Hama & Mel

Mohamid Ibn'Sina was a meticulous man, with everything having its own place. His physician's bag was a carefully constructed palace of instruments — his scrolls were packaged by size, topic, and length — his clothes carefully folded so as not to end up horrifically wrinkled. When one could control the things in his possession, he has possession of the world, or so his illustrious and dangerous grandfather had said to him when he was just a boy.

Well… Hama's world was in desperate disarray. He couldn't find a damned thing.

"Where could it be?" Hama fretted as he stalked the grounds in search of his bag. He was originally going to check on Emry, but first he needed some instruments. Now, he was finding the bag had grown legs and walked away into the Egyptian desert. The only place he could think to go to find his bags was Tinka, assuming he had unloaded the ship and it's passengers' things.

"Are you looking for something, Physician?" Melania asked, carrying two bowls of soup with both hands before he could make it to Tinka. Her expression was bemused as Hama looked, for all the world, like a bewildered and angry hound trying to find some quarry he swore he had just seen a moment ago.

"I cannot find for the life of me my bags."

"I assume you mean a black doctor's bag and a rucksack full of scroll cases?" Melania asked.
"How did you know?"

"Because I watched Phineas take them," Mel stated with a secret smile.

With an angry mutter, Hama began to barge his way towards Phineas and his little merry band by the fire, ready to grill him about the location of his belongings.

"Excuse me! Would any of you have the faintest idea who has my bags?!"

In the meantime, while Mel would have adored watching the fireworks, she instead made her way towards Kaveh and Pan.

"I decided you two should probably begin watch with a full stomach. Unfed scouts tend to develop a blind eye to their stingy masters," Mel joked. "Don't worry - I taste tested it. No poison, Pan, unless you worry an over abundance of celery will kill you."

She did turn her eyes briefly to the tent where the other satyr was sleeping, her eyebrows furrowing momentarily in worry for their countrymen. Perhaps she should make a trip there next.

@Kuno @Red Thunder @Spekkun

Incidents. No more indictments.

The sky was becoming a palette of purples and reds and oranges as the Sun crept to and past the horizon. In the east, the sky blackened, and the jewels of heaven revealed themselves one by one. After the stress and terror of the underground journey, the beauty was peaceful and tranquil.

Razin saw precisely none of it. Her eyes were cast downward, and her jaw was tight. She sat in the sand, hunched over her crossed legs, as far from the camp as was prudent. She drew up a handful of sand before letting it trickle through her fingers in a rain of dancing diamonds.

And she scowled. Her heart scolded her, but she ignored it. Her memory accused her, but she shut it away. The fools. Hama should have let her go, should never have tried to hold her back in the first place. Yes, the staff came out eventually; she was still unclear as to how it had become unlodged. It did not matter.

Razin's gaze strayed to the staff as it lay across her lap, and her mind wandered. What if she just- left? Gratitude was one thing, and she was grateful to Habbas, but… Surely she could be self-sufficient now? The child was grown, and she was capable of handling the devils that worried her.

Sighing, she cradled her chin in her palms, resting her elbows on her knees. Stay or go, she supposed at the least Hama was owed an apology. Even now, she could hear him complaining about his luggage. Well. Perhaps the apology should wait. Instead, Razin stared into the fiery dusk, awaiting whatever well deserved chastisement Habbas might see fit to give.
Mahin Attar
In the morning, as the eye of Ahura Mazda came to fixate upon all His creations, Mahin Attar awoke.

As she did every morning, she prayed. She knelt before a brazier, wrought from dark iron and etched, by her own hand, with the words of the Avesta. Her eyes followed those words as she prayed, which she did until the sun rose from the embrace of the horizon 'til it drifted freely within the sky. Then, she rose upon stiff legs, and prepared herself for the journey to come.

The letter from Captain Ersham had been exact. The man was blunt and efficient, which Mahin respected. His missives wasted no time on pleasantries; he told her what he needed done, and she did as ordered. Their professional relationship was strong as a result of this. Mahin had proven herself to be an effective agent, and Ersham had proven himself a deft commander. She required little else from the man.

Mahin pulled on her trousers, then a simple tunic. The fabric was light and breathable, as to ward off the heat. This was followed by her armour-- which, even to the precise and exacting eye of Mahin Attar, was something of a work of art. The coat of mail, over which she wore a long decorative shirt of white and gold silk, over which went a cuirass of steel lamellar.

Light, tasselled pauldrons upon the shoulders, bracers and a belt. An armoured 'skirt' of chain-mail and leather strips, to which were bolted plates of steel. Her sabatons were constructed of yet more leather and steel, protective yet light.

The final component was the helm. A chain-mail coif and an enclosed helm-- capped with the centerpiece. A bronze mask. The face upon it was not her own. It was a blank face, a false face. One of many. Meant to present a combined front of expressionless killers to the enemies of the Shah. Not all in the Order preferred this, not in these times, but Mahin saw the merit in it.

As she affixed the mask, she took up her weapons. The long, elegant tabarzin, and the twin scimitars the made for badges of office. Her daggers came next, affixed to a bracer and a thigh holster to serve as back-ups in times of need. She checked herself over, then a third time-- and only then did she leave for the aerie.

Favours owed had made for a quick transaction, and before the sun had climbed half-way to noon, she was in the air. The griffin upon which she rode was named Hagar, and she was a majestic creature. Sooty grey feathers, traced in rusty brown. She was the fastest that the Riders of Isfahan had to offer, and they had not undersold her speed. The world zipped past, howling like an enraged spirit as the air swept over Hagar and Mahin astride her.

They rode through the night and into the next day. Hagar was tireless, and Mahin rested only when absolutely necessary. Fatigue did not cloud her mind, for she did not allow it to. She did not grow lax in her readiness, observing her surroundings as best she could. As they rode, she prayed, for his was the domain of God, these were His skies, and to pass through such a place required the grace of the Lord of Wisdom, which she sought in word and thought. It seemed that He was pleased with the intent of His servant, granting Mahin unfettered passage to their destination, where she was to meet with her contact.

The man, Phineas, had been... strange. He had not treated her like one of a faceless legion, but as an individual. He had not sneered at her impassiveness, nor grown cross or taken offence at her bland responses. He had proven himself to be a pleasant man who respected all sorts, regardless of creed, station or sex. For that, Mahin respected him. She would not have lapsed in her duty even if she had not, but it helped to not loathe the man to whom she would act as a bodyguard.

In the night, she arrived. Hagar cried out as she spotted the crackling fire. The griffin descended upon the wind, angling downwards-- only to jerk to the side suddenly. Mahin grunted, holding onto the reigns as the griffin altered course. She did not see why, at least not at first. Where the griffin intended to land was now inhabited by a lone woman, who sat alone in the sand. She had been right under the griffin, who had only spotted her at the last second.

A lucky thing.

The griffin alighted upon the ground, and Mahin dismounted. Hagar huffed, shaking out her mane of feathers and stretching out, relieved of the weight of the Shah's servant. Mahin stroked the griffin's head, murmuring words of thanks in Avestan, before she turned her eyes on the camp.

She did not announce herself, made no ceremony of her arrival. That was not her way. She simply sought out Phineas, and once she spotted him, began to march, inexorably, towards him.
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Stewing Over The Day
w/ @Red Thunder & @Kuno
Silence. At last, silence.

Pan kept his ears and eyes tuned for threat or approach, but his mind and heart were elsewhere, and his voice was quiet. So too was his companion. Not that this was unwelcome, or unusual: Kaveh merely acted as he had thus far, and Pan did not object. If he had objections, it was toward Phineas and the asinine familial drama that fool had dragged into an already obtuse and difficult adventure.

His ear twitched but his head did not turn.

"Celery poisoning? Mm. Can't be too careful."

He accepted the bowl gratefully, seeing his sister's concern for Emry as he did so.

"Do you know how he is?"

His sister let out a low sigh, rubbing her arm. While others may think it strange that Aspects who had never met each other might experience such strong pathos for one another, to put it simply they were an endangered breed and had a shared sense of mutual suffering few could claim. She looked back to Pan, lips pursed.

"Still sleeping. The doctor was going to look after him, but that mustached dervish stole his things," Mel scoffed in amusement. "He has yet to stir. I worry some magic has set in. I might have to break out some of our old nanny goat's tricks."

The satyrs of Thrace were a superstitious lot. Mel had more than once walked to the south, north, and east of their camp to spit three times to ward off evil — more out of habit than true belief.

Pan finished his mouthful.

"Indeed. Let me know if we have need of herbs. If there are any to be found in this barren place.

"Mels," he continued after a moment. "What do you think we are in for? Not with the- the hunting itself. Rather, with our companions. Their tone with one another is inconsistent, at best."

Kaveh sat nearby, and Pan eyed him. But he was, presumably, mute, and had besides been with them since arriving here. It was doubtful that he should report on their words to anyone.

Melania also cut her eyes to Kaveh, but more with amusement. A smile quirked the corner of her mouth for just a moment, before she looked down at her hooves on the hard, scrabbly ground.

"So far as I have seen, they are a strange lot. They do not seem to know each other well, save for a handful. The doctor, the scholar and his daughter, I believe they are kin to each other, and kin will choose kin every time the ground shakes," Mel stated. "The Turk reminds me of our less… reputable buyers. And there is another Aspect, of the bird variety. A Puntling, with a placid nature."

She cocked her head, looking back at the temple.

"They were good to our kin, for what it's worth. It feels a bit like we are on an airship with loose boards. It is hard to say just how tightly they are nailed together when we hit rough air," Mel murmured.

She received a non-committal grunt in reply. For a time, Pan continued with his meal, drinking the broth with pensive slowness. His ears twitched as the wind rose and fell, or as members of their company held conversation within their camp, but he otherwise remained silent.

"The lion will care for the kid in the hopes its parents will come running," he said. There was no accusation in his tone; only consideration.

"And it is a stupid lion to take on the horns of a ram full-bore," Mel posited. "If we are crossed, it will be a regrettable mistake, as per usual. However… my gut says that it is not malice that will be this party's undoing. I get the distinct feeling instead it will simply be that horrible dragon Miscommunication."

Mel shrugged, snatching a piece of carrot out of Pan's stew.

"Perhaps." He looked up at her, shining eye fixed on the purloined root. "Or perhaps they do not- carrot all."

The corner of his lip raised and he returned to his dinner. Kaveh minutely turned his head, his lips twitching, but ah–he was merely scratching his ear. For a moment, Mel stared at Pan, goat-eyed, uncomprehending — and then burst into loud and sharp laughter, slapping him on the back of the head with a good-natured smack.
Rotten Apple of his Eye
collab with @Kuno
The river's siren call soon claimed another.

Habbas had been searching for his daughter. Despite the raucous noise of the camp, he had sensed instantly that her voice, her energy, was missing. Even Phineas' charm had not been enough to hold him in place for long. And so the man left, his path coincidentally taking him past and around where Mahin strode forth, the knight momentarily escaping his sight.

His sandals crunched upon first stone, then sand, his feet sinking into its golden embrace. Habbas frowned slightly before removing the shoes entirely, approaching his daughter in long steps. She sat alone, still, with the staff across her lap; his eyes flickered between staff and daughter, and his expression darkened.

"Razin. Have you eaten?"

"Indeed, Abba." She did not stir as he approached. "And I find my belly quite full, though crow is little to my liking, I fear."

"Cro-?" The veiled meaning took root before he could finish the word, and he examined her in a weighted silence. He glanced at the staff again across her lap, and he cleared his throat.

"You seem remarkably calm now. Have your…spirits settled now with your staff reclaimed?" An edge crept into his tone – the blunt blade of fatherly disapproval. "Or should I expect more of this?"

"More what, 'Abba': incidents?" Her eyes had flashed at him, but they turned as swiftly, her flaring anger regained. "Hama is owed my apology; he will have it once the chaos your friend has caused settles."

In the quiet of the evening, all sounds became magnified. Even so far from the others, the volume of regular speech was a distinct if muted murmur. Razin's breath was tight, carefully released and as carefully inhaled. Her face was taunt, and there was no color of playful mischievousness on it.

"You know what it is to me, Habbas," she said finally. "You know why I went back for it. Why I- my frustration was justified. Even if my lashing out at Cousin was not."

"Frustration? Were it mere frustration, and I could have forgiven it accordingly. Razin, you have been acting like a child without restraint from the moment we began this endeavor. These latest antics have just, why-" His voice was rising with his ire. "-just what has gotten into you? Yes, I know the staff is important to you, but you do no good bringing such blatant attention to it…and to yourself!"

"'Incidents'. 'Antics'. You know what I am, Habbas; you knew on that day you stayed your blade."

She looked away, unfocused eyes on the twilight. Both hands clutched the staff on her lap.

"Do my 'antics' displease you? The- 'incidents' I cause? I'm sorry. It has been- difficult, keeping everything contained. I suppose it must come out somehow. Not that this is an excuse. Perhaps…" Razin sighed and she turned her face toward Habbas, and it was stoic. "I know what you sacrificed for me, though I still do not understand why. Please understand that I, too, have sacrificed. If differently."

Something had shifted in her father's face. He stared at her now, an odd expression on his face.

"After all these years, you still don't understand why I stopped those men?"

A brief silence followed, his eyes searching. The woods about them chirped and hummed with noise in the interim, the gurgling of the river as soothing as it was spirited. His hands went to his beard, pulling as they did when the man was in deep thought.

"You will apologize to Hama," He finally restated, looking at her sharply. "I don't want this made an issue again. Sacrifices aside, I just want to keep you safe and alive, and…Razin, I brought you along not just for our prize but to give you some sort of stimulation outside of the confines of the city. But this…behavior of yours. Please. Try to control it. I won't always be here, and someday…

"You must stand in society as your own woman."

"Society? Hah!" Razin's face broke into wry mirth. "First, I must be allowed the freedom and consequences of my own actions from my Abba. Up to and including being an ass to dear Muhammad.

"To whom I already said I would apologize; there is no need to drive the starving horse to the full manger."

Lithe as ever, she lifted herself to her feet. Stance planted and weight braced on her staff, she looked Habbas in the eye as well as she could.

"This is no agreement nor any compromise: I promise to improve upon my 'antics'. But, as courtesy to me- could you stop treating me as if I were only of five years? 'If the nut be forced to stay buried, it will never mature into an oak.'"

"You bury yourself with your own childish whimsy!"

Sometimes only a little push was needed to bring one over the edge. Anger, sharp and hot, flashed suddenly in her father's eyes.

"Like it or not, you still represent the Al-Farsi household, and I will be damned if I do not do my utmost to preserve what little reputation we have left. Our connections in Persia are all we have left; we shall not burn any more bridges. And if you can not understand that, then yes - you are no more learned from the day I found you…a child of five years old."

The shadow of wry humor that had crossed her face earlier faded, and Razin's face became stone. She took a step back.

"I regret that I have harmed the reputation of your house. You need not fear that I shall harm it further."

Razin bowed at the waist, deeply, turned, and began walking toward the darkening horizon.
Alim Arslan Yafir

A camp. New faces. Old ones.

Alim mulled it over in the camp they'd made as the sun set. Though like a mouse finding a dead cat, there's too much to chew on. He hadn't any clue about the gods, though he figures that's what the scholars are here for anyway. The new faces were... concerning, but with how his party behaved towards them, they can be trusted - until nightfall, at least. Alim's stream of thoughts, roiling as if it were the Euphrates itself, constantly led towards the estuary that was the financier. Phineas.

Why is the financier of the expedition here? Were they being followed that closely by the Shah? Was Habbas a deceitful horse when he said the financier couldn't go with? Did plans change? And were they actually brothers, or do all men of the Shah greet each other with hollow intimacy? And how does he keep his moustache looking that good in a desert? The answers elude him. He couldn't exactly ask Phineas himself, that was a ridiculous notion! A hunter does not ask deer how to hunt it. Were Alim to approach, he'd be presented with devious lies, enough to push him along. It's what he would do.

Enough thinking. They had made camp, and he was not on first watch. He should be resting.

Alim stood up and checked his old clothes, draped on one of his tent strings. His new clothes were packed on in a hurry before the trip started - taken from his host friend without permission. They fit a leaner man, but will serve him just fine for now. At least they were in the same colors, more or less. The interior of his cot was organized neatly and to his liking - that is, a total mess. The blanket was left disheveled, draping off the edge of the cot - conveniently covering the breastplate he left underneath to dry out the soaked leather straps. His sword scabbard kept the breastplate company, as it would've left a conspicuous wet spot through his new pants, and would've been supremely annoying. Hell, even his shoes were left to dry beneath his wet clothes - his host friend's shoes were too small for Alim's feet.

With no arms, no armor and no shoes, Alim stepped out of the tent to enjoy some fresh air. The sand beneath his bare feet felt warm to the touch; they were scorching at noon but the desert grows deathly cold without the sun's touch, and right now it felt sublime. Certainly better than the wet feet back in the ruins. As he made his way around camp and took stock of where the party members were, the criminal felt unusually warm.

The bowing sun made the landscape look different, draping the world in that purple cloth. Good for staring off and daydreaming, like that Razin girl was doing at the edge of camp. Also good for hiding in the shadows from Headsmen griffons, or for desert bandits to mask their approach towards camp. Every few steps, Alim would glance back to check on Razin - Habbas would be furious if his dear-old daughter was snatched away, though Alim wouldn't mind. The two new faces (Pan and Kaveh, though he certainly didn't know their names) were being first watch, enjoying a laugh with each other. They act like they know each other well - more reason to distrust them, especially since Phineas requested their vigilance in the first place. Tinka the giant had fixed up some fine soup for dinner by the smell of it, walking around generously offering it to everyone. Alim would have to avoid him until an hour later - if the soup were poisoned, then the others will be his canaries in the mine.

With a sigh, Alim paused in his steps. This was supposed to be relaxing. After a quick glance around to make sure no one could see him behind one of the tents, Alim allowed himself the privilege of relaxation. His shoulders drooped, his jaw unclenched itself, and his furrowed brows moved back to where nature put them on his face. He looked up at the sky.

Billowing clouds, rushing past as if they were horses. Grand beings made of mist and water, taller than even the pyramids in Egypt. The sunset made the high clouds look even more otherworldly to him - one side still somewhat fluffy and pink, the other side being a sneaky blue prelude to the dark night. Even when he was a child, he would look up to the sky for fun. In times when he was held in jail, or moving 'cargo' through desert nights, the sky was the only companion he had. A friend he could gawk at and admire, without it stabbing him in the back later. Many times, he'd see a snake; other times, a misshapen dog. But sometimes he'd look up and see the face of his mom, or his dad. For those occasions, the best he could do was look away.

Alim regarded his empathy as a devious snake, always trying to worm its way back to sensibility, to a 'good life' like the one he had in his past. It hurt him to cage the snake again. When he looks at clouds, his eyes always led to the dark spots, the shadows. Life had trained him to scan the darkness for assailants, and often he had to catch himself doing this while cloud-gazing, so that he could enjoy the beautiful parts in the sun. At this camp, he would've done the same, but...

Something was in the shadows. A dot moving through the air. A griffon.

It landed too quickly. Alim was too enraptured by his pleasures - his weakness. He ran to the cover of the tents to observe where and who it was. It landed near Razin, ruffling its feathers as its rider hopped off. A Headman. Heavily armored, petting his loathsome mount. Alim glanced back and forth between the new threat and his tent - he'd never attempted to take a Headman with just a desert rock before, but running to his sword would reveal him. The threat walked closer. He had to do something. He had to--

Oh. It's Mahin. He recognized that walk.

His panic subsided. This was no random Headman, so that made things more predictable. Able to be manipulated, like puppets on a string. Alim loved such situations. He stepped out into the open, standing almost between her and Phineas - though he simply thought she was here for him. He stood to the side of Mahin's expected route with a plain face, simply eyeing her weapons, trying to discern her intent. Of course, if she wanted to, she could just reach out and lop his head off. Alim stood far away enough that if she wanted to, she would have to at least take a step out of line to reach him. Such annoyances were Mahin's favorite.
Sitting cross-legged on the floor with an invisible but patently obvious storm cloud above her head, Asra stared at her soup. Its surface was as calm as a mill pond on a fine day and the wisps of steam that had risen from it when Tinka had served it to her had long since vanished on their upwards journey into the ether. It was good soup; a quick slurp taken when the airship pilot had handed her the bowl testified to that. That was not why the hearty broth sat untouched. No, rather it was the fact that the Puntlings mind was awash with the sort of thoughts that would normally only trouble her in the darkest hours of the night.


It was like the wind. Always rushing away. Unable to be held for more than a moment. Unable to be saved.

Bel had asked for Asra's time. Time they had claimed the Puntling would not notice missing. It might have all been a deception, a test for the strange ancient queen's goddess, but the encounter had wormed its way inside Asra's very being. She could feel time slipping away from her right now as the rest of the expedition reconvened from the various adventures and trials. She would never experience the day she had just experienced again. It was one more memory in a vast bank of memories. Even the most joyous of them was tinged by a special kind of sadness knowing that they were moments lost beyond reach. One day they would be all she had. There would be no next adventure. No new place to explore. No fresh faces to greet. There would only be hazy ghosts of things passed.

A pale blue fist slammed into the dirt, or would have if one knuckled hadn't been intercepted by the edge of the Puntlings soup bowl. The force of the strike, glancing as it was, sent a highly localized monsoon, complete with diced vegetable hail stones flying through the air.

Time danced around the corners of Ayaz's mind as well, though it struggled to be more than a mere flicker of a thought. Questions about what had transpired in his absence tugged at his conscience, but it would not last long, washed away by the appreciation of the bowl of soup he'd been given. The first serving made it all the more savory, too, leaving him giddy with relief and satisfaction.

He slurped, loudly at first, but recalled his manners and muted his noise, tapping his fingers against his bowl. Prison had truly changed him, now that he'd been on the inside, he didn't know if he had what it took to live outside again. He couldn't wait to tell his crew back home about it.

His enjoyment of his meal was interrupted by the fiery display of, what he could only assume to be anger, by the puntling in the group. A waste of a good meal, it soured his mood, but it piqued his curiosity, and also his mouth. "What's infuriating you so much that you'd take it out on a poor bowl of soup?"

Scrabbling with her bowl, whatever fit of pique that had driven her just moments before rapidly having morphed into mortification, Asra looked up at these words and found the newly arrived Ayaz staring at her.

"It was nothing. Just something someone said."

The Puntling looked at the long stain of soup that covered the ground leading away from her.

"And the spoon… I wasn… I did not mean to cause such a mess. I am sorry. Did you get hit by any soup?"

"No, no, the soup didn't touch me, that I'm aware of." Ayaz made a show, setting aside his mostly empty bowl to pat himself down and run his hand through his hair, searching for any sign of dinner on his person. "I'm dry."

Satisfied, he picked up his bowl again, raising a spoon-full to his lips, but he paused before consuming it. "What'd they say? Forgive me being nosy," Not that he meant it. "But it had to be something ridiculous to upset you so. That, and it'll be good to have a conversation where I'm not being interrogated."

This last comment caused a wrinkle of confusion to pass across the Puntling's face before snatches of the conversation she overheard the man have with Tinka bubble through her own preoccupations.

"There was a woman in the temple. Maybe. Maybe she was a ghost or a spirit. We found her with Emry. She had found him, or maybe she captured him, I dont know. Anyway she wanted to make a deal with us, well no pretend to want to make a deal to test us."

In front of Asra her fingers drew strange ever changing patterns in the dirt.

"She said she wanted us to trade her a year of our youth. She said it was nothing, that he would never notice… but, it was a whole year. I can feel every day that passes me. And Erol was thinking about accepting her deal. They were thinking about giving away so much. And I think I understand why the little one would take such a deal and yes it was a test and not a good deal but still. To even think about just giving away something we can never get back like it…"

Asra's body slumped as the ball of tension that had been building inside of her vacated her body through her words

"I could never understand someone who would squander something like that."

"Hmm," Ayaz drummed his fingers against his bowl as he mulled over what Asra had just told him, "That is something tough to digest. I'm a thief, but even I know time is the most valuable thing any of us own." It was the one thing you could never get back.

"Trading my youth away? It would have to be for something truly amazing." He voiced his thoughts. "If it were for someone I really cared for, or something I needed? I could do it. Not easily, but I could do it." It was a difficult scenario to imagine. On paper, a year did not seem so bad, but you never knew how long you had, and time was so valuable, whether you realized it or not.

"Did any of you take the deal?" He'd missed out on so much. He barely understood what was happening. Trading away life, any amount, sounded insane, both to be asked and to consider.

"Fortunately, no. It was some kind of test against greed or something, or at least that is what the spirit said."

Slowly Asra got to her feet, looming over Ayaz.

"All that is not even what… I just wish that tomorrow I could wake up and… find the candle that I had burned the night before still in the same place, with just as much wick left in it. Not burnt and used up like it always is.

The face of Bel instead of their words crept into Asra's vision. How her face had shifted from crone to queen. How she had spent countless years held fast as the river of time had flowed around her. A shiver went through the puntling.

"I think I need to go and lie down. I am sorry for ruining your meal."

"Well good on you for passing, I can relax knowing that I'm not in the company of the avaricious," Ayaz joked, an ironic joke at that considering his occupation, if you could call it that.

"My belly is still full, and I've had a good conversation, so my dinner is far from ruined." He assured her, neck craned upwards. "If it's any comfort to you, it's not the candle that holds purpose, but the time spent burning. I've never really given it thought, the end of my life, but that's not nearly as important as today, yesterday, or the days before. I wouldn't worry too much about that."

"Enjoy your rest, I do hope you feel better."

A collaboration with @Spekkun
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It was an absolute principle of every Persian occasion that the more people that joined to share in an event, the merrier.


Fin sprang from his seat nimbly, approaching him, and Naudar turned away with his quarry closer to the fire, relieved that something had finally taken away his sole distraction.

"Where's the hurry? Come - have a seat," Phineas said, smiling, "Did you have a bowl of stew?"

The physician in comparison looked like a tandoori oven left to heat too long, stalking over with an annoyed expression. Seeing Phineas' face upon his arrival to the temple had brought back a rush of half-buried memories— and he had realized only then he knew the name.

"I'm more concerned with the whereabouts of my things!" Hama fussed. "I have a very particular system for all of my scrolls and instruments, I will have you know—"

By now he had come close enough to see Phineas' tent, and he pointed.

"Why are my things in your tent?"

"Eh? You don't like that tent?"

Phineas, too, looked in that direction, a quizzical tilt to his brow.

"Well I suppose we can pick another but–"

The man threw an arm around Hama's shoulders, giving him a rough shake.

"I'm just teasing you. There's two to a tent, my friend! I saved the best one for you."

Before Hama could get a word in edgewise, he was already being manhandled and press-ganged into sleeping in Fin's tent. His mouth hung open, eyes blinking in bewilderment.

"Now— hang on just a minute — wait—"

He looked around as if to call for assistance but everybody else seemed preoccupied. He was practically being kidnapped!

"Okay! Okay. I suppose I shall sleep in your tent… in my own bedroll," he quickly tacked on. Now that he had found his things, he had calmed considerably, and through the fog, it took him a second to put a few things together.

"How did you even manage to find us?" Hama finally asked. "Are you here as a Sigil member? Or a personal project. I remember you saying you fix things. So what are you fixing exactly?"

Phineas' face lit up. "You remembered! I was hoping you would."

His victim was abruptly released as the mustachioed man stepped away, glancing around the camp. Most of the party, it seemed, were either occupied with their stews around the fire, in their tents, or wandering about the camp, gazing at the fading sun.

Certainly none were close enough to hear the men speak.

"I wouldn't mention Sigil again…just as a precaution. We do like our anonymity, don't we, Hama? Hm?" Grinning at him, Phineas moved away, clasping his arms behind his back in a military fashion. "Well, I already knew from Habbas the first leg of the trip. It was either here or Cairo; I was certain to find you fine gentlemen at some point, and I was in no particular hurry. As for why I'm here…"

He paused, looking off to the side. Satisfied still with their lack of audience, he looked back to Hama.

"Have you, eh…noticed anything special about your teammates? Something in common?"

How horrible — Phineas knew a learned man like him could not stand a riddle unsolved. His eyebrows drew together as he turned to look about the camp at each and every member of the group. It was difficult to find something they all shared, certainly. Mel and Pan, he knew little about. Habbas, he, and Razin were related by blood, but only them. Asra was from Punt— Errol, Emry, Mel, and Pan were Aspects—Alim was wanted and a Turk.

"Not a single one of us is Persian," Hama chuckled, "save for you, of course."

Laughter came easily to a man like Phineas.

"Well–there is that, yes," The Persian admitted finally, a twinkle in his eye, "But no. I was looking for, mm…a more abstract answer. Well. I'd hate to say too much, but you and Habbas and Asra and the rest of our dear party have a lot more in common with the puzzlemaster Ananias than you'd think. Let's just say that for me, finding Siturehkun and the crown fixes a lot more than the growing bald spot on the shah's head, eh?"

Riddles likewise came easy to Phineas, and he delighted in them, Hama could tell. He sighed, before looking out to see movement from beyond the fire. Habbas was attending to Razin — and a member of the Shah's entourage was headed for them in full regalia, zeroed in on them both.

"You remain a popular man, because surely they aren't coming to me," Hama sighed. "At least, I certainly hope not."

"Eh? Who–"

The mirth noticeably faded from his eyes as Phineas spied the armored knight approaching them. He said nothing for a while, choosing instead to pat Hama lightly on the back.

"I'll explain what I mean later. In the meantime, maybe give us a moment? Oh!"

He spun towards Hama.

"I brought you something. A gift from the College! Just look in my brown leather satchel there; it's the parcel wrapped in ribbon."

His initial ire had finally dissipated, and his brow furrowed with concern at the rare damper of the man's mood. The little he remembered of Phineas, he had never seen his chipper demeanor crack save for now. He may not have known Phineas well, but he was a fellow member of Sigil, making them akin to brothers of a kind.

In a rare gesture, Hama gripped the Persian's forearm with both hands.

"Don't, er, don't let … the Lion bite you. Too hard," he joked haltingly, obviously not used to levity, but trying nevertheless. "My thanks."

With that, the physician walked into his (new) tent to grab his doctor's bag and dig through Phineas' satchel for the parcel— and finding a seal.

Not only a seal. An Imperial seal. Mohamid's head jerked up to look back at Fin, the hairs on the back of his neck rising as he saw him make contact with the Imperial soldier.

Who under Allah's broad blue sky was Phineas?

Carefully replacing the seal, Hama found the parcel tied with the ribbon, the size of a bound book, and walked out of the tent towards Emry's to chew over all he'd learned and tend to their enchanted party member.

(a collab with @Doctor Jax )
Wrong Sides of the Same Coin
Alim continued standing defiant, sand enveloping his bare toes. Mahin Attar drew closer, walking with the decorum and arrogance afforded by a thousand parades. The sane part of the criminal's brain yelled at him to back off and hide, or to double back for his sword, or to throw a rock at her face and go for her weapons, but Alim was feeling uncharacteristically brazen. As she drew closer still, an unknown force gripped his lungs and forced out a taunt.

"Here for me, Mahin?"

The armoured figure of Mahin drew slowly to a halt as Alim stepped out before her. Only her eyes moved within that expressionless metal mask, an unsettling, uncanny effect. She did not reach for a weapon, as dearly tempted as she was. To strike hated Alim Yafir down in such a place was too good to pass up. Were she here under any other circumstance…


Her voice was something halfway between a purr and a snarl. Rich and resonant, thick with scorn. Even though they could not be seen, Alim could just feel the disgusted curl of Mahin's lip at the sight of him. It made him smile.

"If I was here for your mongrel hide, the sand would sparkle red under Mah's blessed light."

She drew in closer, until she peered down at the man imperiously. One hand strayed close to one of the twin scimitars at her hip. A dire promise made, yet unspoken.

Just try something.

Many men have been where Alim stood. Those men usually weep, cower, or try and fail to show no fear. Alim, ever the distinguished gentleman, mock-yawned at her face. Well, he yawned at her neck, since Allah blessed him with shorter legs, but he got the point across.

"Then I must be lucky I am part of their retinue." A light bob of the head towards Phineas' tent, and a cocky smile.

His hand also went down besides his body, opposite Mahin's scimitar. His palm was open, facing her hand - in more warrior-like terms, a threat of resistance if she drew her steel.

Her hand came up in a blur, as if to strike Alim, but that hand merely came to rest upon the mask that covered her face. She pushed lightly, then pulled it away. The face beneath was fine-boned, more befitting of a noble than one of the Shah's pet killers.

She would have been a jewel of the court, had she not covered every inch of herself in tattoos. The scripture of the Avesta, rendered upon her flesh in blocky, bold script. It scrawled from the crown of her head on down. Perfect, uniform writing, unbroken save for those characters marred by the prominent scar across her face.

It was a scar that Alim knew all too well, of course. It had been inflicted by his own hand, after all. The last he had seen of Mahin, that wound had been fresh– opening her face from the left temple to the edge of her jaw. Now, it had healed, but it remained a deep wound. His blade had cut a furrow over her brow, narrowly missing the eye, and the way it snaked across her full lips caused her expression to be eternally on the cusp of a snarl.

"You are lucky indeed. Were you not useful, I would make an offering of your innards. A paltry sacrifice to the Lord of Wisdom they would make, but all things in praise of Him are worthy in their own ways."

She sneered at him, everything in her expression telling Alim just how she thought of him. There would have been kinder glances spared for a pile of fresh manure.

"So I suggest that you find ways to keep yourself useful."

Alim lowered himself ever so slightly in a curtsy, hiding the open palm that reacted way too slowly at her unmasking. Mockery of courtly manners was a surefire way to tick these butchers off, though he knew he teetered the line between getting in her head and losing his.

"Of course I shall. After all I've done, do you still doubt my ability to adapt? I am insulted, I say." His lips moved, and yet he heard a sliver of that annoying twerp Razin in his own voice.

"So, what do we humble legal adventurers have that could possibly invite such an exalted figure as yours?" He quickly switched his tone, putting a hand on his hip in mocked impatience. The reasoning seemed obvious: she wasn't here for him since he hasn't been disemboweled yet, and her arrival coincides with the appearance of that wild card Phineas. Alim waited to see what the cat would willingly offer up to the mouse.

Mahin's lip twitched further upward, pristine white teeth glittering from between the gap carved by Alim's blade. His taunt had succeeded in drawing her ire, but he knew Mahin well enough, after years of cat-and-mouse, that such a facial tic might as well have been an explosive, enraged shout in any other person.

She narrowed her eyes at him as he asked after why she was here. Mahin was under no orders of secrecy, but that didn't mean she was about to spill every bit of information. Especially to a man like Alim. She let out a long breath through her nose, trying to suss out exactly what sort of game her enemy was playing at.

"I have been assigned as a protective detail for someone of importance to the Shah," she said finally. She kept it vague, eyes not straying from Alim. She could have been talking about anyone, but she knew well enough Alim was far too smart to fall for that. Mahin had arrived at the same time as Phineas, their mysterious benefactor. The dots were not hard to connect.

"I had wondered where you had scurried off to, Alim. I hope you'll do me a favour and get yourself killed while we are out here."

She half-drew the dagger sheathed on her wrist, lips curling into a cruel smile.

"I could always lend you a blade, should you find yourself short of one to fall upon."

Alim nodded his head, like a cocky prince to his personal envoy. "I am sure you would love that, if you were capable of loving anything. And if you should find yourself itching for another beauty mark," Alim nudged his chin upwards, gesturing at where his blade touched her face. "I would happily lend you my blade as well."

His eye half-fixated on the scar. The heat of that day breathed down his back for but a moment. Her sword against his. The way even her glancing blows against his cuirass left bruises for days. The raw euphoria he felt at his luck when grazing her face. Did she know that he had nightmares about the clash for months? That even now, his back felt pale and faint, standing up to this monster clad in steel? Only Alim's eyes betrayed the coveted, honeyed fear that Headmen feasted on, and he hoped to distill it in the stew of contempt that his gaze naturally had.

"Well, I will not hold you here. Let us both go meet our friends." Alim said, slowly moving his body to her side, no longer obstructing the path to Phineas' tent. He didn't realize that his toes were gripping to the sand, squirming with unease. He extended a hand to gesture towards the path. "Off we go, partner." She looked better with the scar.

Mahin snarled silently as he gestured to her face. Another blow struck in this duel of words.

"I will repay you in full for that wound, blasphemer. But, you already know that, don't you…?"

She pressed in on him, dangerously close. Mahin's eyes bored into Alim's, devouring the fear she saw there. The rest mixed in there, the hate, the contempt, it bothered her not. All Mahin cared for was the animal terror.

Oh, how her blood sang! Battle was the highest praise to God, the thrum of one's heartbeat in their ears, the gush of blood, the crunch of bone and shattered mail. Mahin remembered their battle vividly. Each swing of her scimitars a crescendo in her hymn of devotion. The cramped alleys had been too tight for her tabarzin, but she had made do. Every blow struck spelled out her love for the Lord of Wisdom, her every heartbeat the pounding of a drum, every breath the plucked string of a devotional chang. Alim could never understand the joy of that day.

"Like a whipped dog, cringing from its master. The infamous Alim Yafir…"

Mahin purred, each rasping word dripping with malicious mirth.

"Hiding from me like an ill-favoured serf jumping at the shadow of his master. Whatever would your associates think, to see this side of you?" Alim had no rebuttal for this. He'd rather she had actually drawn her sword and stabbed him in the heart, rather than spearing it with her devil-words.

Mahin drew back, then, beginning to move towards Phineas' tent. Her mask was placed upon her face once more, rendering her yet again into the inexorable guardian, the instrument of the Shah. But he could still see her eyes. He could still see the hate.

A collab with @Kabboom
Emry Yilmaz​

Shifting and rumbling stones, a steady hand on his shoulder that slipped away and creeping shadows were what he remembered, a sense of following eyes and whispers in the dark that made him frown. Here the dark around seemed never-ending where the torch light couldn't reach. His eyes moved under their lids as he slowly stirred and they barely opened as he groggily blinked away the vague memories.

He took a few minutes to try and fully wake up, letting his mind catch up with what he was seeing; which seemed to be a tent. Frowning, he listened, hearing the faint sounds of a crackling fire accompanied by conversation and voices but he wasn't picking up anything specific to focus on except one thing: footsteps. He brought his hands to his eyes and rubbed them, before shifting to begin to sit from where he lay and see who was approaching.

Body shifting once more, Emry had gone from sitting up into a kneeling crouch, giving a shake of his head in attempt to wake up some more with a quiet huff.

His ears perked at Hama's approach, the frown still on his features as he tried to recall exactly how he ended up here. The lack of memory bothered him. There were nothing but flashes of blurred imagery as if looking at something in front of you while submerged in clouded water, the longer he sat and tried to remember. Even with the memories hard to recall, the faint scent of flowers tickling his nose and the taste of something nauseating were also present oddly enough. There was another feeling present as well, the ghostly sensation of a hand brushing his cheek feather light. Almost reminiscent of his mother's touch when she tried to tame his unruly hair as a child.

Why was that?

His eyes shifted a moment to take in the tent and take stock of himself, because something didn't feel quite right, yet he felt rather calm in the moment. Much calmer than he maybe should, but calm nonetheless.

At the very least, he wasn't injured, or worse. So, there was that. Hopefully, Hama or the others had some idea of what he may have missed while asleep. His stomach twisted with a pang of hunger when he thought he smelled the faint aroma of food, but that could wait. Once Hama had made it to his tent, Emry turned to face the doctor to ask the first thing on his mind:

"How long have I been asleep?"

@Doctor Jax

Phineas waited. Unwavering in his stance and unflinching in his gaze, he watched as Mahin engaged first with Alim, his face betraying nothing as they spoke. Then, their business concluded, she continued her march towards him.

Stalwart as a tree, the man remained.

"Well hello, Mahin! I'm surprised to see you here so far from the palace."

The approach of the Headman was like the inexorable tide. She was in no rush. Every movement was economical, every step, every turn of her head, every twitch of the readied hand– all of it was accounted for. She came to a stop before Phineas, hands clasped behind her back. Her posture was ramrod straight, her feet exactly a foot apart. Mahin was as a statue, carved from steel and stone.

From behind that impassive mask, a face not her own, cold grey eyes acknowledged Phineas.

"Lord Phineas," she said, in her usual way. Her voice would have fit an orator more than a killer. Mahin had been blessed with a sonorous voice, as resonant as a war drum and just as easily heard.

"It is by order of Captain Ersham, whose word is the will of the Shah manifest, that you are protected. To that end, they have assigned me. Until the time comes that we part, I am yours to utilise as you see fit."

"Is that right?"

The silence was missing the bawdy jokes or witty, charming remarks that rolled so easily from the man's tongue. Phineas was thinking; whatever it was about made him chuckle lightly.

"Well I thank him for his kindness," Phineas went on, "But it's hardly necessary. His investment is safe, not to worry. You can report back to him that all is well."

Mahin inclined her head.

"I shall report to him as such. I am under orders to provide frequent reports of the status of you and your…"

She looked around, gaze settling venomously upon Alim for the briefest of moments. After that brief moment, she looked back to Phineas.


The Headman obviously had no intention of moving, nor leaving. She was Phineas' bodyguard, for certain. That was the letter of the law, the orders she had been given were to guard him. But was a [I[jailor[/i] not, too, the guardian of a prisoner? A miser not the guardian of fortune? Mahin was Phineas' restraint as much as his protector. She was the extension of the Shah, his eyes and ears– and perhaps the instrument of his vengeance.

Even Phineas could see that. His eyes roved over her with silent resignation, and he stifled a sigh. Would that he could send her away, but alas – the battle was lost before it had even begun. Mahin was not going anywhere.

"Do as you will," He replied lightly, "As long as you don't cling to me too closely."

A pause.

"Anyways, have faith, Mahin! We're in good company." Finally he gave the knight in full regalia a hearty clap on the shoulder, a smile emerging. "Have a meal, have some wine."

The impact on her shoulder was meant to be a friendly gesture. With anyone else it might have been. It was a near universal sign of camaraderie, yet it rang hollow when enacted upon Mahin. With anyone else, there would have been some… give. The Headman did not budge. There would have been a more lively response from a statue.

"I have faith, lord," she said. "The Lord of Wisdom guides me. I have faith in all things."

Her hand raised slowly. It depressed upon her mask, and removed it for the second, and final time. Mahin placed it upon her belt, and allowed Phineas a look at her face for the first time. Before then, she had always appeared the impassive, faceless agent of the Shah. Now, he had a face to put to the name. He was a learned man, and could recognize scripture when he saw it. The writing inked upon Mahin's skin in uniform rows was unmistakably religious.

"I do not drink, but I shall break bread with you. Where is your cookfire?"

"I'll show you," her ward said with cheer. Only one carefully studied look had allowed him to appreciate the true face of Mahin.

He found that he did not mind her protection as much anymore.

"Come. Tinka made a good stew. As for your tent, we'll– we weren't expecting you but…"

His voice mingled with the ambient sounds of the forest as he led her away from the riverbanks, the light of the campfire beckoning.

a collab with @Lesbingus
After filling his stomach with a bowl of Tinka's stew, Errol sat down next to the fire. The day had been long, and he was content to rest his sore feet. Though, as he spotted Naudar fiddling with something by himself, the aspect couldn't resist the temptation to tease the arrogant man.

Errol stretched, coming to stand as he strolled toward where Naudar sat. With an innocent grin, he sat down next to the other. "Having trouble?" He asked with a tone of disingenuous concern. "Here, let me. I'm sure it's not that hard." Errol plucked the Square out of Naudars hand.

The aspect glanced at the piece, turning it over in his hand and examining it. Though, without knowing what to do, he abruptly began to shake it.


Naudar's hand was small but hard, and it smacked against Errol's thieving hands with the force of a hammer.

"Give me that."

Snatching the Square promptly back, Naudar gave the Aspect boy a withering glare before smoothing out the unharmed ancient text.

"You wouldn't know what to do with this riddle even if the answer was tattooed on your hand," the scholar continued with considerable contempt. "Besides - it's all in Sumerian. Ananias had an annoying habit of only writing in that, and I've been translating it there."

He tapped a sheet of paper beside them.

Errol rubbed his hand dramatically, feigning injury as he wore a sullen pout. Though as his eyes fell onto the scholar's notes, he read them over several times. After a long pause, he responded, "This all sounds like nonsense." Errol huffed, "Why did Ananias need to write in such confusing riddles?"

"Are you sure you even translated this right?" The aspect asked, giving Naudar a doubtful look.

As his face scrunched in thought, an idea visibly lit up his demeanor. "If it wants a "beast of kingdom below," it's surely talking about the great Simurgh." The colorful aspect responded with a cheeky grin, spreading his arms and wings in a grand show. "It's my stage name, so I think I know a thing or two about the beast." He added proudly.

"Oh?" The scholar intoned.

It was an unusually placid answer from him, and the reason why soon showed itself; Naudar had been neatly absorbed once more by the Square, hardly listening to his feathered companion. He was muttering things under his breath. Truthfully, he was reading his notes again, over and over the array of jagged letters:

East sun ____ westward wind ____ forsaken waters (above?) earth and beast of the kingdom below.

Ordinarily Naudar wouldn't have bothered to show not a wit nor a thought nor a word with individuals he considered his lessers intellectually. But an ego fed on the plights of an ignoramus. Naudar could not possibly resist partaking of his favorite pastime: extolling knowledge.

"Here. I don't know if you can read or not, but–see there, this word after 'sun' in Sumerian characters is valmata which can either mean 'falls' or 'bows'. Neither really makes sense, and this word here after 'wind' is the trickiest. Sumerians were extraordinary simpletons, even more so than you, and they would attribute multiple, sometimes conflicting meanings to one word. So this could either mean bless…or curse.

"However," the younger scholar sighed, "It doesn't really explain this 'beast of the kingdom below.'"

"Of course, I can read," The aspect retorted. Errol leaned closer, eyes narrowing as he stared at the paper again and quietly read over the words. "Maybe you're thinking too deeply about it," Errol remarked casually. "Perhaps 'beast of the kingdom" simply means just that."

Errol leaned back, "Forsaken waters… it could be a beast so old it would be considered the king of the sea."

"That's ridiculous. That's…"

Naudar froze.

Beast of the kingdom. King of the beasts. Sea below.


Scrambling to his feet, Naudar took off running, the call of his teacher's name a shrill cry.


A full moon illuminated the camp tonight. Held in the river water's reflection, it wavered intermittently, a hypnotic circle of white that burned its image into one's eyes even after they were closed. Habbas stared; he wanted nothing more than to let his focus on the night sky erase every thought in his mind. The holy men of old had but to meditate on nature and Allah's works, and that alone would purify their minds and bodies and spirits.
Alas, Habbas felt no such cleansing. He only felt tired. Very, very tired.


The old man started at the sudden clap of a hand on his shoulder. Phineas didn't so much as approach as he did suddenly materialize, like some specter tailored entirely to surprise him.

His friend was smiling. "What are you doing awake, old friend?"

"What are you doing awake? You traveled a long way to catch up with us. You must be exhausted by now."

"Ahhhh, well," Phineas breathed. "Yes. I am tired, but I heard the commotion from earlier. Something about solving the next puzzle piece…?"

"Oh. That."

Habbas fell into silence. Naudar had come running, but ah–may the old scholar be forgiven his temper, but he hadn't been in the mood. Not at all.

"I told him we'd talk about it more in the morning. We've got some potential locations but…I believe we've done enough decryption for the night."

"Quite," Phineas chuckled, and Habbas forced himself to smile. "Well. That's that, then. And Razin? How's that sharp-tongued daughter of yours?"

The smile dissipated. Habbas looked away, back to the distraction of the moon and sighed deeply. His friend merely gave him a reassuring squeeze on the shoulder.

"You won't find any peace in the stars. Go get some rest."

At length, Habbas left. Phineas remained for a while longer, searching the black night of the sky intently. When a figure came up behind him, he did not so much as turn.

He knew who it was.

"Out with it, then. I want your full report."

Kaveh, the deaf and mute guide, stood behind him. The burly Persian glanced at Fin as the financier looked back at him, his eyes intense.

"Well? What do you think?"

"Where do I even start?" the deaf and mute guide said.


a collab with @MiharuAya
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They broke camp just before dawn. There was an art to removing any and all trace of temporary habitation, and it was an art that both Tinka and Habbas–the elder men of the expedition–seemed well-versed in. By the time the Dimeria began to ascend once more to the heavens, the sun had woken from its slumber and begun peeking over the horizon.

There was also, naturally, a change to their personnel. The addition of both Mahin and Phineas necessitated the need to ready two more rooms, and of course, there remained the issue of Mahin's steed Hagar. Their fine aircraft rendered the griffin's purpose moot, and Tinka suggested it be shooed back to where it came from–if such a thing was possible. Ultimately, the decision was left to Mahin whether or not to keep her griffin with her.

It was late in the morning when Habbas called for an official meeting once more in the conference room. He and Naudar had been sequestered there for hours. There was a faint, dark hue under both Habbas' and Naudar's eyes; it appeared neither had gotten much sleep. A puzzle, once started, was nearly impossible to quit.

Only Phineas was missing. He'd declared from the moment he had arrived that he would have no part in the decisions directing their journey. Then he had disappeared to go talk to Asra, because he had "never had the pleasure of traveling with a lovely Puntling woman such as she."

There was an issue there, somewhere. Habbas just couldn't pinpoint it at the moment.

"So. As some of you may have heard, we've been able to translate the next portion of the Ananias Square. I believe a thank you is in order for Mr. Errol." Habbas turned towards the young man with a small nod of acknowledgment. "Naudar told me you were instrumental in helping decode the message."

Naudar appeared disgruntled by the praise. "I didn't say instrumenta–"

"Now, onto our next location," Habbas went on. "There are only two remaining puzzle pieces. It does not matter in what particular order we receive either…what I can say with certainty is that one is being housed in the Mouseion, and the other, we have discovered, points to the 'king of the sea, the beast below.' Now, what does that tell us, Naudar?"

"Enki was the Sumerian god of the sea," Naudar piped up. "He didn't have any temples really, but there was a known altar of his on a tiny island written to be just beneath Greece and north of Punt. The–well, the Sumerians used to house treasures there, so it wasn't particularly well-known–"

"But the Square offers directions," Habbas finished. "It'll be tricky, but we can get there. However, it will have to be by sea. Tinka says the winds and storms are unpredictable across the ocean around this time of year. But if we go to Cairo, we'll have to abandon the ship entirely at the border and cross by way of foot. The Egyptians allow no aircrafts over the border for fear of attacks."

Which left them at the mercy of bandits bunched about the roads leading to Cairo. Habbas didn't say as much, but anyone with a traveler's knowledge knew.

"So. As always, I leave the decision to you. Cairo…or Enki's island?"

Ahoy, sky sailors! Another decision lies before you: to go to Cairo, the heart of ancient knowledge, brewing political turmoil, and blackmarket deals, OR to the lost and yet unexplored gathering hall of Enki, rumored to be at the very fringes of Punt and filled with untold treasures?

Last edited:
Mel & Hama
Melania had been up earlier that morning to prepare the morning meal prior to the conference, both out of pity for poor Tinka who now suffered two extra guests, as well as some amount of self-preservation in knowing a breakfast made by one man for so many was sure to be of both poor quality and lacking a certain culinary grace. The satyr likewise did not care to think that their captain would be having to juggle both the duties of flying a ship as well as managing the stomachs of its occupants.

Besides, cooking was calming to the satyr. It reminded her of those simple mornings on the road, traversing the mountains of Thraki. And so, there were plates of freshly cut fruit, a fragrant porridge with cardamom and honey, and scrambled eggs with tea and coffee set out for any who desired it.

Hama, on the other hand, had been busy penning their findings for his own records - including all he had thus far learned, of both Phineas and Alim. He usually chose to write after a good night's sleep, finding his recollection 'refined' to just those details he needed, rather than bogged in the many details of their encounters. This was not the first temple he had explored, but it had certainly been one of the most memorable, and he wanted to put the entire experience to paper.

Thus refreshed, in mind and body both, the two sat at the conference table with their options laid out before them: Cairo, or Enki's Island.

Hama quickly interjected, "I'm partial to the Mouseion. It is a place I'm at least somewhat familiar with, and as much as I find Cairo distasteful --"

Here he grimaced as if in pain, mind flooded with the myriad shysters, women, and thieves sure to beset them as soon as they put a foot down within the city.

"-- it is the easiest ground to traverse for any who would try and beat us to the prize. I would like to be one step ahead."

"A caveat, physician," Mel sighed, "Enki's Island is surely to be the less beset, given any would-be treasure hunters surely will try for the place they know has a piece of the Square -- but only we know about Enki's Island, as we are the only ones to have this piece already. We will be fighting competition at the Mouseion, with no guarantee we should get to it first."

"And we have no idea what is at Enki's Island, if indeed that's even where the next piece of the Square is," Hama pushed back.

"You doubt your colleagues' work? Surprising," Mel said with some smugness, Hama caught in the implication with a soft snort of frustration.

"I merely prefer the devil we know," Hama protested. "And we know Cairo. Whereas, we might search for ages for the island, and not find it, while the next piece of the Square falls into somebody else's hands. Granted, Enki's Island might pose a significant leg ahead if we can get to it..."

Mel took a sip of her tea, and she looked around the room.

"Then what about this? We split up," she suggested. "Those who are familiar with Cairo and the Mouseion can frolic to their liking right through the doors to get the next piece of the Square, while those of us familiar with the Aegean, like myself, can search for the island and the other piece. Then, we don't have to worry if we make the wrong choice - because we'll pick both."

The satyr tilted her head towards the others in the room, waiting their own responses.
Errol Demir
Interaction: Open (All)
Location: Airship

As the airship ascended into the skies again, Errol felt at home with the wind flowing through his feathers. He often enjoyed gazing at the clouds and fellow avian travelers while they moved through the sky. However, as a meeting started forming, he gathered with the group to hear what was being discussed.

While Habbas announced that more of the Square had been deciphered, Errol took a seat among the group. The aspect was surprised to receive praise for helping to solve the riddle. He still hardly understood it. But, he wouldn't turn down the honor, especially knowing how much it likely irks Naudar. "I couldn't have done it without Naudar's help," He replied, giving the assistant a cheeky grin.

When the options were laid out in front of them, Errol took a moment to think. However, the idea of going to Cairo wasn't terrible. It was at least a place tolerable of his kind and somewhere he had traveled to previously. But, the temptation to find treasure dulled any sense of danger he might have and filled his mind with greed.

"I vote for Enki. It sounds more remote, so there might be a better chance of it still being there. While also not having to compete with others looking for the piece." He replied to the question, hoping to convince the others with his untrue opinion.
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Alim Arslan Yafir

Alim grabbed a cup of Melania's coffee, and eagerly drank it while the meeting was underway. Dark rings shadowed his eyes, for the man slept poorly the night before they broke camp: Alim slept with his armor on, hands clutching his blades. Periodically at night, he would wake suddenly, drawing his sword at the darkness, anticipating Mahin in his room ready to lob his head off. Every precaution needed to be taken. That was his logic. Of course, his body begged to differ in the morning.

He followed the briefing closely. Whether he understood most of the words though, that is another matter. He took the mythological exposition at face value, confident that Habbas and Naudar knew what they were talking about - well maybe just Habbas, Naudar might be completely wrong. Alim could not hide his grimace as soon as Enki's Island was mentioned.

Finishing his coffee with a rude loud sip, he placed the cup down on the table. "Our satyr friend speaks wisdom. If we split up, we cover both areas at once - if one location is empty, the other location must surely be it."

Reaching for another cup of coffee, he cleared his throat. "I may be of great help in Cairo. My skills would be... wasted at Enki's Isle," his voice lingered on a spot of contempt at the latter location. Why do people put valuables on stupid islands? Don't they know they have to traverse the sea to get there?!

When it came to expeditions, there were two words that the old man dreaded to hear more than anything else that could have been said.

"'Split up?'" Habbas echoed. The words may as well have been a terrible tonic in the way they twisted his face. "Us? Split up? With so great a distance between us?"

And if they split up, who would go where? And with whom? Where and when would they reconvene? How would one party find Enki's island without the aid of the other?

Speaking of splitting up - where was Razin? And where was Asra? Surely Phineas could not have sequestered them both in conversation.

The torrential rain of questions continued in his brooding silence. Naudar, on the other hand, had perked at the idea. He decided to seize the moment.

"Maybe we should consider it," Naudar said confidently, only to shrink some as Habbas spun to look at him sharply. "W-well I think we'd cover more ground quicker. Plus then we'd only have one last piece to obtain, and that would take us straight to the treasure keep. You and I could lead the group going to Enki's Island, and then-"

"Who would be going to Enki's Island?" Habbas interjected. The floodgates to his thoughts had opened. "And just where would we reconvene? No - there are too many variables. It's too unpredictable, and far too dangerous."

Naudar was silent a moment, thinking; a dangerous thing for a brilliant mind.

"But teacher...didn't you say before that we have to hear everyone's input before making a decision?" The boy finally said, and Habbas' eyebrows shot up in surprise. Curse that child - he had said that. He couldn't deny it even if he wanted to; he had made a point of making that a public lesson in front of the entire party.

Outmaneuvered by a child.

Grunting, Habbas made a vague gesture with his hand for the conversation to continue.

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Emry Yilmaz​

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"Enki was the Sumerian god of the sea," Naudar piped up. "He didn't have any temples really, but there was a known altar of his on a tiny island written to be just beneath Greece and north of Punt. The–well, the Sumerians used to house treasures there, so it wasn't particularly well-known–"

"But the Square offers directions," Habbas finished. "It'll be tricky, but we can get there. However, it will have to be by sea. Tinka says the winds and storms are unpredictable across the ocean around this time of year. But if we go to Cairo, we'll have to abandon the ship entirely at the border and cross by way of foot. The Egyptians allow no aircrafts over the border for fear of attacks."

Taking his own cup of coffee, Emry sat and let the others speak and argue once the news of a slight change in plans in how to get the next pieces of the square were brought up. Plans always changed with adventures, whether they're big or small.

With talk of splitting up to tackle both places at once, Emry bit the inside of his cheek. Both options presented the chance to run into danger. It seemed like a theme the group might run into a lot was picking a poison and hoping for the best. Then again, they were on an adventure, an expedition of sorts, and the unpredictability was a little expected.

"If we split up, I would go to Cairo," the thought of going to another temple reminded him of the phantom touch of a finger brushing his cheek. He didn't like that.

"'Split up?'" Habbas echoed. The words may as well have been a terrible tonic in the way they twisted his face. "Us? Split up? With so great a distance between us?"

"Who would be going to Enki's Island?" Habbas interjected. The floodgates to his thoughts had opened. "And just where would we reconvene? No - there are too many variables. It's too unpredictable, and far too dangerous."

"Would it not be just as dangerous if we went to either location as an entire group?" Emry asked as he took a sip from his coffee. The concerns made sense, but as others stated it may have been best to split up and kill two birds with one stone, so to speak.

Besides, he was sure they were separated in the temple last time from what he remembered, who's to say it wouldn't have just happened again at either location, as unfortunate as it sounded?
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Elsewhere on the Airship

It was a strange sensation for Asra to feel far too small and far too cramped at the same time. On one side the world fell away to nothing once it passed a railing of metal far too slight for its important task. On the other, lacquered wood pressed against the puntling, almost pushing her towards the precipitous drop but a few easy strides away. She had come out onto this deck to clear her head, the air in the ship felt stale and used and made her skull throb, but being out here made the bottom drop out her stomach, her heart beat like she was running for her life and her muscle stone like and uncooperative.

It had been fine for a few moments, long enough for the cabin door to latch shut behind her but then the ship had risen, or maybe fallen suddenly for a moment and Asra had felt icey cold fear grip seize her. Now just about all she could do was press herself hard against the door that she couldn't command her limbs to open and grip onto the handle as hard as she could to stop her from falling from these unnatural heights. She was also hoping that the decks other occupant didn't notice her.

The strange man with the overly carefully curated beard lounged on the deck as if he owned it. Asra wasn't exactly sure who this new traveling companion was, save only that they had arrived with her dinner companion from the night before and that Aghra Al-Farsi had treated the newcomer with much respect. Clearly he was someone of import, and not someone she wanted to embarrass herself in front of. She also couldn't just stay silent though, what if he thought her spying on him.

"Can I help you, Agha?" Behind the puntling's back knuckles went white from the strain of griping the door handle. "Agha Al-Farsi has called a meeting. He says it is of importance that we all attend."

"Certainly. But I'm sure the meeting can't start without you, eh?" came the cheery reply. Fin made his way to her at a leisurely pace, appearing for all intents and purposes at ease with the intermittent rocking and slanting of the ship's deck.

To the Puntling woman, he offered an arm.

"Care to hold something else? I promise that I'm just as sturdy."

A false smile fluttered across Asra's face.

"Thank-you Agha but I do not nee-" Once again the ship lurched slightly and Asra felt her stomach drop and reality blur for a few moments till the strength of whatever held this ship sacrilegious aloft reasserted itself. When awareness of her surroundings was returned to her, Asra's hand was gripped tight around the stranger's arm, a bracer of bone, flesh and sinew, held fast and biting against the man's skin.

"I… I… I… am not sure we should… that mortals like us should… I think we trespass on the gods being so high. We are creatures of dirt and water, that is where we should be."

Asra's grip on the man's armed loosened but did not relent fully

"Well, there was once a time mortals weren't welcome on the seas either," Fin replied lightly, smiling. "But I'm sure you know we've put that legend to bed, As…Asra, was it? Where do you hail from in Punt? You don't see too many Puntlings leaving the island."

"Uuuhhhhh nowhere special really."

Just for a second, the puntling was able to forget about the thousands of fathoms of empty air underneath. The question was not one outsiders asked. Puntlings came from Punt for the small folk. The moment of relief from her terror was just that, a moment and fingers gripped hard at her companion once again.

"My family lives in a bay that faces out into the blue sea and away from the lands of your kind, and we were always welcome on the sea, Agha."

"I see. Well said…so you're new to world traveling, I take it?"

He paused, patting her hand reassuringly.

"Don't worry. You'll get used to the airship sooner or later. You're even welcome to take a few private tours with me, once Habbas has released you from this mission. It would be a pleasure to have your company. I'm actually quite jealous of you, you know. Of the freedom you have at your fingertips."

"Agha Habbas wishes to release me from his mission?"

The statement hit like a wave crashing down from behind, all but literally flattening Asra.

"Is that what this meeting is about?"

"No no no," Fin hurriedly said. "I meant when this whole puzzle business is over."


Emerging panic was quickly replaced by the burning sensation in the puntling's cheeks as she tried to remember what else the man had said.

"I'm… I'm… I'm not new to traveling. It is just these ships of the sky. To be so far from the bones of the world feels wrong. Everywhere I've been has been by my legs or a ship."

As her thoughts churned over and over in Asra's head, one kept floating to the surface.

"Why do you not have freedom to go where you wish, Agha? Agha Al-Farsi thinks a lot of you and you were able to find us at the temple?"

"Aha! A question at last."

There was a comical twirl of the tip of his mustache, and Phineas grinned as he looked away. The undulating waves leagues beneath them were meeting the sun at last; it was there that his gaze lingered, his mind distant.

"I'm stuck. I'm wedged between both my family and my secular obligations, like a child stuck between two rocks…except I don't have the necessary, say, pig grease to get out.

"But for now, I can distract myself…" He paused, looking at Asra. "...with the beauty of this world."

For the first time since she had foolishly stepped through the threshold that separated the inside of the airship from this accursed gang way the source of Asra's unease shifted from the swirling mists beyond the guard rails to the man staring at her so intently. Had he really said the words she had just heard him say. How could he…

"You are really too kind, Agha."

Smiling weakly at the compliment, the puntling chewed on her next question for a second as she tried to decide if she should ask.

"I don't quite understand why you talk of pig grease Agha."

Phineas smiled cryptically. "I think you know exactly why. Fate brought the both of us together, Asra."

And without ceremony, he patted Asra's hand and moved away, intending to take her with him.

"Come! I'll escort you to this meeting or whatever Habbas is conducting. Let's go spice things up, eh?"

Like a child following an elder, or perhaps like a farmyard beast being led to slaughter, Asra tailed after Phineas, her mind a muddled mess. There was one brief moment of solace as she was gently tugged back through into the windless interior of the skyship but it was subsumed by the peculiar and particular memory Phineas' words had dragged up.

How could this stranger know such a small but exact thing about her past?

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