound with tough, sun-dried oryx hide to cushion the riders from the bumps.

    "Impressive?"

    No reply.

    "Every time I make this trip, I always come out at this part of the journey."

    She could not shake the unease. She stole a glance at the High Inquisitor. He had completely forgotten about her, lost in the wonder of the landscape. Shae finally closed her mouth. It was good to know that he could also feel wonder.

    [​IMG]

    Rabbit and the Hare She tried to choke out a few words, but the blade so effectively silenced her. He knew where to cut, where the caress of the edge would cause the most pain, like a paper cut. Every time she gulped, licked her lips that were drying under the rising sun, or gasped for air, the blade was there, reminding her of death.

    That smell, that smell ... she couldn't bend her head down to check, so she looked down, strained down until it felt like her eyes would pop from their sockets. A dark stain started at her crotch and traveled down her pant leg. Was this what prey felt like? The odor was especially pungent in the dry, blood soaked air as Nu slung the other two Wraiths over her shoulder and lashed them to their respective oryx.

    She closed her eyes and gulped, feeling the blade again.

    "D...d-d-d-d-o you wwwwwwISH t-t-t- (she paused and begged her heart to slow) .......... to See (gulp) See (hitch) See (gck), your Death?"

    Underneath her feet, a pool of magma formed and shaped itself into a warped mirror. As it cooled from the outside in, the stresses on the glass caused it to shatter from within. And there the portent flashed, among a thousand cracks and in a thousand pieces.

    [​IMG]

    Silence. She could feel him contemplating, the smile on his Nocturne lips as he slowly withdrew the blade, slicing a half circle around her neck. "So you can see the future?" He swiped index and middle finger across her neck, spreading a cooling, numbing salve that froze in the dry desert air, sealing her wound. A shawl was thrown over her, and a wineskin of warm water pressed to her hands. Nu was already on an oryx.

    "Come, Scryer. You don't have time to change your pants." Lut grinned back at her. They turned their backs to the border and rode into the sand, towards Zirako. "Come, and be my audience when the axe falls."

    [​IMG]
    "Scryer." He still referred to her by her occupation. It was a very efficient method of categorizing assets. It did not matter, for example, that Wraiths were individuals with names. When Lut asked for a Wraith, he did not mean any specific Wraith. He asked for an individual to whom death and duty were one and the same.

    So when he spoke to Shae, he referred to her by the asset she possessed. They stood outside the gates of Avarath. Just because it was a merchant city did not mean it was not a Kaustrian city. The mud brick wall that faced them bristled with spikes, man-at-arms, and cannons. The guards on alert there were uniquely Avarath, clad in flowing silk scarves and hard bark armour bartered from Virodosian merchants. On the other side of the city, the Avarath harbor pinched off into a strait flanked on both sides by massive, ornamental cannons carved in the likeness of a lion's mouth, as deadly as they were beautiful.

    "You will soon meet with a merchant who does not just possess a serpent's tongue, but is literally the serpent itself. When dealing with a slippery mudfish like that, intelligence is what wins wars."

    He pointed at the sand in front of the entrance to the great doors of the city.

    "Scry that gentleman for me while I negotiate our entrance." He stamped forward to a small guard's door to the side of the main gates, fishing inside his uniform for the Imperial Seal.
     
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  7. A Brother's Love, red Rakar stood by patiently until Takeda and Arania left the room. Their conversation with Amalia had been... enlightening. Amalia sighed heavily once the door closed behind them, glad to be have that situation dealt with.

    "I think I've had quite enough of this room to last me a good while. We should head to the markets and prepare for the journey ahead."

    The draken removed his helm, and latched it to his hip. There was a concerned look on his face, which didn't happen often.

    "If you don't mind General, I would like to visit my mother. It's been years since I've visited, and the opportunity rarely arises as a soldier."

    Amalia looked at him with surprise. For whatever reason, she hadn't considered that Rakar even had parents. Given the circumstances, and the fact that she visited her own parents only days earlier, how could she refuse? The General was suddenly quite curious about it.

    "Of course. I hadn't realized that your family lived in Zirako. I'll accompany you, if you don't mind. We can head to the markets afterwards."

    He nodded. "As you wish."

    They made their way out and to the Red Tower, the outermost section of the city, and subsequently, the least luxurious. Dried 'blood' was still in the process of being scraped and washed away here. The area was like a slum, littered with small huts, shacks, beggars, and plenty of low-class brothels. It was here that Rakar's only family lived.

    "There is one thing you need to know before we arrive, General. Do not speak to Coros, nor look to him while in the presence of my mother."

    Amalia was puzzled. It wasn't until then that she noticed Coros was not perched on Rakar's shoulder as he normally was, but instead was trailing behind them on the ground, as if trying to stay out of sight.

    "Is... Something wrong?"

    There was a pause while Rakar tried to find the words. Unfortunately, he could not find them in time as they approached a small stone house.

    "I will explain later. For now, just do as I ask."

    She nodded as they reached the door to the house. Rakar knocked, and within moments, the door swung open while an elder woman's voice called out.

    "I thought I told you that I-"


    They were met by a tall, thin, black scaled old draken woman. She went silent when she laid eyes on her son standing on the other side of the doorway. Her eyes went wide, gazing upon his face, then to the magnificent gilded armor he was wearing. She couldn't believe her eyes.

    "Rakar, I... I had no idea you were... Please, come in."

    With a sincere smile, Rakar stepped inside. His mother kept her eyes on him as he entered, examining his armor and cape. Coros managed to sneak inside while she was distracted, and quickly found a chair to hide under. As she turned to close the door, she found Amalia standing in the doorway.

    "Oh... um, do you need something miss?"

    Amalia opened her mouth to speak, but Rakar spoke first.

    "Ma, this is Amalia Lortik, First General of Kaustir."


    Again, her eyes went wide. The old draken stepped back and bowed low. "Forgive me General, I did not realize-"

    "It's fine, you're forgiven. Please, there's no need for such formalities."

    Slowly, the draken woman straightened up and nodded. "I should at least introduce myself. My name is Ladal Koden."

    Amalia and Ladal grasped each others' wrist in greeting before the draken stepped aside to allow her guest to enter. Rakar was already seated in the chair Coros was hiding under, and the women followed suit, seating themselves nearby.

    "So you both are..."

    "I am General Lortik's bodyguard now. I guess you could call it a promotion."

    Ladal looked pleased. "I see. You've come a long way Rakar."

    "He's certainly proven himself useful."

    A panther walked in from the bedroom on the other side of the small house, blending in almost perfectly with the shadows. It was Ladal's Aux, and it sat next to her gazing at the guests, paying particular attention to Rakar.

    "I'm glad to hear it. It seems all that training he went through has paid off in the end. It shouldn't surprise me that he's your bodyguard. He's been doing it for most of his life, protecting his younger brother."

    Amalia cocked her head slightly to the side as she looked to Rakar. "You have a younger brother?"

    "Had, I'm sorry to say." Both Ladal and Rakar looked pained at the mention. "He died 14 years ago, on the Long March, but Rakar survived."

    "...You survived the Long March?"

    Rakar silently nodded. It was a topic he did not like to talk about, yet one that his mother always seemed to bring up. He looked a bit uncomfortable as the conversation continued. Meanwhile, the panther Aux began walking around the room, shifting it's gaze back and forth as if searching for something.

    "Yes and only about a week prior, he awakened his first advent while protecting his brother, Coros."

    A look of shock appeared on the General's face at the mention of Coros. His younger brother and his Aux shared the same name? Surely that wasn't a coincidence.

    "I hadn't seen either of them in years prior to the day that Rakar showed up at my door. They both were living in Avarath at the time. I knew that the Long March had arrived that day, but I never expected to receive that kind of news..."

    Ladal's expression suddenly changed to one of deep sorrow. Her Aux had its head tucked under the back of the chair Rakar was sitting on. It had found what it was looking for, face to face with the miniature dragon Aux, Coros. Though she couldn't see him herself, Ladal felt it through her Aux. Her eyes started to water, fighting back tears.

    "Please... Let me see him."

    Rakar closed his eyes and sighed heavily through his nostrils. The panther quietly retreated back to Ladal's side, and Coros slowly emerged from under the chair. The dragon Aux made his way over to Ladal, and stood before her. Amalia watched with silent awe as Ladal gazed down at Coros. After a moment, tears began to roll down the old woman's face. The panther stepped towards Coros, and rubbed the side of it's face against the dragon's head to show affection. It would be several minutes before anyone spoke again, as Ladal regained her composure. It was clearly evident from Amalia's face that she wasn't sure what was going on.

    "He hasn't told you... I'm not surprised. You see, Coros was the name of my second son. After he died, Rakar's Aux took the form of his brother's Aux, and took his name as well."

    The sudden realization sent a chill down Amalia's spine. So, that was why Rakar didn't want her to mention his Aux, and why Coros had been hiding the whole time. He didn't want his mother to cry. Seeing his Aux was like seeing her dead son. It brought her both grief and joy. Just enough joy to make it worthwhile.

    Rakar opened his eyes, and decided it was time to change the subject. The rest of their visit was less awkward. Amalia learned that Ladal worked as a midwife for the draken community in the city, and Rakar's father took odd jobs whenever he could and was currently working to help clean the city after the Soiree. After a couple of hours, the visit reached it's conclusion. As they were getting up to leave, Ladal pulled Rakar into an embrace, careful of the spikes on his armor. The old woman couldn't reach all the way around her son's body he was so large, but she did her best. Likewise, the panther had it's paws wrapped around Coros on the floor.

    "I'll tell your Da that you visited, and give him your love for you."

    Rakar nodded, and made his way out of the house. Coros leaped up onto his shoulder as he and Amalia began making their way towards the market. Ladal stood in the doorway, watching them for as long as her son was within view. They shared silence as they walked, their minds shifting towards the journey ahead.
     
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  8. In the Markets The General didn't comment any further on Rakar's mother; the topic was far too personal and awkward and she didn't like to pry. So she and Rakar traversed the market of Zirako in relative silence as merchants bustled to sell their wares before the evening was over. Surrounded by the shouts of shoppers, the neighing of camels and groaning of carts, Amalia felt comforted by the activity, and it gave her purpose.

    Tucked in between a clay and glass blower stall, she found a gem merchant who was in the process of closing shop. His wares were still laid out: sharp pink crystals jutted forth from a gray boulder, fine verdant sand that were velvety to the touch, bowls of glittering diamonds plucked from the desert near the northern border, and a cauldron of multicolor pebbles, round and polished.

    "How much for a small bag's worth?" inquired the general, a slender finger pointing to the cauldron.

    "You want those?" The merchant was puzzled, but scratched his beard in thought. "I would say two gold coins."

    Under normal circumstances Amalia would have bartered, but this shopping excursion wasn't for her. She handed the coin over somberly, and the merchant filled a bag with her pebbles. The jingling of stone upon stone was melodious and strangely calming. She hung the bag from her wrist, draw string taut from the weight.


    The next shopkeeper was a wood merchant, someone who carved elegant paintings on wood panels and travelled to Kaustir and Viridos. The man could have been Amalia's grandfather, but he was a springy and merry man. Amalia didn't know if he was a Kaustiran or Viridosian, and never bothered to ask, despite passing him on her way to the Czar's palace for work.

    "Ah, I remember you. The healer. I haven't seen you lately, what happened to -" He paused, peering closely at her face. "Why... You're the First General."

    "And the healer," Amalia returned warmly. "How is business?"

    Anyone else would have looked flustered and apologized to her, but the man tilted his head and studied Amalia with a peculiar gaze.

    "Business is good. Very good. The Soiree helped of course. You - You look different."

    "I hope different is good."

    "I think in this case different is good. What can I do for you First General?"

    "Just Amalia." It did not feel right, him calling her that title when he knew her since she was in cloth diapers. "I need a box, a wooden box."

    "How big?"

    The General sighed, deeply and with a great tremble. "For now, as big as a jewelry box."

    He raised an eyebrow. "For now?"

    "There is a chance I could come back to you for a bigger one. I hope I won't."

    The urge to ask questions was overwhelming, but the merchant held his tongue. He briefly rummaged through his wares of engraved wooden panels and produced a resin coated square box. A small iron latch kept it closed. Amalia dug into her coin purse and handed him five gold coins, and the merchant took three.

    [​IMG]

    "You keep the rest."

    "What for?"

    But the merchant waved the question aside. "A celebratory present for becoming General? A welcome home gift for returning to Zirako alive and well? Either reason will work."

    Uncertain, Amalia accepted the discounted box and smiled faintly. "Thank you then. May good fortune fall on your business."

    As the General blended into the backdrop of the market, the wood merchant placed his hands on the oak counter, face pensive. A throaty chuckle issued forth.

    "Amalia," he said with reminiscence. "I remember when you walked down this street with your head down. I wonder what happened to make you change so quickly."



    Introducing Trystan Thesmore Amalia thought him a boy with his baby face, but a closer inspection revealed that his lithe and nimble body was due to his occupation, which he revealed upon seeing the General.

    "Trystan Thesmore, reporting for duty First General Lortik."

    She was expecting Draegal, a monk with martial prowess, but was saddled with this lanky male. Then again, the people of Kaustir probably wanted someone like K'jol or Rakar to be their general, so she had no right to complain.

    "I only sent three missives, and you don't look like a healer to me."

    "No ma'am. I am a messenger. I heard you needed soldiers for this mission and I am ready and willing to lend a hand."

    Curious eyes examined the male, sizing him up. Amalia was debating on what use Trystan would have for her and her party when an idea struck her.

    "I suppose if something gets out of hand, I'll send you back here to warn the Czar. You can run fast right?"

    "It is one of my Advents, yes."

    "Good. At least I know one of us will get out of a bloody mess alive." She pointed to a restless and jumpy fire scarab. "That one is your mount. I hope you have everything you'll need, because we'll be leaving soon."



    Their possessions were loaded, mounts fed, watered and brushed, the waiting was over, and all were ready for departure. And what a departure it was.

    Mild winds kicked up sand, flinging it towards their caravan and mounts in waves. The scarabs - thank Illium for the stroke of luck - were unfazed, and continued to plow through the wind and sand. Little could be done for their riders, who rode with their armor and weapons. Amalia even struggled, and she could see ahead of them.

    It wasn't until late afternoon that the winds died down, and the sand settled back into the dunes and rock. But when one hazard died, another one cropped up, and that hazard was the sun. No longer comforted by the cooling wind, the sun bared down on the travelers with no mercy. Those in armor were blistered by the heat, sweat poured forth from every pore, and they pushed forth because it was their duty. When evening came, a third of their water rations were gone, and they collapsed upon the cold sand to make camp.

    [​IMG]

    Amalia took care of dinner, boiling several gekos into a iron pot to make into a soup. They had provisions for food of course, but after taking inventory of their water supplies, she was reluctant to use more than they needed. So long as they could hunt, nothing from their caravan would be eaten.

    The General sat on the sand, campfire in front of her and a large pebble and dagger in hand. The box sat next to her thigh. She was scribbling something into the stone with the knife point, wriggling her hand this way and that so she could etch onto the smooth surface.

    "Theo, starting tomorrow morning I want you to ride in the caravan. You won't be able to walk on the sand any longer, and I don't want you to be exhausted."

    She glanced at his hooves and leg muscles, wondering just how exhausted he was from their travels. The miner was no doubt used to the solid and firm rock ground; the sand was ever changing and difficult terrain to traverse upon.

    "And starting tonight - Rakar, I want you to train Theo in swordmanship. I doubt he got much practice in Dorgrad," she smiled wryly. "Not that I got much practice as a healer, but you need to learn how to fight if you're traveling with me.

    "And Trystan," She stopped, unsure of how to progress with this newcomer to her party. "I suppose you could train with Rakar."

    The General turned to K'jol, eyes softening in the firelight. She largely ignored the draken during the Soiree, but she remembered his offer. "Will you teach me how to fight with spears tonight?"

    "Of course General. Whenever you're ready."

    She nodded, adding the last letter to the pebble with her knife. "After dinner then."

    Amalia undid the latch on the resin box, and tossed the pebble inside. It had one name scribbled on it:

    SEIYR.

    ***​

    [​IMG]

    They were away from the fire and in the cold, relishing the numbness it brought to their fingers and toes. Amalia's sweat dried sticky, and left a film of salt on her skin. It was uncomfortable, but growing up in the desert made one acclimate to such nuisances.

    She stood stoic in the sand, using her sari to polish the spear in her hand. Thoughts bubbled in her mind as she watched K'jol stretch in the sand, his scaly green skin rippling with muscle and tension. She kept her thoughts to herself, except for one.

    "K'jol, do you believe in love?" She chewed on her bottom lip, looking towards the stars. "I wonder because... Well drakens and nocturnes live such long lives, but even Lut Sar has yet to take on a wife. What do you think?"
     
    #8 Zen, Jul 19, 2014
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2014
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  9. That Night

    [​IMG][​IMG]

    K'Jol gave his general a perplexed look before turning to lay his eyes upon the same things she was looking at - the stars. His grip around the pole of his spear tightened before a small grunt was heard. A few silent seconds passed before his eyes went back to the weapon in his hand, and a smirk came upon his face. The pole arm was turned in his hand so that the steel tip faced the sands. Effortlessly he placed the butt of his weapon on the side of her face. A small turn of the wrist positioned her head to be facing him rather than the tiny lights in the sky.

    "What a rather weird thing to say before we train, is it not? And something that a youngling would say no less."

    The famed warrior gave her a small grin before tilting his neck from left to right, causing a series of cracks to ring out into the night.

    "If you want me to be honest, I have no idea... If such a thing does exist, than I have ne-"

    Sudden thoughts of their heart to heart within the Glass Oasis, and her attempting to assist with his injuries in Avarath rang through his mind. He looked to the side, giving a gulp before continuing.

    "never experienced it. People like my parents may have experienced something of the sort but I have yet to feeling something like such. As for the Nocturnes this may seem a little biased, but I doubt those bloodsuckers feel anything when it comes to others... They live for so long that they could fornicate with anyone and go on to the next person with a few more centuries left too. They could tarnish their reputation in this age with affairs and go on into the next as if nothing had ever happened..."

    "You don't think the nocturnes can love then?" She digested this, and shook her head in protest. "I don't think so. It'd be a rather lonely existence."

    Her thoughts meandered to Lut Sar and Nu, the girl he had sleep in his caravan.

    "I met Rakar's mother today. She said he survived the Long March. Where are your parents? What are they like?"

    K'Jol let out a sigh before shaking his head. The memories of his parents were very faint, and there was nothing else in his mind besides the day that he was taken from the poor Draken couple. He looked to the night sky for a moment before turning back down to look at her, shame and sorrow in his eyes.

    "I... barely know my parents. I have no memory of the two who gave birth to me besides being pulled away from them. The one thing that has always stayed with me was the female cry as I was taken away from her. That's why having children in Dorgrad is taboo and should never be done. There was a chance that my mother and father could have been in the mines when those insects attacked but I wouldn't know... what about your family?"

    "You didn't hear?"

    She pulled her shawl closer to her, a sudden chill engulfing her body.

    "I almost whipped my father in front of everyone. I did it out of anger. Rakar stopped me though. He's proving to be quite the body guard." A small, nervous laugh.

    "I should probably tell you; Rakar already knows. I sent Takeda on a quest in Viridos. I told him to get me a suitor."

    K'Jol widened his eyes at the general, astounded by the fact that she raised her hand to anyone, let alone her father. The fact that she was also looking for a suitor hit him hard. Hard enough for Amalia to notice that her statement had bothered him slightly.

    "A suitor... you're looking to get married as well? ...What else did you do in Zirako that you want to tell me about?"

    He was slightly losing his composure.

    A sidelong glance, and the General turned to fully face the draken.

    "A-Are you okay?"

    The Draken let out a deep sigh before twisting his wrist - something that he always did when he was stressed. It was time for him to realize that in the end he was not hers and that the two were only bound for this moment due to their profession. 'I should have introduced myself better the first time...'

    "Sorry if I sounded out of place... it's just that after we left the palace we did not see each other for a while, even at the Soiree. I'm only interested in what happened with you back at the capitol. Nothing more."

    A gentle smile touched her lips.

    "I'm touched you care about what I was up to."

    A breeze fluttered by, wrapping her clothes around her slender frame.

    "My father is my life long tormentor, and made sure my mother knew nothing about it. When I returned home, I found out that he had been trying to arrange my marriage, but in a way that would benefit him. I got angry and... My Aux started to change, and Rakar stopped me.

    "There was a whip in my hands, and my father was tied to a whipping post for everyone to see. I've never been in such a rage before."

    She sighed deeply, waiting for the moment to pass.

    "I think I am giving up on my ideals of finding love. The Soiree made me realize that it's probably best that I find a husband with some political power."

    Lut Sar's laughter filled her mind and Amalia shook her head to clear it.

    "Really... Finding a husband with political power, huh? I don't think what you just told me really equates to the true love that you were speaking about before, and I highly doubt that you think that's the right choice either. Who was the one that told you that? Was it the Czar?"

    She flinched at the memory.

    "Lut Sar and a nocturne woman named Illusion. They both laughed and thought it a ridiculous notion."

    Matil was pacing, tail flicking back and forth in agitation.

    "I can't help but feel like they are telling the truth. Maybe love is nonexistent. Maybe love isn't strong enough to survive here."

    U'Sil came up from behind his shoulder. His Aux tilted its head at the cat before giving a small his. 'And you wondered why I thought the Nocturnes couldn't feel love..'

    "You're the one that gives power to the words that are spoken to you. They can advise, but it does not mean that you don't have the right to make your own choice anymore..."

    And then the reptile upon his shoulder began to voice its opinion for the first time in his life. The words came out raspy and hard to hear, but they were full of meaning.

    "I think you focus too much on the race of the Nocturne and less on your own or the others. The Soiree was an awful thing for you to attend; your mind has been poisoned by those bloodsuckers and now you can hardly think for yourself. The answer to your question has been around you the whole time you have been in this nation. If love didn't exist, then families would not come to be. If love didn't exist then bonds between people, such as I and Kasindel, would not be. If love didn't exist then none of us would be here this night, constantly trying to make this desert land a better place for all of us to live..."

    General Amalia Lortik stood stunned. The desert wind picked up in speed and took her shawl with it, yet she and Matil remained frozen in place.

    Cautiously she closed the gap between her and K'jol, and lifted her hand towards the snake. Her fingertips passed through its incorporeal body, and she withdrew her hand.

    The smile on her face was one of warmth, understanding, and compassion.

    "Thank you K'jol. I needed to hear that." She hefted her spear, took a step back, and lowered herself into a battle stance. "So is this how you hold a spear?"

    "No, you're doing it all wrong!"


    He took a step back and replicated the same stance that she was in, the only difference being that the butt of the spear was facing towards her. A sly smile was upon his lips as he flexed his muscles.

    "We use the butt of the spear for trainees since we're not trying to kill each other... just yet. Let it be known now that you DO NOT use the butt of your spear against blood thirsty killers who wield two blades and swing them around wildly. And I guarantee that you will get bruised a bit."

    She blinked, eyes on his spear, and then to his face. Suddenly she erupted in laughter, the sound like chimes jingling in the wind, pleasant and cheerful.

    "AHAHAHA! HAHAHAHAHAHAH! HAHAHAHAHHA - Oh my goodness, ow my sides." She clutched her stomach, tears streaming from her eyes. "That - That reminds of me of that stupid tournament. Stars above, that felt like so long ago."

    U'Sil hissed in agreement as its Crux let out a hearty laugh. Images of the past event in Avarath flashed into his mind for a moment, causing a smile to come upon his face. 'You're more qualified for that position then I will ever be...'

    "Indeed, it was a while ago. Things have really changed in this short amount of time... short for me at least. Now, whose advice are you going to listen to from now on? Will it be mine, or Lut's? If you answer wrong, I may or may not hit you with what I am holding right now."

    "Yours, yours," she said, chuckling out the answer. "And please don't hit me with your spear. I've gotten bruised enough already."

    She stood straight, released a breath, and readied her weapon, the butt end facing him. Amalia charged and slashed vertically.

    He opened his mouth but no words came out as he saw her coming in to attack. As soon as he saw her go for the vertical slash he stepped inward, raising up his weapon with both hands to parry the attack right above his head. The Draken raised his left leg before thrusting it forward, stopping right before her abdomen to see how she would react.

    She took a step back, fumbled, and regained her footing. The General charged once more, this time slashing from side to side.

    Once again, the famed warrior was ready and held his weapon to take the blow. But as Amalia came forward, her foot caught a protruding rock. It sent her tumbling forward, right into the arms of K'jol and both of them collapsed on the ground.

    A moment of recovery and then, "I'm so sorry! Are you hurt?"



    The draken groaned and stilled, feeling the healer's warm body pulse against his. It reminded him of the catacombs in Avarath, reminded him of the General's bare thighs rubbing against his.

    "I'm fine," he grunted, and gulped. "Absolutely fi -"

    Amalia tilted her head. She was peering at him curiously, noting his flushed cheeks.

    "Drakens... can blush?"

    He cleared his throat. "No I'm not."

    "Yes you are."

    Her weight was unsettling; comforting, but left him flustered.

    "Why are you blushing?"

    But his stammer was all the answer Amalia needed. Her voice was delicate, a low, velvety murmur.

    "How long have you felt this way?"

    He gulped, keeping to himself for a moment before turning to look at the sands at his right. His right hand came down close to her thigh, but he decided against touching her anymore than he already was.

    "I don't know what you mean..."

    "You're lying," she said quietly. "How long?"

    "...When you risked your life to save mine back in Avarath."

    "I..." Her eyes remained focused on him, only him. "Is this feeling strong?"

    "It is strong... that is why I reacted how I did when you talked about finding a suitor."

    She looked away, crimson coloring her cheeks. Matil laid herself on the sand, hiding her face with a paw.

    "I wouldn't mind if you courted me. If you wanted to anyways."

    "...Really? I'm surprised that you don't find me... ugly. Or do you?"

    She got off of him, dusting the sand from her dress. Amalia sat next to him, back towards him and the party.

    "I don't quite know how I feel. I mean, I don't find you ugly. But I sent Takeda on a mission to find me a suitor and - "

    She rubbed her face tiredly.

    "I'm sorry. I have a lot on my mind."

    He let out a sigh, sitting up in a cross-legged position with the spear across his lap.

    "It's okay but... If that man from a faraway land came right at this moment after all that I told you... what would you do?"

    "K'jol, I can't ignore a possible alliance of powers between two different nations. It's why I sent Takeda on that mission.

    "It's love or power."

    "... I don't know what to tell you. Fame and wealth were all I used to think about before joining the group, and now you have all influenced me to this point... especially you. You're the one who controls everything now."

    Silence ensued for several minutes. Hesitantly, Amalia turned and embraced K'jol.

    "I don't control everything, and that is what scares me." She ended the hug, eyes melancholy. "I think that's the end of our training session. I'm going to bed. Good night, my famed warrior."

    And the General rose and left him to mull over his thoughts.

    "...My famed warrior..."

     
    #9 UltimaCircuit, Jul 20, 2014
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 20, 2014
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  10. Sun sets and Moon rises

    [start at 4:30 and run it to the end]​

    Nu counted the notches as the sundial's shadow flowed in circles. Each revolution spelled her eventual recovery, and consequently, her punishment. When she was ready, she kneeled in front of Lut, in the center of his office in the Grey tower. Two bookshelves on either wall, a desk in the middle, and a single piece of glass from ceiling to floor opposite the door. By construction, there was nothing to absorb sounds, so Lut would know when someone entered his office. The clatter of the whip rang in the office as he tossed it onto the stone floor in front of her. Head still bowed, she slowly reached forward and grasped the rough handle. She understood what he was saying.

    Dog, forge the broken chain around your neck anew. By your own hand, tie the leash around your neck. Show me that you are a dog, just like I am, forever running and fixated on that single unattainable point on the horizon. Show me that you can also see the leash around my neck, that you can see my chains of servitude. Only by willingly leashing yourself to me will you understand me.

    Understand me enough to kill me.

    [​IMG]

    On the fourth self-lash of the whip, Lut snatched it from her and thrashed her with it. The room echoed with the snap of leather straps. Her back wept blood but she did not shudder with the strokes, curling imperceptibly. She had placed her hand on his shoulder, back in Dorgrad when he also wept blood, and he repaid her kindness like this.

    "Why did you leave?" He raised the whip.

    "What did you gain from killing Knox?" A rivulet of red ran down her spine, fed by the cuts over her back.

    "Are you any happier? Is your past any rosier? Did killing Knox allow you to paint over his memory with his own blood?" The leather teeth bit into her skin.

    "Why are you always looking backwards?!" He tried to raise the whip again, but the tails were caught in something. Caught in the grip of her fist that reached around from her front. Nu looked over her shoulder at him. "Past all I have." Was her Zirakanese improving? Maybe she could simply divine the meaning in his words, after spending so much time with him. That managed a bitter laugh from him.

    "HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA - "

    [​IMG]

    Lut's eyes were colder than the day he burned her entire village in front of her. A bunch of years ago, Nu attempted to kill Lut in the Imperial Baths. Until then, she had lived in constant distress, a caged desert kit unsure of its captor's intentions. But that day, as Lut straddled her with her knife buried in his cheek and did not take her, merely stared at her as blood ran from his cheek and lips, she knew she had found his limits.

    Perhaps she had toed the line a little too closely this time. "Then I should kill you right now." He let go of the whip and kicked her savagely in the stomach. "So you will kill me. That much is obvious. Then what?"

    "Then you will have nothing left to live for after I'm dead. We might as well jump out of the tower now, together."
    He stormed out of his office, slamming the heavy wooden doors behind him.

    ~

    [​IMG]

    Just before his tongue touched the blood, he ripped the glove off his hands and threw it wetly to the ground. He collapsed to his knees, grabbing his stomach and vomiting black ichor onto the cold grey stone. Her taste. He remembered her taste, in the opening ceremony, and heaved again. Blood, herbs, kresnick ...

    Mu. Old wounds, old grudges ... old curses, they say, run the deepest. Behind him, water steadily dripped down the square staircase of the Grey Tower, a steady staccato to the strings of bile and gore that clung to his fangs.

    The door burst open again, framing Lut. He leaned against the frame, wiping his mouth.

    "Come on. We've got business to attend to." [end music]

    . . .
    . .
    .​

    Lut paused, paused for such a long time after Takeda's request that the Eastern Man feared he was considering all the reasons that he had to reject him.

    Memories of their time in the studio, where Takeda had taught him the art of the zhanmadao. Lut hefted what would eventually become his sand rapier, a hulking piece of serrated metal wieldable only by those who possessed inhuman strength.

    "If you swing that from your wrist, you will break your wrist." Takeda pressed his hand to the side, the back of the training blade braced all the way from hip to chest. "You must swing with your entire body. Against larger opponents, your sword is not merely an extension of your arm. Your entire body must become the sword." For Kaustir's future, for such an immense goal, Lut would have to offer his flesh and soul, his entire being, for the struggle.

    "Nu will procure your sword for you." Takeda bowed to him and made for the docks. Lut called after him. "Seek a Viridos merchant who is stranded here with cargo. With luck, you may convince him to head back, and the Hosian port may be merciful enough to let him in."

    Nu was already lashing her saddle to a fresh sand gecko. Her movements were listless, and dark circles formed under her eyes. As a human, the repeated trips across Kaustir were simply too taxing on her body.

    "Wait." Nu paused. "Rest for a cycle first." A Wraith grasped her gecko and led them to back to the stables. She did not have the energy to dismount.

    On her back, a thin line of red showed.
     
    #10 unanun, Jul 20, 2014
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2014
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  11. Avarath – Mayor's Office, brown


    The mayor had been playing the waiting game with Lut Sar for a few months, finally the High Inquisitor made his presence. Gulzar almost forgot what they were supposed to quarrel over.

    Even after a hectic struggle with the Draken Rebellion and the festivities that followed Lut Sar and his Wraiths still circled Gulzar and his associates like hungry vultures.

    As the nocturne expressed his demand for cooperation the draken rose and moved slowly to wards his cabinet containing his personal collection of fine liquors.

    From his striving steps Lut Sar could tell Gulzar's body was still recovering from the countless injuries he had suffered through the dramatics that had disturbed Avarath in recent times.

    The moment of silence prolonged as he poured himself a glass of kreshnik.

    What did Lut Sar know about running a city? Now he moved with more arrogance than the common officer he used to be, flexing his Imperial Seal. To think the mayor had once vouched for this bloodsucker to become Korsch's successor as First General of the Imperial Army.

    "This issue is not as easy as you might think, High Inquisitor." Gulzar finally responded. "Our port authorities do not operate in a vacuum." He sips from his drink. "And the Viridosian trade blockade is not helping." He sits down again. "It is putting business to a halt, we have to be cautious."

    "If....when The Red Empire's expands it's reign all over Sunne, K'larr will have nowhere left to hide." Gulzar raised his glass. "We have more urgent business to discuss." He emptied his glass. "Or do you have somewhere else you need to be, High Inquisitor?"

     
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  12. [​IMG]

    The land and water that sat on top of Sunne could very well be called its skin. In Kaustir, the smooth, unbroken sand and massive bones belonging to eldritch giants were the healed over remains of a war waged three hundred years ago by beings that defied comprehension.

    Some old wounds, though, festered on Sunne's skin. The pit between Dorgrad and Zirako was a good example. The sand beach gave way to an ocean of lava, punctuated by obelisks of unknown material. The lava that leaped and crawled up between them would temporarily freeze to form red-hot vitreous bridges, which fell away minutes later as the pillars pulsed. The structures were the only constant thing in the this lake of poisonous lava, a place that defied all attempts at cartography.

    Must you ride into the ykloid pits?
    Then ride quick,
    and ride on the back of a fire scarab,
    and trust its instincts,
    unless you trust your own better

    - Vesuv
    Only the massive fire scarabs with their unbreakable carapace could move through this region. Because the pits were a useful, albeit dangerous, highway between Dorgrad and Zirako, there were Ipari stations at either end with navigators and farms of domesticated fire scarabs.

    The First General's party approached the Zirako side of the ykloid.

    One of the four Wraiths accompanying the General turned to Rakar. "Black scale."

    "Yes, Wraith." The Draken's response acknowledged, but was neutral, neither impressed or dismissive of the Nocturne. They had shared meals in silence on the desert, and at least during those times the atmosphere was amicable.

    "Do you think it is strange that the Czar sends our party to explore the ykloids, when only the four of us have experience navigating the pits?"

    "The Czar must have his reasons."

    "Truly an inscrutable man, the Sun Above."
     
    #12 unanun, Jul 20, 2014
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2014
  13. Carrion Dawn, indigo
    [​IMG]
    He was waiting for them in the dark, his wings flared against the light of Shae's lantern like black hands reaching to smother a defiant flame.

    The Avian was such no longer, and to Shae's eyes, hardly even a man. He wore nothing but a strip of cloth around his waist, held by little than a fraying knot perched atop the hook of bone his hip had been. His skin, pale almost to translucence, was raw and red in some places, as though he had been flayed or bitten or stung. His arms bore intricate patterns of the ink made from feathers that now molted freely. His mouth was dark with blood or disease, and when he opened it to speak, Shae could not understand a word he said.

    But Nu was moved a thousand thousand suns and sands back to a place and time she had not seen since the day the left the service of herself. His words flowed like molten stone, too hot, too fast.She did not stop to think how or why Knox might remember the language of her people when she herself had not heard it in so many years.

    "Well, then." His voice made the hair on Shae's arms stand up. Ombre buried his face in her hair, yellow eyes peering from red coils like embers from the flame, and whispered: "He has consumed his Aux." Shae shivered and heard the earth move beneath her feet. Sand.

    "The sweetest desert rose I've ever known come to say goodbye?"

    Nu said nothing. There was no need to speak here and the fact that it was her native tongue made it feel all the more indulgent. Lut had taught her both -- silence and indulgence -- albeit in very different ways.

    Nu moved like a shadow through darkness, a negative space of black from her Wraith cloak. She was fast, but Shae didn't think the Avian would have made a move the protect himself, anyway. He was a creature clinging only to death now.

    She was gracious in her kill, kinder than he had been to her people. Her knife left a different sort of rose just under his chin, the red seeming almost to glow in the darkness. Shae made a sound something between a gasp and a giggle. Nu and Know went to the ground together, and she whispered something the glassblower could neither hear, nor understand. When she stood, she was wreathed in the light of Shae's shadow, but she took no notice of the girl.

    Shae lingered over the Avian corpse until blood touched her sandals. The air reeked of shit.

    What does blood buy, Shae? There is no crimson coin.

    "Must leave now."

    Shae found herself in the cave again. Nu was already dawning her climbing gear.

    Shae knelt and ran a hand over the ground where Nu had stood. Ombre glowed through her hair.

    When she stood, it was with a single black feather, encased in cooling glass.

    [​IMG]

    Shae - Avarath, red
    It was her sister who'd taught her how to play, how to pretend. Before that, her glasswork had been just that -- work. The gold had come later, when she'd learned to lie.

    No, not lie.

    Play. Pretend.

    You only have to figure out what anyone wants for themselves. And then you can play anything or anyone you like.

    Nu had saved Shae's life with a look. The glassblower understand that now, though she hadn't at the time. Memories came back to her slowly in tones muted by fear and shame. She had gone away on an adventure and come back to the same city a different person, her skin burned brown by the desert sun, her entire life dwindled down to pocket convenience.

    She was a tool.

    She was saved her sanity only by the feather-shard she'd given Nu, enough glass and sharp edges to see. To spy. She caught glimpses through the mirror she'd kept on their escape, still smeared with Nu's blood from the night they'd met.

    Nothing else belonged to her. She waited until the High Inquisitor was gone before moving. She had learned much from the other girl in their short time together, but the bruises on her cheeks were faster in healing than the itching crescent at her throat.

    She pulled her newest mirror from her robes and stooped to draw a fire to life at her feet. The edges of the glass burned red rims into her palm.

    In her other hand, she held a small silver disk with an inscription she had recognized from a scrying many years earlier.
     
    #13 DotCom, Jul 21, 2014
    Last edited: Jul 21, 2014
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  14. The night before
    The caravan was far too small. It reminded Theo of a cage. Its walls were far too close in to all sides of his body and left little room for moving. He couldn't turn around inside it: when he had first visited Amalia, before they had set off, he had had to reverse ungracefully to leave.

    If the First General wished him to ride inside the caravan, then he would, regardless of discomfort. As a member of her retinue, he would serve her as faithfully as he had once served Dorgrad... though he didn't want dwell on that thought for too long.

    "Loyal to the last," Gaios mumbled, as a final word on the matter. "Flawlessly flawed."

    Swordsmanship had never been something he had ever felt an urge to learn, though he could remember as a calf watching the Ipari defenders train in awe. Its far easier to consider battle romantic and exciting when you've never taken part in it.

    If the First General wished him to learn it, then he would, regardless of interest.

    For dinner he consumed as little as possible of Amalia's soup, and supplemented the meagre portion with some of the dried foliage from his personal pack. While he had no problem with the notion of gecko soup (and it did, in fact, not taste too bad at all), attempting to eat meat of any kind made him feel physically ill. His body had grown strong on fungus and vegetation, and didn't not react well to the variation. This he had first learned in Avarath and Gaios did not let him forget.

    He headed towards Rakar soon after dinner.

    "Comrade," he greeted quietly, trying to recall if he had spoken to Rakar before. So much had happened he found he honestly couldn't recall. "I hope I have little reason to use what you teach."

    "Bad hope, bad hope," Gaios repeated in a singsong voice, appearing from nowhere to hang upside-down from his left, banded horn. "Stupid dreams comrade!" Theo looked again to Rakar, noting Coros' calming presence with a brief moment of jealousy.

    "Shall we get started?" he asked, as behind him Trystan also apparoached.


    THEO
    Theo could only peer through the slitted windows in the caravan at the ykloid. Ahead of them, the lava boiled so hot it made his vision blur. The blistering heat reminded him of the pits and forges of Dorgrad. Anything molten was treated with the utmost respect, for it would kill you should you treat it any other way. It was a lesson everyone learned.

    "It's not home," Gaios reminded him. "Never home."

    "No, I know," Theo responded with a sigh. "I know."
     
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  15. (Part one of ?)

    I do not remember much about my childhood. Some lucky people have a few bright spots; clear recollections of seemingly mundane events like the finest painting. I do remember the cold; I was a sickly child, and spent an uncountable amount of time that way. Looking back, I suppose that it made sense for me to follow the warmth.

    My first experience with heat was a dead body. No, dear reader, the corpse was cold and clammy. Before that, I did not have a reference by which I could judge my own warmth. Fires, bodies, the moon ... all were the same to me. But the moment I placed that piece of meat in my mouth, and I am not even sure why I put it into my mouth in the first place, my stomach was lit by the strangest sensation. I convulsed, I shivered, my body tingled from the inside out to the fingertips and toes.

    To this day, I am still at a loss to describe what I felt. With reasonable certainty though, I can definitely tell you that it is the same feeling of burning under the Sun, what I should feel when in Lukesh' presence, from sitting too close to a fire, and maybe when Nu gets too close to me.

    I quickly learned that not all things granted me the same buoyancy. Dirt and sand were grimy things that hurt my teeth. Plants were chewy and juicy but did nothing for me. Only meat pealed the cloudiness from my eyes, cleared my head and let it consider the world at large. Did I understand, back then, that acquiring meat meant another had to die? No, not necessarily. Before I ate meat for the first time, I was not even able to distinguish between life or death, most likely drifting around in a permanent stupor.

    You can imagine, reader, that once you have tasted wakefulness that you would also desperately avoid the specter of dull mindedness. Around this time, my memories are punctuated by what I would say, in hindsight, was an all pervasive fear. I wandered the lands between meals of flesh, the sweet gulp of a messy, chewed mass sliding down my throat that jolted me into clarity for one cycle of the sun and moon. I moved with uncertainty, my entire period of alertness spent looking for the next piece of meat to sustain it. It was a miserable and unsustainable existence.

    My life began in earnest around the time where meat suddenly became scarce. I also became very aware of the air becoming very cold once again (so, logically, it had been about one year since I discovered meat). Before I tell you what I did, let me preface it with two excuses: one, I was scared of going back to the way I was. Two, my dulled wits may have played a role in my next action.

    I met another like me. By that, I mean that I had gazed into still pools of water before, so I knew what I looked like. When I jumped them from behind, I was surprised by how weak they were, despite my own state. They seemed to struggle with all their might, but I held them down easily. I was hungry, I desired it. The meat. I went for the neck, a place sized for my jaws, and ripped out a large piece of meat. I was consumed (haha!) by the desire to possess their meat. I dug my teeth noisily into their neck and drank the red fluid until their struggling stopped and their eyes glassed over.

    Oh, Ilium! If a bite of meat passed a hot coal down my stomach, then the red fluid was liquid fire. The fluid coursed through my body and purged the sloth from every nook and cranny. It was pure elation. I could not stop my lips from curling upwards, covered I was in the water of another thing. Just from one drink of the red essence, I may have been able to stay awake for many cycles of the sun. Truly a divine revelation.

    With my heightened awareness, I could hear the whistling of the arrow, and acutely feel the serrated head as it buried itself into my shoulder. At that time, I thought they merely went to sleep, their eyes glossy like mine when meat was scarce. Pain followed, and then another form of fear. I fled, fled fled fled, through the snow, away from the snow and cold, until the crunchy tundra turned into sand and the winter moon was replaced by the summer sun ...

    ...

    ...

    ...

    Lut Sar blinked against the setting sun's rays. Gulzar's last words were foggy and indistinct. He pushed himself to the front of the chair, unfolding his legs and swishing a pinky over his eyelashes, removing his beret and placing it on the Mayor's desk.

    "Gulzar. I'll be frank." He gazed above interlaced fingers, elbows on knees.

    "The trade disruption is an easily solvable problem. We will be able to give the merchants here as much trade as they want."

    "The uncertainty of K'Larr's ... defection is causing an unacceptable delay in the Sun Above's plans. You are well aware that we have already given you notice of Operation Parfor exactly two months ago, yet you have not been clear in specifying Avarath's preparedness for the next involved phase."

    "I grow worried. The populace here are restive and the trade disruption is unfortunate. But this can all easily be solved."

    "Allow the Zirako Engineer's Guild to employ the idle hands here."

    Lut Sar held up a pair of fingers. "Two months. Then I promise everything will return to normal."

    A pause. And a question that should not have needed to be asked.

    "Where do your loyalties lie, Gulzar?"

    [​IMG]
     
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  16. In the Mind of an Abuser In the days leading up to the Soiree, Rhia Lortik experienced a tumultuous time. Her daughter, who had once been meek and forlorn, moved around her home with confidence and purpose. True, Amalia was stricken with illness, but it did not stop the woman from trying to do chores around the house. Rhia was ordered to stay in bed, but the woman could hear the First General and her body guard engage in murmured conversations about Dorgrad, about someone named Theo, about the Czar, the state of Kaustir, and the Soiree.

    It was distressing - and enlightening - to see her daughter change so quickly.

    On the eve of the nocturne party, when Amalia and Rakar left to get ready, an upsetting question leaped to the forefront of her mind.

    Was this Amalia's true nature? And if it were, did her husband have a hand in stopping it from appearing?


    As First General, Amalia ordered Rhia to leave Naveen chained in the stables. Food and drink would be brought to him, and conversation was greatly discouraged. The General never elaborated on how long this treatment would last, but Rhia agreed to uphold it, as was her duty.

    But Amalia and Rakar were out now, and the urge to interrogate her husband grew incessant. She grabbed a bowl of desert hare stew, a flask of Kresnik, and entered the stables.

    "So you've come to see me." Naveen would not meet his wife's eyes, merely glared at the hay strewn floor.

    She set the bowl and flask next to him, shaking despite herself. "No. I've come to ask you some questions."

    "Then ask away. I can't do much else."

    "Fine," and exhaled. "Why did you whip our daughter?"

    He didn't even flinch. "Because she is weak, and because I have a temper. Because I wanted a son who could help me run my business, but I am stuck with only a daughter who can barely handle a camel."

    "And that is just cause to hurt our daughter?"

    "In my mind, yes."

    "Why?"

    "When an elephant does not listen to its master, you beat it into submission. If a camel cannot pull the cart, you whip it until it moves. If an animal cannot heel, you make it. Amalia is weak, but I changed that. I made her join the Healer's Court, and it provided us with the money we needed for your treatment."

    "Amalia is not an animal."

    "As a Lortik, she has to provide for our family. All these thoughts she had about going away on an adventure weren't going to help our family. She wasn't going to help us, but I made her."

    "That gives you no right to hurt her."

    "Do you think I care? Hurting her meant saving you, and that was all that mattered to me."

    "That wasn't her fault. My illness is not my Amalia's fault. You cannot blame her for something that she could not control."

    "She is a healer, just like you. She should have seen the illness coming, should've seen it and gotten rid of it. But, no. She let it take you, and it robbed me of our my wealth, and you of your life."

    She pounded her chest with an open palm. "I am still alive! Do you not hear me talking to you? Do you not see me standing here, breathing the air around us?"

    "For how long Rhia? How long before you leave me, and return to the Water Beneath?"

    "What does it matter Naveen? We all die! MY DEATH DOES NOT GIVE YOU THE RIGHT TO HURT OUR DAUGHTER!"

    Her shout echoed through the silent stables; Naveen and the animals stilled from her ringing voice.

    "... The next time I see you, I expect a sincere apology."

    "You will not get one; that I can promise you. Whatever I did, I did out of love for you."

    The woman carefully rose from the ground, hands balled into her fists by her sides. Her movements were stiff, dreamlike, and she walked out of the barn like she had seen a demon.
     
    #16 Zen, Jul 22, 2014
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2014
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  17. Time, indigo
    Nu had been quiet the entire climb back to the surface, somehow more noticeable now that they could hear the crash of water on sand and stone. Granted, the other girl was always quiet, but Shae thought it might be different, given that she had just killed a man she hadn't been ordered to kill.

    Shae was beginning to understand, or think she understood, what it meant.

    "Nu?"

    The light spilling into the mouth of the cave was silver. They had lost a day to the darkness.

    "What happens now?"

    The ocean hissed louder in answer. Nu walked ahead, silent, and Shae dipped a hand in her pocket. Cautious. Excited. She jogged a few steps and caught up to the other girl.

    "Hey...uh...look what I made. Found. Found and then made. It's -- "

    "North. Shae must go north with fastness."

    "...what?"

    "It is not safe here now. I am...sorry. Shae must go. Run."

    "Not safe...what about you?" (Are you stupid?) "I mean, he...your friend, he saw us. Both of us. That's what you're worried about, isn't it?"

    The ocean grew louder. Shae could see stars in the sky and the water.

    Nu was silent.

    "Where will you go?"

    The glassblower held feathers in her hand.

    "I am sorry."

    [​IMG]
    Shae - Avarath, red
    It wasn't until she found Nu she realized she'd been looking for her.

    Alongside the shameless desperation, muted hope, there was a quiet self-loathing. Her sister had been the same way, so desperate to please, so unyielding that it had gotten her killed.

    Shae was alive. Shae had known better.

    Had.

    "What happened to your back?"

    No answer. Of course. Shae wondered whether it was loyalty or stupidity or both or something else. They both know she already knew the answer.

    "Where are you going?"

    "East."

    "Where 'east'? When? Now? Alone?"

    "With sand gecko."

    Shae felt her jaw tighten. "Object or name?"

    "I don't understand."

    "I figured," she said impatiently. She knelt beside the girl and tried to make herself sound rational. A glass piece on a bedroll caught her eyes. She stared at it so she didn't have to look anywhere else.

    "Why are you helping him?"

    "Why are you helping him?" And there it was again. That same parroting game that had gotten her into this whole mess. Shae felt her face flush.

    "He was going to kill me."

    Nu looked up at that, something almost unreadable flashing through dark eyes. "I am so -- "

    "If you say you are sorry one more time, we are going to...fight. Somewhere." Nu closed her mouth and waited. Shae tried to chuckle. "You taught me that. Remember. 'Stopless breath'?"

    Still waiting. Blood soaked through her tunic. She didn't appear to notice. Shae knew otherwise.

    "I could help you."

    A pause. "You would do better to run."

    "What, is that a joke?" No answer. "Why won't you let me help you?"

    The Wraith looked away. Lut Sar had commanded she stay, rest. She wanted to go now. It was easier than this. Words had always been difficult for her; Knox's last still played in her mind.

    "This is not task of Shae. This is task of Nu. All of Nu."

    "It doesn't have to be."
    "It is."

    Silence. Shae drew a circle in the sand and flames leapt up between them. The young mage reached across and grabbed Nu's water skin without looking and heated water to clean some bandages.

    Outside, Vitro waited in all the colors of the desert, raining shafts of light through crystal wings. Overhead, a vulture circled, silent and safe from the deluge.
     
    #17 DotCom, Jul 23, 2014
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2014
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  18. The Evening Before, red Rakar ate his dinner is silence, just how he liked it. However, it was only moments after he finished when Theo showed up asking about the training he was ordered to give. The training of others was not something he was fond of doing, but it went well with Amalia, so perhaps he had a knack for it. He gazed at Theo for a moment, sizing him up. Without a word, he moved to the caravan, and after some searching, found a maul (heavy-duty war hammer) then returned to Theo.

    "Here." The draken shoved the maul into Theo, who took hold of it looking a bit puzzled. "You were a miner in Dorgrad, right? Well let's see what a miner can do."

    Rakar moved away from the caravan and faced Theo, holding his shield up. It wasn't in his strongest defensive stance, trying not to intimidate the centaur too much. "I want you to hit me as hard as you can." Theo looked hesitant, gripping the maul with both hands the same way he would hold a pickaxe in the mines. Rakar could see his hesitation, and after a moment, decided to do something about it.

    The hulking draken began to charge at Theo. The miner was still not accustomed to the soft sand to move out of the way fast enough, and was left with countering as his only option. With a yell, Theo hefted the maul over his head, and brought it crashing down onto Rakar's shield as he came close enough. It was devastating. The draken was knocked off balance and stumbled backward, falling to one knee as he struggled to keep from falling over.

    Rakar was surprised to say the least. He had a feeling that life as a miner would have made Theo strong, but even so, he underestimated the centaur's strength. With a grunt, Rakar pushed himself to his feet, and grinned at Theo with approval. Coros's voice mirrored that approval.

    "Now that's more like it. You're as strong as a draken, without question. But strength alone won't keep you alive. You leave your body exposed when you lift your weapon up over your head. We'll need to focus on proper form in battle."

    "But, am I not to learn how to use a sword?"

    "With strength like yours and what little time we have to train, it would be best to stick to something you are at least familiar with. It's no pickaxe, but the function is roughly the same. Bash it against whatever it is you need to break. Whether it's a stone wall, or an enemy's rib cage."

    Theo nodded, and they went to work discussing how to wield the weapon without exposing yourself to counter attacks. After some time, The sight of Amalia and K'jol not far off caught his eye. Amalia was laying on top of K'jol, in what looked quite unlike combat training. Rakar's gaze narrowed, and his hand balled into a fist. This could become a problem...

    The draken's attention was pulled away by Trystan.

    "So you seem pretty capable. Perhaps a spar? Since we're training and all."


    Rakar looked at the meager warrior, sizing him up, then gave him a nod. Rakar took his stance while trystan stepped back and drew his sword. Trystan stared down the black scaled draken as he slowly circled him. Rakar held his shield close to his chest working against his small opponent. He had yet to draw his sword, apparently choosing to rely on his shield for both offense and defense.

    Then the wind flew behind Trystan.

    The clang of his sword against Rakar's shield echoed through the camp. Trystan was fast, fast enough that Rakar had to keep on his toes. A slash of the sword was always countered by Rakar's shield. Clang, clang, clang. It went on steadily for several minutes before the two stood evenly to each other as they rested for a moment.


    "You've done your fair share of fighting."


    "I've also done my fair share of running."

    "Well messenger, perhaps you have what it takes to call yourself a Kaustiri warrior after all. But I think that's enough for today. We don't want any injuries before our journey is even finished."

    Trystan nodded, and the three of them prepared to sleep for the night. Rakar looked back towards where Amalia and K'jol were earlier, but Amalia had already moved back to the caravan and begun getting ready to sleep. He wondered just how much actual training the General actually received that night.


    Riding with Wraiths The wraiths always made Rakar feel more uneasy than anything. Conversing with one felt almost as irritating as talking to Lut himself.

    "It is not our place to question the Czar's decisions. Odd that you would call him inscrutable after what sounded dangerously close to scrutinizing his decision to send us out here."

    Rakar looked to the wraith with a suspicious, knowing glare. He would not catch the draken slipping up today.
     
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  19. Finding a Vessel
    "We must have asked twenty ships to aid us, and twenty ships have turned us down." the swordsman sighed. Takeda and Arania spent a very tiring hour bartering and requesting help from the docked ships. "Please Takeda we must not give up." Arania pleated and gave Takeda a look that made his heart melt. He smiled at her "And we won't." the two continued to march up and down the port looking for help.

    Sometime later they found a small boat tucked away in the corner of the port. The boat was covered in bright green leafs and and brown moss, it looked rather old. "Well this is one of the last ships in the port that resembles Viridos. Shall we find out if they can help us?" he asked Arania. She nodded with a smile.

    Takeda approached the boat "Hello? Is anyone on board?" he called. He waited for a moment, small waves lapped against the dock. "Bah no one is here." he turned and began walking back to Arania. "I guess we'll just have to keep search-" he was cut off by a booming voice. "Can... I help... you?" Takeda turned to see a large Forest Kin standing on the boat behind him.

    The swordsman was a little aw struck by the man's size "Yes I was hoping you could." he gave smile. "I am Takeda Shingen, this is my friend Arania, and we are looking for a ship to give us safe passage into the Viridos port of Hosian, could you help us?" he pointed to Arania then looked back up at the man in front of him.

    The Forest Kin gazed at Takeda, then Arania, the back to Takeda. "I am known as Till." he introduced. Till looked back at Arania "There is a great darkness in her... is this why you seek passage?" his words were slow and heavy.

    Takeda, as well as Arania, was caught off guard "Yes, among other reasons, that is need a boat to Viridos." he explained.

    Till knelt down to eye level with Takeda, creaking as he descended "The port is closed... it will take a lot of... doing to get back in." he sounded annoyed.
    "I can make it worth you time. I will pay you 200 gold now and 200 when we arrive." Takeda's voice was stern.

    The Forest Kin leaned in and studied Takeda's face "200 now... and 300 when we... arrive."

    Takeda's eyes lit up "Deal." he extended his hand to shake on the deal that was struck. Till accommodated. The swords master gave Till his money.

    "It is all here... we leave in... half an hour." he called to Takeda.

    Takeda and Arania both bowed and said thank you.

    "I'm finally going home, after all this time. I have to admit its some what scary." Arania had a hesitant smile on her face.

    "Aya, and I'll be with you every step of the way my lady. We'll get you cured, and find your family. I promise." Takeda patted her on the back to re assure her.
     
    #19 Tone 6th, Jul 23, 2014
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2014
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  20. They slept in sleeping rolls around the campfire, underneath the stars and purple nebula that blossomed before them. The faint sound of insects chirping and humming in the night surrounded them, lulled them to sleep - except for Amalia.

    The First General desperately searched the stars for some sort of wisdom or clarity about her position, but none came to her. She purposefully placed herself between Theo and Trystan, not wanting to talk to either her body guard or K'jol. Amalia wasn't sure if the others saw the exchange between her and K'jol, and remembering it made the woman blush.

    It was bad business, having feelings for those you worked alongside with. That rule pertained in the Healer's Court, and it also pertained to the merchants, and those in the military. Lut Sar and the Czar would find the news most displeasing, Amalia thought, especially if her actions worked in the draken's favor.

    She squirmed in her sleeping roll as her frustration mounted. Amalia could not return K'jol's feelings because he worked for her. And if others started having feelings for hers - stars forbid Rakar or Theo started feeling the same way - she would reject them outright. For their safety, and her own, she would keep it professional so no one would get hurt, and she could make decisions with a clear head.

    "Lets hope we can keep that promise," purred her Aux in her ear. "I'm not sure K'jol would be eager to hear us go back on our word about courtship."




    [​IMG]
    The heat was unbearable, forcing Amalia to don a tunic and pants. Yet the sweating wouldn't stop, and she drained every last drop of her waterskin flask with desperate gulps. The others struggled with the sweltering heat, although admittedly, she had shown her struggle more than the others.

    It was pathetic, and she slumped in her saddle at the realization.

    At daybreak Amalia, her party, and the Wraiths left the Ipari station and into the Pits. The General only heard of this place in conversation, but seeing it with her own eyes demonstrated the real danger of burns and melting in this sea of lava. For a brief moment she believed her people insane for choosing to live in a place so hazardous and terrifying. It was a wonder how a whole empire was built in this harsh place, and that thought only made her respect of the Czar grow - which made the woman frown in displeasure.

    She gritted her teeth against the heat and the prospect of dying here.

    "We're to scout the area and find out what is causing this disturbance. If enemies are nearby, you call for help. You do not fight alone. Understand?"

    The lava bubbled, ropes of red issuing forth in an explosion of fire and gas. The fire scarabs clicked their pincers in anticipation, eager and ready. Amalia leaned forward, hands tightening over her leather reins.

    A burst of flame and molten earth spewed into the air. In a manner of seconds a bridge formed, wide enough for them to travel in single file. The General dug her heels painfully into her mount, the beetle lurching forward and then -

    An Ipari warrior surged in front of her, causing her beetle to buck and fall back.

    "Wait General!"

    "What? What's the meaning of this?"

    "I'm sorry, I thought you would have known - As General, you're not meant to rush in and fight alongside the others."

    "I was with the others in Dorgrad," she said flatly. "I fought with them in the tunnels and -"

    "You were with them on accident," said the Ipari warrior calmly. "Out in the field, where enemies could be lurking nearby you do not take point. You stay behind and give the orders."

    "That's ridiculous. I'm supposed to fight with my men. How would it look to them if I didn't -"

    Rakar's hand rested on Amalia's shoulder. "General, that's how wars are fought. The soldiers are sent in, and the Generals give orders."

    "Rakar, I can't send you out there while I stay here. I'm not just your General, I'm your healer!"

    "General," he said levelly. "You are more valuable alive. So long as you keep a clear head, we'll be fine."

    Jaw agape and seething, she turned her fire scarab around, and stood several feet behind her party. She glared at everyone, even the Ipari.

    "... Very well," she replied, exhaling her anger through her nostrils. "I don't like this decision one bit, but fine. I'll stay and give orders. What are we using to communicate with?"

    The Ipari strode forward and handed the general a set of color flags, and a ram's horn.

    "Red for danger. Green for all clear. Yellow is caution. If you need to catch the Ipari's attention, blow on your horn once. Blow twice if you need your party to listen to you. You can tell us where we need to go by pointing with your flags, and the colors will tell us how we need to proceed."

    He handed the same tools to those in Amalia's party.

    "Like the General said, we are scouting the area for possible threats. We know the danger might be in a cave somewhere, but it's possible that it's moved on. The General's party will follow us and split off if more scouting is needed."

    "Understood?" They murmured in agreement. "Very well. Follow me."
     
    #20 Zen, Jul 24, 2014
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 24, 2014
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