The Journey (Peregrine x Rosie)

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  1. The Four Horns of the Great Faith began to sound as the first touches of morning light broke over the horizon. Their song was deep, a massive river carving its way through a canyon, the four tones harmonious as swallows in flight. The people of the Temple City of Elia rose at the sonorous cry, dressing in silence and making their way out into the streets and towards the Temple of Atonement, the most magnificent cathedral of the Great Faith.

    The stranger was already awake, and he turned his gaze away from the peach-stained horizon to grab the travel-worn cloak on the bed and swing it over his shoulders. He was not the only one in The Copper Pipes to be departing the inn at first light and joining the crowd of locals headed towards the cathedral. The Temple of Atonement was known the world wide as the most beautiful piece of Eliam’s architecture, and it enticed hundreds of thousands of travelers to visit every year. Even through the quiet months of the winter The Copper Pipes, the grandest inn within the city of Elia and reportedly once Eliam's own home, would still be filled to the brim with occupants.

    Everything within Elia was constructed and maintained to standards of perfection. The white cobblestone streets were kept meticulously clean, and green ivy and roses climbed up the walls of the stone houses and the poles of the lamps that lined the street. But everyone forgot about the city as the temple came into view around the corner. Many who had never seen the Temple before were brought to an awestruck halt as the as the marble glowed under the dawning sun. One dwarf stopped in her tracks, dropping to her knees with tears streaming down her cheeks. The stranger walked over to her, extending a hand and gently lifting her back to her feet. She smiled up at him through her tears, before resuming her walk to the temple.

    The stranger’s eyes caressed the Temple with a wistful air, following the line of the outer wall, which traced the edge of a circle . Even from this distance it was clear that the stone of the wall had been carved to the likeness of the ancient forest. The rising sun cast shadows on the birds, bringing them to life, and made the marble leaves seem to shiver in the breeze. At only one point was the scene interrupted, where two marble trees created a semicircular archway that granted entrance to the inner sanctum of the Temple. At the top of the carved forest the outer wall domed slightly, before meeting up with graceful pillars that supported the upper reaches of the temple. At the pinnacle of the swirling lines of the Reach was a perfect sphere whose sides looked as though they were made of lace. With the light of the sun touching the marble it was just possible to make out the glint of the Horns.

    At the foot of the two closest pillars, crystal clear pools of water dripped from the pillars, collected from the morning dew that had beaded onto the temple and the remnants of the last rainstorm. On one pillar the Falcon, the symbol of Sahel, was carved into relief, and on the other the Stag, the symbol of Eliam, gazed out on the onlookers. Here the crowd split into two groups, one forming at each pool. Each person dipped his or her fingers into the water to wipe their face clean, murmuring quiet prayers to their chosen Prophet, before steepling their fingers into a sphere and gently kissing their pointer fingers. Only the stranger abstained from this quiet ritual, and the others were all too wrapped up in their own prayers to notice.

    Passing beyond the pillars it finally became possible to see the single staircase that curved up into the Reach. Here the priests were descending, dressed in white robes trimmed with various colors to denote rank, before seating themselves in the wooden pews that faced the back of the Temple. And there, elevated slightly above the main floor, four alcoves between five pillars held the statues of the gods.

    On the far left, carved out of a clear crystal, was the Lady Kastya, her fingers steepled into the sphere and pressed against her lips, hair in a wild, flowing halo around her head, long robes sweeping the floor around her. Her face was serene and peaceful, with her eyes closed and her head slightly bent. To her right was the figure of Sahel, crafted of sapphire crystal. His feather hair was smooth against his head and down the back of his neck, while a healer’s satchel marked with the Falcon was strung over his shoulder. A sad smile toyed across his lips, and a single tear gleamed in the corner of his eye. Next was the emerald statue of Eliam, antlers curling down behind his head, short, furry hair sticking up on all ends, and doe-like ears down and relaxed. In one hand he held a chisel, in the other a hammer, and a tool belt was wrapped around his waist. He alone smiled openly and honestly, the corners of his eyes wrinkling in joy.

    Last was the figure to the far right, carved out of an abyssal obsidian so black it pulled all color into its depths. Skaldreg’s head was thrown back and stretched into a manic laugh. His giant wings were furled and his arms and wings were all tightly bound with heavy metal chain. Rams horns curled around his head, and his clawed fingers scratched at his own body, leaving deep furrows. Compared to the elegant and beautiful figures of the other gods, Skaldreg seemed to mock those who entered the cathedral, insulting their desire for a place of peaceful worship.

    The stranger seated himself in the back of the Temple, and he stared at the four statues with a great intensity. His expression did not waver until the sound of the horns came to an end, and the High Priest stepped up the two steps to the four statues. As the man began to hum the soft notes carried all the way to the back of the Temple, and the stranger finally turned his eyes aside.

    Despite the silvering of his hair the man was still relatively young, certain to see the Temple of Atonement through several more decades. His white robes, trimmed in gold, were neatly pressed, and in one hand he carried a crystalline bowl, filled to the brim with clear water. He paused first before the statue of Skaldreg, and his humming abruptly transitioned into words.

    “May he find peace in his eternal prison,” he said in a clear, deep voice. He lifted a finger and dipped it into the water, before pressing it gently to Skaldreg’s forehead. The water beaded on the black stone, before running down the statue’s face. Very few people within the crowd echoed the priests words, and most of them counted among the ranks of the clergy. The stranger’s lips moved faintly, barely shaping the words, but no sound escaped his lips. The High Priest did not seem disturbed by the silence, and moved to the left.

    “May he guide our hands.” The water beaded on the green statue, clinging to Eliam’s forehead for a moment before slowly rolling down. This time the answering reply was warm and loud. A burly man in front of the stranger even threw in a heartfelt “Be praised!” and formed the sphere with his fingers, repeatedly kissing them. Once more, the High Priest moved left.

    “May he heal our wounds.” Once more the water touched the statue’s forehead, and once more people answered. The words of those who spoke this time were softer, but no less earnest. The High Priest moved left.

    “May she save her souls.” The drop of water seemed to glow on Kastya’s forehead, and at that moment the sun rose high enough to stream over the outer wall and into the temple, casting all of the statues into radiance. Gasps echoed through the halls, and there was not one voice that did not echo the word of the High Priest. Even he and the other priests paused at the glorious sight, before forming the sphere and kissing it gently.

    “May she save our souls,” the stranger repeated quietly as the last gasps and murmurs faded. His lips twitched slightly.

    The High Priest placed the crystal bowl in a small hollow in the center pillar between Sahel and Eliam, before turning to the people, a wide smile spread across his face.

    “I thank you for joining me today, and welcome you all.” He spread his arms wide, as though looking to embrace the whole room. “Today is a special day, as we provide the chance for some of our disciples to enter into Priesthood. I hope you will join me in a prayer for those who feel themselves ready.” His fingers came together before he lifted the sphere over his head, and everyone in the room mimicked his action. The High Priest began to hum again, but this time other voices joined his. The various voices twined together, and quickly found harmony.

    As the people hummed a young woman with light brown hair stood, carefully straightening the lay of her grey robe. She moved out from among the ranks of her fellows and moved forward, stepping up to the alcoves. She paused before each statue, forming the sphere and kissing her fingers, before murmuring a quiet prayer. When she was finished she kneeled down before the statues, pressing her head to the ground.

    Two more followed after her, a young, red haired dwarf, and a skinny young man with short, black hair. Each stopped before every statue, offering a prayer to the god it represented.

    In the back the stranger was starting to shift. He had come here on a whim rather than from any form of devotion, and the obsequiousness of the disciples set him on edge. Unfortunately he was not in a position to leave until the gathering came to an end, so he pulled his cloak tighter around him and tried to look anywhere but the prostrating forms swathed in grey.
  2. Cold. Mornings comprised of cold stone, wet stone, grey stone, and hard stone. Not even in the summer were the dorms warm, or even a bit balmy when the sun hit the high tower. The four rang loud and true over the city of faith in their powerful hymn, pulling warm bodies from their beds with its magnificent sound. Zeta hummed along with the call of faith, a sound that was as much apart of her soul as the cold stone were of the floor of her room. Today was the day she would finally prove her faith and pure selflessness, a day that she had been waiting for since Avaari told her what her destiny was. Zeta was brought to the steps of the Temple of Atonement. Zeta was raised running barefoot across stone and marble. Zeta became a woman kneeling before the four great Gods. However ever since she was young, Zeta was always admonished for not giving due prayer to Skaldreg. For years Avaari and the High Priest pleaded with the stubborn child, but this pleading stopped when she was old enough to think for herself. Zeta looked down at her pale bare feet, unbrushed chestnut colored hair hanging down in her eyes. All these years she refused the teachings of selfless worship had come to a fever pitch when a week ago she accosted Avaari.

    "You were the one so many years ago to tell me that my path was that of a priestess. How could you betray me and refuse me your blessing." Zeta's face had been a brilliant scarlet as she faced off with the woman who had acted as her mother for the better part of nineteen years. The raven haired woman tried to soothe the girl at first, "Zeta, I am not refusing anything. I only plea with you to wait, until I am sure you are ready to--" Zeta would not have it. The only person she trusted was refusing her the sole purpose she prepared for, priesthood was all that she had as a person. Suddenly it dawned on her, like a slap to the face she realized what Avaari's true meaning was. "This is about the dark god isn't it. You think that I will not be able to complete the ritual in its entirety. Just like all of the others you have no faith in me!" Zeta had become hysterical over her mentor's gentle counsel. Instead of humbly taking it into account, the girl's passion took the reigns and sent her on a cold rampage. Demanding an audience with the High Priest which ultimately ended in her becoming only more upset when he tried to dissuade her.

    Pressing her pale feet to the stone flooring, the iciness was shocking of course but she let it seep in. Burning the soles of her feet with frosty fingers she kept the pressure behind her feet. When she finally pulled her legs back into bed, she pinched the skin on her heel between two nails until it bled, but she felt nothing apart from the pressure where her fingers pressed against her foot. The nerves were sufficiently numbed. Small rubies of blood fell onto her sheets, seeping into the material and blooming into crimson roses. The only color in the modest room, the room of a priestess. At least the memories from the day before were gone.

    Finally dressed in the demure grey robes of the disciples, she ran water coated fingers through her hair in order to tame some of the strands. Sitting in the bare chair, she began to pin her long uncut hair into a modest updo with several plain silver pins that would serve to keep her hair into place. A style that Avaari often sported because she refused to cut her hair to suit the practicality of prayer and ritual with the impressive length. However this sentimentality of keeping the feminine length was not seen as selfish, but as purity and innocence. Just like the beloved Kastya's wild locks, and so it was accepted that female priestesses could keep their hair uncut, whatever length they so choose. As long as the hair was styled properly, away from the face as to not block their eyes from their saviors and purveyors to which each of the clergymen prayed.

    Standing, Zeta pressed her lips in a wordless prayer to Kastya's symbol that was worn around the girl's neck. Joining several of the priests in the halls, she kept her hooded head down as to not be noticed as well... herself. Surely if any of the priests noticed her face, they would only further spread their faithless words to try and poison her mind. However, Zeta's faith would not be shaken. The final deep tone of the hymn echoed over Elia, signaling to all those of the faith of their tardiness and the time of atonement. The flock that had provided sufficient cover from both Avaari and the High Priest sat nearest to the front, causing Zeta to curse her luck and mumble inaudibly until the sweet baritone of the High Priest's humming caused a peaceful silence to settle over the congregation.

    He began leading each prayer, starting with of course the obsidian murderer as Zeta had dubbed Skaldreg. “May he find peace in his eternal prison,” The crystalline drop of water slid down the grotesque face of Skaldreg, and only the priests could be heard repeating the High Priest's words, which was of course to be expected. It was not enforced among those who praised the faith, only those who entered priesthood would have to openly offer homage to the twisted god. Zeta watched the priest move on, refusing to praise a murderer until she absolutely needed to.

    “May he guide our hands.” Eliam's most dedicated sung out their prayer, warm and welcome causing a warmth in Zeta's heart. A burly man behind her even cried out a “Be praised!” and formed the sphere with his fingers, repeatedly kissing them, Zeta smiled warmly while she repeated the praise and delicately kissed her fingertips. This was the part of the faith that she truly loved, the pure dedication and adoration for Eliam, Sahel, and Kastya. The High Priest moved on smoothly like clockwork, flowing like the water in the bowl.

    “May he heal our wounds.” Sahel's followers were much quieter, softspoken but none the less warm and full as Eliam's. Of course those of the faith worshiped all of the gods, but many had a god who were the origin of their occupation or calling. Zeta whispered, "May he heal our wounds." a serene smile on her face, and excitement in her heart.

    “May she save her souls.” The drop of water seemed to glow on Kastya’s forehead as it clung to the crystal body, and at that moment the sun rose high enough to stream over the outer wall and into the temple, casting all of the statues into radiance. Zeta looked up as gasps and breathless repetition of the praise echoed in the temple. The sun had lit up the stone and marble, the water on each of the statue's face glimmering in the sun. A pure miracle, and as Zeta hope, an omen of good luck for what she was about to do. Even the High Priest seemed momentarily stunned, however he was quick to move on.

    The High Priest placed the crystal bowl in a small hollow in the center pillar between Sahel and Eliam, before turning to the people, a wide smile spread across his face. “I thank you for joining me today, and welcome you all. Today is a special day, as we provide the chance for some of our disciples to enter into Priesthood. I hope you will join me in a prayer for those who feel themselves ready.” Zeta's heart began to pound as the entire temple began to hum, first to stand and begin her rites was a dear friend of her's, Maxla. Everything she did was always effortless, instead of envy which would have been understandable, Zeta felt her heart swell with happiness for her friend. Mavla was one of the most promising disciples the temple had seen in a long time. Next was Fervac, and then finally it seemed Tanv. Zeta knew all three of the disciples, and frowning she was confused. Tanv had never been good with the teachings, he had always been quite arrogant in fact. Tanv was the one who came to the temple as a thief, it had been four years of course. Yet somehow after 19 years of being raised in the Temple her own mentor denied her a simple blessing and words of encouragement.

    Without further ado, Zeta stood, the hood falling from her fair hair blue eyes clear and face serene. Meeting the eyes of the High Priest she moved forward, with more grace than she thought she was capable of, toward Kastya's statue. With every bit of piousness of a true priestess, she formed the spear with her long slender fingers and gently kissed her fingers. Silent prayers laid at Katsya's feet. Robes brushing the marble, she once more repeated the same motions with a different prayer. Until finally she was meant to move before Skaldreg, but something that can only be described as pure hatred and almost physical pain pushed her backward. Kneeling, she pressed her sweating forehead and pale hands to the floor.

    Cold marble.
  3. It took the murmuring of the people in the audience for the stranger to notice that there was someone else getting up. From what he could gather from the people around him, having four people entering into the priesthood was a rare occurrence, but a joyful one. After the ritual 24 hours of meditation and fasting for the inductees, the priests, old and new, and the disciples would scatter into the city, actively seeking out tasks to which they could commit themselves for the day, as acts of charity and atonement for any sins the new priests may have committed before entering the Faith. The people of the city took this as a chance to host a party, and businesses would close down for a day of celebration. The more disciples that entered the priesthood the more dedicated the priests were in their actions, and in turn the more raucous and extreme the party became.

    Many of the people who had come to Elia to see Cathedral would be delaying their plans to leave for the extra days. No one except the priests of the Faith knew when new disciples would be invited to join their ranks, and there was often months to, on occasion, years in between an induction. With four new priests entering the ranks, there were already murmurs going around about how this party was going to be legendary. To most, it would be well worth the couple day delay to their schedule to stay for the event.

    The stranger was, however, making no such plans. Already he regretted his choice to come into the Cathedral, and even as his eyes traced over the lines of the temple with an almost intimate caress his body turned more and more towards the arched exit. He was ready to leave, politeness be damned.

    However, his eyes happened to catch on the last disciple, and he was forced to pause once again. He could see something building inside this girl as she paused before each god, a kind of tension that he knew was going to release in a way that no one in this cathedral was expecting.

    No, that wasn’t quite true. As she paused before the statue of Eliam, the stranger was finally able to catch the expression on the face of the High Priest. It was a sort of wild-eyed disappointment, hidden behind a mask of cool disinterest. That man knew what was coming, and he wasn’t looking forward to it. Briefly the eyes of the High Priest connected with someone in the ranks of the rest of the priesthood, and the stranger knew, whatever this girl was going to do, she was going to wind up regretting it.

    There was a sudden gasp from someone sitting in the front of the church, and the stranger looked forward again. He knew immediately what had happened. She had refused to pray before the statue of Skaldreg, and had therefore refused to offer him his due as one of the gods. There was a ripple of murmurs through the chamber as she kneeled next to her fellows. For a moment there was simply confusion, questions of whether she had forgotten, if she was suddenly going to remember and get back up, face bright red. But as she remained still the murmurs grew more and more approving. Heads were nodding, a few lightly clapped their hands, and one man, buried in the crowd, had the balls to audibly say “About time someone had the sense to ignore that beast.”

    The High Priest stepped forward once again, lifting his arms, and the murmurs quickly faded into a kind of content silence. There was nothing on his face or in the stance of his body that suggested whether or not he approved or disapproved of the grey-swathed disciple’s action. As he led the gathering in a closing prayer, it might as well have been as though the disciples had ceased to exist.

    The stranger remained silent, face tucked away in his hood, as the people finished their ritual and began to leave. Moments ago he had been so ready to leave that he had been prepared to walk out in the middle of the induction. Now he remained in his seat, head bent forward in the appearance of devotion, as the people around him slowly filed out. The priests rose, and began to work their way back up the stairs. There were chores to attend to and tasks to complete for the day now that service was over. They would gather again after lunch and before sunset for further prayers, but the Horns would not sound again until tomorrow morning. Everyone in the city was free to come or not come as they pleased.

    The stranger stood with the last of the stragglers, moving towards the fountain as a few people touched the holy water once more. But, as the last figures slipped through the doorway, the stranger ducked into a shadow. He wanted to watch what was coming next.

    He was not the only one to have lingered. The high Priest had remained before the statues, fingers touching, head bent. Only the tension in his thin shoulders belied his apparent ease. When the sounds in the Cathedral had faded, leaving nothing but the quiet drip of water and the sound of the last of the priests disappearing into the Reach, he turned to the inductees and let out a small sigh.

    “Come with me now, Zeta. We must talk.” His voice was quiet and sad, so different from the bright, warm, all encompassing voice he had used to address the faithful. None of the disciples moved, although there was a small tremor in the one who had knelt down last. The one that the High Priest was undoubtedly addressing.

    The voice of the High Priest hardened. “I’ve saved you the embarrassment of calling you away while the Temple of Atonement was full, but do not think that I won’t have you drug to my office, kicking and screaming, if I must.”
    • Love Love x 1
  4. Swallowing what felt like a rock caught in her windpipe, Zeta calmed her breathing which in turn steadied her pounding heart. The adrenaline of the people's approval still fresh in her veins. Without looking to see the faces of the other disciples, she stood calmly and collected her chin held high. There was nothing in the world that could make her regret her descision to shun Skaldreg from her priesthood, she believed very strongly in the view that unless evil is given power it does not exist. "Yes holiness."

    Zeta followed the priest to what she new could either be her undoing, or the beginning of something new. However, the young woman was far from dellusional. As Zeta followed the High Priest up the marble steps to undoubtedly his study that was positioned behind the alcoves of the temple, the wall behind his desk was pure white stone and if you were to make a hole there, you would be able to kiss pillars on the other side. Without being told to do so, she soothed her grey robes behind her knees to take a seat before the desk.

    The High Priest was silent as he stood, his back to her with his hands clasped behind his back. "I have had a hand in raising you into whom you are today, just as much as Avaari. So it should come to no surprise the disappointment we now feel in you, after all these years we've looked out for your best interests. You go against our words, and make a anarchist of yourself in front of the entire flock." Zeta's resolve faltered, chin dipping for a few moments before she sat up taller. Finally the Priest turned completely to face her. The full impact of his disappointment turned on her. Swallowing she met his eyes, her lips a firm line.

    "You refused Skaldreg your prayers, denying him existance in both your heart and soul. This was both selfish and unforgivable Zeta." Making a noise of disgust she spoke her piece. "If you are looking for an apology, or a thousand prayers to the monster you all worship, you might as well banish me to an eternity outside this church." Finally the Priest sat, his gaze steely and cold. The most distant he has ever been to the girl that he found cold and shivering on the steps of the temple. Something was very wrong, and Zeta moved to stand, to dismiss herself.

    "Sit down." All the niceties were gone, there was only iron and ash in his voice causing tears to sting her eyes. "You will be nothing more than a lost follower of the Great Faith. You will not be welcome in any temple. Your prayers will no longer be heard. Zeta, you are hereby exiled from the Temple of Atonement. So it may be. Until you can rid yourself of your selfish hatred, and understand the world you have been born into, you have no place in this church."

    Tears streamed down Zeta's round face, the color gone from it making her complexion more translucent than rosy as it normally was. Every single of the High Priest's words hurt her more than a thousand lashings of leather on bare-skin. Excuses then poured from her lips, bubbling and pouring out of her like a fountain, until she stopped burying her face in her hands. A tendril of hair tumbled from her up-do, it felt like the fifth age passed as she sat there in a terrible silence. A warm hand rested on her shoulder, his tone warm once more as he watched Zeta unravel before him, "You must go child, you must understand the world in a better way than we could have ever taught you. This was our own downfall as well, we thought we could protect you. However it seems we have protected you from the very thing you wanted most."

    Zeta was so very cold, shivering even in the grey wool her robes were made from. It felt like something had scooped out every ounce of heat in her body, emptying it into her eyes which burned something fierce. The young girl had run out of tears completely.

    "I have arranged for some plain clothes to be delivered here momentarily. You will not be allowed to say goodbye to anyone here at the temple, especially not Avaari. Please understand you have caused Sister Avaari enough grief. She thought of you as her own child, having raised you since you were squalling in a basket. This is to save your continued heartbreak as well." He took her hands in his, "Please do not grieve dear girl. Think of this as a pilgrimage not a punishment." Zeta began to sob again, finding tears when at once there was none. She would not hear his mercy or the kindness he was offering her. The High Priest set a wooden box on his desk before her. "Zeta, these will see you through your travels. When you no longer wish to return, these boots will bring you back to our arms."

    It took a few moments for Zeta to collect herself, but once she did she gingerly reached for the box. Inside were a pair of black leather boots, the laces were a lovely white leather and on the heel was the faint engraving of Kastya's celestial symbol which only faintly resembled the sun. Looking up at the priest she lifted a lip in disgust, as if such a gift would make up for the fact he was exiling her to a life without the faith she loved. "You have no proper attire for leaving the Temple, you will have to learn to fend for yourself. This is not only a gift but an investment. Take it or risk infection of the feet you so take for granted, watch your pride Zeta." His tone was chastising but still filled with a kindness he was only capable of showing a bratty young woman.

    Straightening her posture finally, she wiped away frozen tears that had gelled on her cheeks. Bowing her head, she spoke softly but clearly "Thank you High Priest Illus, I shall think of you and all those of the temple for providing my feet protection in the days, perhaps years to come." Covering the box, she pulled it into her lap. Her voice was like ice, not cutting but there and chilling. Obviously on the verge of breaking, but seemingly stable. "You are most welcome child, I bid you wait here until a page is able to escort you out of the temple. He will provide you with a few necessities to get you out of Elia, as well as a horse of your own." The High Priest palmed the handle of his study door, stopping and looking at the rigid girl he had watched grow up. She was aged a woman, but she was still but a child. Temperamental and kicking at rules that had been set long before she was born. "Be blessed dear Zeta." With that, High Priest Illus washed his hands in the holy waters of the Zeta's fate until the time came again for him to bless her with the waters of the temples.

    Not long after the priest left Zeta, did she slip out of her black cotton slippers. The boots slid on without protest, they were warm and she felt a sort of pleasant promise in the solid soles of the leather and solid cobbled bottoms. Tightening the laces, she stood holding up the bottom-most folds of her robe and admired the boots. Kastya would guide her path, the Goddess would not lead her astray nor would she abandon her so quickly as she believed her church had. Would she? A sense of insecurity slipped into her chest, poisoning her mind. Shaking her head and letting her robe fall back to the floor she was disturbed by the said page. He held a knapsack in one hand, and a neat folded pile of plainclothes in the other hand.

    "In this knapsack is enough gold for two weeks board, food, and other provisions you should need, to be purchased in the next city. Once you leave this temple, you should travel outside the Holy city of Elia. You will not be welcome in the inns on the word of his Holiness, in order for you to make haste to the next city. His holiness has also provided you a mount at the stables just before the main gate where you will be given leave without question. There are several maps, a book on the land, and your book of the Four's teachings tucked inside as well as a second change of clothes should you need it." The page's words were clean of emotion, no pity or sorrow just business. His words picked just as carefully, especially regarding the word 'pilgrimage'. This was strangely soothing to Zeta. She bowed her head as she sorted through some of the items in her bag, there were a few pouches of herbs that could be used for minor cuts or ailments. "You have a moment to change into your plain clothes, you may leave your robes folded on the chair over there. I will be back in a few moments to escort you out of the church and no further."

    As the page closed the door, Zeta numbly undressed to her simple shift. The dress was a soft blue and very obviously tailored to fit her perfectly, The High Priest's generosity spared no expense. With the dress laced up, she slipped on the simple knot belt that had come with the dress, and pulled on the tan hide leather riding gloves. After she placed her folded grey robes on the chair, the page paraded in and held out a plain however warm looking cape. It was a dark brown with fine leather laces ending in copper, the inside was lined with what was obviously pure sheep. It was one just like Avaari's riding cape. Feeling tears sting her eyes again, she choked and clung the cape close. The girl's heart was shattering all over again, and for once the page showed some sort of emotion. Discomfort.

    The Temple was alive, but silent. There was a buzz of excitement for the night's festivities, each ordained priest and priestess would be joining in with their own prayers and joy of the newest disciples. The three from before were still meditating before the great three and the dishonorable one. Smiling, she separated from the page for a moment. "Z--" He seemed to think better of disturbing the three in their meditations. The look in her grey eyes dared him to make a move against her, he stayed still but his posture could have tested the rigidity of the the statues themselves.

    Forming the sphere with her fingers, she kissed her fingertips, "Praised be the three and one, and blessed be their most loyal, selfless and most... meek disciples." Zeta's smile was wicked as she watched Tanv's figure tense as the word 'meek' crossed her lips. Finally she turned, chin held high enough to cause envy in even the sun. The page shuffled after her as she threw open the doors of the church not caring if the page followed. Soon he would be returning to whomever his master was, leaving her alone on the steps of the temple.

    The irony was not lost on her. The same place she would be found and given a destiny, was the beginning of her pilgrimage. One she did not request. It was incredibly painful how easily she had been cast away, for the simple however complex fact she refused to offer her demure praise to the god of destruction. He stood for every sin that had killed so many of her ancestors. Stood for the cruel lies the priests told her about parents that had only wanted the best for her. Parents that had perished undoubtedly by a pack of disgusting goblins, those terrible rumors did not fall on deaf ears. And now, the temple had fated her to the same inevitable end. Tying her new cape around her shoulders, she tried to lift her shoulders but the scent of leather brought tears to her eyes. Ripping the silver pins from her hair, she pitched the pins to the ground letting her hair down around her shoulders with a cry of desperation. Never had she felt so alone in her life standing on the steps of her home.

    Now they were the steps of a sugared exile.
    #4 Wanderfool, Nov 11, 2014
    Last edited: Nov 11, 2014
  5. The stranger waited, blending so perfectly into the shadow of one of the massive pillars that someone could have looked right at him and almost miss him, as he watched the High Priest and the young disciple climb up the stairs into the Reach. He wasn’t certain why exactly the young woman’s refusal to pray before the statue of Skaldreg had interested him so much. It wasn’t as though this was the first time he had seen someone place blame for all the pain and suffering in the world onto the dark god, and abuse him for everything that was wrong with the world. It was an almost daily occurrence in some cities. Perhaps it was because he had come to expect something different from the Faith. But why should that concern him? He thought nothing of the Faith, and its beliefs before this point had never interested him, even if he did feel a taste of respect for their willingness to forgive a murderer.

    But perhaps it was a combination of the two that had grabbed his interest. People in the streets abused Skaldreg because there was no reason for them not to. People always loved having someone onto whom they could put all the problems with their lives. But the Faith expected something different. They expected their members to find an understanding with sin and pain, and learn true forgiveness from it. Before this moment he had never seen someone so consumed by blind, ignorant hatred that they would turn their back on the teachings of the place that fed, clothed, and sheltered them in order to abuse a figment that couldn’t care less. It was simultaneously heartbreakingly disappointing and the funniest thing he had seen in weeks.

    He didn’t know what exactly the High Priest was going to do with the unruly disciple. It was not in the nature of the Faith to punish. They would do what was in her best interest, ultimately, but this was clearly not the first time she had acted out in such a manner. Whatever decision the High Priest reached was going to be drastic.

    The stranger extracted himself from the shadow and walked silently out of the temple, studiously avoiding looking at the figures kneeling before the statues. He paused at the edge of the white marble walls, descending the few steps to ground level, before turning aside and leaning against the wall. His fingers absentmindedly caressed the swirls of carved bark as he stared blankly at the empty archway.

    Waiting to see what was going to happen to the young lady was of the same kind of whim that had led him into the city of Elia for the night in the first place, and having two in as many days was not only surprising but a little bit unnerving. He was not afraid of following whims, why else would he be in this city, but these ones seemed to be leading him in a dangerous direction. He did not associate himself with the Faith; there was no place for their altruistic ideals and sycophantic worship within him. These whims were leading him dangerously close to having to care about the Faith again.

    The stranger’s musings were suddenly interrupted as his whim payed off. The young woman was standing in the archway, looking out into the city with tear-filled eyes. He knew what had happened after only a glimpse, as would anyone who saw her clothes and recognized her as the disciple who had refused to pray to Skaldreg. Her choice had led the High Priest to exile her.

    The stranger stared at her for a moment, surprised in spite of himself. The situation must have been truly desperate for the High Priest to believe that the best course of action was to exile the girl. Her actions and her expression made it equally clear that she was not happy with the decision, nor did she understand the reasoning behind it. The hatred still burned within her, but where would she turn it now that she could no longer blame that recipient of all rage?

    The stranger was speaking before he entirely knew what he intended to say, or why he was saying it, but his rich, silvery tones cut through the quiet of the morning like a knife.

    “Has it never occurred to you to wonder why Skladreg acted the way he did?”
  6. Head pounding, heart fluttering, eyes burning, Zeta looked down the steps as memories made her sick to her stomach. The first time Avaari had taken her out to ride horses on the Temple grounds. Something that not many of the disciples experienced. Before Avaari was ordained as a priestess, she had been a horse mistress at the stables. When her father died, she sought out the safety of the church. Since then her faith was one of the strongest in the temple, her own mentor was the same as the High Priest's. Zeta had always admired how Avaari was able to praise each of the four proudly and confidently, her faith strong and never shaken for a moment. The memories were now physical pain, the thought of Avaari's kind black eyes filled with sadness and disappointment as she watched Zeta stand. No. Zeta couldn't stand thinking about the woman. High Priest Illus had been right, had she been able to say goodbye to Avaari she would have fallen into ruins.

    Regret was not cold or hot. It didn't hurt, or felt particularly good. It was the absence of something important where once there was something, there is now nothing. All at once, Zeta had become deathly exhausted. Her mind was weary to wrap around the full day of traveling she had to the next town. Where would she go from there? How would she fend for herself? The only skills she had were sweeping and reading, not much was taught to a woman of the cloth. Resentment was building again, but this time for the fact that she was taught nothing to actually make a life for herself--

    “Has it never occurred to you to wonder why Skladreg acted the way he did?” The voice was too smooth, and strange to Zeta's ringing ears. It cut the silence, and disturbed the thoughts churning in the woman's mind. Frowning slightly, she debated ignoring the strange man that appeared out of the literal no where. Looking over her shoulder she folded her hands at her waist and turned back to face the city sprawled before her. "Why ever would it occur to I who has devoted my life to only wholesome thoughts. It does not bode well to dwell on such distasteful philosophies." Her voice was void of passion, it was meant to sound like the well rehearsed line it was. In truth, she hadn't so what was once a line became honesty. Looking to the ground she felt a twitch of anger to this stranger's brazen query. He must have been present for her dishonorable display of rejecting Skaldreg. "However it doesn't matter does it?" this sentence held a bitter amusement.

    She meant to move, to walk away from the temple and never turn back. Everything inside her told her to throw herself to the base of Skaldreg and praise his name a million times over. Perhaps not everything, just fear. Her courage and resolve however told her to move, to travel down the steps and begin again. To own herself, and become a person she could be proud of. Then there was always the pesky presence of the stranger most likely there to admonish her foolish decision. Aggravated, she tossed her pale hair over her shoulder and glared at him. "Have you nothing better to do than loiter at the steps of a temple? Festivities to aid? Prayers to your beloved Dark one?" This time her words were heavily laced with venom, her true anger shining through. Grey eyes sparking she raised a lip in disgust, but still she could not will herself to move. Instead she crossed her arms staring off into the distance.
  7. “Wholesome thoughts,” the stranger said with a snort. “Now we both know that isn’t true. The hatred in you is practically tangible.”

    A small chuckle of amusement later, and he stood up from the walls, taking a couple steps towards the temple girl. Apparently, if she couldn’t have anyone to place her anger on, she’d dump it all onto the first person who frustrated her. At least she was predictable.

    “You denounce Skaldreg as blindly as the Faithful worship him.”

    It was almost a relief to be able to say exactly what he was thinking for a change. The Great Faith may have been started by a single man, but by this point it had spread all over the world. Every city had, if not a full church, then at least a shrine to the gods. The symbols of the gods were everywhere, repeated so many times that they were like the grass underfoot. The dwarves tried to outdo themselves with feats of construction, masonry, and metalwork in honor of the gods. Even the Andluin worshiped the divine, although most did not follow the Faith as did the self-named upper kin. As far as he was aware, the stranger was the only person in the world other than the elves who paid no respect to any of them. But speaking of such a thing in many cities was likely to get you jailed and executed for heresy.

    “How proud you must be. You’ve finally shown all those deferential fools exactly what you think about their forgiveness of a monster. Except you don’t think. You just hate.”
    • Love Love x 1
  8. Still leaning against the wall, the man made a rude noise and continued to pester her. Dangling her downfalls before her nose like some sort of cruel joke. Narrowing her eyes she whirled on him, her dark brown hair swishing at her waist as she zeroed in on him. There was a smile of dark amusement on his face, a look which caused her fists to ball at her sides. From her mind's eyes he was a curious little manchild on the edge, taking a stick and poking a hornet's nest. Except Zeta did not have an angry sound of buzzing to warn him off, finally to the point in which she couldn't take no more of his statements of the obvious and his attacks on her character she hauled off and slapped him. The sound sharp and painfully loud, echoing in Zeta's head along with her anger.

    Blinking rapidly, she found that her hand was raised in mid-air and her shoulder was tensed with the same power she used to slap him. Swallowing hard, she realized that she had never laid a finger on the man. Lowering her hand slowly, she looked down at how her hand shook and how quickly her heart was pounding. It had been such a powerful visualization, so powerful that she still felt the phantom stinging on her palm. As releasing the violence would have served as a suitable outlet, she was sickened by how quickly she could resort to a physical solution. Anger welled and boiled over, she wasn't quite done with this man yet.

    "How dare you make calls on my values, morals of which you very obviously have not an inkling of. You are a stranger. For nineteen years I was raised in the temple of which stairs we now stand. Not once have I ever seen a mug like yours sitting devoutly in the pews, so hold your tongue sir and remember your own principles before you make judgements of another's. I may no longer be a disciple, or even a part of this church, but I am, no matter what you or the High Priest think faithful to the great three." Taking a shaky breath, she found herself toe to toe with the man of whom she had very nearly broke her vow to nonviolence. Grey ice meeting amber flames, a breathless beating heart standing up to a still and steady stranger. "Yes. I do hate Skaldreg with almost as much passion as I love Kasya, Eliam, and Sahel. It takes just as much thought to hate as it does to feel it, and takes as much time to feed the flames as it does to praise the mighty." She hissed, "I am seeing just as clearly as you are, insulting my purest faith."

    Turning away from him she stepped away and finally relaxed her fist, less she decide to actually bring the visualization to reality. That is until she realized, that just then in her moment of potential violence she committed that of which the same monster she shunned stood for. No. She could not think like that, this would be giving way to the angry monster that twisted her from the inside out. It was the sense of correction that she had seen and felt so surreal, the consequence of angering a girl who felt not only alone but empowered and drunk from the adrenaline of being free of the pressure to worship a God from the hellish core of the earth. However the satisfaction and new found freedom she felt caused a tingle to travel down her spine. This tingle that traveled her back had a name.


    However she felt something gently pull on her soul, guilt and regret. The soft voice of reason and promises of the past that she made. Promises that she would honor, if she didn't the consequence would be great. With this she took one last look at the man, eyes now a serene silver as her rage began to clear. Guilt was a sobering feeling. Finally, she felt her feet move her away from the man. From her home. From safety. From familiarity. With all her heart she wanted to run with reckless abandon through the doors she never thought would be facing her back. The man was only the first test as she entered the world, and this alone boded ill for the girl.

    If a rude stranger could bring out the Skaldreg from the deepest recesses in her soul? What would she become? The sun broke the clouds, warming the chills that had made their way deep in Zeta's bones. Taking a deep breath and lifting her face to the sky, she sent her prayers to the celestial goddess. Kissing a fingertip she pressed it her forehead, and stepped finally on the solid ground.

    Her first step in her own journey.
    #8 Wanderfool, Nov 12, 2014
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2014
    • Love Love x 1
  9. Hidden underneath the folds of his cloak, it was not apparent to the eye as ever line in the stranger's body tensed along with the rising violence in the young woman across from him. He did not know what to expect from her at that moment, and he silently prepared to react to anything she threw his way. He saw her hand rise and his own fingers twitched, prepared to lash out in a second and grab her arm should she choose the unwise course of attempting to attack him. But, in the end, neither of them moved, and the only thing that the temple girl threw at him were words.

    He listened to her with a strange, almost rapt attention, but it was clear at a glance that her words were not having the intended effect upon him. Whatever their intent, to make him feel guilty, to make him angry, to make him feel small and unimportant, they were clearly having no effect. His expression did not waver an inch, what could be seen of it under the hood of his cloak. The glint of amusement never left his bright eyes, and the strange, secret smile playing across his lips only spread as her tirade drew to a close.

    The stranger did not reply. He did not need to. He had said his piece, and he was not looking to get into a philosophical debate, if it could even be called that. He was content to have nothing but his amusement, although it was a shame that he was the only person in the world who could understand the true irony in the former disciple's declaration. For a moment he could picture so vividly what would happen to her if she were to know the truth, how all her high and mighty airs would be shattered in one giant catastrophe. It would almost be beautiful to see her incomprehension, and then watch as she slowly realized the truth and understood that she would never be able to go back to not knowing.

    In an instant the stranger seemed to withdraw, and although he did not move at all he seemed to vanish within the shadow of the cloak. The sudden appearance of the sun from behind a cloud might have brightened the temple girl as her guilt made her realize she was still pure, but it cast the face of the stranger into blackest shadow underneath his hood. His guilt was nothing but a reminder of the worst things hiding within him. He turned his back on the temple and its girl, and quickly walked away into the city, his steps muffled.

    He should have known better than to follow these whims. He should have learned long ago to stay away from that place, from the temple and the gods and the priests who blindly worshiped them. It was nothing but bad memories and there was no reason for him to relive them.

    People cleared a path for him as he walked up the main street away from the church, unwilling to get in the way of the looming, hooded stranger. In that moment he ignored their deferential and fearful attitude, as long as it served to quicken his retreat from the Temple of Atonement.

    The Copper Pipes was on the other side of Elia, right at the edge of the city where the single road into the city broke into the ten major streets. It was a gorgeous structure of dark stone and brightly polished wood, and even in the bright light of day an inviting glow spilled from its doorways and windows. The stranger slowed as he drew closer to it, and pushed back his hood, revealing a tousled head of sun bleached hair. He rubbed his face before running his fingers through his hair quickly, settling it back into place after the confines of the hood. He shook his head, physically trying to remove the dark thoughts from his head. He just had to get out of the city as soon as possible.

    The inside of the inn was full of patrons, most of them people who had visited the temple earlier that day. They did not notice as the stranger slipped in among them, quickly climbing to his upper floor room. If he left quickly and didn't dally on his way he could make it to Druvin before full dark.

    Druvin was, in a way, Elia's sister city, but it was the kind of sister that the rest of the family was too embarrassed to speak about. Elia was a city of the Faithful, and it was kept to standards that would not embarrass the principles of the Faith. Commerce was limited. Still, countless people passed through the city every day, every single one of those people had money, and merchants would never let that opportunity slip by them. They were respectful enough that they would not desecrate the holy city, but a balance had to be reached with the god called money. Therefore, just over a full day's slow ride on the single road out of Eila the city of Druvin had grown.

    It is said that every road in the world eventually leads to Druvin, and for many travelers it was true. But what was undeniably true was that the city was ruled by money. For the right price anything could be bought and sold within the borders of the city. Long ago a few lucky merchants had started the city, and with the massive piles of wealth they earned they built mansions far closer to palaces in the center of the city. To protect their kingdom of lavishness they built a wall around their abodes, and those who were less fortunate built around it. Desperate to protect their city they built another wall, completely surrounding the first wall, only to have their city broken into chunks as the richest, refusing to be trapped within those less fortunate, blasted out walled pathways to the edge of the city like the spokes of a wagon wheel. But people continued to flock to the city, hoping to strike it rich, and were unable to gather the funds to be able to leave again. New walls were built as those who could find no space within the protection of the current walls, and those sub-cities were split again as the council of merchants that now ruled from the heart of Druvin continued to maintain their secure, heavily guarded, walled pathways through the messy, impoverished, ever-growing city.

    Those walled pathways became the bones of the city, and the only thing to remain stable within it. Except for those parts of the city controlled by the wealthy, nothing within the sub-cities created by the walled pathways could be counted upon to remain the same from one day to the next. People built and destroyed seemingly at random, vendors set up new booths until the street became so crowded as to be impassable, and other streets would be forcibly widened, whether those who owned the buildings there liked it or not. Nothing was considered sacred, and property only belonged to someone as long as they had the power to hold it. So long as the lowly did not touch those of higher standing and did not steal from the mercenary city guard funded by the council of merchants they were left to do as they pleased, no matter how aggressive. Every walled section of the city had its own gang, and while in that space the word of the Don was law. Druvin was uncivilized, but was also a haven for merchants and moneylenders of all sorts. The greatest success stories always came from Druvin, as did the greatest stories of failure and loss.

    The stranger changed quickly, dropping the simple city clothes and tucking away the dark cape, before putting on a set of travel-worn but well-tended and supple leather armor that had clearly been through a large number of fights, and had equally clearly protected its wearer from innumerable blows that might have otherwise been fatal. He followed up by strapping a sword onto his waist. The sheath was simple leather, but the black and gold hilt of the sword gave a hint as to the quality of the blade. A set of sturdy boots and a small rucksack filled with survival fundamentals and his change of clothes later, and the stranger was practically unrecognizable as the dark-cloaked stranger that had sat in the temple that morning.

    He dropped off the key to his room at the front desk, and the clerk and owner of the Copper Pipes received it with some surprise.

    "Leaving already, Vanek?" the man asked, taking the key in a calloused hand. "Everyone else is staying for the celebration."

    "Afraid I must," Vanek replied, face serious. "No helping it."

    "Alright," the innkeeper agreed politely, tucking the key away where its fellows would normally be. "I'll be able to charge an arm and a leg for your room, anyways, what with the Celebration coming up. Kastya watch you on your travels."

    "And you." Then he was gone, out the door and down the road to Druvin.
  10. [BCOLOR=transparent]Elia was easy enough to maneuver, in fact Zeta had begun to enjoy herself quite a bit. However with her hood pulled closely around her face to discourage anyone who might have recognized her, notoriety was the last thing on her list to experience. Slowly as she ebbed and flowed with the crowd and streets, she felt her burdened chest become lighter and lighter. Though the stain of being exiled was still brilliant like the blood stain on white sheets, she let herself push it to the back of her mind. She was now on her own, and it was time to finally make something of herself. As she walked, her belongings hidden under her cloak, she began to mentally list things that she was capable of doing. Praying was the first thing she scratched off her list, thought it had once proved useful, it would not hold her up for the days to come. Horseback riding. This brought a smile to her lips, something Avaari had taught her when she was young, like how to keep balance and the commands that a well trained stable bred horse would understand. Writing. This was another thing that could potentially come in handy as she was exceptional in three of the most common tongues.[/BCOLOR]

    [BCOLOR=transparent]Frowning, she realized how short her list was. Out on the open road, all she would have to defend herself was enough temper to keep her warm for hundreds of winters. She had not a manner of keeping herself safe from harm such as armor or even a weapon. Worrying her lip she began to count how many things that could possibly wrong, or end in her demise. The young woman was so focused that she collided with a figure much smaller than she was. Coming back down from her pensiveness she instantly apologized, "By the three, I am apologize for my..." Looking down with a hand held out, she realized she had knocked over a child. A child that was so filthy, the only thing recognizable about him were is brilliant green eyes and nearly white hair that seemed brown under the grime. "Goodness child, are you alright?" The boy nodded sheepishly, causing her to grin and pull the boy who couldn't have been more than 6 years old by the look of it. Studying the child, she realized with a start that he was studying her right back. "What on earth are you doing out here, alone?" The child smiled a toothy grin, however one of his front teeth were missing. Laughing she patted his head, "Come now, let's find your parents." The boy frowned and looked down at his dirty barefeet. "Miss, I don't have any mom or dad." These words were said so softly and sorrowfully, Zeta felt such a pain in her heart for the boy.[/BCOLOR]

    [BCOLOR=transparent]Crouching down to eye level with the young boy, she smiled warmly taking his hand. "I see, well it just won't do for you to be here in the streets alone." The boy looked curiously at her, "My name is Zeta, do you have a name that I may call you?" The boy nodded and smiled that toothy toothless grin once more. "Pyp." she smiled and laughed taking the boys hand and leading the way. "Well Pyp, fortune smiles upon you today." He bobbed his head. As the duo began to walk, he pulled her hand back stopping her. "Zeetah, are you the pretty lady in the church?" Zeta tilted her head, wondering what on earth he was talking about when it hit her. This child, living in the city of the great faith, had never been taught the faith itself. She wondered briefly how this could be, how even an orphan could be ignorant to the faith. However, not every orphan to live in Elia had the greatest privilege of being raised in the Temple of Atonement. Squeezing the boy's hand she simply said, "No Pyp, I am her follower. Her name is Kastya, and as her follower I must help you. One day you will learn about something we call the faith." Pyp stared wide eyed up at Zeta, and soon they were off once more through the snaking streets of Elia and to the stables.[/BCOLOR]

    [BCOLOR=transparent]"A child wandering the streets alone in Elia?" The horse mistress, Uma, sounded horrified. She had dozens of horses, and even more children some of which were her own others not so much. Uma had a big heart, one of the kindest people Zeta had ever come to know. "Yes, which is why I brought him to you. He is ignorant of the faith, and I know that in your hands he will have the best chance." Her heart swelled as Pyp played with the tawny horse, Cyrn, that was to become her new companion. "Thank you Uma for taking him in, he is such a sweet soul. And as for the horse, she is magnificent and will see me well on my travels." Uma smiled and hugged Zeta, a warm and herbal smelling hug. The hug of a mother. Zeta’s heart ached and with dead arms she circled the wide woman with short silvering hair.[/BCOLOR]

    [BCOLOR=transparent]As Zeta left the small cottage that stood beside the stable, Pyp dashed toward her and wrapped his bony arms around her legs. "Thank you so much Zeetah, I love the horseies so much." Smiling, she patted his head and unlatched him from her legs. "Pyp? Can I ask a favor from you?" Large green eyes were rapt as he listened. "I want you to learn as much as you can about the world, no matter how hard it becomes, you must push through. Alright? And one day, I want you to become the best you can be? Don't let anyone take that away from you." Gingerly, she kissed his forehead and mentally asked the gods to bless the child. Forming the sphere with her fingers, she smiled at Pyp who in turn clumsily did the same. As he mirrored her, she kissed her fingertips, "Praise be to Eliam." Pyp said with his childlike lisp, "Praishe be to Eleeum." Zeta smiled and continued, "Praise be to Sahel and Kastya," Pyp repeated these words. And through grated teeth Zeta opened her mouth to say the last line, however Uma had been watching and piped in with, "And peace be with Skaldreg." Zeta exhaled as Pyp repeated this line as well, each with greater fervor than the last. As a child, it was all just a game to him, and it would continue to be so. He was safe for now from the church, destined to one day become master of the horses with near white hair and those same green eyes. [/BCOLOR]

    [BCOLOR=transparent]With a final goodbye to Pyp and Uma, Zeta mounted Cyrn and waved slightly before adjusting all of her things in order to balance herself on the tall beast. Finally, she tapped Cyrn’s warm sides with a soft tap and she began to walk for the gate where two guards of the faith stood at an attentive rest. Zeta pulled her hood back over her head, hiding her dark hair under the hood, the morning sun was still chasing away the cold from the night. The horse was warm beneath her, and the saddle wasn’t unbearable, meaning it was very obviously worn in before her. Holding the reins in her left hand, she absentmindedly felt the supple leather under her fingertips as she approached the closed gate before the bridge that led into the city. Nodding her head low, one of the guards approached her. “State your business.” Without a word to meet the authoritative figure, she slipped her fingers under her cloak and pulled out the small celestial symbol. Watching the guard bow stiffly at the waist he signaled to those in charge of working the gates. [/BCOLOR]

    Excitement is electric like Regret is empty and Guilt is sobering. Like a small child, jumping and running grabbing for sweets and filled with youth, her own excitement was slowly bubbling up her chest. As she passed through the gates, wood creaking a sound that would always haunt her, she shifted in the saddle. Finally, she cracked the reins and leaned forward. Cyrn whinnied and shot forward with more force than Zeta was expecting, however she tightly held the reins and dug her heels into the stirrups. Slowly, Cyrn increased her walk to a trot, then to a canter and finally to a full out gallop. Zeta’s hood fell back from her face as her cloak caught the wind, streaming behind her along with her dark hair. Pushing her feet into the stirrups, she stood against them while bending at the waist. However unladylike, it was truly freeing. There was laughter coming from somewhere that seemed to be following her, it took Zeta a moment to realize that her giggles had transformed to true joy and laughter.

    [BCOLOR=transparent]Cyrn galloped down the worn road, passing several sparse travelers hearing their mumbles of curiosity as she sped off on the back of the well bred horse. Zeta’s grey eyes were bright with adrenaline and the girlish joy of feeling free. Thanks to her haphazard focus, she nearly ran down an armored man that was walking the same road she was traveling. Pulling the reins back and to the side, Cyrn reared just as Zeta had assumed she would. The horse whinnied loudly, snorting like an angry beast as she lifted her front in the air, Zeta holding the reins firmly and clamping her legs to her belly as she finally settled and nickered angrily. Dark hair in disarray, she looked down to the armed stranger and bowed her head politely. “My apologies sir if I frightened you.” Before the sandy haired man could reply, she kicked the horses sides firmly, Cyrn responding with an easy trot and a tail flick of slight aggravation. Zeta had not noticed the strange tug of familiarity as she left the man to deal with his own storming heart. He most likely though she was just another girl out for a leisurely hack outside the city, which was normal since she was still so close to Elia.[/BCOLOR]

    [BCOLOR=transparent]Running her fingers through the mare’s man, she hummed softly feeling the horse’s labored breathing. “I am so sorry pretty girl, freedom is an intoxicating thing.” Cyrn’s ear flickered as she listened to Zeta’s soft voice, nickering. Smiling she sat up and clicked her tongue, Cyrn picking up more speed as she easily moved into a quick canter. The sun was beginning to peak in the blue mid fall sky. The air was cool, but the cloak kept her warm. Pyp’s toothy grin, Uma’s smile, and Cyrn’s belly warmed her heart. Even if she were not in the church, her legacy would not be null. Pyp was meant for greater things, this was apparent. An orphan to help and orphan. Smiling wider, she held her chin a little higher as she followed the road to the next city.[/BCOLOR]

    [BCOLOR=transparent]Druvin. The city with veins of gold and walls to divide.[/BCOLOR]
  11. Vann heard the horse coming long before he saw it, and he slowed as the rhythmic thumping grew steadily louder and louder. Whoever was coming, they were either in a massive hurry, or were incredibly foolish. When the horse did finally appear around a bend in the path it was moving much faster than even he had anticipated. He was barely able to throw himself aside as the gleaming chestnut body of the horse was suddenly where he had been three seconds earlier.

    "Damned sinner," he muttered, wiping clear the road dust that had settled on his face, before he looked up and realized that, not only had the person on horseback actually stopped, but it was the foolish temple girl from earlier. Vann's irritation peaked. Of course she wouldn't have the sense to walk or even trot her horse down a heavily used path. No, she had to gallop, and the three help any who got in her way. And then she had the nerve to apologize, not for the rude and inconsiderate nature of actions, but for frightening him. Well, he had certainly faced many more frightening things in his days than an over-pampered, oblivious, temple girl without the common sense given to a barn swallow, even if she was mounted on a fine horse. Not only that, but she couldn't even keep the creature under control. Only an inexperienced rider allowed her horse to rear at random. If she kept up that pace, the horse would be blown long before they reached Druvin, the poor thing.

    But, as she turned and raced away again, Vanek physically shook thoughts of her from his mind. She was none of his concern, and this impromptu trip to Elia had already cost him several days where he could have been traveling. He had left his horse and wagon stabled in one of the safer quarters of the city, under the direct protection of Don Asciano. His protection did not come cheap, but there was a single, well known reason for that. Those who messed with Don Asciano or anything under his protection did not live long enough to enjoy any spoils of their betrayal. Vann could have brought both wagon and horse with him to Elia, but it would have slowed his journey even further, and it wasn't as though he was in want of money, should he need it. It was far more important that the wagon, the closest thing to a permanent home that Vann had, remained safe.

    Thoughts safely turned away from the temple girl and towards what exactly he planned to do to make up for lost time, Vann continued to tirelessly trod his way towards the massive walled city. He always built a few extra days into his time table when he was traveling anywhere, Vann was too experienced with life to expect that things would ever go exactly as he planned, but he had now used up his extra days on this entirely dissatisfying side excursion. He had just under a month to travel north to the port city of Khago for the annual Highwater Festival, and to get there he was going to have to head south first, to White Bird Pass. In the context of a month, a couple of days shouldn't matter much, but the distance he had to cover was quite great as well, and he did not want to miss the Highwater Festival. Apart from it being a respected tradition, it was one of the best opportunities for a wanderer to find extended employment. As much as Vann enjoyed traveling at random, he had found on repeated occasions that leaving himself with nothing but his own thoughts for company over an extended period of time was a sure way to invite catastrophe. The only way to avoid that was to find something to occupy his attention. Employment was the best option.

    As the ground slowly rolled away under his feet Vann teased with his mental schedule, looking for the best place to shear off a couple of days. Eventually, and after great deliberation, he decided that he would take the shortcut through Coldwind Pass, which would save him nearly a weeks worth of travel. It would make the journey noticeably more uncomfortable, and it might dissuade more than a couple of travelers from joining him, but Vann was not particularly concerned with the dangers the pass posed. Hopefully his own self-confidence would tempt others to join him. If not... better alone for a month than alone for the coming year.

    Just like with the horse, Vann heard the city long before he saw it. But around another bend in the path the trees suddenly fell away under the power of axe and fire, and the city was revealed. The most prominent aspect of the city was the wall, a towering structure made of wood, stone, metal, and whatever rubble could be found to shore it up. Later, once this wall was swallowed up and became an interior part of the ever-growing city, some noble looking to prove his own worth would replace it with a purely stone construct, something that would not topple no matter what kind of pressure was placed on it. But, for now, the wall was made out of whatever people could find, to protect them from invasions of any sort, be it underkin, wild beast, or even other citizens of their own city. But the city of Druvin did not stop growing just because a wall had been built. Already the city had extended beyond in piles of ramshackle housing, with tired, dirty people standing in huddled pockets, eying the travelers entering the city. Some begged for alms, others simply looked threatening, while malnourished children ran among the people, reaching thin fingers into unguarded pockets, risking the ire of the city guard which stood at the gate.

    Unlike the wall that could be seen around the corner, the gate was made of solid stone and metal, and it connected to one of the carefully maintained stone veins of the rich merchants. The guards kept the riffraff clear, and once they started building the next rubbish wall that would keep them safe, the guards would ensure that a clear path to allow the vein to always reach the edge of the city. It was that path which connected the road from Elia to Druvin that Vann finally entered into the glorious mess that was Druvin.
  12. Walls made of stone, metal, glass, and wood towered above Zeta, whose eyes were filled with wonder as she reached a gate guarded by well armed men. It was quite obvious in her naive grey eyes, that she had never before experienced the ash and apathy of the city Druvin. In fact she was completely disarmed as she slid from her saddle and stumbled, as the force from her awkward landing took out the balance in her knees. Had Avaari been there to see her awkward dismount, she would have shook her head clucking, "Such graceful eyes, but legs like a newborn foal." The memory and ghostly echo of her mentor's voice brought a chill to her bones, it was too late to redeem herself. Instead she must lift her head, and try to keep her wits about her. There was no turning back, "And it does no good to hold dear such memories." Her voice sounded thin, and frustrated to her, like a thin stream trying to escape a small hole in a bucket.

    Who are you trying to fool?

    The thought was unwelcome, as a voice chiding and piercing came from deep within her mind. She bit back tears and lowered her eyes from the wall, a wall patched by materials of all sorts. A wall that had stood the test of time, which bore the same scars of the never ending battle of wind and weather. Those who would tear it down. Even the weakness from within. Pulling her hood over her dark locks she turned to her mount, Cyrn nickered as she bent her head to the ground and rooted for the grass that sprouted beside the worn dirt path. Zeta's knuckles were pale white as she gripped the leather braided reins, her frustration so plainly worn in her hands and just the same in her sparkling wet eyes.

    You are naught but a lost little babe.

    The same voice from before spoke up, pressing cold, cruel fingers at her, the same voice that had long since been present. A voice that was domineering, one that demanded to be heard. Only in the temple had she once learned to control it, now it seemed to be fair game. Tight-lipped with bitter silver eyes, she looked at the gateway to Druvin. The sounds were heavy and metallic, and the smells were both intoxicating and absolutely revolting. Shouts echoed, dancing side by side with laughter and the calls of friends and foe. Smoke thick and dark, curled to the sky which had begun to amber with the fast approaching dusk. More than anything, the city called to her. Beckoning to her with long, worn fingers, greasy with the promise of secrets and the wonders those scarred walls contained. But something inside her, held the weight to where she stood, it was the same horrid feeling that kept her rooted to the temple's steps.


    Lifting a lip in annoyance, the voice reminded her of what she already knew. Biting her lip, she took a deep breath and decided with a heavy heart to take things one step at a time. Judging by the colors in the sky, she had a little less than three hours to pass the threshold of the roads into Druvin. Tugging the reins twice, she led the mare to a grassier further from the gate where a small growing tree had begun its tireless quest to touch the sun. Tugging at the straps under Cyrn's wide belly, she removed the heavy traveling saddle and the reins to allow Cyrn the ability to rest a while as Zeta herself found and brought about her courage. Nudging Zeta's shoulder, the mare walked to an especially thick patch of grass and began to take in her fill.

    As Zeta leaned against the tree, she ran her fingers gingerly across the rough bark as she took deep cleansing breaths. Imagining the soft light of the tree's life flowing over her skin and seeping in, a meditation that Avaari once taught her when she was young. It cleared her mind and allowed her breath without trouble. Now that she was further from the angst of the city, she was able to relax. The tree's leaves shivered slightly in the breeze, Cyrn nickered and drew breath, and the city sounded distant but ever present.

    Sliding down the trunk, Zeta crossed her legs and removed her bag from her back. The smell of bread greeted her when she opened her rucksack, causing her stomach to pitch and growl like a rabid dog. Reaching in a grabbing the slight white package, she pinched a corner of the crusted bread placing it on her tongue. Closing her eyes, she savored the first bite of food she had all day, a welcome treat.

    "What have we here?"

    The sudden intruding voice in Zeta's meditative haze caused her heart to skip several beats, as she slowly opened her eyes to face five very large men. The cold touch of harsh metal pressed firmly against her throat, the sword of the man with a bemused question on his bearded mouth. Swallowing, she felt her skin push against the blade as she retreated against the trunk to escape having her throat slit.

    "So lovely, and so vastly exposed in unguarded pasture." With terrified eyes, she watched as Cyrn bucked and screamed against the two men whom tried to rein her in, which in the end she was forced to give in and stand still. Voice shaky, Zeta managed to squeak out a plea. "By Kastya, Please don't kill me!" The man holding her by the tip of a sword, grinned and leaned over her. Stroking her cheek with a callused finger, his rancid breath washed over her. "I 'don plan to, at first a'least." Zeta's stomach churned, tears welling up as the men cackled with laughter. "My men and I are creatures of lust after all."
  13. Vann came to a halt just at the edge of the ramshackle village growing outside the walls, avoiding a sudden surge of dirty people that crossed the path in front of him. He glanced up towards the gate, and saw a line of people waiting to be admitted. The guards gave each one the evil eye, and it was clear that today was not going to be a day when the guards were inclined to let a lone, unburdened traveler enter without question or scrutiny. Likely, by the time he made it up to the gates, the guard would decide it was time to stop all traffic going into the walls, and close the gates for sunset. He would be left out here for the night.

    Letting out a frustrated sigh, Vann rubbed the side of his face and turned off the path, following along a path worn into the thin grass between the forest and the edges of the houses. He didn’t like going this way, but there was more than one way to enter this city, even beyond the four guarded gates. The Dons of this city were not about to allow themselves to be trapped behind stone walls at the whim of the guard. To a person who knew the right people and had the right currency, there was a way to get from any part of the city to another without ever entering one of the veins. The same was true for getting in and out of the city.

    It had been a long time since Vann had used one of the exterior passageways, and he briefly found himself wondering if they were even going to be in the same place. The city changed constantly, and the passageways had to change along with them. He knew he could charm his way past the guards, as long as he got to the front of the line before they gave the order to close the gates. It might save him a bit of trouble, and having explain himself to whichever of the new Dons owned the passageway. He hesitated, unaware that he was stopping just a few steps past a group of ruffians, surrounding something. A couple of them looked in his direction, before one rudely bellowed. “Mind your own business, you fuck.”

    Vann stood still for a moment longer, a sneer briefly flickering across his lips, before he looked back towards the passageway. He was done with following whims, and engaging himself in things that didn’t concern him. He didn’t like the tone of those damn ruffians, but that was hardly a reason to get himself involved. But it wouldn’t hurt to get in with the new Don, assuming he wasn’t completely insane. He sighed, and took a few steps.

    “That’s right, you cowardly motherfucker. Keep walking!” The one who spoke next was a younger voice, cocksure and crazy. Clearly he was new to the group, and reveling in the power that came with having a gang of fellows to back up his every move. Vann knew what he was doing, but he still felt his feet halting, as he spun slowly around, hand coming to rest on the hilt of his sword.

    The group was committed now, and they could hardly back down now that one amongst their number had issued the challenge. Three of them moved away, leaving the oldest and gruffest of the bunch standing behind, and another one, second in command if the state of grime on him was any judge, with his hand clasped over a woman’s mouth. Vann blinked, and he felt his disgust rise even further. What were the Dons thinking, letting a group like this run rampant right outside the city gates?

    “That’s right, play the hero, you shit. We will beat you into a pulp, and then take our pleasure with you as well.”

    Well, if the Dons wouldn’t do their job, it would have to be Vann who taught them a little bit of respect. In a city like Druvin, you didn’t get to just do whatever you want. It was a sure way to start a bloodwar, and send hundreds, if not thousands of people to hang from the Black Wall by the word of Druvin magistrates. Vann’s hand dropped away from his sword, and an icy chill entered his eyes. They wanted to beat him into a pulp? Fine. He wouldn’t even bother to draw his sword.

    It seemed that the men were starting to realize that he wasn’t going to back down. They cast a vicious glance at their newest member, he would clearly get a reprimand after all this was over, but then they turned their attention back to Vann. One cracked his knuckles, and another slid a set of brass knuckles onto both hands. The youngest one was the only one to draw a knife, which earned him a sneer from both Vann and his fellows. But then the foreplay came to an end, and the three surged at Vann in a well-timed and well-practiced wave.

    It was over only moments after it had begun. Vann blocked the kid with the knife, disarming him with a fluid motion before spinning him around and hurling him in the direction of his fellow with the brass knuckles. He ducked a punch from the first man, before springing forward, knocking the wind out of him with a punch to the solar plexus, whacking him on the underside of the jaw, and then whipping his other hand through the air to crack a vicious blow to the temple. Vann stepped over his limp body before striking the knifeless individual with a spinning kick, causing him to fall back. He traded rapid blows with the final man, smoothly deflecting the brass knuckles, before one slip allowed Vann to throw in a counter to level the man. He dropped heavily, only a foot away from his friend.

    Furious at his two failures, and desperate to make up for them, the third man quickly pulled himself back to his feet, panting heavily. He bellowed furiously, before heedlessly throwing himself at Vann’s back. Vann dropped one shoulder slightly, before bending forward, using the large man’s own momentum to flip him over his shoulder. Vann grabbed his arm, popping the shoulder out of its socket, before punching the downed man in the face repeatedly.

    The two men standing around the young lady were watching Vann with a cagy sort of respect. They glanced at each other, glanced at him, blinked at their three friends, and then looked at Vann again. But their reputation was on the line. It was bad to think that their whole group was going to be beaten by a single men, and the small group of tired faced gathering among the shadows of the huts guaranteed that the rumor would undoubtedly spread, but it would be even worse if people heard that two of them had run from a single opponent, no matter what he had done to their friends. The man in charge gripped the hilt of his cheap iron sword tightly in one hand, while his friend pulled out a pair of hatchets. This fight wouldn’t end until someone was dead.

    Briefly, Vann considered the merits of taking them out without drawing his sword. It had been long enough since he had made a mess in Druvin that most of the people would have forgotten his name. But, he reminded himself, there were some people it was probably best to have had them forget his name, and if he showed off too much he might find some of the Dons trying to recruit him for their personal army. He wasn’t staying long, and didn't really want to deal with the complications that would bring.

    Vann’s sword was as magnificent as it’s hilt implied. The blade was slightly curved and wicked sharp, made of a clean, bright metal that was almost blue, before darkening to black at the hilt. He held it comfortably in one hand, before smiling cooly at the two men. They could only hesitate for one more moment, the eyes of the crowd drove them on.

    Although the two were good at tandem fighting, and had clearly worked together many times before, they lacked the grace, clean movement, and efficiency of experienced fighters. This was what allowed Vann to take them both on at the same time.

    Vann matched them move for move, using both blade and hand to block their furious swings, and he did not let the fight go on any longer than was absolutely necessary. When the moment came, he struck without hesitation, running the edge of his sword along one of the ruffians’ neck, sending a shower of blood over his front. He dropped the hatchets, attempting to stem the flow of blood, but it was a futile gesture. Under the stain of a man’s blood the blue steel seemed to turn red, and Vann turned to squarely face his final opponent.

    Without the aid of his comrade, the leader of the rapists lasted exactly four seconds. He charged in, sword grasped tightly in both hands, and Vann sidestepped, using a foreleg to trip the man up. He tried to spin out of the fall, but Vann’s sword was already in his back. He gasped, before falling limp.

    Vann cleaned the blade carefully on the man’s armor, and the glow changed slowly from red back to blue. Satisfied, he grabbed a rag from a pocket, and used it to give the blade a final wipe-down. At least those two wouldn’t have to face the humiliation that would have otherwise hounded them for the rest of their days. Perhaps death was a mercy.

    Now that the fight was over, the crowds of people were quickly dissipating. None of them had any desire to stay and risk making eye contact with the man who had just singlehandedly taken down a group of five thugs. But the poor girl they had grabbed was still there. Perhaps she hadn’t had the sense to flee. Perhaps she had been reluctant to abandon the fine mare who was prancing, wild eyed, only a few feet away. Whatever the reason, she was now looking at Vann with an expression that was either awe or fear. Sometimes they were so hard to tell apart.

    It was only in that moment that Vann finally realized who exactly he had just accidentally saved. It was the temple girl who had just been banned from her order. It was equally clear that she had yet to recognize him. She had never actually seen his face after his insults and her furious tirade from this morning, and he had never spoken to the bandits. Thank god he could still just walk away.
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