Sighing heavily, Ryan leaned lazily against the sturdy stone wall of the entry hall in the Capital building of Thedia. His hair was a shaggy curtain of brown strands that hid the bored expression that had etched itself into his young face. He'd been waiting for three marks, and he still hadn't heard tale of who, or where his client was. Truth be told, he'd taken the work because travel had been about the only real opportunity that was presenting itself these days. War was scare, as was most crime. The need for a bodyguard was feeling to have dried out. "Oi, for the life of me, I wish this person would show up so I can get on with it, and heavy my coin purse." He groaned, and then rolled to lean against his back, the thick metal sword at his hip clinking with the movement. From what he knew the journey was to some holy relic out in the desert.
Thankfully he was familiar with such an environment, and had dressed accordingly. Thin brown pants, sown in strips, sandals, and a black cotton shirt underneath a mesh cloak. All of which promised ease of movement in the hot dry air, and allowed whatever wind that came to cool the body with it's breeze. Having taken that into consideration, he didn't plan on his client to be as wise. "It'll be scholar... it's always a scholar, and what fools those men are. Constantly complaining about the heat, and the lack of proper amenities... it's the sodding desert." the young man complained.
Having procured transportation, Ryan had little else to do but wait. Thankfully, though he didn't know who his client was, the other would recognize him, as the shield on his back held a distinctive crest that instantly gave insight to his identity. A metal kite shield with a black crescent moon against three blue stars. Though far short of a legend as a warrior, the symbol had become remarkable to those that had knowledge of such individuals in the trade. It had earned him the title of "Moon Kin" as he was rarely ever seen during the day, and that he supposedly had been granted supernatural powers from the moon's light. Whether it was fact or fiction was to be determined by any and everyone.
Pulling a canteen from his belt, Ryan took a light sip at it as a small child crashed into his leg while chasing a group of other children.
"Oh, I'm sorry m'lord!" the young boy apologized in both fear, and embarrassment. "I didn't see you, and I'm too clumsy for my own good... please forgive me!"
Looking down at the young child, Ryan, reached inside his cloak, and held his hand there a moment, before fishing something out.
The boy nervously, and slowly closed his eyes, only to open them as the sounds of two gold coins clinking together rang out as they fell into his held, and open hand.
"Think nothing of it young one. Be on your way, and buy yourself some proper shoes." Ryan said as he held back a slight laugh at the boy's blackened bare feet. "All kinds of hurt litter the streets here, and you parents would be better off, not having you treated for something a good pair of sandals could prevent, yes?"
The boy's face lit with joy, an amazement as he looked at the coins in his hands. "Wow... thank you ever so much m'lord! Your generosity is unexpected, but kind, and appreciated many times over!" the young man, looked up at Ryan, who simply nodding his head, and motioned for the child to be on his way, which he did, taking off at a dead sprint in the complete opposite direction that his friends had been traveling.
Solina was pretty sure she had passed the same withered and decrepit bush once or twice along the same path. Either that, or the sun was really starting to get to her. She need not worry, though. The Guides from her village constructed a decent, reliable map that would guide her directly to this...man she was supposed to be searching for. They didn't mention that their drawings were only crude images of boulders that were drawn as giant brown blobs. The path on the parchment was nothing more than two stenciled lines of coal that wound in a serpentine like way to a small dot with a tiny 'x' hovering above its head.
I should've asked the birds where to go. At least they would've given me some actual directions instead of this pile of nothing. With that, she tossed the paper over her shoulder like it was nothing, knowing soon enough that the sun would eventually melt it away. Fondeling with the the band of string that was coiled around her wrist, she tied her black hair into a tight pony tail to relieve herself from some of the sun's torture. It was bad enough that she wore a long sleeve green tunic (the natural wear of Gondilo) and stiff hard leather shoes that clanked down into the caked dirt every time she took a step. This was clearly not a intelligent choice of attire, but she had no other choice. Besides, she was only in need of his services for a brief moment, then she'd be well on her way. To where, she wasn't sure.
In a matter of moments, after abandoning her "reliable" navigation method, she made out a city only a few yards in front of her. Thedia, she confirmed then took off into a sprint towards the interest. The city was bustling with people. From tiny children to middle-aged woman carrying stacks of food and flora for their houses. Every now and then, men with high stature equipment strode past her in an air of superiority and pride. Knights. Well, I know I'm here. Now just to find--
"Ah!"she yelped. She tripped over the foot of a knight leaning casually against a wall and found her face planted straight into the dirt. The sweat that ran down her brow only made the dirt absorb itself even more than it already did. Cursing internally, she tried to heave herself up, but a mixture of surprise, minor pain, and embarrassment just made her arms buckle beneath her, throwing her face back onto the ground.
And there it was. A lady had tripped over his foot, and ate the dirt. Pretty hard too. "You alright m'lady?" Ryan asked, as the poor lass fell face first again into the dirt. Kneeling down next to her, he put an arm around her shoulder, and offered his other hand to her. "Please allow me to help you up. The city street is no place to take rest." He then took a better glance at her, noting her attire. He wondered if perhaps she was suffering from heat stroke. If that were the case, then she needed to be moved from the intense sun, and somewhere cool, shady, and with a supply of water. "And please allow me to help you to the shade." He added should the lady accept his help. Just off to the side was a small stone bench sat beneath a palm tree with thick foliage that would offer some relief.
"I believe I can say that you're not accustomed to the desert?" Hopefully she wouldn't take insult to such a question, and truth be told, Ryan didn't know why he asked it. It was obvious she wasn't. No one would be wearing such a thick outfit lest they wanted to roast alive. "I must offer my humble apology for my rudeness. I didn't expect many travelers to come through this day, nor should I be lazing about so carelessly. Is there something I can do to make amends?" The young man offered a friendly smile to the young lady, hoping she wouldn't be upset at the whole ordeal. Ryan had his share of run ins with those that tended to go off the deep end over small incidents like this, though they were generally aristocrats, and Solina didn't look the type.
It had taken less than a minute for Solina to regain her composure. The knight had been so kind as to carry her from the intense heat and into the the nice, cool area of shade. She noticed that he asked her of her whereabouts, but as he looked down at her, it only confirmed to her that he knew her answer. Snapping straight and looking as noble as she could, she cleared her throat.
"My name is Solina Hiro, sir. I have traveled from Gondilo to find the whereabouts of a man named 'Ryan.' He is but a Knight as you, and , if you could be so generous, I would appreciate it if you led me to him." The words tasted salty in her mouth as she heard her own voice in her ears. Gondilo never talked that upper class. They were a laid back territory, not required to call anyone by 'lord' or 'lady.' When she heard the Knight refer to her as 'm'lady' she cringed at the sound of his deep voice. She was alone but so young, and she didn't like the fact that she was looked down on as a lady of high nobility.
The sun blared down on her and her hair was already tied in the tightest ponytail she could muster. Any day now, she thought, resisting the urge to tap her foot repeatedly.
"A Knight known as Ryan you say?" He asked with a slight raise of his visable brow. "I think you'll be hard pressed to meet such a man in this city, though I know of a Mercenary named Ryan, and I am he... have I done something to offend you?" He then asked apologetically as Solina's face visibly showed some distain to his choice of words. "I mean no disrespect if I have shown any."
Lightly rubbing his calloused hand against the stubble on his chin, he seemed to be pondering something a moment... and then he titled his head slightly, allowing both his eyes to be seen for once. His almost luminescent silver eyes gazed at her intently for a brief moment. "Now I see... You're my client then. You're on your way to the Ruins out in the Odaji Desert, aren't you?" He finished, and stood to his full height of six feet, and folded his arms across his broad chest. "Well then that makes this little endeavor much simpler. We can leave whenever you feel to. I have provisions, and transportation waiting for us at the eastern gate... I hope you don't mind traveling by Akesh."
View attachment 3433 All annoyance aside, Solina was starting to enjoy scrutinizing the man in front of her. He was tall (very tall) and had the air of some one who had their share of troubles. Or blood. It wasn't that his features scared her, per say. It's only that men like those were hard to find in Gondilo. The only men you saw there were good-for-nothing navigators and high priests and nobles; not strong, built, and generous men like this Ryan fellow. To avoid staring any longer, Solina's auburn eyes shifted to a group of kids giggling playful around her.
"Ah, so you're Ryan the Mercenary. No, you didn't offend me. I'm sure you're the guy I was.....I mean....I am indeed positive that you are the specimen of man I was discovering to discover, m'lord."she said. A wrinkle formed on her nose in annoyance. It was apparent she sounded like a bumbling fool, but she just couldn't get the jest of the dialect around those parts.
"Akesh would be fine. And if you don't mind, I'd like to depart as quickly as you may allow yourself to."she said, still picking her words carefully. The last thing she wanted to do was offend the Big Guy. The soft glint of his mysterious silver eyes were enough. The thought of being crushed under his fist wasn't a pleasant scenario to Solina.
Scratching his head a moment, Ryan remained silent as Solina talked. He wasn't sure if she was telling the truth, or if she was jesting him more. "Specimen?" He then asked confused, a hand running through his hair. "Well... then let us be off then. The gate isn't far from here, but I must ask... do you have any other clothes you carry with you? Perhaps something that's a bit lighter, and will allow your body to breath? The desert is very unforgiving, and those clothes look as though you bundle for winter." Ryan then began to have a slight feeling that this woman was going to be quite a handful in the days to come. 'I certainly hope the money is going to be worth this.' he thought to himself, as he then extended his hand to help her off the stone bench, and his other moved to indicate where they would be going.
"I know of a few shops within the city that would have clothing tailored to the sun should you need, or wish to purchase them." The warrior couldn't help but take glances at her eyes, whenever she glanced off in a random direction. He'd never seen someone with that color. Perhaps it was a trait of her homeland, or perhaps it was something else entirely. As far as he thought... he believed that this woman was going to give a whole new meaning to the word remarkable, but whether that was a good, or bad thing... he had no idea.
"Also... I must warn you to pay close attention to your purse, as there is the occasional pickpocket that wanders the streets, and though Thedia is know for it's buildings, we're known better still for our nimble, deft hands." he said while brushing a few strands of hair from his eyes, with his pinky revealing a scar that ran along the side of his nose that began just above the bridge of it. Most likely a memento of battles past, as the life of a mercenary was often fatal at worst, and extremely dangerous at best.
Solina was definitely sure she was going to have one of the longest, most interesting travels that she has ever had to encounter yet. The man in front of her read every line in her face like a symbol sentence on a piece of Gondilion Hazap Parchment like it was nothing. So much for having some sort of secrecy.
"Clothes won't be a problem, but I guess I can fine something a bit lighter in this city. The journey is going to be long and I actually want to make it rather than pass from heat stroke."she replied. She figured, to hell with their dialect. The mercenary would understand her fine enough if she whinnied like a horse than if she attempted to speak as he did. Gazing down at her slender leg, her fingers tapped a light pouch that wound itself around her upper thigh.
"Purses are unnecessary. If anyone has the desire to steal from me, they'd have to touch me here."she replied and didn't bother to state the consequences there after. Solina tried to avert her eyes his face at times but it was a difficult matter to attend to. A dangerously large scar crept along his nose. Depending on how deep it was, she estimated that he had been through one hell of an ordeal. If she had got anything from looking at him it was that he was tough, handsome, and extremely dangerous to mess with.
"After you." she said, a tiny choke of fear in her voice.
"Ah, then I will show you to the shops then, m'lady Solina." Ryan answered respectfully, and began to lead her through the streets, keeping close to her should a vagabond, or ruffian many any move against the foreign woman.
"Purses are unnecessary. If anyone has the desire to steal from me, they'd have to touch me here."
"Well, I doubt any man would do such a thing..." He then moved a hand to his face noting how the woman could take insult from his words "Not that a man wouldn't, but..." Rubbing his face once more, Ryan felt ashamed at his idiocy. "Should someone attempt, I will be willing to remove the offending hand from their wrist." The young warrior finished with, and averted his gaze, having felt ashamed at his words, and embarrassed that he'd followed her gaze as she made her point.
"Just down this street, is Fiona's Sun 'Touched Garments.' I'm sure we can find you something in here, as I've visited regularly myself. The seamstress has quite a selection." As then entered the small shop, Ryan held the door open or Solina so that she may enter, and as she did, she would note the various colors, and styles of stitching used in each garment. Truly beautiful creations, and that begged to question...
~Solina~ View attachment 3441Her eyes had never seen such beauty. As soon as she walked into the minuscule, compact store, her eyes were exposed to a variety of brilliant colors, hues, and patterns. Everything that lined the walls or hung from brass hooks were dainty outfits, fit for the most scorching weather there was to come.
Solina's eyes brightened as she gasped, open-jawed, at all of the clothing.
"Mienza..."she said in a whisper. 'Mienza' was a phrase that was derived from an ancient Gondion text. It meant "amazed wonderment" or "to be in shock or awe." Solina picked up on it when she head the priests debating over the pronunciation of the word. They went through all of their texts, searching for some sort of clue to branch their ideas on, but they accepted the way Solina said it.
Almost like a shattering glass, she was reminded by a large shadow that she was still with the mercenary. Embarrassment started to creep in, causing her movements to turn clumsy. She wobbled over to the far wall, finding a light blue tang top with a pair of delicately woven shorts that she estimated would end at mid-thigh. Under the outfit was a pair of white straw-lined sandals. Solina was instantly in love.
"Thedia sure has things going well for them. Gondilo never got this much business. And the art is simply amazing."she said, trying to drown out the silence between her and the mercenary. A slight tug to the metal bar was all Solina needed to remove the clothing from the rack. She bent down to grab the shoes and walked over to a counter in the far end of the room. Unfortunately, there was no one there.
A wrinkle of disappointment formed on her nose as she leaned on a single hip.
Watching the young lady wobble around from the sight of the clothing, Ryan couldn't help but smile slightly, though he hid it well. "Thedia is doing much better since the end of the war. The economy has recovered greatly." As Solina turned to Ryan with disappointment scrawled on her face, the warrior, dropped what appeared to be a folded piece of paper through a slot in the counter. "We can return later, and you can pay her when she's back. I've left her a note." Ryan apparently had contacts in the city as well as a fountain of knowledge about it.
"The food stalls are closer to the gate, and the tavern, and grills are just across the street. Which would you prefer?" Realizing that Solina may not know the difference, he explained "The stalls have a variety of foods that can travel well, but if you prefer something warm, then across the street might be more your taste." He then opened the door once more for her. The sun's light, as well as the sounds of a town hustling through the streets filled the small shop once again.
~Solina~ View attachment 3444Luckily, Solina had eaten before she arrived at Thedia. Walking beside him, she tilted her head slightly, remembering how she had gotten her food.
Frustrated for the last time at the poorly constructed map, she blew her black hair from her eyes and grabbed a small knife from the pouch beside her leg. Half of her wanted to stab the parchment vigorously. The other half wanted to stab something else. Something had to be stabbed. From the corner of her eye she spotted a golden, plump fruit hanging from a branch a couple of yards in front of her. Smirking, she spun the knife on her palm.
"...Which would you prefer?"
Snapping out of her reverie, the mercenary's voice tickled her ear. She tapped her nose in embarrassment at the fact that she didn't hear anything that the man had said.
"Um...I prefer...both?"she said, taking a wild guess.
A curious looks swept along Ryan's face as Solina was lost in her own little world.
"Perhaps I can show you them when we return... I can make us something once we make camp for the night, and we should really be underway. It's much better to be traveling during the day when the sun's up. It'll likely freeze over tonight when the sun drops below the dunes." Shifting his weight slightly, the large broadsword at his side clinked in step. "Please, follow me, m'lady Solina. Our transportation isn't much father along the street. We will try to make a few miles outside of the city before we camp. The ruins shouldn't be more than a few days from there. Granted the weather is kind."
Turning to the left he lead Solina through the busy streets, guiding her, and keeping a protective bubble around them as a few men with hungry eyes for coin, and their other vices eagerly glanced their way, Solina's to be precise. The warrior's eyes ever perceptive saw this, his hand resting gently along the hilt of his sword under his cloak.
It wasn't long before they were standing at the gates, with two white Akesh bridled, and saddled, awaiting them.
~Solina~ View attachment 3471She was slowly starting to learn to be a slight more aware about her surroundings, the people, and the person that was talking to her. The mercenary seemed completely content with the whole travel in general, but she wish she could say the same. Something in the pit if her something was churning, bubbling like a wild pot of soup. Akesh was a place that she was all too familiar with, along with bad memories. Striding up to the gate and catching the distant looks of the two Akesh that were standing before her, she stiffened, feeling a slight pang of pain somewhere in her heart.
"I appreciate it. I am not too hungry, but on the trip, we might need to stop for rest. I am pretty good with cooking, so you shouldn't worry about it too much." The closer they got to the Akesh, the lower she began to talk, until her voice was finally drowned out to a whisper, then to nothing.
The Akesh were nothing like the ones she had encountered before. They didn't wear the clothes of a rogue, rags and gloves. In a way, they actually looked somewhat noble, standing there with their equipment at the ready. Solina could detect a slight hesitation in the way the mercenary walked, which made her fear that much more. If he is hesitant...then I should be even more so.
"Everything is prepared, m'lord."one of the Akesh said with a bristled accent. Solina unconsciously moved closer to the mercenary's side, looking at both of the men intently.
Easily stepping up, and into the saddle of the horse. Turning to Solina, Ryan offered his hand in order to help her up onto the saddle behind him. On the horse's flanks were four bundles that were tied into the saddle, and a pouch hanging from the pommel of the saddle. "Packed for a weeks ride, which would cover there, and back. Not including any provisions we might acquire while we're out on trip." Ryan explained, his free hand gently stroking the horse's shaggy fur, which seemed to ease the creature's nervousness.
"Warrior." one of the man spoke with distaste. "Be mindful of your trek. Akyu's have been seen in flock along the dunes. That last thing we need is a vagabond like you dieing out there. You'll make for a poor meal for the ravens, and buzzards." the man finished and tossed him a small leather satchel, which Ryan slung over his hand.
"Aye, Guildmaster. I wouldn't dream of failing you with such a simple task." the young warrior responded, though his tone carried only respect. A striking reversal of the tone the other man had spoken to him in... a tone that almost tasted of disdain. Ryan must have done something very important to have earned this man's ire.
~Solina~ View attachment 3475At that point, Solina wanted nothing more than to get out of Thedia as soon as possible. The bite in the man's voice was enough to drive her insane. It was surprising that the mercenary kept a calm and stable voice despite the attitude the man showed forth.
"Let's go." she demanded, touching the horse's neck tenderly. It whinnied softly and trotted its hoofs in place. See, the horse is as ready to go as I am. Her black hair was still bound in a ponytail which was the only thing that was keeping her cool at the moment.
"I do not fear the Akyus."she added with authority, caring less to keep the ice out of her voice.
And departed they did. It seemed like only moments before the two were hours away from the gates. As Ryan guided the animal they rode upon through the dusty dunes, a flock of birds had already begun circling them in eagerness. The vultures were always an overly eager bunch. The warrior's eyes drifted to them for but a brief moment, before he looked over, and behind his shoulder to his charge, Solina. "How do you fare, m'lady? Does the sun's like find itself harsh upon you? I have a cloak that you can wear should it begin to become unbearable. Camp should only be a few marks away, the sun shows signs of setting early today." Ryan said as he pointed to the large red dot in the sky, that seemed to be sinking by the second, though it may have only been a mirage due to the extreme heat that it showered upon the sands.
Ryan himself showed no signs of exhaustion which gave hint that he'd either grown up under such an environment, or that he was simply too hearty to show signs of exhaustion. Their steed itself seemed to show little signs of fatigue, though the breed was accustomed to the harsh sun, and the stagnant air despite it's large wooly coat. Akesh were legendary for their stamina, and resilience to the harshest desert sun.
"Ah... we're passing through the twin divide as I speak. I did not think that we'd cover this much ground on the first day. Perhaps we should rest here for the night. I have an inclination that it will be a most bitter night."
~Solina~ View attachment 3480When being stubborn was starting to wear out, the harsh pants and deep breaths tried to come in. "I must admit, sir. This heat is unlike anything I've ever encountered, but don't worry. I am able to wait until nightfall. Your cloak won't be needed."she replied. He was only her escort; she wanted no ties to him whatsoever, even if it was nothing more than a mere coat.
Her steed prodded slowly towards what the mercenary called the "twin divide" at a grotesquely slow pace. He was right about one thing; it didn't take long for the both of them to reach the place.
Suddenly, Solina felt a small lurch deep within her chest. She was used to feeling that feeling when she was on her journeys. It always signified danger or maybe some sort of discretion. The mercenary didn't seem to know, but Solina's red eyes darted left in right, her face expressionless.
"Sir, I'm afraid to say this, but we might be walking straight into an ambush." Even for her feelings, an ambush was a wide and risky guess for her to throw out there. Ambushes through the twin divides were very common, and always ended up with a ground littered with corpses.
"Ah, so you noticed it as well?" Ryan answered moving a finger to point at the two ridges. "Akyu's lie in wait to swoop down upon us." Loosening his sword in it's hilt, with his free hand, he slowly drew it. The sword was then rested along his lap as they continued forward. "A simple matter. They won't slow us down much, m'lady."
It was at that moment, the lizard beasts leapt from the ridges, swooping down towards the lone pair.
Swinging his sword expertly, a wave of energy arched off the blade, slamming into a group of Akyu and burned them to ash in mere seconds. A second swing felled another group. At the sight, those monsters still alive, quickly began flapping their wings, and were soon flying hastily away from their prey turned attacker. Sheathing his weapon, he looked behind his shoulder to Solina. "That was exciting, no?" he seemed to have asked in amusement. With such power at his disposal, it was strange that this man was a simple mercenary. Power often corrupted, and with such power, most would have turned into warlords bent on conquering their surroundings. Ryan however wielded it as if it were nothing, and simply carried on with their journey as if the event had never come to pass.
Looking at the sun, the warrior turned to Solina, and pointed to it. "The silver is beginning to dark the sun. It will be a very cold night... We should look for a flat area to make camp, as there will be frost this night."
~Solina~ View attachment 3482Impressed wasn't half of it. Down right amazed...now that was a better statement.
"Mienza..."she gasped, watching the slithering Akyu's disintegrating into ashes. The mercenary was...the complete opposite of a mercenary. In her book, she would've have put him a little higher on her pedestal, much closer to a god than a mercenary. The sword wasn't even half of it. The sheer strength and possession of calming aura as he wiped out countless of the little beasts was on another level. Before they sprang forth on the two of them and their beasts, she went to reach into her pocket and extract a small set of daggers...until she witnessed the man in front of her's strength. Well....at least now I know I'm safe.
He pointed towards the sun and explained that the night would be a chilly one as she nodded in confirmation.
"Thank you, Ryan. That was amazing..."she said then hated herself for it the second it left her mouth. Ryan? Where did that come from? The horse under her whinnied, upset at the intruders and the lack of food. Stroking its main softly, she smiled and looked off at the sun.