The Mercy of Inhalla

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The morning had barely begun when the silent alarms blared through Xanras's head, sending the massive creature to his feet and into the main cavern to see the darting figure of the woman trying to escape. A part of him understood the struggle she felt internally, but the other part of him knew that she needed to come to terms with her destiny. And to run away from the baby dragon that had taken so kindly to her was simply heartbreaking.

He leapt over the pits in a single bound, landing his 70+ foot form between the young woman and the main entrance door that she had been headed towards.

"Where would you go?" His voice called to her aloud, the pronunciations a little off-key. His violet eyes stared at her as his head lowered to her level, able to look directly at her. "Why would you leave something so precious behind?"


It was pretty far fetched to think she could ajorn unhindered, but that didn't keep Aiyana from jumping slightly as the majestic dragon landed in front of her suddenly. Border Patrol. Aiyana grew up with what was probably the most skewed and hateful view of dragons as was possible, but since her incident with the Blue Dragon on the Northern Plains of Varon that view had begun to change. She couldn't explain it exactly, but she was drawn to dragons, their beauty and majesty. She knew she didn't understand them, but she probably liked them better then most people. Aiyana took a step backwards so she wouldn't go cross eyed from being so close.

The first of his questions seemed to be rhetorical, so Aiyana moved to answer the second. Of course he would immediately try to guilt her into staying. "She is not mine to take." Aiyana answered about the innocent turquoise baby. It felt true to Aiyana. Just because someone handed her the baby dragon did not mean that Aiyana was responsible for her. Responsibility was a choice. Besides, if the little baby ever knew of Aiyana's history and thoughts about dragons or her family's legacy, she was pretty sure that the little dragon would not want Aiyana to take care of her. This Inhalla, whoever she really was, seemed all knowing and had apparently been the voice in Aiyana's head for the past year. Inhalla must certainly know exactly who Aiyana was, but did that mean that Xanras did? Or any of the others? Hypothetically if she did choose to stay, what if they knew or found out who her father was and who she was by association? They would probably shun her or worse, eat her. And then what would happen to the baby dragon? She was better off not knowing Aiyana.


Not hers to take? What was she taking? Xanras gave a huff, a plume of light gray smoke fuming from his nostrils as he settled himself in front of the door. "You are not taking her. She has chosen you. And it is one of the greatest gifts anyone could have."

He took a moment to think about what he could say to make her see what an honor it was to have been chosen by not only the goddess, but the soul and essence of one of the most powerful creatures in the world. "Dragons are born with great knowledge. And she understands that her duty rides alongside yours. Whether you wish to believe it or not, you have a great destiny ahead of you. And if you accept such a destiny, you will come to see that it is the greatest fate anyone could ask for." Perhaps this did not make sense to her…but why would it? How could it? Her mind was small and feeble, and she based all she did and how she acted off her life experiences.

But destiny could be cruel to some, and Xanras knew this from experience. He took a moment to ponder how to better explain this. "Have you met a dragon before, child? Have you ever seen the raw intelligence and power such a creature can have?"


Aiyana shifted her weight uneasily. Chosen? How could she be chosen?Saying it like that made it seem as though some god had written her name down long before she even existed, and now expected her to act out some fantasy. She tried to peer around Xanras but his bulk was firmly blocking the door. She shifted her weight again. This was beginning to make her uncomfortable. She was trying to not look at Xanras, but that was impossible to acheive.

So, somehow that little turquoise baby dragon was an old soul with a sense of duty? Aiyana didn't really see 'fate' as a great thing. She just wanted to She had escaped from everything she had known previously in order to get away from all the expectations there were for her. Now it seems she had run into even more expectations. Aiyana actually snorted with humor, sarcastically. Apparently Xanras was right about her having an unavoidable destiny.

She was finally able to focus back on the great dragon and when she did she found him squinting at her knowingly. Aiyana squinted back with hostility. She knew that look, that look of knowing judgment. That look that said she couldn't possibly be serious or know what she was doing. She'd encountered that look everyday of her life and spent every other moment trying to prove it wrong. She remembered that look etched on the faces of soldiers, commanders, politicians, leaders, and even common men, looking down on her (often only metaphorically due to her height) simply because she was a woman. Though, Aiyana was certain that her gender was not the cause of Xanras's judgment. And why shouldn't he judge her? To him she must seem small and frail indeed, her motivations shallow, her decisions hasty.

His next question snapped her out her revelry. She had indeed met a dragon before. If only he knew how much it really had impacted her. Those shiny sapphire scales peppered with ruby blood, that scream that pierced more than just her ears. And it's eyes that seemed to be looking at her, just her, like it knew. Knew that somehow, somewhere, she had been chosen. "I-- have met one before." she said slowly then swallowed. "A Blue, on the northern plains." she didn't know why she was telling him this exactly. "I suppose that is what ended up leading me here."What she remembered most and what she was reminded of now vividly as Xanras stood before her was the sheer beauty of dragon kind. Their wonderful, terrifying, constant beauty: strong and graceful in both body and mind. Up till now, everyone else she'd ever met had felt the opposite about the mighty beasts.

Aiyana found herself opening her mouth once more as a question sprang forward off her tongue. "I feel insoluble -- wonder toward your kind. I feel--love. Is that what makes me different?" Different, chosen, destined for greatness, or however else Xanras would have worded it.


Nothing was missed by the great Xanras. Not the squint or the obvious hatred of feeling so caged. He felt sorry for her…she did not understand that such a fate, while binding at first, can be the experience she needs to free herself from the burdens of humanity. The bonds that they put on each other to put each other down and force each other to the same levels. Such trivial creatures, to waste talents such as hers when their lives were so very short and fragile. Humans really were the creations of a lesser god, and if it wasn't for the great gift of Inhalla, no human could experience the freedom of being a dragon.

He watched her face soften slightly before hearing her speak. A small, dragonly smile appeared upon his face then. How strange it was for a Blue to have travelled from the desert, but not uncommon. Sometimes the creatures were curious of the world outside of the sands they dwelled within. His blink was slow, his smile growing. "Blue Dragons are glorious creatures, with fantastic, intelligent minds and a curiosity of humans." He knew, of course, that this dragon had passed at the hands of her kind. But this was not her fault, and Xanras would never blame her for such devastation.

"I would not be surprised. You see, young one, humans were created to kill dragons and breed hatred. The fact that you love proves that you are special. Beyond special, in fact. And it is that love that the little Turquoise chose you. She knows that you are different and special. And she wants to show you how freeing it can be to be a dragon…and though you can never be one, you can, in fact, bond to one. You will gain a great deal…immortality to time, power beyond any that humans could achieve on their own, and the unconditional love of a child of the great Inhalla. It would be a shame to miss out on such a thing, don't you think?"


Aiyana's brow was furrowed by conflicted emotions. She was beginning to feel calmer now. Maybe it was Xanras's soothing voice or maybe this was all starting to make more sense. At the same time every inch of her body was on edge as her mind raced. She was still fighting this. But why? What Xanras had said made sense, her own feelings had proved it. Immortality? Power? And love? What was there to fight? Though, Aiyana wasn't one to choose something simply because it offered advantages. It had to be because it was what she truly wanted. Maybe that was the issue. Wanting this. She had wanted a 'new life', a way to reinvent herself somehow. But instead she had spent the past year running from what she didn't want, yet not seeking something that she did want. She was stuck somewhere in the middle never really making her choice, somehow afraid to change. Was that what this was? Fear? Fear of the unknown? Fear of...herself.

Aiyana shuffled her feet again in exasperation. It was a strange feeling, being at war within oneself. It was like there were two yous and you didn't know which one was real one. You didn't know which one could be trusted. Then maybe it wasn't everyone else she distrusted after all. Maybe it was herself that was to blame. She was so use to only trusting herself. Not having anyone else to distrust just made her feel angry all over again. This was getting exhausting. She was tired of fighting with herself but she was also, unfortunately, very stubborn. One side or the other was going to have to give in eventually. Why did she have to choose now? How would she even know what to choose unless she knew all the options? Unless she'd experienced both sides? Unless she...tried it out?

Aiyana tried not to let what she was thinking really sink in, or she might change her mind yet again. But it wasn't like she could really just walk out right now. There was a huge dragon blocking her way. Aiyana sighed."Your logic is unbeatable." she said to Xanras even though it was her own thought process that brought her to the conclusion. Maybe it was just is dragony features, but from the expression on his face it looked like he had just understood everything that had gone on in her head. She wasn't sure if she found that comforting or concerning. "I could stay and see things for myself." she said to alert him of her intentions, in case he wasn't a mind reader after all.


Xanras was patient while she battled with herself. It was easy to be patient. After all, she reminded him greatly of his very own rider. The inward battle that he fought every day just to make it without hurting himself or anyone else around him. How tightly he held himself in check so that he wouldn't lose control of his anger, despite the fact that the last time he did so, he was but a child…even in human standards. The old dragon understood these emotions quite well. So, he kept quiet, looking upon her serenely while she battled herself in hopes of figuring it out. Of course, she would not be allowed to leave. But he didn't have to tell her that.

When she finally did speak, he gave a smile. "It is always best to give new things a try before deciding to do away with them, no? Give it a month. If you are not satisfied with your little dragoness by then, I will carry you to the shores of the Mainland myself. Do we have a deal?"


Aiyana crossed her arms and smirked humorlessly. Do we have a deal. Like she could disagree. She had a feeling that if she tried to leave again he would pick her up like a kitten by the scruff of the neck and drag her back to her chambers. This deal was more for her sake than for his. Yet somehow she found it easier to take orders from a dragon than from her own kind.

A damsel. I'm the damsel in distress. She groaned inwardly. She was technically being held against her will, in a cave, by a dragon. Yet in the end she was suppose to come out the hero. Aiyana looked up again at Xanras's immovable bulk. His eyes twinkled knowingly at her with a hint of both understanding and fondness. She wanted to be furious with him but somehow she was not. She supposed being thwarted by such an unstoppable force was not as humiliating as it could have been. She could forgive a dragon.

Aiyana cleared her throat. "We have a deal. I suppose I owe you that much," she said, trying to make it seem as though she was the one in control although, they both knew she was not. Voices and footsteps broke the silence of the dark, early morning. Aiyana thought she recognized Aki's voice giving instruction, as always. "Well, it sounds like something is going on. I would not want to miss out."

Aiyana excused herself and went to her room to check in on the baby dragon before heading in the direction of the group.


As per usual both Skolas and Kranon were suddenly awoken by the jump of Skolas awaking from his nightmare. Kranon flailed and slipped off the bed with a thump of his body hitting the stone floor with a gently yelp of surprise meanwhile Skolas held his hands to his head in a cold sweat and breathing heavily at the images in his head flashing by like a horror film."Damn it..." he whispered gently dropping his hands to the sheets and pulling them off him which allowed him to place his feet on the ground and stand to get the blood flowing again.

Tapping his skull he sighed muttering "Get out you damn thing..." he spoke in reference to the dream that would haunt him every night. Looking down at the Kranon that now had leapt back up onto the bed and taken its refuge under the sheets looking like a large lump of fabric rather than the black scaly dragon it was before. "Wait here mate, I gotta get some air" he gently spoke giving the lump of blanket a pat before grabbing his under armour and moved off out of his cave.

It was then he heard the sounds of chatter echoing down the hall, it was a deep voice and had a strange accent to it, Skolas knew he was meant to be asleep so he stepped quietly moving up to the exit tunnel that directed up into the large cavernous area that they had entered through when arriving. Then as he moved closer the voice became more recognisable. Xanras. Yet who was he talking to?. Crouching down he peeked around the corner to see a girl at the foot of the dragon, it was the Turquoise rider. Skolas didn't know her name yet he could see what had happened in her attempt to run perhaps.

As the conversation began to close and the voices of Aki and such now being awoken and already chanting orders and other various tasks down the tunnel, Skolas quietly yet quickly moved away from the exit tunnel towards his cave again. Grabbing his gear and armour quickly before they had to leave he felt compelled to ask why this girl would run, sure he had thoughts of just leaving but he had a reason. He carried a cursed sword, Was hated by Taval and had killed his own brother. The last thing he would want is to be rewarded a dragon.

Moving towards the Turquoise curtain he tapped on the stone and peeked his head in noticing the girl about to Run out "Hey, don't suppose you have a minute?"Aiyana slipped behind her curtain to drop off her pack and check on the baby. She supposed the dragon would need a name--but not yet. Naming her would mean that Aiyana had made her choice, that she was ok with all this--which she wasn't. She nudged her pack under the cot but left her sword buckled around her hips: it never left her side. The turquoise baby hadn't budged from her position on the cot so Aiyana turned to leave.


She was greeted at her curtain by a knock and a head peeking through the fabric. Aiyana's feathers were still ruffled from her talk with Xanras so she found herself glaring at the stranger, her arms still crossed in annoyance. But when she stepped beyond the curtain to join him she was thrown off guard a little by his height. Aiyana was use to being taller than most women and some men. The only other person she knew who was this tall was--But no, she didn't want to think about her father right now either.

Aiyana brushed aside her thoughts and focused on the stranger. "Why, are you looking for one?" she replied snarkily in answer to his question'don't suppose you have a minute'. It was funny for a moment but then Aiyana caught sight of his sincere expression on his face and winced inwardly. Her comment had been unwarranted. Being rude to everyone here was not going to make things easier on her. "Yes, I do have one."she interjected quickly. She succeeded in sounding much more cordial this time. "And it will take us about that long to reach the excitement."She guestered toward the racket she knew they both heard. Alright, so she made 'excitement' sound sarcastic. She wasn't apologizing for that. Aiyana started off in a somewhat slow but determined walk toward where the others were. When the stranger had fallen in step beside her she looked up at him expectantly, waiting for any further query's. As they walked something bumped into her and she saw that he too had a sword. Aiyana wasn't sure if she found having another swordsman around threatening or encouraging. She wondered if he was any good with the weapon.


Skolas felt a little irritated at the snarky reply yet brushed it off once she relaxed slightly upon exiting her little cave to stand beside him. Looking down a little at the taller than most girl. He smiled gently at her sarcasm when mentioning the gathering of the other riders down the ways they were headed. He huffed as he followed her just beside Aiyana as his stride was a tad longer than hers.

Before speaking he cleared his throat "You and Xanras had a bit to talk about, pardon the intrusion but i was walking about and his voice can be heard a fair distance away..." he spoke casually yet he sounded reserved in the undertone. As if he was afraid of offending the girl.


Aiyana flushed a little at his insinuation that he had overheard her private conversation. It had been hard enough opening herself up to Xanras. Aiyana narrowed her eyes resentfully as she looked up into the stranger's angled face and dark eyes. She took a steadying breath as she convinced herself to remain calm.

"Yes, we did." she agreed, and succeeded in keeping her voice even."And you are...? Aiyana asked and raised one eyebrow curiously, expecting and introduction. She might be a bit rough around the edges but she was raised a noble and a lady; she was use to certain manners even if she didn't choose to invoke them herself. Not that she couldn't if she wanted to.

She decided to invoke them now by making the first introduction. "I am Aiyana. The...turquoise rider." She was reminded once again that the little baby still needed a name. "What is my conversation with Xanras to you?" She questioned the nameless stranger further.


As they walked Skolas glanced over every now and then, grabbing thoughts and tones out of her voice. He smirked gently at the flush of her face when he mentioned his over hearing of the conversation. Perhaps he wad too upfront? Gently easing into the conversation wasnt his thing if he were honest. Looking down slightly at her he answered "Skolas. Obsidian Rider" he mentioned with a nod.

He then took a breath to answer "Well i gathet that there is only so much a Dragon like him can help with. Not to mention I guess it helps to know your not alone with how you feel" he added on as he and her walked. "We dont all feel like we belong"


"We don't all feel like we belong." What? Aiyana almost stopped in her tracks, which probably would have resulted in him tripping over her feet and then her tripping over his. Luckily they both continued walking unhindered. He's--empathizing. Aiyana didn't think that him trying to make friends should surprise her so much. She did have friends. Or rather, had them. It wasn't as if she didn't enjoy companionship. But it had been a while since she had called anyone a friend. She had been on the move so much during the past year that she never stayed in one place long enough to get to know anyone. Or let anyone get to know her. Or maybe it was the fact that Skolas had been so direct. She wasn't use to anyone being as direct as her.

Aiyana looked back towards Skolas. He would be paired with the obsidian. Everything about him seemed to match up with the stone. His tall, lithe and muscled form and his jet black hair. Very obsidian-like. And his personality seemed obstinate enough. He really did look like a swordsman. Aiyana wondered if he would be up for any sparing practice. It had been a while since she'd had a good spar and she was aching for the chance.

"Well," Aiyana said in response to his last comment, "It is good to know I am not the only one who feels that way. Though, I do not suppose you tried and run too?" She joked lightly. But she didn't want to think about that. She needed to focus on the present, keep her mind occupied at all times so she didn't have the chance to think and talk herself out of all this. "What do you suppose our next lesson will be?" she asked, guestering towards the noise they were growing every closer to while she tried to keep up the conversation. "Anything but archery." she muttered half to herself. Aiyana had always struggled with the subject. Maybe it was because she lacked the focus, or maybe because she spent most of her time with the sword. If the latter, maybe he could relate to hating archery too.


Skolas noticed the small flicker of movement that Aiyana had motioned when he spoke of not being alone, perhaps he had said something a little shocking, after all he wasn't the most emotional nor open type. But he felt that if one was feeling like they wanted to run maybe he should help. After all he had run himself, its not the easiest thing to do.

"No I did not try to run, then again Aki pinned me to the ground with her blades before i had the chance if we are being honest" he chuckled with a smirk as he looked forward, wondering indeed what the next lesson would be, when she spoke of anything but archery he looked down to her side and noticed the hilt of a sword, he took a long glance yet thought nothing of it, perhaps it was a gift from home or something. Yet his curiosity got the better of him "Guessing from your hate of Archery and the sword you wear, you prefer melee, Do you know how to use a sword?"

"I know your hate, I never really got the hang of it, My bro-" he stopped mid sentence for a second or so to take a softl deep breath, shaking the feeling and memory off quickly before continuing "A Friend of mine, me and him used to train, he got the hang of archery while I took more to the sword and close combat, The string would always hit my cheek jar my hands....damn things"


Aiyana suppressed a laugh that came out as a snort when he mentioned his run in with Aki. "I suppose I got off easy, then. I'll have to keep this a secret or else she might do the same to me." Aiyana was still feeling a little uncomfortable but at least conversing with Skolas was keeping her mind distracted.

Do you know how to use a sword? Any ease Aiyana was beginning to feel dissapeared as her shoulders tensed up. Her head snapped to the side in preparation to read his expression. She was use to defending her honor on the subject of swordplay, usually with an offensive demonstration. But, yet again, his expression seemed innocent enough. It seemed, as in Xanras's case, Skolas was not being sexist. He probably had come to the conclusion that she was trained in swordplay and had decided to make conversation on the subject. "Yes, but anyone would say that." She answered him. " I will have to show you sometime."

Then he half mentioned his 'friend' which from his blunder led Aiyana to guess was really his brother. Aiyana often experienced the same little blunders in her head when thinking about her father. Perhaps Skolas really had more in common with her than he realized. Aiyana raised her eyebrows sympathetically as she herself remembered the annoying twang of the bow's string. "I never could sit through the training." Aiyana thought back, "Hours of shooting at a hay bale seemed...anticlimactic. I would much rather have an opponent who can fight back. Maybe I just lacked the foresight for it." Those were the exact words her fath--or rather, 'a friend of hers' had used when attempting to teach her. He himself was proficient in both archery and the sword.

Just then they rounded a corner and met up with the rest of the group. For a minute Aiyana thought her eyes were deceiving her. She did a double take and realized that, indeed, everyone was holding a bow. "Alright, everyone," Aki was saying, "Tonight is our first hunting lesson." Aiyana's eyes bulged and she looked away from Aki to glance at Skolas, as if trying to ascertain that she was not hallucinating. Of course there would be archery lessons. Aiyana was about to get payback for all the times she had brushed off archery.

"Try not to shoot me." Aiyana muttered under her breath to Skolas.


Aiyana slipped into her place in the front line. If she was in the back she might accidentally fill the others with arrows like a pincushion. As Aki continued to explain the lession Aiyana peered around at the other riders for the first time. Male, female, different hair colors, body types. They all looked seemingly ordinary. Ordinary in the sense that no one looked like they were born to ride dragons. Although, she supposed she didn't know what dragon riders were suppose to look like as this was her first time meeting any. As Aki spoke, Aiyana strung her bow and fiddled with an arrow as she continued to glance around. It seemed that many of the others were just as enthusiastic about handling a bow as she was. A few bowed out from the activity all together and left to discuss farming with Nero.

"Any questions before we go?"

What happens if we shoot someone? Aiyana thought, but as she had no real questions she kept her mouth shut. She thought about her past archery sessions. It wasn't as if she had trouble with the skill exactly: she just did not prefer it. To her archery did not flow the same as sparing. A bow just could not be an extension of one's body in the same way a sword was. Although she had a sense that using a bow to hunt would be an entirely different experience than simply aiming at a target. One way or another she would have to become familliar with the bow and arrow -- the dragons depended on it.

Particularly her dragon -- who still needed a name. What was one suppose to name a dragon, anyway? She had no idea. Again, this was her first time meeting any dragons. But for now she pushed the naming to the back of her mind. If she tried to handle too much at once she would explode. For this moment, she could put all her focus into the bow and arrows she was holding.
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The dragon riders studied their brood with cold, calculating stares, waiting for anyone to speak up or raise a hand. Many looked uneasy with their bows and arrows, simply standing there, unsure what to do. Others looked frightened. Then, there were the few who just looked determined. The facial expressions varied from rider to rider, and both Aki and Mauras knew that these things would not be easy.

Aki studied their Auras, taking in the unpleasant emotions and un-used magicks that each were capable of. She knew that, with time, each tamer could learn to hunt and provide for their dragons…even if there were some that would be stuck to farming and providing for other riders. Nero, of course, had a point in the fact that even they needed to eat, and meat was not the only thing that should be on the menu.

After more than ten minutes of the group standing, she finally spoke up.

"Well, if there are no questions, I suppose we should all get started. For those of you who haven't figured out how to put your quiver on, slip it over your head to rest on the shoulder of your shooting arm." As a demonstration, she removed her own and replaced it where the strap sat across her right shoulder, allowing the quiver to face her right side for ease of access. Then, quickly, she pulled an arrow from her quiver with her right hand, notched it, and drew the bow string.

Placing the arrow back in its quiver, she looked at the group expectantly. "Go ahead and get yourselves ready." Mauras walked towards the very back, standing behind the two experienced archers. As the group settled, and everyone had placed their quivers on their backs, she took position in the front center. Before turning around, she gave her final instruction. Her voice was firm and commanding, the air around her quivering.

"We will try to remain upwind of our prey, and we must try to move as silently as possible. During this time, there will be no talking unless there is an order given. When this is done, it will be spoken in a whisper, so listen closely. Keep your eyes peeled for predators or prey, and always keep an arrow notched and ready to be drawn. I do not expect you all to learn how to shoot in a single night, but this is something we must do every single night for two hours…so you will learn. For tonight, just do your best, and try not to shoot anyone. Now, let's move."

With that, she pulled an arrow from her quiver, notched it, and turned to face the treeline that was a little more than three hundred meters away. Upon facing that direction, she moved forward, expecting the others to follow.

It took no more than five minutes for the group to make it to the tree line. Aki turned her head and whispered her first command. "Try to stay as close to each other as possible without getting so close that you can't shoot…do not lose sight of the group. It's easy to get lost in here."

The trees were massive, each trunk thick enough for a small home to be carved within, and their leaves did not start until thirty feet high. What little light had broken through was dull and hard to see by, and the air was thick with the cold humidity found floating upon the breeze coming from the lake.

As the group made their way in, the dragons' shadows could be seen breaking through the silver light of the moons, searching from above for prey to show. Within moments, Aki lead them slightly to the right, drawing her bow. Not long after her direction change, the reason had become quite apparent.

No more than a hundred feet from them was a stag, standing nearly the size of Xaria with a beautiful, glowing hide of silver and blue and shining eyes. His rack was wide and majestic, and his posture was relaxed as he dipped his head to graze. A single arrow would not be enough to take him down. In fact, Aki knew that the group could not take him without the use of magic. Still, he would make a good lesson…and the does she knew she would find just a few hundred feet to the right would be perfect catch.


She turned her head, placing a finger over her lips, before drawing her arrow back and anchoring it to her lip. Her breathing was slow and even, her eyes fixated upon the heart of the beast she was about to fire upon.


Mauras's voice was low, barely a whisper, as he watched the others mimic Aki's movements to the best of their own abilities.


He drew his own arrow back, his eyes fixating upon the stag. He took a slow, deep breath, readying himself for the shot.


Aki let fly, her arrow soaring silently through the night air.


His own followed suit, as well as some that were let loose from the bows of the other riders. The cry of the stag echoed through the night as his skin bled a shimmering crimson, flowing from the arrows that had been shot true. With his call came the echoing calls of many others, and he reared up to take off deeper into the forest.

"Move!" Aki demanded, moving forward at a slight jog, drawing another arrow quickly so that she didn't lose the stag.

The introduction was simple enough, Aki always made it simple, unless she was attempting to explain how dragons choose riders, Skolas never really got the hang of understanding that part. As he stood amongst the group he looked down at the bow in his hand as the quiver had already been placed over his torso. Taking a moment to let the memories flash him by he took a breath and smirked "Time to show you up Skaln". The words would be but a voice in his head however they seemed to be yelled in his ears, Standing up straight he placed an arrow onto the lip and gave a soft pull on the string to make sure it was tight and ready to be pulled back.

As the group moved towards the tree line he moved behind Aiyana and gave her a soft poke with the tip of his arrow smiling under his helmet "Oops, Sorry...Im not the best with a bow" he chuckled gently before moving forward ahead of her and re-focusing on the task ahead. As they moved into the treeline he sighed, he hated sneaking and anything of the sort, Skolas was always one for a more 'kick down the door, scare people into submission and complete the objective' type of simple terms.

The air in his lungs was chilling, every foot step he took was softer than the last yet still heavy due to his armor, his head moving to look up at the dragons above, the thought of being up that high one day and doing the same always made his heart beat louder, it was both nerves and excitement all in one. Then the stag was noticed.

Skolas quickly stood up and pulled back to bring the arrow just a fingers width away from his helmets cheek. He squinted his eyes softly to get a better look at the target and aim that little bit more...then the order was given and as if it happened in slow motion Skolas let loose the Arrow, it was so perfectly lined up.....with the tree behind the stag...

The arrow whistled past the stags rump entirely and slammed into the tree behind in. Caught up in the moment and knowing he missed Skolas dropped his bow and drew his sword ready to leap and chase should the arrows not bring it down to rest.
Khajju was certain that his sword pointed in the wrong direction for the salute. The swordmaster he met with always tipped his blade further to the right; making the whole arm position slightly crooked in Khaj's case. Not matter the proper salute, Khajju was sure to introduce himself to his partner, that much he did remeber.

"I am Khajju of house Arjunus," He introduced himself while lowering his weapon. Khajju's brother would certainly dissagree with that, and probably his sister too. Despite being a de facto exile of his house, Khajju never sworn off the honour and values his father engrained into an Arjunus. "My dragon is Aster, the amethyst." He continued on, an unforseen sense of pride filled his heart when Aster was mentioned. "And you, my lady?"

Leatrix watched as the tall dragon rider pointed his sword in a wrong way, she didn't say he was bad, he just needed a little bit polishing. Leatrix believed that he possessed a great skill using sword. His name was Khajju, the dragon rider of amethyst dragon, Aster. Leatrix had been putting her eyes on the amethyst dragon because his color was beautiful and somehow brought a peaceful feeling.

"Nice to meet you, my name is Leatrix Harland, the proud daughter of Daram Harland," she smiled and gave him a slight bow. Leatrix drew her beloved swords, Scattish. Leatrix pointed Scatta (the right one) to Khajju, then put Tishe (the left one) back to its sheath, "I will only use Scatta for it might be not fair using both of it," Leatrix rarely only used one of Scattish since she was always better at using dual swords than single sword. Though it sounds the same, the way to use it was quiet different.

"You can move first, Sir Khajju," Leatrix moved Scatta upward so its blade was in front of her face. She tilted it a little before drifted it to her the back of her head. Standing with feet shoulder width apart, her left foot was right at the front while her free hand crooked and acted as her shield. She was not on her attack stance, more to a defend stance for she would receive some blows from Khajju.

Khajju wasn't sure whether he said of the Harlands before. It sounded like a name from Gareth, the city of rings. The name only confirmed his earlier suspicions of Leatrix being the child of a knight, as if her elaborate armour and weapons didn't tell enough. Speaking of weapons, Leatrix's swords were a curious sights to him. Admittedly, Khajju wasn't an expert on metalworking, but he could spot signs of age; perhaps the weapon was even older than Leatrix herself. How weapons of that age were maintained was another question, after all, it wouldn't take more than weeks before rust start to gather.

After hearing the lady's introduction, Khajju began to appreciate Leatrix's manners. After all, many of the group were quite unruly folks; people from farmers to thieves to fishers. He nodded in response, twirling his own sword to gauge its weight and silently took note of his partner's one-handed opening stance. With a quick but somewhat jagged motion, Khajju raised the blade to his upper-right shoulder and cut in a diagonal sweep. The response was an unsurprising defense, so Khajju followed through by bringing his sword back up from the left.

As soon as the man's sword swung in diagonal, Leatrix quickly stepped back one step and moved her sword to defend his sword. The sound of swords clashing each other could be heard filling the whole cave. She smiled at him before leaned her body backward as he brought his sword up, "Nice try," Leatrix moved forward to give a counterattack by thrusting Scatta to Khajju's right side when she saw an opening.

The clashing of steel on steel made Khajju's arm a little numb, and blood rushed wild in their veins; it was different from the bowstring he was so used to. Where archery was flexible and extended, swordplay was jagged and fleeting. He managed a faint curl on his lips in response to Leatrix's smile. But his momentum was quickly interrupted by a flash of metal coming towards his right, and he focused on the motion of the opposing by moving his own sword to parry. His defense was sucessful in some ways, his own sword managed to drive off Scatta but the block forced Khajju back on his weak foot. With noise of other riders beginning their practice, Khaj flashed a quick glance behind to make sure he was clear, once finding a clear route, he stepped back in hope to draw the battle into a favourable position.

Leatrix was quiet impressed when Khajju managed to defend her movement. She must acknowledged that he had good speed and reflex, maybe being an archer had its perks. The distance he made after receiving an attack made the blonde woman raised her brow slightly, assuming that the hunter indeed more comfortable fighting in distance. However, this training's purpose was to sharpen the rider's fighting skill which somehow made her eager to teach Khajju more about using sword, weapon that seemed unfamiliar to him.

Again, she dashed toward him and readied her precious Scatta in her right hand. She could pull out Tishe right now, but Leatrix stopped herself from being too excited. Stopping right when she felt she was close enough, she made a spin to put more strength into her next blow to Khajju.

Having backed up enough, the pair was nearing another duo of riders. This meant that Khajju couldn't retreat much more and has to hold his ground against Leatrix. He knew this bout wouldn't end in his favour, , indeed, Khajju intended to warm-up instead of win. But he was surprised he last thus far, though he doubt it would last this long if Leatrix put her full might and her second blade into the fray. At this point, Khajju hoped he could end this fight on his feet, rather than suffering the indignity of knocked down on his back.

Seeing Leatrix dashed towards him, Khajju held up his sword in defense. The woman's left hand seemed to reach for her second sword, or perhaps it was simply misinterpretation for a different manoeuvre. Whatever the case was, Leatrix's next blow came in quick and hard. Though Khajju stood ready, the sharp metallic ranged coarsely in ear, and the accompanying impact knocked his arm away, nearly stumbling him. The fight was close to end, Khajju could feel himself losing focus and breath. With that in mind, he hastily re-positioned into one final attack, a straight-down slash that could be easily subverted and left him potentially vulnerable; he hoped Leatrix wouldn't actually skewer him right there.

The quiver she felt on Scatta gave a clear signal that Leatrix put too much effort in this fight, making Khajju stumbled a bit. For the love she had over training, the blonde rider sometimes could get carried away too far. Yes, she did get some feedback before from her team that she really need to hold herself together when in training. She often one two times made her friends hurt, especially when she thought that they really needed a lot of training.

Though she could still manage her breath, the heavy breath heard from Khajju knocked Leatrix back to her consciousness. She pulled herself from him as he made a straight down slash to her, he didn't put enough power to the attack which made Leatrix easily avoided it and put Scatta right under his neck. That time she knew perfectly that he had drained his energy.

Still with a smile on her face, "I really want to continue this training, I don't think that this is enough, but maybe we should move to another training?" As she pulled Scatta away from his neck, she said, "You're good actually, however you still need to train a lot. You can barely defend yourself,"Leatrix sounded just like her father as the words came out from her mouth.

Thankfully, Leatrix chose not to drive her sword into Khajju. Instead, her comments were rather encouraging. It sounded like the old swordmaster of Lortania, someone Khajju never fully understood. Provided that the swordmaster was far more conservative with his strikes, contrasting to Leatrix's energetic movements. Of course, both the swordmaster and Leatrix remarked on Khaj's defense, an aspect he thoroughly needed to work on. It was an entirely different concept from archery, for the use of bow and arrows meant security derived from distance, not endurance. Beyond that, Khajju was also curious about Leatrix's final slash, spinning advances were generally discarded by Lortanian fencers. Whoever trained Leatrix was skilled, skilled but also unorthodox.

"Of course, thank you for the bout, my lady." Khajju responded between whizzing breathes. He unhooked the water-skin from his belt and took a long swig of its contents; cool water calmed burning lungs like no other. Of course, Khajju wasn't struggling as much as the scythe-wielding farmer to his left. Theolyn looked pale as snow, and he was hunched over, most likely emptying his stomach. The scene reminded Khajju of a bard's rhyme; his palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy; there's vomit on his sweater already, mom's spaghetti. This temporary distraction gave Khajju some time to even his breath, and he felt slightly restored.

"Over there," Khajju returned the waterskin to his belt and pointed towards a rack of bows. "I could show you some tricks with arrows." Already armed with his own weapon, Khajju waited for his partner to retrieve hers. Once the knight returned with her choice of bow and arrows, Khajju wasted no time to find a wide lane for practice shot. After all, he didn't want them to impale a fellow rider with training missiles.

"Your last advance," Khajju recalled from their dual. "It didn't feel like a common attack; where did you learn of it?" He asked before placing an arrow against his bowstring.

When the sword training was over, Leatrix carefully sheathed Scatta back to its belt. Her dry throat asking for some attention, so Leatrix skipped her way to where she placed her belongings. She never brought anything than her weapons when training because it would only weigh her down. However, sometimes she would put on ankle weights to train her agility and strength. She would always striving to be better.

After taking a break for minutes, Khajju offered to show her some tricks with arrow, "It is a pleasure to learn tricks right from the expert," Leatrix could see from how he handled the bow, Khajju was familiar with this weapon. She never had time to pick up bow and arrows as her weapon. Her father always told her to focus on one weapon rather than trying to master every weapon. Though she also knew how to use chain whip, she only used it as 'urgent' weapon.

Leatrix never hold a bow before, so it was quiet hard for her to pick the one she wanted. Actually, the bows didn't look too different, but she just a little bit picky when it came to weapons. After taking one of those, Leatrix followed Khajju to wider area.

"The spinning one? I learnt it from my father, he was a great knight. If only he didn't..." Leatrix stopped as the memories of her past rushed to her mind, the dark past she wanted to get rid of. A revenge... Almost forget about that... Leatrix shook her head to get rid of this thought and looked at Khajju, "I learnt a lot from him, I bet he can teach you better than I am."

Following what Khajju did with his arrow, Leatrix placed an arrow against the bowstring as well. Maybe it was not that hard? She pulled the bowstring and tried to fire the arrow, but she slipped her fingers and ended up firing the arrow to nowhere. She was glad that it didn't hurt other riders, "I think I won't do anything until you show me how, I don't want to accidentally pierce someone's head with this," she laughed and shrugged to cover her nervousness.

Unlike Leatrix, Khajju preferred to have all his equipment attached when training. After all, one cannot fight as they are trained when they don't train as they fight. However, he did take note of his partner's weight saving measures, perhaps he can make do without hauling around everything. Another thing to take note on was how Leatrix picked her bow; though the bows were not different by too much, Leatrix was unable to take into account the length and flexibility of different pieces. Once she took her choice of weapon, Khajju saw a brief pause when Leatrix talked about her father. It felt that many riders here had treacherous backgrounds. Though it sounded like Leatrix's father raised her similar to how Khajju's raised him, albeit the difference of merchant and knight, he questioned what secrets the man held. But before Khajju could press the subject further, Leatrix had already let loose a stray arrow and lodged it far from its target.

"Ah, common beginner error." Khajju flashed a soft smile. He stepped beside Leatrix, canting his own bow to show her the correct grip. "Look here, your shots would be far straighter if you move that hand here." He then pulled his own bow back up, aligning the arrow with his eyes and letting it fly. It wasn't the perfect shot but it served the purpose of demonstration. The missile struck right beside the centre, its tip firm in the straw dummy. "Just like that; try it." Khajju shuffled back and invited Leatrix for another shot.

Leatrix smiled faintly, she might looked gallant when holding and using swords, but when it came to bow and arrow, her feminine and helpless side emerged. As Khajju started to demonstrate how to fire the bow, Leatrix watched and carefully followed what he did, "Oh! Nice shot," Leatrix praised the male in awe. Even though it didn't hit the center, Leatrix knew that he could do more than that. If only she could at least make her arrow hit the dummy wherever it was, she would be very thankful.

"Okay... I'll give another shot," taking comfortable stance, Leatrix stretched her arm again and released the arrow just like Khajju instructed. The arrow flew fast and this time landed on the straw dummy... though it was quiet far from the center, "At least it doesn't hit someone's head, right?" Leatrix laughed and took out another arrow, "Should we practice again?"

The sailor had entered the bathing chamber with drooping eyelids and dragging feet, but as she pulled herself out of the water almost two hours later, her spirits had been restored by the cool crystalline waters of the silver-lit pool. Feeling rejuvenated aside from a particularly nasty headache, Cora wrapped a soft towel about her torso and tried to ignore the incessant pounding in her head, probably the product of a long and stressful night. Despite having had a queasy start to their weapons training, the sailor thought she and Theolyn had done well in light of their humble backgrounds. The battle trident had a pleasant weight to it, and she was sure that in a few weeks she would be able to wield it with more strength and skill than the other riders, who generally seemed to favor swords. Cora was careful not to let her mind stray from similarly positive, rose-tinted musings, having been deeply affected by the surprise memories of her ex-husband that had surfaced earlier in the night. Any dark thoughts had been washed away like dirt by the gently-running, silvery water during her time in the bath, and she had no intention of staining her mind again.

Humming a sea shanty, the woman replaced the many soaps she had used upon the stone shelf, and lifted a dark, damp bundle of clothes off of the cold floor. Although bath time was quickly becoming a blessing in this dark, crowded cave, Cassius was probably hungry, and needed her attention.

With a long and tiring day behind him, feeding Aster became more of a chore. The night was getting late and Khajju was feeling sore from his training and all of the day's errands. He was also feeling the need for personal hygiene. It had be days since they arrived on this island, and since then, Khajju had yet to take a complete bath. Fact was that the bathing hall, or more accurately, the watered-in cavern offered little privacy. Having grown up in a well-off household, a private bath was something Khajju took for granted. So for this night, he waited nearly two hours before bathing. The time was passed by trying to write a journal with a piece of worn parchment and dried up quill, which didn't work very well. Khajju also attempted to teach Aster tricks, which ended in his dragon dozing off. Finally, Khajju polished his dagger and re-feathered some arrows and nearly cut himself in the process. Finally, when he thought every other rider was asleep, Khajju gathered his belongings and headed to bath.

Instead of finding an empty cavern, Khajju was met with a departing Cora. The area was a little dark but as far he knew, there wasn't anyone else around. Lingering thoughts of confronting Cora suddenly came back to mind, and Khajju decided now is the best time to proceed.

"Lady Morgan," He called out to the sailor. At first, she didn't respond, either she wasn't aware or she deliberately ignored him. "Cora. A moment please?" He spoke again and slowly approached the woman.

As she was about to exit the shimmering cavern, the woman passed a dark figure whom she knew, but internally attempted to deny, was none other than Khajju Arjunus, the very man she had been so careful to avoid over the past few days. Praying to Varon Inhalla that he would somehow not recognize her, the sailor trotted a little more quickly toward the blue curtain and away from what was sure to be an awkward confrontation. As expected, however, the merchant called out her name once, then twice, drawing Cora to a reluctant but inevitable halt.

Slowly, she turned, with one hand at her chest to keep the towel securely in place, and the other haphazardly clutching the dripping, dark bundle of clothes. Although the bathing chamber was dimly lit, the many candles floating on the water provided enough silvery light for emerald eyes to shine with resentment and hostility. "What do you want?" the woman asked in a clipped tone, looking at the well-groomed, stately man before her but only managing to see her ex-husband. 'What does he know?' she asked herself, secretly and deeply ashamed. That Khajju had run into her in the baths must have been no accident, she theorized wildly in response to increasing feelings of panic. 'He wants to embarrass me.' Cora wanted nothing more than to bolt through the blue curtains, but some instinct of bravery kept her feet glued to the ground as she awaited an explanation.

The faint orange candlelight glowed behind Cora, wrapping her skin in soft highlights. The woman ahead was unlike the ragged fisher he saw in Port Syren. He recalled Cora as a dirty and scruffy looking sailor, akin to the regular harbour stench. Tonight though, this woman was clean and had a light aroma of shampoo; she was even beautiful in a way. Khajju could see some of the appeal Florence so often talked about; her skin glistened with still-present water drops, her hair, even in its drenched mess, neatly complemented her face. No, he was thinking dangerous thoughts.

"You've been avoiding me, lady Morgan." Khajju stated matter-of-factly. He locked his brown eyeballs into Cora's green ones, trying to pierce her defensive exterior and holding her to the conversation. Cora was angry, that much was obvious from her gaze and tone. "Look, Cora." Exhaling a quiet sigh, he softened his voice in anticipation for sudden rebuttal, or perhaps departure. "I've spoken to your family before coming here," Khajju rubbed his jaw, carefully considering the right words. Reverb of dripping water near and burning candles afar filled his silence. "They are, well, concerned about you."

If contempt created heat, Cora's skin would have been steaming as Khajju took a brief moment to inspect her (as was typical of a merchant), his face an impenetrable, courteous mask that only added to her irritation. Dark brows furrowing slightly at the formal address, the sailor suddenly found herself locked onto the gaze of the man before her, his deep brown eyes probing, calculating, questioning her to the core. In the years since the divorce, she had forgotten small details about the famous trader Khajju that now seemed so obviously familiar: the dignity with which he carried himself, the eternally inquisitive eyes, the way he spoke with such resolution. Cora remembered having always been slightly intimidated by this commanding figure, but now, though she stood before him in nothing but a towel, she felt too impassioned to care.

The man's voice softened as he used her first name, and it was with careful words that he mentioned having spoken to her family. Immediately the sailor's body tensed up, plagued by memories of such sudden abandonment and isolation. "'Concerned,'" she spat, stray, damp curls sticking to her face as her head shook slowly. "Is that why you're here, Khajju? I have no need of anyone's concern." While it was possible that certain members of her family were worried, any interest they might have in her was still outweighed by respect for -and fear of- the patriarch that had cast her out. Cora had no room in her life for those who still strictly adhered to the social system that had caused her ruination.

Just as he expected, Cora was rather forthcoming with her frustration. It didn't take much for her face to burn in a darker shade and every other part to become stiff. As much as Khajju hated to admit, Cora projected an awfully fierce image, despite how vulnerable she could be right now. By the time his "opponent" finished her sentence, water was scarcely falling from her hair and body. The cavern was not an entirely warm place, and if Khajju was really concerned, he would have been worried about Cora catching a cold.

"Your family is none of my business," Khajju stood firm against the retort. An average person might be tempted into shouting back, but a merchant's work teaches patience. He would hold himself patient for the next exchange, no matter how fast Cora was wearing it out. "But know this; your father, Jasper, told me he regrets many decisions." The exchange from some weeks ago played rapidly in Khajju's mind. He couldn't remember the exact words of Jasper, but the gist still remained. Fact was that Jasper, unlike Bernard, was more open-minded towards Khajju. Where Bernard scolded Khajju for being an outsider, Jasper held amiable conversations. Those conversation occasionally drifted into personal matters, some of which were the regrets he had for his daughter. "Your father was remorseful of his decisions, but he couldn't change the past. He probably never expected me to meet his daughter here; but know this, he is sorry for all the harms that befell upon you."

For some reason, perhaps genuine concern or just desire to act on an established cliché, Khajju felt his hand reaching to brush aside Cora's wet hair. He stopped quickly while cursing himself on the inside, barely enough movements to be seen under the shadows. Instead, he extended a clean towel accompanied relaxing his stance, not too different from when a merchant offers sample to a customer.

Green eyes blinked in surprise at the merchant's claim, though it was only a moment before suspicion had taken the place of genuine relief. Since the moment she had first seen Khajju on the bank of Silver Tail Lake, the potential of harassment had been a source of constant anxiety for Cora, even after the fear of being dragged back to Port Syren had been hesitantly dismissed. Hearing Khajju's assurance of noninterference did surprisingly well to soothe the sailor's nerves, despite the fact that she had little reason to believe in the true neutrality of a merchant.

To be certain, the next thing out of Khajju's mouth involved none other than her father, Jasper Morgan, and his apparent regret for having agreed to her exile. Listening to the merchant's comment on her family had been difficult, but listening to him speak of her father was more personal, more biting; as she stared up at the merchant, Cora felt a familiar, deep sense of betrayal course through her veins. Her father. The man who had taught her how to tie knots, how to aim her dagger throws, and how to identify constellations had failed her at the first test of hardship, and she would never forgive him for it- no matter how remorseful he had become. "You're right," the woman spoke after a tense moment, her voice husky with angry tears that threatened to fall from watery emerald eyes. "My family is none of your business."

Another few moments passed in relative silence until the merchant began to raise his arm in what Cora assumed was a smack. She was not able to suppress a flinch, though soon discovered that she had been accosted by a clean towel instead of a fist. The good-willed gesture drew upon some guilt; Khajju was not a Morgan, and did not deserve her contempt at only two days into this two-year ordeal. Besides, she was beginning to realize that the merchant was not as villainous as the she remembered all of Florence's co-workers to be.

Quietly the woman reached forward and accepted the extra towel, throwing it over her shoulders in one smooth, one-handed motion. Whether because of anger or the coolness of the cavern, the sailor had been trembling somewhat violently for the past several minutes, and appreciated the extra material covering her damp torso. Unable to form the words of an apology and subject herself to emotional vulnerability, Cora gave Khajju an embarrassed look and twisted the towel at her chest in discomfort. Although she knew it wasn't fair, he would have to make the next move to diffuse the situation.

Cora's words were rough and uneven, at the same time, tears hovered on the edges of her eyes. This was not the reaction Khajju reacted. Well, he's not quite sure what to expect from her at all, with how unpredictable the former fisherwoman appeared to be. As if she was a fine pane of glass, shimmering with blinding rage in one second and then threatening to shatter in the next. In Cora's case, Khajju wasn't sure whether she could even keep herself together against the slightest breeze. Somehow, there was a strong urge to hold her, to comfort her. Such feeling was surprising for a stern businessman like him. Was it bonding with a dragon that instilled compassion? Or was it the thought of family? Something they both lost, but also something Cora could reclaim.

The freckle-faced woman flinched plainly, observable without the need for an archer's eagle-eyes. Heightened shivering and seemingly a loss of words followed. Seconds turned into minutes, as Khajju waited for Cora to speak, to lash out again or break down crying. Instead, none but silence came.

"Very well," Khajju recalled her last sentence. The stoic expression still held on his face, but it was clear that many parts of his features drooped with signs of tension and worry. "Cora, listen." Locking their eyes again, Khajju stressed his words, attempting to snap the woman out of her mute and shivering trance. "You should warm yourself up, you'll catch a cold out here."

Feeling a messy mixture of foolishness, exhaustion, and the remnants of anger, Cora could only manage to hold Khajju's involving stare for a few moments before breaking off into a vague nod. The fight had gone out of her as quickly as it had come. "...Yeah, probably," she responded, not without some remorse for her harsh words. With more to say but not sure of what it was or how to say it, the sailor had nothing to do but leave her fellow rider to his bath. Re-adjusting the wet pile of clothes into both hands, she gave him an uncertain parting glance and turned toward the sparkling blue curtain, though she paused before stepping into the hallway.

"Uh, Khajju? I ..." Green eyes shifted from the alluring pool to rest, once more, upon the merchant before them. "I'll see you tomorrow." Unspoken was the promise that she would collect herself by then, and that tonight's incident would not repeat itself. 'I have to take better control of my past,' the sailor thought distractedly as she slipped through the threshold and padded quietly down the corridor. Still, the thought of her family expressing regret for their actions (or inaction), especially her father, was painful to reflect upon, and Khajju had stirred up other, less savory memories that she had been trying to bury- or at least hide. It would be a while yet before Cora would feel comfortable around the famous merchant, but at least she felt considerably less intimidated by him after this first, albeit rocky, encounter.

Khajju nodded back to Cora, glancing behind his shoulders to watch her strode away. "Good night, lady Morgan." He added before the woman disappeared from sight. There was a moment of pause, a quick reflection of what just occurred. Their brief conversation was still feeling strange in his head; he supposed he knew that Cora was deliberately avoiding him, and from the near-breakdown she just had, most likely from a complex mixture of anger and fear. The thought of fighting alongside Cora, and probably others with secrets like this elicited a sigh from Khajju. To stand a chance against their mighty enemies, his fellow riders have to start at trusting each other. The conversation, as awkward and troublesome as it was, proved they can at least view each other with some degree of normalcy now. The problem was though, Khajju still didn't know why exactly Cora feared or frustrated of. But she did say she would stop dodging him tomorrow; maybe he can get a clear answer then.

The crystal like pool sparkled with brilliance when Khajju knelled before it. He took a much need scoop of water and rinsed his face, feeling facial muscle soften under the cool liquid. It was probably the dead of night now, and Khajju wondered how much time he spent in the conversation. It could have been mere minutes, or it might have neared an hour. Honestly, it felt like both, abrupt and prolonged. For now though, he would have the much needed bath and hopefully a restful sleep.

Khajju woke up to a decent rest. He was better adapted to the living quarters, dragon-caring and all the nuisances this place had to offer. It was a dreamless night, and one that Khajju very much appreciated. Between being refreshed and now immersed in the crisp forest air, he was feeling more alive than he ever been since arriving. Other riders were not as cheerful, most of them were not archers, likely more than half of them never notched an arrow in their lives. Unlike Khajju, they were fishes out of water, seemingly clueless with a stringed piece of wood. One woman fared better than the rest though, Leatrix was a fast learner, she had taken much of Khajju's pointers to heart and applied them with the bow in her hand.

After their leaders delivered instructions and marched the group on their way, Khajju found himself behind, with the only other experienced shooter. Two marksman in a group of ten, such a shame that men and women of Kabola chose to ignore this noble art. The woman beside Khajju didn't dress like a ranger either. She wore the trappings of a blacksmith, and had the weather fingers that could only be born of a sweltering forge. Khajju dared not to call himself an expert on metalworking, but the smiths of Lortania and Port Syren shared much commonalities; whether that be developed arms or fine metal equipment they carried. This lady was no different from them, but Khajju wondered, how could a common forge-woman find the time to hone her aim?

At the introduction of Eolo, Khajju looked to his companion and faintly curled his lips. Instead of a curtsy or a cheek-kiss, what was offered instead was the rough hand. Nevertheless, a greeting was a greeting, and Khajju did not hesitate to exchange a firm shake. "I am Khajju Arjunus, with the amethyst dragon." He greeted and nodded in approval of her well-crafted bow. "It's good to see a fellow archer."
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For some reason the fisherwoman had ended up near the back of the motley company as they moved toward the forest, and occupied her time by trying to get a better feel for the strange piece of weaponry in her hands. Although she tried to keep an arrow notched in case of predators as per Aki's instruction, the slippery arrowhead insisted on sliding off the curve of the bow when Cora's attentions wandered. She was stubbornly clamping the arrow in place when a forest of great trees loomed ahead like a palace in the darkness, filling the sky with ever-shifting shades of purple and brown where stars should have been. Never in her life had the sailor seen so many beautiful trees, and in her revelry she completely ignored the weapon in her weathered hands, preferring instead to marvel like a child at the wonders of the Silver Tail Island.

So distracted was Cora that when the group came to a soft halt just outside of a moonlit clearing, she nearly impaled the person who had stopped directly before her. Continually awestruck by the forest, the woman peered through the leaves and beheld a shimmering silver stag, its antlers reaching for the sky with ivory fingers, its hide rippling with muscle. Nearby, Akihanna lifted her bow and arrow with the ease of a warrior; somewhat more hesitantly, the other riders followed suit. Cora tried to pull the string back and found it easier than expected, though she was not sure of how or where to aim. Transfixed on the mystical stag, the fisherwoman could only wait in mixed horror and awe as their mentor counted down, culminating in a sharp 'fire' command.

The arrow whizzed past a freckled cheek and found its mark in the stag's back leg, causing a thin stream of dark blood to cascade down the beast's ankle. Horrified, Cora was instantly reminded of Theolyn's distaste for violence; as the stag let out an anguished cry, she thought she understood. 'I did that,' the woman thought, watching her arrow bounce with the stag's leg as it bounded out of the clearing, still quite limber despite its wounds. An enormous sense of guilt tugged at her conscience, but as the group pulsed forward with their query, intent on blood tonight.
As soon as the bow had bene placed in her hands, Nari knew she wasn't about to be any sort of successful. The wooden instrument was foreign and daunting to the outlaw. The woman had tried a few times over the years to wield such a weapon, but she'd always ended up a failure. So when the two older riders led them out into the woods, she obeyed and heled it noticed, but it was without reassurance. She'd have better luck fending any oncoming predators off with her hands.

As they walked, she kept her tread quiet, that, at least, was something she could do. The woman tried to focus on the whole hunting ordeal but she was more interested in looking around her, sharp dark gaze catching little bit of movement in the brush every now and then. Maybe she could set up traps. She'd be better with that than the weapon in her hands. But how many small rodents would it take to feed the baby rainbow back at the caves? Nari's mind became busy with calculations and how many traps it would take just to do that. Never mind her, she could live off of plant life if she really had to.

So into her thoughts had she become during their trek that when the small group was whispered to a halt, the brunette nearly jumped out of her skin. The woman tossed a look at the two leaders before her eyes snapped back to look at the beautiful pale creature before them. It was pretty. But it was big…but it wasn't that big…Would the creature feed all of the hungry little mouths back at the caves? Obediently, she drew back the bowstring and made sure her arrow was in the correct place before she took aim. However, her results were as she had figured. She'd been aiming for the creatures shoulder, but the bolt had done a nearly comical leap over the creature, missing it surely by at least four feet. The woman made a face. This was why she didn't mess with bows. Seriously. She tried not to shrink in on herself. However, part of her hoped that no one had noticed who's bow that bolt had come. Really. The woman shoved one of her braids behind her ear as she looked away from the creature dashing away from the group.
Leatrix pulled an arrow from her quiver and her right fingers tightly held the arrow on the bow string, didn't want to accidentally shoot an arrow. Neither Aki nor Mauras would please to see that mistake. The cold night was filled with silence, only footsteps and heavy breathing could be heard along the way. They couldn't speak, they weren't allowed to. Hunting with her father was never felt this quiet. They also needed to remain silent, but it just felt so different. Even the silence sounded like a beautifully composed melody whenever she was with him. Maybe time would help her feel comfortable standing between these dragon riders.

Not long after the hunting started, suddenly the group stopped moving and leaded slightly to the right. Aki found something. Leatrix carefully followed Aki and in moment, she saw something, the reason for their sudden change of direction. A magnificent stag was standing there with his glowing skin which brighten the dark empty night. She never seen such a dazzling stag before. The beauty of this world had never failed to amaze her.

Her gaze swiftly stopped by Aki's hands movement. Leatrix shook her head in disbelief, No... Aki... Don't say... you are going to kill this stag? How can I... Right when she debated herself in her mind, rain of arrows slowly showering the stag, making he cried in pain while a thick red liquid started to stain his gleaming skin. His painful shriek drawn another voices, the same cry that tore Leatrix's ears. Leatrix didn't release a single arrow like Mauras ordered them to. She didn't know whether the leaders noticed her or not, she was too busy with her own mind. Leatrix didn't mind to stand for herself if they were going to preach her for not releasing her arrow.

As the stag went deeper into the forest, Aki quickly followed the stag, didn't forget to order the dragon riders to follow her. Leatrix growled slowly as her mind started to boil, but again nothing she could do. The dragonlings need to be feed and that large stag wouldn't go down with a single arrow. Leatrix was totally aware of that, so she was fighting with herself, a battle between her logic and value. If only she could find a way to kill it instantly, she would totally do it. If only her arrow could end his misery with a single shot. If only she didn't need to use this stupid bow, her Scattish would kill that beast in on time... If only... Leatrix was mad at herself, mad because she was so helpless. Clenching her teeth furiously, Leatrix followed the silver hair deep into the forest.
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[fieldbox="Kthudur – 14 Vonas – 1938 – The First Hunt, #C0C0C0, solid, Tahoma"]
Mauras remained in the back as the group moved forward towards the racing stag, lifting up the thrown bow and draping it over his neck with a slight grumble, eyes lining with a hint of red at the lack of following orders. Sure, the man had missed, but it was quite obvious that he would be able to work at hunting with a bow and make for a fine huntsman. This would be something the rider would address Skolas in the future. His gaze kept tabs on who hit and who did not, his mind placing people in the appropriate areas for their certain expertise for later. He did not miss the actions and inactions of the young riders, and though his gaze turned to watch for the glowing deer, known as the Numarkos, to appear, he let his mind keep tally on the men and women around him.

As Aki pulled another arrow back and took aim at the glowing stag, she whispered a few words on silent lips, her arrow glowing a strange golden color. Those who chose to draw back once more to follow would be able to notice that their arrows did the same, shimmering with a golden sheen, magically enhanced by the power of their current leader.

"Fire!" Aki let loose her arrow, and with hers came a few others headed straight for the shimmering stag running for its life. It was quite apparent the moment these arrows were let loose that they were not normal, for each of them aimed directly for the stag's head, and each one struck true, no matter how far off they had started. With a loud crash against the ground, the mighty animal came toppling down with one last cry, but it was dead before its body had a chance to stop moving. Once more came the various sounds of the others and the thunderous sounds of hooves heading their way.

Aki turned around, her great dragon diving through the trees to pick up the body and place it over the back of her flying companion. The silver-haired rider pointed the group in the opposite direction just in time for dozens of silvery hides, at least half the size of the stag they had just brought down, heading their way in a panic. Immediately, the experienced hunters drew their arrows, whispered the same words, and fired, causing a few to collapse and trip the others.

All within fifteen seconds, Mauras and Aki shouted, "To the right!" and they dove, hoping that everyone in the group was smart enough to dive with them.

But this action would not matter, for the stampede would fall short in the air of more frightening predators.[/fieldbox]

[fieldbox=GM Encounter – Bigger than a Numarko, red, solid, Tahoma]

Bigger than a Numarko
AC: 6 INT: 2 HP: 10
The howls that echoed all around them stopped the panicking Numarkos in their tracks, forcing them into a tight huddle with the biggest on the outside and the smallest on the inside. Rumps together, hooves out and ready to attack or defend, the animals showed an intelligence not normally seen in wild creatures. But for these creatures, intelligence and strategy was a necessity. When faced with a predator such as the Bonithear, one must be able to outwit to survive.

The howls were loud, voices that reverberated through the thick, humid air, making the water dance within it. Harmonizing as the many pitches of a single unit, the unique and unified howl became a song that was distinct to that particular pack. For a good five minutes, nothing moved. Everyone listened to the lonely and frightening song of the beasts that had yet to reveal themselves. The Numarkos trembled with nervousness, which heightened when the howls ended.

All went silent. So silent, in fact, that the sounds of the two dragons hovering above could be heard with ease. The trees began to dance then, shadows moving swiftly in and out of view, surrounding not only the herd, but also the group of young dragon riders. Aki looked at everyone, shaking her head slowly and placing a finger over her lips in warning.

The first attack was out of nowhere, a blackened shadow with pale white teeth shooting towards one of the Numarkos head-on. Its silhouette was larger than even the stag the group had just taken down, and black shadows seemed to leak from its opened maw. The doe reared, revealing surprisingly sharp hooves and quick reflexes. Her hooves rammed against the shadow's face, causing a trail of black, oozing blood to flow as it screeched and yelped in pain. In response, wild howls and screeches sounded around them, making the group of Numarkos tighten against each other, awaiting the next attack.

Three more shadows leapt out then, all at the same doe, crashing down upon her and making her scream in an agony never heard from the stag. In mere seconds, her body was torn from the group before being shredded by the three large shadows. At the smell of the first kill, the other shadows that had yet to reveal themselves shifted and charged forward. One leapt over the group of riders, giving a better view of the beast before it tore into the now screaming herd.

Aki looked towards the others, keeping her finger on her lips and pointing in the direction she was facing, ushering the group to move away from the gruesome scene before they were noticed.

But it was too late, for there were too many mouths to feed. A shadow had turned to face the group, and before they could move very far, it leapt forward and crouched in front of them, growling as the spines on its back rose. From its mouth dribbled thick, black saliva. Aside from its white teeth, the lithe beast could only be distinguished by its shimmering silver spots on the top of its flat head and its back and spines as well as the strips of silver running along its spine. It was built of mostly legs and pure muscle, every inch of it vibrating with a coiled strike.

Aki and Mauras knew they could not run, and the only way for the group to survive was to kill the creature and hope the rest of the pack wouldn't notice. Looking around, the pair stood and drew their arrows, ready to take down the creature threatening to make them its next meal. [/fieldbox]

Rolling for Monster Initiative, Aki Initiative, & Mauras Initiative
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