Raven Resident Finn RDI Staff Karma: 74/3 1103 Posts
So here's a little collab effort for y'all
Siobhan approached the young cleric, shrouded in so much light, as all of his ilk seemed to be--at least in comparison to her and hers--and set her books on the table beside him. She watched him tense at her disruption, but she pressed a smile onto her face and saw him relax as he looked up at her, hopefully aware that she meant him no harm or harassment for the time being.
“Ermm… Yes? Can I help you?”
Her smile broadened and she briskly held out her hand, “Hi! Yes, possibly. I am Siobhan Dellagan.”
Cedric blinked a couple of times, quickly pushed his chair back, stood up and offered his hand. "I'm pleased to make your acquaintance, Miss Dellagan. My name is Cedric Greenfield."
“Nice to meet you, Mister Greenfield.” She clasped her hands behind her back and glanced at his piles of books next to her much smaller pile, tilting her head to their shared subject matter, “It looks as though we are studying the same topic. I have been digging for books like these you’ve found for weeks, and have some of my own here as well. Would you mind if we went through these together?”
Cedric unconsciously turned his eyes for a moment from the young woman to the books he had borrowed as he listened. The whole situation was a first for him. There had been no girls at the monastery and his only female friends were Ara and Kith. And now, a complete stranger wished to read some books with him? And a pretty one too. “Erm… Sure. I guess… I mean, yes, sure. Why not!”
Remembering his father’s teachings about how to be a gentleman, Cedric pulled out a chair for her.
Siobhan took the seat he offered and waved him back to his own, having to stop herself from laughing at his obvious nervousness. A cleric of Solanis, he could bring people back from the brink of death, turn away hordes of the decrepit undead, yet there he was, with only his kindness to shield him from his anxiousness with her. It was almost unbelievable.
She leaned back in her chair, hoping an appearance of ease would encourage him to calm down a little with her, “I happen to know a fair bit about . . . ” she glanced quickly at the spines of his books again, “D’hurgen and his histories, his followers, things of that nature. Perhaps we could learn from each other? That is, if,” and she took a little breath, knowing that despite his kindness he could very easily, and rightfully per the lot he had chosen, dismiss her out of hand, “if you could tolerate sharing knowledge with a member of the Order of Bone and Breath?”
Hearing the tiny pause in Siobhan’s words, Cedric turned his eyes back to hers. Then, her next words made him hold his breath for a few heartbeats. His mouth dropped open and he didn’t know what to say. Cedric stared at her like an idiot for a moment before he could regain his composure. “Bone and Breath? I… I am not sure, if I've heard of your order. I may have since it does sound somehow familiar, but I must be mixing it up with some other group…”
Cedric had in fact read of the Order of Bone and Breath during his studies. His own order, the Eyes of the Blazing Sun studied all things undead and evil, and even though he didn’t really know if Bone and Breath were either, he seemed to recall them being a group of sorcerers. If only he had concentrated more on them than Brother Jonas's ale recipe...
“... because for some reason the name seems to remind me of…” Cedric leaned a bit closer and his voice turned into a whisper: “necromancers!”
He moved back again and looked Siobhan in the eye to see her reaction. “But that must wrong…”
Siobhan bit her lip and nodded back slowly, “I am afraid so, Mister Greenfield. And,” she sighed, “I can understand your hesitation, especially from a man of your stature,” she looked his robes up and down and leaned toward him, “Any organization tends to be tainted by the worst within them, which also tends to make it difficult to make friends while wearing these black robes, but… I urge you to please try to reconsider your disgust for my kind.”
Cedric was surprised by the fact that he actually remembered what Bone and Breath stood for. Usually he would forget such details before he picked up the next book, which in his case was pretty soon or even right away. He had kind of hoped his mind had failed him this time too, but clearly it had not.
Shock was written clear on his face, but not for the reason the young woman probably thought it was. He looked at the necromancer with eyes wide open.
"Disgust? I would never... No. I... Please forgive me, Miss Dellagan, but I would never judge anyone by the clothes she wears, or by her profession or calling. While I cannot deny that the word necromancy has a dark and negative ring to it... I simply am surprised to meet a practitioner of the necromantic arts in here."
He quickly adds: "Of course I should not be, as I am aware of the importance the White City holds for all arcanists and wielders of magic just like it does for my order. And I do have to admit I am intrigued by your field of expertise, even if not necessarily for the same reasons you are."
She studied him again, perhaps a little less nervous with her now that he knew she was a member of a group he undoubtedly despised to his core, and stifled another sighed. Turning back to his piles of books, books she could really, really use, she ran a finger down their spines, noting the ominous names on each. Such was the case for most texts on necromantic cults and the like, intriguing to her, and probably less so to him.
Shiv dropped her hand back to her lap and met his gaze once more, “I will say, and hopefully this will help you feel a little more at ease with me, that while the subject matter is fascinating to me, I am not interested in joining any cults or creating any horrific abominations.” She shrugged, “Though I do suppose what is an abomination is relative to the person.” She gave him another smile, “Truly, I only want to learn, to become better, and you have incredible resources here, and I too can be a resource for you. What do you say?”
She wasn’t a fan of begging, and she had done far, far worse than begging to get what she needed, but Cedric didn’t seem like the type she would need to resort to that tactic with. She did however feel like she was close to it in this moment, as time was incredibly important, and she had already wasted so much of hers trying to redeem herself. All she could do was hope the scruffy-faced priest’s kindness outweighed his disdain, and that the desperation that had been growing in her for the last few weeks remained hidden.
Cedric fell silent for a moment after Siobhan's question and when he spoke again, his voice betrayed his unease: "I am pleased to hear cults do not fascinate you, Miss Dellagan. Not long ago I had a nightmarish encounter with a cult worshipping the Devourer and the events still haunt me in my dreams. While I did survive, a dear friend of mine was not quite so lucky."
Though he may not have noticed her breath quickening, Cedric watched Siobhan’s eyes widen in surprise at his words.
He continued, "Now, while I personally consider a person's beliefs nobody else's business, I feel I am forced to ask you this... and I hope you are not offended, that I do. But what you just said... Does it mean that you do not worship the God of Death?"
“Of course not!” Siobhan shouted in reply as she bolted out of her seat. The normally silent library fell even more deafeningly quiet, as every patron, and every attendant shot daggers in her direction. Grandly mollified and embarrassed by her reaction, she found her seat once again and leaned forward, bringing a hand to her forehead in an attempt to hide.
Siobhan's reaction was exactly what Cedric had been expecting and afraid of and yet the impulsiveness of her shout took him by surprise. He had no reason to doubt her words and even if he had, the look on her face, the honesty in her voice and the quickness of her reaction would've confirmed him she was not acting. But, he hadn't been suspecting any insincerity on her behalf and was truly startled by the shout. And yet... it wasn't her reaction that shocked Cedric, but his own words that had brought it about.
“I apologize,” she began again, bringing her hazel gaze tentatively back to his, her voice filled with nearly as much unease as the priest’s, “I . . . no, I do not worship the God of Death. I do not worship anything.”
She rubbed her face and set her hands in her lap, remaining hunched over as she continued, but speaking now with more of the confidence she had began with, “I am sorry about your friend, Cedric, I suppose that explains your delving into my field of study. I...” she didn’t like to talk about this, she didn’t want to talk about this, she would rather beg, “My parents were of the order as well when I was a child. Their studies took them on an expedition that led to my mother’s capture by followers of that horrific god. She was some experiment to them. My father became consumed with them, trying to find her, to find out what happened to her, until the Devourer instead consumed him as well. He simply left one day on a lead and never returned.”
Shiv drew in a deep breath and leaned back in her chair, this time simply out of exhaust, “Now I have been consumed by this,” she waved her hand at the Solanis cleric’s horde of books, but her eyes seemed to go someplace else for a moment, before biting her lip again and meeting Cedric’s gaze, “I have to apologize again. I hadn’t intended to disclose all of this when I came over to ask you to study with me. I just… I feel like I am so close.” She gave him small smile, “Does that answer your question?”
Cedric felt like touching her hand to apologise, but he couldn't bring himself to invade a stranger's private space. Instead, the lad smiled softly and gave her a little bow. "It does. And I am sorry I had to ask it. You have absolutely no reason to apologise... And I am so very sorry to hear about your parents. I can only imagine what losing your family must feel like."
Siobhan shrugged, hoping to regain some of the composure she had just betrayed as Cedric continued.
"You are right in your guess of why I am here. I...", Cedric considered his words for a heartbeat. "I have as a part of my studies back at the monastery learned a lot about the Gods and their religions. And as a part of that, I have also gained quite a bit of knowledge on walking dead, spirits, ghosts, and others. Yet the first time I laid my eyes on live undead was only a few months ago near the town of Crandel when we came upon a pack zombies and a ghoul attacking a group of pilgrims. Since then I have seen and fought my share of shamblers and those terrible, giggling ghouls, and I have no wish to come upon any more even if I know I must."
Shiv nodded in understanding, a chill running down her own spine at the memory of those terrifying giggles as she listened to him tell his tale.
"In the temple we also encountered D'hurgen's priests and at least one magic-user, a necromancer I would guess. Hence my earlier question. While I have studied the creatures of undeath, I fear I have very little knowledge on the art of necromancy. But that is no excuse for my insult. Once again, please accept my apologies, Miss."
The auburn-haired girl leaned forward again, grasping his hand in both of hers and offering a comforting squeeze, "No need to apologize, Mister Greenfield. After hearing your horrific story, those things you faced… I can see why you felt the need." She folded her hands back in her lap, surprised at the turn this entire interaction had taken.
The priest took a look around just to see if he needed to apologise to anyone else. But although some people were still looking their way no one seemed to be bold enough to come over to chastise them. Cedric let out a sigh and his pulse calmed down a bit.
"So, as to your question... I would be honoured to study with you, should your offer still stand after my... my impoliteness. Your obvious insight to all things necromancy would definitely be of great help to me and, I believe, my friends as well."
"Oh, your friends are here as well?" Her eyes glanced around the room, searching for someone who might fit that title.
Cedric let a little chuckle. "Ah no no. I was not clear about that. No, we split up after getting out of the temple. We all felt like we needed some time to heal and process everything that happened, especially the fate of our lost friend. We also thought we might be able to gather more information this way."
"That's a shame, but understandable." She suddenly gave him a wide grin and slapped her hand on one of the books on the table beside her, "What do you say we actually do some studying, hmm? Oh, and you may call me Siobhan, or Shiv, if you like. It's only my instructors and the finicky lot glaring at me from around each corner of this library who call me Miss Dellagan, and you seem much more pleasant than they do."
The young man smiled and gave Shiv a bow. "Well met, Siobhan. Please call me Cedric."
Posted on 2020-01-29 at 15:10:03.
Bromern Sal A Shadow RDI Staff Karma: 155/11 4193 Posts
Harrumphing, Moreno settles against the stiff-backed, uncushioned, wooden chair and stares into the candle's waning flame. Before him, strewn across a desk far too small to hold all of the books and scrolls, is the combined total of his study materials. Focusing on the one clue that he has to work with, Kithran's pregnancy, the scars of his battles with the undead minions of the death cult and the party's encounter with those worshipping cultists in the underground temple are more than physical. Weary, moss-colored eyes drift to the thin window placed high in the wall from which a pale glow of moonlight is barely visible in the night sky and his mind drifts back to the events leading up to the present.
Primal urges to survive no matter what had been the fuel that had kept the priest of Therassor from succumbing to his despair after Davena—aided by a turned Kithran—had escaped justice leaving them to the horrors in a collapsing temple. Gib had never seen the like. Even in his studies at the Temple as an acolyte, he had never encountered a tale depicting the terrors of that day. When he is able to sleep, his dreams are wrought by replays of melting flesh, screaming people, merciless souls hungrily seeking their next victim, slabs of stone obliterating nearby people; one second they are running, terrified by the hunting ghosts and the next, there's a boulder where they once were and everything nearby is splattered in gore. And there they were, his surviving companions, wounded, suffering as much from the cuts and clawed gouges in their flesh as the stabbing, painful realization that their own Kithran had betrayed them. Moreno hadn't even had the time to appreciate Cedric's quick thinking in getting to Ch'dau to save his life; the Collapse had happened all too quickly.
With Aranwen out of action—the look on her Syl face haunting and hollow—Gib had been forced to take charge. Thoughts of the decisions he made over the course of the next couple of weeks are constant pins poking at his confidence. Was he right? Did he do enough? Should he have eliminated that foul cultist that had survived with them? Of course, they wouldn't have received the full story had he, but sharing the stale air in the crumbled temple with the man had been poisonous. Still, it was through that man's story that they learned of the Anchor and Kith's part in it; a bug planted in the warrior-priest's mind that picks and scratches at his every waking thought.
Shifting forward in his appropriated chair, Gib draws in a deep breath and uses the heels of his hands to rub away the grip exhaustion has on his eyes. Time is of the essence. Before, when they first encountered the undead on the road outside of Crandel, time wasn't even a concern. Then, their ignorance protected them from the ghastly truth of the situation they sought to stave off—an agenda that they knew nothing about.
Memories of Atharis' body lying torn open on the ground flit into the forefront of his mind. I died, the spirit of his fallen friend declares accusingly, and for what? Next to the young wizard's mutilated form lies a Cidal, slowly being devoured by ghouls. Midge's small ghost rises from the carnage and joins the young wizard's. Have we died in vain, Gib? Anger and loss fill his chest like waters pushing through a broken levy. Vocalizing the emotions in a primal growl the Kazari might have been proud of, the newly advanced Corporal-Elect of Therassor slams his hands onto the desk sending a jolt through the items spread across its surface.
"Frustration is the enemy that defeats the seeker," the Sergeant of Knowledge chides from behind the podium at which he labors, his threadbare voice strangely echoing in the cavernous chamber.
"A scant collection of available knowledge is the main force," Moreno replies in his deep timber, meeting the higher ranking clergyman's disapproving gaze with an even stare. "Frustration is the bloody aftermath of the battle.
"I've torn this library apart in search of information, Sergeant. There's nothing here."
"If information about bringing an incarnation of a god to this plane were prevalent, Corporal-Elect, I'm afraid we would have a much larger problem than that which we face this day."
Sighing, Gib concedes, "Be that as it may, this—" he waves a hand dismissively over the materials before him, "—has proven to me that our Mighty Lord has never intended to manifest Himself in such a way. There isn't even so much as a scribble indicating that walking Audalis was even a spark of a thought for Him."
"Rest assured, soldier," the skinny priest replies, "If D'hurgen succeeds, Therassor will meet him on the field of battle despite your inability to discover a plan to do so. There are many things that are above your rank and understanding."
"I spoke with the Most Holy Field General Gerrtalt and expressed to him the direness of these circumstances," Gib retorts with a curled lip barely visible under his heavy black mustaches. "This is the most exhaustive library in the Church. If there are plans to counter the god of death's earthly incarnation being born to my friend, they are surely hidden well."
"Not all knowledge is kept in a library..."
"You were ordered to help, not play at riddles, Filas," Moreno growls and pushes himself up from the chair to stand defiantly before the smaller man.
"Mind yourself, soldier," Filas, Sergeant of Knowledge, cautions, his narrow face imperiously lifted to stare the Corporal-Elect down. "I have opened halls that have been long ignored, even that is reserved for those of higher standing and position than you may ever dream to achieve, and have helped you search the tomes with my own eyes. Forget not your place with me, Moreno Enderedre."
Matching stare with glare, Gib breathes fiercely through his crooked nose for a few beats of the heart before dipping his head a little in deference and stating through clenched teeth, "My apologies, Sergeant. We've been at this for days on days and have yet to discover anything of value. I do not even know if this... this pregnancy has a normal gestation period or if, because of the divine element, it is escalated. I do not know how much time we have let alone where Davena may have stolen Kithran away to."
Dropping his clenched fist to grip the hilt of his sword, the warrior-priest continues, "Sitting in these musty halls reading text after text, following rabbits down holes and crows into shadows... I long for a simple battlefield."
"Battlefields are rarely simple," Filas reminds him with a sorrowful note of remembrance. "But I understand. The hour is late. The acolytes have already retired and without rest, your mind isn't as sharp as it could be. Take my advice, Corporal-Elect. Seek out your bed. Return tomorrow with fresh eyes and a renewed vigor. I will commandeer another class of acolytes to assist in the search and we'll magnify our efforts. I'll also send a runner to the Great Library to see what has been found by the squad researching there. We are not beaten yet."
Releasing the death grip on his sword, Gib turns a dejected eye back to the mess of literature before him. "I would like to but I haven't been sleeping so it is a waste of time to try.
"Another day has passed with no news from Cedric of Solanis, no word from our counterparts who are searching through other libraries. It's been weeks since my companions parted ways in Crandel. I'm left with handfuls of nothing for all of our efforts. I need to find a better way to be useful."
"You can certainly use time in prayerful contemplation as armor against frustration," Sergeant Filas slyly brings the conversation roundabout. "Perhaps pray for some guidance on how best to address your superiors even when beset by that pesky enemy, frustration."
Closing his heavy eyelids and shaking his head, Gib steps out from behind the desk and positions the chair beneath it. "I'll leave you to your books, old man. For now, at least. The chapel is a clarion call that I must answer. You should seek out your own bed. Therassor knows you'll be waking soon enough to piss."
Filas chuckles, his smile twisted by the scar that cuts through his lips and jaw, as the warrior-priest makes his way past the podium. Rubbing the back of his neck where stiffness has taken root, Gib makes his way through the tables, bookshelves, and cases containing histories, philosophical musings, scripture, and more esoteric documentations. The walk is made longer for the winding path through the collections eventually spilling the troubled bearded man into a torch-lit corridor. The chapel is near the front of the temple within easy access for those coming in from the parade grounds, but from the library, the journey takes much longer. Passageways leading to dormitories, classrooms, and more mysterious chambers wind through the majestic and stately temple. White marble columns and statues, silver metalworks, mosaics depicting glorious scenes from scripture are everywhere and eventually, the halls grow in height and splendor with their vaulted ceilings and intricately detailed reliefs.
The beauty and majesty of this edifice are lost to the harrowed Corporal-Elect. Each battle scene he comes across turns into that fateful battle wherein they had failed to stop the end of the world. Every carved marble scene, miniature though they may be in their alcoves, are a monumental reminder of how great his god is and how ineffective he has been. The halls are empty as the clergy have long retired for the night but they echo with the words of his friends, filled with despair as they discussed Kith's fate during those days underground, digging themselves out. Words flit about in whispers like the spirits released when Davena's denizen had destroyed that crystal... words that melt the flesh of confidence away leaving the bones of doubt.
Scratching at the stubble growing on his newly shaved head, Moreno stops before the intimidating double doors to the chapel and considers the scenes worked into the hardwood. Here, the image of Therassor in his glorious armor bearing Meritorious, his trusted sword, is depicted leading a charge against horned demons. The demons are, of course, falling beneath the hooves of the cavalry and being pushed back by the pure righteousness of the warrior god. Here, Therassor and his faithful are winning the day.
So many times before, when he had been a younger more optimistic man, this scene had excited Gib. Now, standing before it with his head shaved in mourning and his black beard shaggy and grown out of his normal point, Corporal-Elect Moreno Ederedre feels shame. A shame that is as effective as a stone wall in keeping him from entering this holiest of places. A shame that mocks him with shadows and intimations of what could have been had he but been stronger. Heavy is his head as he raises it to peer up at his beloved god's image.
"I commended my soul to your charge on more than one occasion, my General," his husky words are hacked free of his mouth, sharp and splintered. "Why did you not take me to your halls then? What deeds had Atharis and Midge performed that earned them their places but not me? And now... now there is no relief, no hope to be found? I walk a battlefield of bones and hear naught but their crunching beneath my boot. Where are the birds? Where are the blue skies? It is blood that I see covering the land, Mighty General, and I cannot see the field for it."
"Let me know if that door has an answer for you," a tenor says quietly from behind him and to the right.
Giving a start, Gib turns with embarrassment to see the angular form of Right Major Alesh approaching from an adjoining hall. Alesh is an athletic woman, broad in the shoulders and narrow in the hips. Her curly, dark brown hair is cut short and shaved to above her ears, a portion of it tied up in a topknot. She isn't a traditionally beautiful woman with sharp features hardened by time in the field but she is said to be a brilliant tactician and very capable swordswoman. And although she isn't every man's dream to look at, what beauty is there has been accentuated by her confidence and airing. Standing a full span of a hand shorter than Moreno, she looks up at him as she draws within his blood circle.
"I've held many a one-sided conversation with that door in my time," she smiles wryly, "and will be quite offended if it decides to answer you when it has been ignoring me all these years."
Unable to smile in return, Gib bobs his head in understanding.
"You're Corporal-Elect Moreno Ederedre, correct?"
Again, Gib nods.
"I was there at your advancement ceremony," Alesh hooks her hands in her swordbelt and drops her weight to her left. "You've stumbled upon quite the conspiracy. Do you mourn your lost companions or the lost war?" Her inquisitive brown eyes look to his shaved head, accentuating her question.
Gib considers the query knowing that the war to which she refers is the one they are fighting to keep D'hurgen from Audalis. "Can it not be for both that I have presented myself such?"
"Surely," Right Major Alesh narrows her eyes, "but I didn't take you for a fatalist. The tide of war can change at the outcome of a tiny battle, Corporal-Elect. I've seen it—experienced it—even read about it. The principle is taught in every strategy class within our ranks and yet here you are seeing valleys of bone and blood caught up in the hole you currently find yourself in when you should be seeking the higher ground."
"A task that I've been about for weeks now," Gib responds cautiously, folding his arms across his chest.
"It is a forever task," Alesh spreads her arms wide and raises her eyebrows incredulously. "Any field commander will tell you that. Battles are unpredictable. The enemy strategists will have their own plans devised and will throw them at you when they deem the time is right. Have you forgotten the lessons found in the Book of Epectir?"
"Be resilient as the water," Moreno responds tiredly, "for it will eventually win over any stone thrown in its path."
Alesh strikes Moreno's shoulder with the back of her right hand, "There you have it! This is the problem with defeat, it breeds self-pity. You need to overcome that wound and pull yourself up by the boots, soldier. Therassor would expect nothing less. By the Nine Hells! You shouldn't either."
"And what does a field commander do when all signs point to utter defeat?" Gib strikes back in a low and quiet voice.
"That's easy," Right Major Alesh grins and settles back on her boot heels. "You fight like you've got no tomorrow, for if you do not fight, you have no tomorrow."
"More wise words from the Book of Epectir?" Corporal-Elect Ederedre presses.
"No," Alesh keeps on grinning while she starts to walk past him. "That is from the Book of Alesh."
Turning so he can follow her exit with his eyes, Gib shakes his head, "You don't know the weight—"
The Right Major stops and spins on her heel to glare imperiously at the man, "By daybreak, I leave for Daviena Castle to assist in the preparations for this dreadful event. Do not think that just because you're neck-deep in dusty old tomes the rest of us are sitting on our laurels. There are parts to be played by every man and woman in Ertain. Messages have been sent to spread the news of your discovery as far away as the Syl forests beyond Coria. Do not presume that this burden is upon your shoulders alone. That mantle is very unbecoming a servant of the God of Righteous Battle."
Taken aback, Gib holds his hands up before his chest, "I did not know."
"Of course not!" Alesh shoots back with a furrowed brow that sets her fiery eyes deep in shadows. "You are a Corporal-Elect. There's no need for you to be privy to anything except that which is within your jurisdiction." Her expression softens. "War finds all people. There's no running from it."
Dipping his bald head in acceptance of her words, Gib presses his lips together. He hasn't considered that the work he was doing wasn't the only work being done, that the Church of Therassor wouldn't be doing more. For the first time in weeks, he feels a little lighter. The burden of finding the answers, or preparing the world, is no longer on the shoulders of the cave-in survivors alone. For a moment, hope spears the chest of despair allowing a little light through.
"Therassor is waiting to give you council, Corporal-Elect," Alash holds her left arm out and points towards the chapel doors. "Listen closely."
As the accomplished woman strides into another corridor, Gib turns back to the chapel doors. Standing erect, he pulls the doors open and proceeds down the long aisle between the pews towards the dais at the end. The chapel room is a grand rectangular display of Therassor's might. The pews are divided into three sections by massive white marble pillars upon which, two thirds of the way up their height, lifelike carvings of stone soldiers blowing trumpets and wrapped in the livery of their god lean out from the base. Overhead, arched vaulted ceilings are painted with visually stunning depictions from the Histories of the Righteous, A Scripture of Therassor. Multiple smaller altars run along the walls of the chamber providing places for more private worship, each contained within a small, dark cherry wood booth with gothic ornamentation along the tops. Centered at the end of the chapel and upon the five-step dais is the main altar, broad and ornate, gilded in silver and dark cherry wood, its surface covered by a blood-red silk cloth hemmed in silver thread. This altar is surrounded by candelabra standing upon staves eight feet in height bearing an impressive one hundred light candles—one hundred for the Hundred Martyrs. Behind the altar is an alcove bearing the seats of the Council of Therassor at the head of which is the always empty Mighty General's chair. Even the Most Illustrious High General sits to Therassor's right. Behind these chairs is one of the crown jewels of the Faith, the forty-foot by one hundred foot stained glass windows depicting Therassor with Meritorious held boldly before him, his armor radiating righteous light, his helm's visor open so that his eyes can bear witness to all unrighteousness that the council may seek to battle it.
Drawing up to the altar, Gib draws his sword from its scabbard and brings the crossguard to his lips. "Holy General, Mightiest of Battle Lords, I have come to seek wisdom."
Kissing the holy symbol upon the crossguard, Moreno sets the blade upon the altar, piercing end towards his heart. Bowing his shaved head, the warrior-priest whispers his heart's desires to his god. "I've lost so many of the battles that should have won you the day, my Commander. I cannot see for the blood that veils my eyes. Clear my vision. Let me see the field's potential. Grant me insight and wisdom that I may serve you well. The enemy of righteousness has taken to horse, his armor is solid and proven, his spear is sharp and unbroken. The world lies before him, defenseless, breast bared, ready for him to strike the killing blow. I would have it be otherwise.
"Again, I commend my soul into your service. Show me how to defeat this enemy."
Corporal-Elect Moreno Enderedre stands body erect before the Ertainian Command of Therassor, hardened moss-colored eyes riveted upon the righteous symbol of his deity emblazoned on the back of the central chair. Colored light paints the marble floor of the hall, the blood of stained glass windows pierced by the sun. The austere chamber is quite full with members of the clergy from all stations present. Five other priests and priestesses stand beside Gib, each paying rigorous attention to the ceremony.
“We feel that we can waste no further time,” Worshipful Field General Bertylmew Occidente’s voice carries easily throughout the hall. “We gather this morning to take action in the matter of Corporal-Elect Enderedre’s report. Let the Ceremony of Strategy begin.”
Two columns of five bannermen, each in full ceremonial plate armor and carrying dangling tapestries depicting various deeds of martyrdom by legendary members of the faith file out from side chambers. Their matching steps echo with a gripping beat as they spread out around the back portion of the map of Anteron depicted on the floor behind Moreno and his companions. The crowd draws back so as not to interfere with their progress. Once in position, each counterpart to the other in position along the opposite column slams the end of their staves to the marble in unison resulting in five thunderously loud cadences of three each.
“All who are present, manifest,” Field General Huchon Temerario rises from his chair to the right of Worshipful Field General Occidente and draws his sword. Gripping it by the blade near the crossbar, he holds it proudly aloft, displaying the holy symbol of the Just General prominently to the masses.
As though the wind is whistling through the leaves of a forest, the unsheathing of many hundreds of swords whispers through the air, including Moreno’s own blade. Holding his weapon out in front of him and over his head, Gib answers along with the others, “For the Glory of Therassor, Honored General, Battle Lord!”
“Look to your neighbor,” Field General Temerario commands loudly. “If you do not recognize them as a devout soldier of the Battle Lord, it is now when you must act. For the sanctity of our counsel, repeat after me.”
Field General Temerario looks to his right upon the stocky form of Colonel-Elect Peares Listo and declares, “My life is in your hands, Brother Soldier.” The Colonel-Elect brings his sword up to his chest and responds, “An honor I accept, Brother Soldier.” Peares turns and repeats the ceremony to the Field Colonel next to him, who delivers the same response and continues the practice by declaring his part to the Council Guard. Eventually, the practice progresses from individuals in the highest ranks to rows a hundred deep on the floor.
“My life is in your hands, Brother Soldier,” Corporal-Elect Watt l'Égoïste intones to Gib as all who are behind him do to their neighbor. “An honor I accept, Brother Soldier,” Moreno replies before looking to his right. Acknowledging Corporal-Elect Aphrah Asesina with her red hair, freckles, and quick, thin-lipped smile, he intones. “My life is in your hands, Sister Soldier.” Bereft of her humor, Aphrah replies, “An honor I accept, Brother Soldier,” before turning to carry on with the ceremony, their voices swallowed up by the orchestra of clergy enacting the same ceremony.
Eventually, the rounds have been completed and Temerario looks to Worshipful Field General Bertylmew Occidente on his left and states the same. This process repeats in the opposite direction until it has been fully executed. Then, Temerario declares loudly, “The Halls will accept no cowards!”
“The Halls will accept no cowards!” Moreno joins his fellows in their declaration.
“Our swords shall not be raised unjustly!” Temerario calls out, this time, turning his sword so that the blade is held in the air before him.
Mimicking the position of the weapon, Gib calls out alongside the faithful, “Our swords shall not be raised unjustly!”
“With this understanding,” the Field General commands, “we secure our strategies in the name of our Honored General, Therassor. Blood be our pain and a shallow grave be our consequence should we fail in this duty!”
“Blood be our pain and a shallow grave be our consequence!” the crowd bellows.
“It is done, sir,” Temerario turns and salutes Occidente by bringing the crossguard of his sword level with his eyes, his blade upright.
Occidente matches the salute, then turns to the crowd and receives their salute before sheathing his weapon and returning to his seat. At which point all present do the same, except that there is no chair to return to for all but the Counsel.
This time, Field General Joetta Géant rises and places her right hand upon the hilt of her sheathed weapon. A square-jawed woman, Joetta is scarred along her neck by fire, her face is wrinkled with time spent in the sun, and her brown eyes are colder than the Northern Winds.
“What intelligence has been gathered proves to this council that there is indeed a threat the likes of which we’ve not faced in ages,” she speaks with splintered metal darting from clenched teeth. “Our decision is thus.
“You who stand before us are each tasked with missions of equal importance.” Looking now upon Gib and his companions she makes a point to meet each of their gazes. “For all but Corporal-Elect Enderedre, that mission is to take your choice of companions and spread throughout the land in search of this Devourer’s Cult. Should you be able to destroy it, do so, but your primary duty is to observe and report. You will be supported by camps placed at regular intervals between here and your field of operation. Riders will attend delivering your findings and we shall work together with the standing army of Ertain to see that this cult does not expand its threat while Corporal-Elect Enderendre and his companions carry out their mission.”
Now looking directly at Gib, she continues, “A mission that is of the utmost significance. A large force will be easy to spot and avoid, thus it is left up to you and your companions to seek out this treacherous ex-companion of yours and destroy the threat at all costs.”
Only through great effort is the warrior-priest of Therassor able to keep his emotions from exploding across his face. Kill Kithran? Is there no saving her?
“These orders are sanctioned and sealed in the name of Therassor, the Honored General,” Joetta motions with her left hand and scribes rise up from their seats behind the council, rush forward, and deposit sealed scrolls in each of the officers on the line’s hands. Moreno accepts his and quietly returns his hands to his sides.
More follows. More ceremony, more orders delivered to other members of the Faith, and even some open argument amongst council members. Eventually, Gib finds himself waiting on the gathered masses to disperse, lost in thought while staring at the slowly shifting colored motes of light.
“Are you ready, then, Corporal-Elect?” the words break through his reverie with the gentleness of a wave crashing upon the beach. Looking up with raised brows, Gib is met by the weathered, silver-bearded face of Most Holy Field General Gerrtalt. Gerrtalt had not been seated amongst the Council and his presence startles the priest.
“Sir,” Gib acknowledges, returning to his rigid position. “My travel pack is ready.”
“And so it is that you are ready as well?”
“You have shaved your head in mourning, as is the custom,” the leader of the Ertainian Church of Therassor observes. “You have spent a great deal of time studying your enemy. Your armor is oiled, your weapons sharpened… you are ready to face this challenge?”
Gib sets his jaw and nods, “I am, sir.”
Gerrtalt studies his face for a moment before shaking his head, “You cannot be.”
The Lighting; 26th of Bre Taola, 453 E.R. The road to Calestra, Coria
The underbrush beside the Corian trade route was an overgrown, weedy things. Brambles and thistles grew into coils of bushes, nourished by rainwater runoff, roots deep in the untrod path. Some flowers dared to bloom, yellow dots bobbing amongst the cattails and woolgrass. What this patch didn't grow however, was Vidarak. And yet, nestled beneath prickled bushes, lay one.
Einar was not exactly pleased to be in the dirt, as it were. Since he awoke two days ago in a healer's tent, side wound stitched and dressed, he had been in peculiar situations like this. The merchant had insisted Einar see to his wounds, after he bled through the third of his embroidered fabrics, and so they had veered from the road to Calestra at the first smoke puffs they saw.
They were lucky to find a healer at all in such a small backwater town. But she had done well, given Einar a rum shot before dousing his wound and patching it. The stitches were neat, the dressing clean, and the ache was an improvement to the burning he had felt every time he breathed before the healer's handiwork made him whole again. Einar had slept soundly in the cot, eased by booze and newfound relief, that he did not hear Donnic drive his wagon away in the night.
Coin was left for his treatment and Einar could find no fault in fleeing a man who had coerced him to obey. Even so, the merchant's departure had made the trek to Calestra that much more of a hassle, as evidenced by Einar's status in the ditch.
He had settled here a few hours ago, content to be of his feet after the two-day walk, but now was not the time for rest. Einar intended to wait out his prey and he needed to be alert for that.
So when the telltale rumble of horses' hooves and bouncing wheels reached his ears, Einar was ready.
The carriage that dawned over the hill was a fanciful thing; a behemoth of red velvet drapes and stained oak structure. Its driver was dressed in the bold colours and faux military garb of Drannese tradition, and the high-stepping horses looked to be fed better than any person Einar had ever seen. But what truly drew his eye was the compartment beneath the carriage; likely for whatever lordling's accoutrements and parcels, it was encased in a solid wood and the only opening covered by a short and heavy curtain. The length of it Einar estimated to be his height, assuming the noble didn't pack his household for the journey. At any rate, it would have to do; the thorns had pricked away at his patience long enough.
As he had planned, the carriage pulled to a stop some feet from the tree he had felled hours before. It had taken much of the early morning and several swings of his axe before the tree had crashed into the road, but the effort seemed worthwhile as the lordling within the carriage sputtered to life.
"Why have we stopped? What inconvenience have you mustered up now, Gregory?" a portly man with - as Einar had predicted - a Drannie accent shouted from the carriage's window. His fury-flashed face matched the drapes quite nicely, Einar noted.
"Milord," answered the driver. "A tree has fallen in the path and the road isn't wide enough to go around it."
"Then unhitch the horses and have them move it!" the nobleman yelled, shooing his hands like his very airs would move his driver along faster.
The driver set to work on the straps of the horses' harnesses, while Einar scurried from beneath the bushes. He stayed low, all but crawling through the grass until he was parallel with the carriage rear. With a practiced hush, Einar darted across the roadway, ducking behind the carriage as the driver led the horses to the tree. With the nobleman inside the carriage once more and the driver occupied by tethering the horses, Einar drew the curtain at the back of the compartment, and sighed at the heavily packed interior.
Scraping bark against dirt grated against Einar's ears, and a quick glance from behind the wheel well confirmed that the driver was now guiding the horses, straining as they were, to drag the tree aside. If this plan were to work, he must move fast.
And so, with snapping branches and a cloud dust for cover, Einar tossed out every small bag and parcel he could reach. The compartment was emptied while the ditch filled, and soon enough, a space made for a Vidarak was carved out.
"That'll do, boys," came the driver's voice. "Best get you hitched and on our way before the master complains the air's too hot for travel again." And since the noise had died down, Einar evidently had until the horses were hitched again to make sure he caught his train.
The driver led the horses back to the carriage as Einar shoved himself into the compartment. Buckles could be heard being done up while soft grunts and hurried efforts were made to situate enough luggage in front of Einar to hide him from any gate guard's perusal. The driver sighed with satisfaction, returning to his seat upon the carriage. Einar grunted, then endured another half-day's worth of jostling down the road to Calestra.
Mid Solanis, 26th of Bre Taola, 453 E.R. The Far Gate, Calestra, Coria
Einar nearly sighed with relief when the carriage drew to a halt, but with the floorboards above him pressing into his stomach with that pig stuffed in frills, he thought wiser of it.
"Hold it there!" yelled a voice, tinged with Corian and distance. "What business have you in the Trade City this day?"
The driver replied, "Milord wishes to be regaled with tales from the Laughing Maidens, good sirs. We've come to give the Scarlet Mistress our offerings."
That explains all the red wrappings, Einar mused.
"Allow us to search your carriage and you may be on your way," the Corian man replied, much closer this time.
The driver gave his consent and footsteps plodded closer to the carriage. It stopped to open the door - to the fussing noble's dismay - and rounded to the back, where Einar held his breath and waited in the dark.
Light blinded him, when the curtains were drawn, and Einar could just make out the sigil of Calestra on the guard's armour from between two boxes. The man hummed as he glanced over the boxes, lingering longer than Einar liked at the pile that hid his legs, but the man eventually straightened and moved away. "Your affairs are in order, enjoy your stay."
A crack of the whip and the carriage was once more moving, though Einar no longer had to tolerate it. The gate guard had left the curtains drawn, so his vantage point was much better, and Einar watched the guard return to his post and the huge walls of the Trade City fill his vision. Peasants ran along the roadside, as horse- and human-drawn carts milled about. The smells of spice and brandy poured from a nearby tavern, followed by laughter, accented by bells tolling the time. It almost made Einar nostalgic for Bayris, the cesspool that it was.
Nevertheless, the carriage was far enough from the gate, and Einar's legs had long since cramped up in the tiny space, so it was time to be free. As inelegantly as possible, he pushed the bags and parcels away from in front of him, rolled out, and hopped to his feet. With less effort, he blended into the rushing crowds. Even a Vidarak could get lost in plain sight. Well, one that was trained by Wolves and told to keep his mouth shut.
As he walked, Einar took stock of what needed doing while in the hub of civilization. Top of the list was seeing a blacksmith about his axe, as it dulled a great deal when put to felling the tree. There were a couple links on his lamellar that needed strengthening, as well. Of course, supplies for the journey back to Ertain. And if he could get his hands on some information about the mages' city -
His thoughts were cut off abruptly by a man colliding with his shoulder. Hissing at the contact with his worst bruise, Einar frowned at the cloaked man in front of him.
"Ho there, friend!" the man yelled, much too loudly. "My sincerest apologies for my bumbling into you, good sir." He pointed towards the tavern suddenly. "Might I buy you a drink in recompense?"
There. A half-second gesture. When the man dropped his index finger, he turned his palm to Einar and pointed his thumb to the ground. So miniscule a movement one could mistake it for a mindless tick and one would, only if one was uneducated in thieves' cant.
Einar dipped his head in agreement, swiped his thumb across his chin, and strode towards the Bent Copper.
Once privacy was secured in a room above the tavern dining room, Einar grabbed a seat and rounded on the man. "Alright, let's have it. What is it the Wolves want this time?"
"More jewels and more whores to stuff their shirts with jewels, I imagine," the man drawled. "But I haven't a clue what they want with you other than your head. Deserters tend to get that treatment, you know."
"Right," Einar scoffed, sizing up the man as he did. "And I imagine you want a shot at the price on my head? All this effort to get me alone, the thieves' cant," his eyes stormed grey as they narrowed on the man, "We didn't need this much privacy for me to snap your neck."
To his credit, the man held firm, laughing condescendingly at the Vidarak's threats. "Candid as always, Einar." The man dropped his hood and recognition struck Einar; he never forgot a face, no matter how hard one might try to be unnoticeable. "I hope you remember me; I saved you from needing that tattoo redone."
Einar did remember. A lanky Syl with eyes too wide and hands too greedy for honest work, he had been an accomplice on the golden egg heist the Unseen Wolves sent Einar on. His chosen mark of initiation - a howling wolf curled around his right ear - had been completed by a tattoo artist just the day prior to the job, and as such, half of Einar's head had been wrapped in gauze. And of course the first place the guard had swung for was his head - and the swing would have taken his ear, messing up the still-healing tattoo were it not for a crossbow bolt that struck the guard first. Einar had managed to dodge the dying man's last move, leaving only a scar bisecting the wolf's tail and a debt owed to a Syl.
Which apparently was to be paid now.
"Don't care who you are," Einar said. "Tell me what you want or I walk out now."
The Syl smiled at him, the same crooked smirk after the guard had fallen at Einar's feet by his hand. "My name is Eldan. I'd like you to use it, going forward in this business venture."
"And what 'business' would that be?" the Vidarak spat.
Eldan took the time to take off and lay out his cloak, folding it over the back of his chair as he took a seat. With his hands folded in front of him, he regarded Einar with a sly smirk. "Why, thievery of course."
The Syl took the next half hour to lay out his plan. Apparently an influential merchant had a wife with a penchant for wine, and when indulging in it, gossip too. She had let slip to her favourite server that her husband would be transporting the largest sum from their vaults since they had moved to Calestra, and that server had passed it along the grapevine, until it reached a hard-up Syl with many debts named Eldan. What he wanted with Einar was a thief's quick feet, but a raider's knack for killing.
"You bothered me for extra muscle on a job?" Einar sneered, as the Syl wrapped up his machinations.
"You will be compensated, of course," Eldan replied. "And what I need is the expertise of a Wolf. You were one, once. Tell me, how is dear Ilario?"
"Dead," Einar replied, "if I'm lucky. And I have my own issues to settle in Calestra, elf, so I will not be helping you."
He made it three strides across the room, the door handle grasped in his hand, when the Syl pulled his trump card.
"You recognized me as your equal," Eldan spoke with cool confidence, so unlike the priggish bravado he had used until now. "I saved you not just from death but a meek, unworthy one." His eyes narrowed at Einar, a threat concealed within. "You owe me."
In the heartbeat it took for Einar to decide his course of action, so many thoughts swarmed his mind. Possible escape exits - surely the Syl would have accomplices in waiting - and battle strategies - his axe may be dulled but it still could cleave Eldan's head off surely - warred with his Vidarak sense of honour. In his earliest days with the Wolves, when he had met Eldan, Einar had been very open of his faith in Vidar law; how he would see glory brought to his name once a foe finally proved worthy of his attention. He had told the Syl that his life was forfeit as it were, that his death was his atonement, and it meant more to see that death worthy of the heavens' battlefields than a crossbow to the brains ever would have been. Einar owed Eldan, and his honour demanded it be repaid.
With a sigh, the Vidarak let go of the door and turned to his business partner. "One job. Stuff your pockets and then I am clear of this debt."
Eldan smiled, that damnable curling smirk, and thrust a hand towards Einar. He opened his mouth to speak, but whatever words came out were drowned out by glass shattering.
Einar spun, raised a hand to protect his eyes from flying shards, hearing boots hitting the floorboards. When he opened his eyes, three men stood before him, leather-armoured and bearing daggers. One had grappled Eldan, holding the Syl against his chest, knife to the throat. "Move and he gets it."
With a smirk, Einar rolled his shoulders, feeling the bruises and aches be overcome with adrenaline. "You'd be doing me a favour there, bacraut*. But," he fiddled with his axe, "honour is a tricky thing." He tapped his belt, drew a line down his thigh. Eldan tilted his head, the faintest nod he could manage.
"I must honour the gods with your deaths."
*Old Norse for a**hole
Posted on 2020-02-01 at 16:35:46.
Edited on 2020-02-01 at 16:37:12 by CameToPlay
Reralae Dreamer of Bladesong Karma: 142/12 2506 Posts
It had been the first time in months that Sara walked amidst a crowd. She knew that she was still recognizable to those who knew her, but the faint feeling of anonymity from her flame tinted hair helped alleviate some of the apprehension of being here. Still, even as she wandered through the market, she could not help but stay on alert. Her golden eyes scanned the crowd around her regularly, not that she knew what she was looking out for.
The sheer variety of wares and people on the market streets was a sight to behold, and Aranwen's eyes were drawn to the shining steel of an arms merchant. The soft smile on her face faltered, and her hand trembled beside her. Shaking her head, she hurried past, occasionally asking passers-by for directions as she made her way to a small public garden, a simple shrine to Adaron.
"How long has it been?" Sara whispered, settling herself on to a wood carved bench.
She had no prayer to give since that dark cell, several months ago. But she was no priestess, nor did she have any delusions of being one. Still, it had been a long time. Aranwen withdrew the flame pin from her waistband, and clasped it between her hands, holding it close at her chest.
"Do you watch, Sae?" she asked, her voice soft, "I wonder what you would say, if you knew I took solace with your name. A small way for us to still be together, Sae and Ara, Sara... A way to keep me sane these past few months, as if one hand were held by you, the other by Ch'dau. So I wouldn't be lost. But even if I lose myself in memories, I never want to forget."
Aranwen fell silent a moment, before she sighed, "Adaron, please watch over her in the forest beyond."
Sara placed the pin beside the shrine, and she knelt before it for a quiet moment. As she closed her eyes and breathed, she tried to be calm, to relax, but there was a tension in her muscles and mind that would not go away. She’d find no peace here.
Her breath caught as she felt a cold steel blade beside her neck, and her pulse quickened as her mind began to race.
Be quick in your mind and your feet, Aranwen, and do not get caught.
“By your looks, you are… Galandel, am I right?”
Sara shook her head, keeping her gaze and sight averted from the woman who spoke, “Please stay your blade,” She stuttered, “There is no need for it.”
“You are not? And you do appear unarmed...” The blade at her throat moved away.
There was no second guessing. As soon as the blade was gone, Sara bolted.
Sara shook her head once more, diving into the safety of the crowded streets of Calestra.
Sara did not look back, nor react to the name being shouted. Some distance away, Sara sighed, leaning against a nearby wall as she caught her breath, “Too… too close,” She whispered.
She remembered her training well enough, and the protocols to be taken when interacting with a suspected deserter. The safety of the individual took precedence - anticipate a fight in the event they were hostile, disarm the deserter, and then question them or bring them some place to be questioned. Considering the length of her service thus far, and the skill in battle she was observed to have in the past, it was only natural for someone who suspected they saw her to be wary in the event that same skill were wielded against them. Perhaps if she were to explain everything… but in the end, she panicked, and more than that, she was afraid of what would happen.
Oathbreakers were punished with death.
That thought sent a shiver down Sara’s spine, and she shook her head. Better to avoid them, avoid that mess, until such a time as when she could say that she had reclaimed her oaths, and ultimately upheld them. If such a time ever happened.
She sighed, and forced the thought from her mind. She was Sara. She was in the city of commerce, and she had an opportunity to peruse the markets for anything she might decide to buy for their household, perhaps for Mhera, or perhaps even a souvenir for Ella. Sara rolled her eyes inwardly, somehow unconvinced Simon really offered her any gifts from how she saw him and Ella together. With that in mind, she returned to the market proper.
Sara took her time as she browsed the wares. She just needed to look the same as everyone else in the crowd, a feat made easier without armour or a blade to make her stand out. She eventually purchased a leather shoulder bag to replace the worn and overused one she saw Ella use, and several small jars to replace cracked ones.
Even still, as day began to fade into evening, the streets began to thin, and then Sara saw her pursuer. Recognition flickered across her face as she recognized the younger Syl, a woman she had helped in training many years prior. And as her golden eyes met their oaken ones, she quickly looked away, cursing inwardly at her frugal choice not to purchase the shawl she considered earlier that may have helped to hide her now. But there was no time to dwell on that now, she could only look to where she might move.
From where she stood, and the direction she was walking, the sounds that came from beyond the doors of the Long Gamble caught her attention. Sara hesitated a moment, but forced herself forward. Though she had never asked anything of Fortune's Dancer, not since that fateful day, she hoped that perhaps she might be fortunate enough to lose her old student inside those halls.
Stepping within the temple, Sara's footsteps were drowned out by the sounds of patrons inside. She took a quick look around from the entrance, not completely able to hide the desperation in her quick, uneven movements.
The main hall of Shinara’s temple opened into a vast room, packed even more densely than Calestra's marketplace, and far louder. Patrons crowded gambling tables and filled pathways, cheering or shouting in anger as their dice rolled or their cards were flipped. Laughter seemed to cut through the cacophony of sound on its own. Whether at some tale a friend had shouted to another, or at someone else’s fortune, good or bad, the sound of uninhibited joy and enthusiasm emanated throughout the temple. And with it, came the hope, the excitement, the eagerness to see what the Scarlett Mistress had in store for them next.
Dotted throughout the room, crimson-clad men and women joined in with their exuberant guests. Their garb varied slightly from person to person. A handful of the women wore robes like those Kithran had pointed out a long time ago, the robes of the Laughing Maidens; while others wore slightly different patterns and styles, those of the Spinning Stars, who ran the Long Gamble, and the Lovers of Fortune who tempted their lady’s favor at any chance they got. They all gambled, ran games, poured wine, and laughed along with the others, as well as protected their patrons when others became unruly.
Sara witnessed this first hand as a couple, apparently upset with their lack of fortune, threw their wine glasses to the ground and began shouting at the young Spinning Star running their game. Like clockwork, two men in Shinara’s colors ushered the couple toward where Sara stood by the door, while a matching man and woman swept in to pick up the mess before anyone got hurt.
As one of the men speaking with the couple they were escorting toward the door passed Sara, he did a double-take, glancing her up and down quickly before looking back into the hall and nodding to someone else. Any uncertainty that may have washed over her at the gesture was met immediately by the two women in crimson robes who appeared before her. One, tall and broad-shouldered, with long blond hair, looked beyond Sara, either at the group heading out the door or at something past them. The other, rosy-cheeked, and her orange hair piled atop her head, leaned in to address her calmly, though earnestly, above the sound of the hall.
“I’m Alice, a Laughing Maiden, would you like to go some place quieter?” She leaned back again and jerked her head to the right, toward a hallway leading out of the main hall.
"Ah, uh," Sara's gaze turned briefly towards the Stars that had wandered past her, a sense of unease settling beneath her breast. What was in that look he had? Recognition? Yet, she was in the hall of Fortune's Dancer, was she not? Perhaps it was the location, perhaps it was Kithran's memory rubbing off on her, but she decided to take the risk. She turned back to Alice and nodded, "That sounds good," she agreed, "I've never been here before. It's a bit overwhelming," she admitted.
Alice gave her a genuine smile, “I still feel that way too sometimes.” She turned toward the hall, “Come, follow me. Oh,” she touched the arm of the other, taller woman, whose eyes were still on the entrance, “and this is Serena, she’ll be following us, if that’s alright.” And with that the maiden spun around and waded through the crowd, glancing back every now and again to ensure she hadn’t lost Sara, and sticking as close to the wall as she could get, until finally squeezing through the last swath of patrons and emerging into the smaller, quieter hallway.
The orange-haired maiden laughed lightly as Sara stumbled through, much as she had herself, “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to laugh, but...” She shrugged, as though perhaps she had, “I am fairly new here, at least in comparison to our Serena,” despite her size, the tall maiden slipped into the hall with little effort, “so it’s nice to see someone else share in the joys of traversing the Gamble.” She turned and gestured Sara to walk with her down the hall.
“There are several little rooms and nooks hidden throughout the temple, if you know where to look, including along this hallway here. It’s actually kind of a maze sometimes, but it does make for a nice way to, say, lose people, if you’re in search of some peace.”
"Truly?" Sara blinked as she looked along the hallway, taking in a brief glimpse of the number of pathways that branched off of the main path, "That's incredible. Like the extent of a forest put into a building," she smiled.
"Hah, yeah, I never thought of it like that, but you're absolutely right." Alice looked up at the golden-eyed Sylvari as they walked, “So, what brings you to the L--oh! I am so sorry, I was so focused on helping you get out of--what’s your name?”
"Ah, yes, my name is Sara."
"Sara?" Alice repeated, making sure she had heard right.
“Yes?” A voice called from down one of the smaller hallways to their left, “Just a moment.” After some shuffling, a short, blond woman with her hair up in a ponytail, and clad in a plain dress emerged from the hall, “You only need to call once, you know. Anyhow, did you need something? Oh, hello,” she said, eyeing Sara, and then the other two, before some sort of understanding came over her and she held out a hand, “I am Serah, a Laughing Maiden and cleric of Shinara. And who are you?”
Posted on 2020-02-05 at 02:11:42.
Edited on 2020-02-05 at 02:13:52 by Reralae
Early darkening; 26th of Bre Taola, 453 E.R. The Bent Copper inn, Calestra, Coria
At Einar's signal, Eldan stabbed the man holding him with the knife he kept in his coat sleeve. The blade to the elbow made the man's arm unwind from Eldan's neck, allowing him to retreat a few paces, and providing a distraction for Einar's next move.
The Vidarak launched himself across the room, bringing his hook to bear as he grappled the intruder closest to him. Taken off-guard, the leatherbound man grunted in pain when Einar's hook found purchase in his arm, then swore when a headbutt followed suit. Distance was not given to the man, for Einar pulled his opponent towards himself and drove the spike atop his axehead into the man's stomach. With a gurgle, the man slumped into Einar, who ripped his hook from its grip in flesh, and faced the third intruder.
As they sized one another up, the intruder brandished a pair of daggers and gestured with the blades for Einar to draw nearer. In response, Einar unloaded his axe from his belt, lowered into a ready position, and growled.
Meanwhile, Eldan had spent the past several minutes trading blows with his assailant. He had lost his sleeve knife and the advantage it being stuck in the man's arm gave him when it was ripped out and tossed aside, but this still worked in the sylvari's favour; the man was clearly in pain, laborous breaths between strikes proving the point. Even if he was facing blood loss, the attacker still kept at it, deflecting each blow from the daggers Eldan stored in his boots. They danced across the room, narrowly missing a swing from Einar's axe, stumbling when Eldan collided with a chair. The man took the chance, raising his sword aloft, intending a clean strike across and -
He went still, blood pouring from his neck at the entrance site of the knife Eldan threw. The second one to go down toppled to the floor, and the remaining intruder watched in dawning horror as she realized her mistake. The leathered woman deflected Einar's jab, then dove between his wide stance and landed a kick to the back of his legs. Einar went to his knees hard, and as soon as he were on them, the woman wrapped her arms around his neck, dagger to his throat.
"Honour yourself and die, pig," the woman spat in his ear. Her grip holding his throat tightened, the dagger driving just a sliver inwards, and Einar smiled in return.
"Gladly," he retorted as Eldan drove his daggers into the woman's back. Free once more, Einar leaned forward and coughed past the pain in his throat. He rose to his feet, turning to shake the sylvari's hand.
"You've done me another favour it seems," the Vidarak said. "I will complete this job with you, and maybe find time to eliminate this threat to your life.”
"Debt collectors," Eldan replied. "Always a pain."
The two shook on it just in time for four more crashes to resound through the room, as five more entered through the shattered windows. Seeing the carnage of what must be their fellows - for they wore the same leathers - the five new assailants rounded on the two men with angry snarls.
Before either syl or human could react, two well-placed kicks to the abdomen sent Eldan and Einar spilling into the hallway of the inn. Three of the attackers grabbed Eldan, who clearly remained their priority, while the other two continued pushing Einar down the hallway.
He blocked dagger blows on both sides, even caught a couple with his hook, but a pommel strike to the gut sent Einar doubling over. The second one to the back of the head shone stars across his field of vision. Then the kick to the nose sent him flying backwards down the stairs, cursing and grunting as he went.
“Do you hear that, t’mbili m’chana,” the Kazari’s voice thrummed.
“Hear what, sir?” The girl queried, still blinking into the shadows of the ceiling above, “I don’t hear any…”
A violent crash, issuing from the tavern’s upper floor, echoed down the stairway and into the common room, then. This was followed by grunts, curses, and more clashing noises that, now, Ch’dau could not fail to identify as the sounds of battle.
“A fight,” the Kazari snarled, getting to his feet and pushing the girl behind him as the sound of bodies tumbling down the steps drew his narrowed gaze to the stairway.
The words had scarcely passed the Kazari’s lips when, in a stream of clatters and curses, a body thudded down the stairs. The unceremonious descent ended in a grunt and a puff of air as the lanky figure slammed into the floorboards at the foot of the stair. Undeterred despite the breath that had been knocked form his lungs, though, the gangly, silver-haired monkey had already begun trying to regain its feet before Ch’dau had crossed the room. As the Kazari drew nearer, the t’mbili had managed it’s knees, a hand, and – is that a hook? – was reaching for a blade as a boot scuffed the wood of the floor in search of purchase.
“Take your time, monkey,” the cat-man snorted, having come close enough, now, to recognize the man’s armor and aspect as Vidarak, “Your gods will wait, I am sure.”
With one paw, he reached down to grab hold of the man’s collar and forcefully hauled the tall sea-reaver to his feet; meanwhile, the other paw had gone to the hilt of a falcata concealed beneath the fall of his cloak even as his slit-pupiled eyes turned up the stairway and fell upon the dark-clad figures that raced down in pursuit of the silver-haired man. The growl that escaped him, then, forestalled the shadowy figures on the stairs only long enough for the Vidarak to register that his feet were under him, again, and, at the sight of the beast who had so roughly jerked him up, raised both hook and axe …
…The slash of the axe went wide as the cat-beast seemed to have no difficulty in ducking under the air as it split, but the hook landed true and, as it pierced flesh, a roaring sound erupted from the creature. A sound of pain and rage loud enough to shake the walls of the tiny tavern and, perhaps, even spread beyond.
Drawing near, the man and beast were nearly at eye level - a first for Ch'dau. "Did your mam shag a cat, monster?" the raider taunted. "Or is that the pelt of your first lay?"
“Hm,” Ch’dau snorted through his snarl, “Funny.”
The Vidarak was jerked forward as, even with the hook in it’s shoulder, the tiger-monster lashed out with a blade and cut the legs out from under one of the assassins. Then, he was lifted up, the cat-man’s sharp teeth gnashing in his face as it tore the hook free. To the Vidarak’s surprise, the monster didn’t kill him, just then. Instead, it dropped him back to his feet, snarled something that sounded like “do not make me kill you,” and turned it’s attentions back to the stairway just before the second assassin launched himself from the steps...
Ch’dau ducked under the assassin’s leap and swiped at the man with a paw as he sailed overhead. The Kazari’s claws gouged deep scores into the leather armor covering the man’s belly and bounced him from the wall, yet the cutthroat still managed to land fairly gracefully at the bottom of the stairway and roll to his feet behind the white-haired raider.
“For you and your fish hook, monkey,” Ch’dau chuffed at the Vidarak before bound up the steps in pursuit of the third assassin.
“How generous of you, monster,” the hook-handed reaver spat, his gaze tearing away from the cat-beast as he swung around in hopes of burying his axe in the assassin at his back.
The cutthroat was quick, though, and prepared for the wild swing, easily deflecting the arc of the axe’s blade with a practiced flick of the twin daggers. He nearly evaded the hook that followed in the wake of the axe, too, but wasn’t quite fast enough. The daggers fell from his hands and clattered to the floor and he gurgled as the deadly prosthetic tore into his neck and laid waste to his throat.
As the Vidarak lowered his would be killer to the floor and pulled his blood-soaked hook from the man’s neck, he heard a series of thumps, a choked scream, and the sound of breaking glass from the floor above. Turning toward the sound, he caught sight of the cat-beast as it reappeared at the top of the stairs. “Where’s the other one?” he queried.
Ch’dau sheathed his blade, shrugged, and thumbing at the blood that seeped from the fresh wound in his shoulder answered simply; “Outside.”
Posted on 2020-02-05 at 17:42:08.
Edited on 2020-02-05 at 17:54:23 by CameToPlay
Reralae Dreamer of Bladesong Karma: 142/12 2506 Posts
Maiden and Singer
Sara blinked, initially surprised to meet someone that shared the same name she held, or at least one that sounded similar, but then recognition dawned on her, as she recalled one of the names Kithran had mentioned. One time, a time that felt so very long ago. Unconsciously, she offered Serah a warm smile, and she nodded, "It seems we share a similar name, Serah," Sara replied, "Though, I never would have imagined our paths crossing like this," she knew it had been a possibility, of course, but still didn't expect it to actually happen, "We share a common connection, a half-Syl with dark eyes and hair whose hands wander far too often for her own good…" her eyes went a bit distant in recollection.
Serah's eyes seem to follow hers in some similar memory, before they grew wide in comprehension, "Kithran?” She grabbed Sara’s wrist, and a mix of hope and fear flit across her face, “You’re her bl-”
Sara lifted the index finger on her other hand to her lips, her eyes wide as she shook her head at Serah. Thankfully, it was Serena who spoke.
“Serah,” Serena interrupted, attracting the attention of both women, and the small cleric looked back and forth between Serena and Sara before she remembered.
She nodded and dropped the Sylvari’s wrist, “Right, Randel had mentioned that.” She turned to the orange-haired girl, “Alice, thank you for bringing Sara here to us, she is the friend of an old friend. Do you mind giving us a moment?"
The younger maiden looked visibly deflated, but nodded all the same, “Yes, of course Serah. It was nice meeting you Sara,” she said to the Sylvari, laughter coming back to her eyes, “Find me if you need me.”
"I'd love to, hopefully some time a bit less pressing," Sara smiled in return as she waved to Alice.
With Alice's departure, Serah hurried down the long, winding hallway, dipping quickly around corners, and bounding up stairs until finally they entered a small, simple room. A neatly made bed rested against the wall opposite the door, to the left a desk sat just below the window, a small wardrobe stood just to the left of the door, and on the wall to the right hung the crimson robes of a Laughing Maiden.
“Please, have a seat if you wish.” Serah gestured to the room at large, but leaned against a wall herself, “This is my room. I apologize for the lack of formality but,” a smirk formed at the side of her mouth, “this is Kithran we are talking about. The last we spoke she was in the tattered remains of a dress she had worn to a masquerade in Felarin.”
“And everyone knows not to disturb Serah when her door is closed,” Serena added as she took the chair in front of the desk.
Unbothered by the lack of formality, especially having spent as long as she had in Meadowbrook prior, Sara sat at the foot of the bed, bowing her head in thanks, "Thank you," she returned.
Serah’s smile grew, “I do appreciate my reading and my sleep.” She sighed suddenly, and the distress she had shown before returned, “So, you are, one of Kithran’s traveling companions, yes? You are the...” She made whistling sounds and stabbed at the air, “I am so glad to finally meet you, I never thought I would. And Kithran," she continued, hardly taking a breath between topics, "we haven’t heard from Randel since they went home to Stone's Hollow. Have you and the others found her yet?”
"I… was Aranwen, yes," Aranwen's face fell, shaking her head as the mirth faded from her golden eyes, her gaze falling to the floor, "There hasn't been any word. If anything, I had dared to hope you or any of the other Maidens might have had even a hint of where to try looking."
Serah shrugged defeatedly, "We're trying, but Antaron is enormous, and she did well to hide from us even before she had a mad cultist bitch controlling her." Anger began to well inside her again, imagining that disgusting woman's hold on their little darling.
She took a deep breath in an attempt to quell her frustration, and instead examined the bladesinger a little more closely, forcing away her own guilt and noticing now the pain on Sara's face, "Are you alright?"
Aranwen gave a smile, weaker than the one she originally gave Serah, "I…" she gave a long, shuddering sigh, "I would like to say so,” She replied, her eyes faded as she shook her head, “but I know otherwise. And I know… I know it shows."
“A little bit, yes.”
As she thought of what she wanted to do, how she wanted to be there with Ch’dau and the others once more, she held up her hands, which had begun to tremble at the thought of wielding a blade, "I can't even defend myself like this," she clenched her hands, as if her grip would be enough to stave off the shaking, before she sighed, letting her hands rest upon her lap.
Serah fixated on them, frowning as they shook, and following them as they fell back into her lap. Without hesitation she crossed the small room and sat beside her, holding out her own hand, "May I?"
Aranwen blinked, following Serah’s movements as she sat beside her and tilting her head a bit, in unspoken question. She nodded, offering her hand to Serah. It was still, for the moment, without thoughts of battle at the forefront of her mind.
The maiden took the bladesinger’s hand into both of hers. She flipped it back and forth, pressing into her palm and her fingers, poking, prodding, evaluating the callouses, lifting her arm up and down, examining the way they moved, the years of training evident even while laying limp in her hands. Eventually, after confirming for herself that there was nothing seemingly outwardly wrong with them, Serah simply gave it a comforting squeeze, before looking back up at those sad, golden eyes of hers.
“Are you able to tell me what happened?” She smiled softly, keeping her hand in Sara’s, “I know what happened, at least all Randel could make of it, but what happened here?” She held her hand up, “How are you fixing this?”
Sara gave a soft sigh, "I couldn't say," she replied, a non answer, and she frowned, "It's just been like this since… that battle," she elaborated further, "now, if I think of battle, or go to grasp anything with an edge to it," her hand began to tremble as Serah held it, and the cleric gave it another squeeze.
"I do still practise, even if not with a blade," Sara added, quietly, "those exercises memorized over decades of doing them while in training. Yet, there doesn't seem anything that can still these tremors," she gave a weak smile, "Just another way I can no longer help anyone. I can't hold a blade. I can't sing. It's almost poetic for an oathbreaker."
“Yes, that does seem counter-intuitive.” Serah glanced at the maiden lounging in the desk chair nearby, and back to Sara, “I am curious what you intend to do when we find her.”
“Whatever it is I can do,” Sara replied, “The others might expect me to lead them again, but how could I do that with all that happened? I…” she fell quiet a moment, her hand trembling, “I would be with them if I could, but like this… I would be a liability in battle, nothing more.”
Serah held her hand firmly, tilting her head to meet her eyes, “You sound scared,” and she smiled a bit more playfully than Sara may have expected from someone seemingly attempting to console her, “A very long time ago I talked to Kithran about fear, about how there isn’t much use for it among Shinara’s flock. And yet,” she pat the top of Sara’s hand with her free one, “we are but simple beings, prone to feel things we don’t intend to, some more deeply than we’d like, and some more crippling than we can stand.”
She laughed softly to herself, “As she so eloquently put it, as a much smaller, sopping wet twelve-year-old, fresh out of a well she had hopped into for fun, ‘fortune favors who it favors’. And that’s true. The Scarlett Mistress plays with us how she likes, all we are able to control are our actions and reactions.”
Serah finally let go of her hand and leaned back, “But, we do have to react. If you decide to run back home and hide, if you are afraid of being a hindrance in this fight, that’s fine, we will toss our own fates at the Mistress and see how she feels. We’ve done it for less, and many of us here have charged upon ourselves the well-being of that elusive girl. Though she has seemed to have more luck in shaking us than we have had in protecting her. I am sure you can understand the… frustration in that.”
She shook her head, then stared at the bladesinger for a long moment, “However, I don’t think that is what you want to do, is it? Perhaps you’re scared, but you don’t seem the type to cower. What would you like to do, Aranwen?”
“I’m… I’m terrified,” Aranwen admitted, looking down at her shaking hands, “That thought of failing them by my decision, by picking the path to our demise when I must choose where to walk, as I already have,” she grit her teeth, “And yet…”
Her hands steadied as she drew breath, her golden eyes hardening as she thought through the words Serah gave to her, “... and yet, the thought of doing nothing is even worse.”
Aranwen leaned back, drawing another breath, “Have you a knife or something I might hold?”
The corner of Serah’s mouth turned upwards as she nodded to Serena. The tall maiden reached behind herself and produced a dagger, delicately holding it by the tip of the blade, offering Aranwen the hilt.
Aranwen reached forward with her right hand, and it began to tremble, but not nearly as much as it had been. She held her right wrist with her left hand to keep it still as she took the hilt in hand. Though the tip wavered as she grabbed it, she clenched her jaw as she brought the knife closer, holding it just over her lap, and the blade stilled with her hand. She exhaled in relief as she looked up from the blade to Serah and Serena, “Thank you.”
Serah wrapped her arms around the bladesinger, resting her head on her shoulder and staring once again at her hands, “Excellent, Aranwen! I knew you could do it. Take your time, but be persistent. Take it slow, but keep your resolve.”
Serena held a hand out again to retrieve the weapon, setting her other hand on Aranwen’s other shoulder in offering congratulations for her accomplishment, and met her eyes as well, “Good job, Aranwen. Serah can be, um,” she smiled, looking for a moment to the little cleric, and back to the bladesinger, “surprisingly abrasive, but she’s hardly ever wrong.”
Serah laughed, “Sure, yes, I am never wrong. Remember that the next time I offer you advice, Ser.” She leaned away from Aranwen, patting her back once more before dropping her hands to her lap, “How are you feeling now?”
There was a sharp knock at the door, but no time between the knock and the door opening before a Syl with oaken hair looked inside, “Sis? Are you here?,“ Admara asked, “Alice mentioned a Sara, and I just had to look. Oh, I’m sorry, Serah, Serena!” Admara bowed her head in apology, before her eyes settled on the red-haired, golden eyed Syl sitting on the bed, “Whoa, what’d you do with your hair, that looks cool!”
Aranwen looked up in shock at seeing her sister in the doorway, “Why are you here?” She stuttered in surprise, “You’re a long way from home, little sis.”
“What does it look like?” Admara gave a grin, “I’m joining the Maidens!”
Aranwen gave an exasperated sigh, her left hand going to her forehead, “You’re not even 50 yet,” she grumbled, before looking at Serah beside her, “Is this true?”
"As long as she never barges into my room unbidden again," Serah pointedly warned the young maiden, "then yes, she is welcomed here for as long as she pleases."
Admara brought her hands together in front of her as she leaned one way while tilting her head the other, giving off an innocent look as she bowed towards Serah, “I’m sorry,” she stepped inside and carefully closed the door behind her, “I just had to know if it was Ara.” Admara approached the bed, relief visible on her face as she looked Aranwen over, “You look more yourself, sis,” She smiled.
Aranwen nodded, “I think, I am starting to finally feel more myself,” she replied, giving a thankful smile to Serah, before standing to hug Admara. After untangling herself from her little sister, Aranwen looked to the other Maidens, “I’d best not linger too long, but I know my former pupil will be watching the doors of the Gamble; is there another way I should take?” She asked.
The other maidens stood up as well, “There is, yes. Would you like one of us to go with you? We’ve all had plenty of experience escorting new friends on their way.”
Aranwen paused as she considered it, “Yes, please,” She nodded, “I know I am not as familiar with Calestra’s streets as you are.”
“How are you feeling, Serena?”
The other maiden was already stretching, “Bored.”
Serah smiled, “Perfect. Do you have a spare cloak for… Sara, here?”
“I’m sure I can find something. I’ll be right back.” She moved around the others in the small room and slipped through the door.
The smaller maiden turned her grin back on Aranwen, “Are you much of a climber?”
“It’s been a long time, but I imagine I should still be able to make do,” Aranwen chuckled.
“She told me a lot about climbing trees when she wasn’t supposed to. It was a good inspiration,” Admara laughed under Aranwen’s icy gaze.
Serah snickered at their sibling interaction and nodded, walking toward the window near the desk, “As Alice may have mentioned, the temple can feel like a maze to those not used to its curves and diversions. There are several ways in and out, and several ways to get lost.” She opened her window, “It was through some great misfortune that we discovered this way out, which in turn has proven to be a means of escape, and sometimes sanctuary for many.”
She looked around the room from where she stood, and gave Aranwen a sad smile, “I suppose Kithran likely told you about her mentor, Tara, and what happened to her. This was her room, their room, and where Kithran found her the night, well...” she trailed off, “Tara was my best friend, and this,” she waved to the room at large, “this was the only way I could feel close to her again.” She took a breath, “Anyway, the bastard escaped through here, and in searching for him, we found this little route--simple, but full of shadows, and easy to hide, especially at night. Lucky you.”
Aranwen frowned a bit. With what Kithran had mentioned of Tara, it felt a bit strange; she hadn’t expected to find herself in this place so connected to her. She took a moment as she closed her eyes, holding a hand to her chest. She might not be a priestess, but she felt as though she wished to have known Tara as well.
Serah’s grin returned just as Serena came back through the door, a worn, dark green cloak in her hands, “We should hurry, Fortune knows how long it will take Esme to realize it’s gone.”
Aranwen chuckled, “Did you pick that up from Kithran, or Kithran pick that up from you?” She mused, idly wondering how much she’d need to worry about Admara picking up similar talents. With a grateful smile, she donned the cloak, before looking to Serah and readying herself to follow.
Serena scoffed, amused, "Tara taught us all. It was either catch on to her tricks, or be left cloakless and snackless forever." She drew her own cloak over her head and made her way to the window, "Have you all said your goodbyes?"
Admara quickly rushed forward to hug Aranwen once more, “I’ll be okay, little sis,” Aranwen offered, “Just try not to get too sticky fingers, okay?” She smirked, giving Admara a kiss on the forehead before she followed after Serena.
A Series of Bad Ideas (Eol and My Collab Once More)
At the Bent Copper
From the top of the staircase, Ch’dau eyed the lanky, hook-handed Vidarak who stood at the bottom. He knew a bit about these raiders from the Reach and had even fought a few of them during his time with the Wyverns but to encounter one here, in the heart of Antaron, so far from the sea was a curiosity akin to finding a Kazari outside of Capasha. Perhaps it was that shared rarity that had prompted the Silver Cat to intervene on the Vidar’s behalf to begin with or, maybe, it was simply the combination of drink and an unscratched itch for battle. Either way, the fight was finished, now, and between them the two outsiders had claimed victory over the assassins…
What is to happen, now, Ch’dau wondered, his paw pressed to the hole that the monkey’s hook had left in his shoulder, his gaze drifting over the bodies that littered the stairway, Have I kept these from killing you only to finish the task myself? He took his hand from the wound, then, glanced at the blood that smeared his palm and, with an irritated snort, turned his eyes back to the Vidarak standing at the foot of the stairs. I suppose we shall soon find out.
…“You are a long way from home, monkey,” the cat-man rumbled as he made his way down the steps, “I cannot help but wonder what brings a Vidarak so far inland?”
The Vidarak grinned at the question. "A fine question," he retorted, hefting his hand axe over his shoulder. "What I'm curious of is how a cat learns to piss on two legs."
Ch'dau's lip curled, a growl building in his throat. What good he may have done in saving the sea-reaver was quickly proving outside the Silver Cat's best interest; this man wanted trouble, from the insane gleam in his eye, to the brazen provocation he seemed intent on pursuing.
"Leave, monkey," Ch'dau settled with, already thinking of Sara's worry over his injuries once they reunited. "Your battle is with others, not me."
The Vidarak barked a laugh, storm grey eyes narrowing dangerously on the cat-man. "I find battle wherever I go, beast. It is the way of things." He dropped into a fighting stance, axe raised prominently but it was the hook Ch'dau kept his turquoise eye on; bloodied and dripping red, the damage it had done to the assassin's throat and his shoulder proved it's mettle.
"K'tomba v'tun'gu!" Ch'dau growled. "Jump upon your fish hook if it suits you, but our quarrel is done." He made no move, knowing the raider would see it as an attack, but instead held his ground. "Find your death elsewhere."
Your claws would do me in just as well, monster, Einar thought to himself. His eyes narrowed at the beast, creasing his crow's feet even deeper than usual, he took stock of his fortune. To be ambushed twice in one day - first by that damn sylvari, then his blade-wielding "debt collectors" - was a mistake Ilario would have had his head for, but Einar's bloodlust was all too happy with this turn of events staring him down from the stairwell. The Silver Cat of Coria; the only entertaining tales of the Silver Wyverns to reach Bayris had been of this two-legged tiger. A man or a monster none could tell, especially not in the heat of battle. Einar had heard much, believed little of the stories, but to be face-to-face with the beast himself... Truly there were stranger things in mainland Antaron than even the snow-skinned Gilskalos beyond the Reach.
"Does a cat have use for coin?" It was a gamble, poking the beast as it were, but that roar had been as animalistic as the monster's appearance, so surely Einar could provoke the Silver Cat into attacking with enough taunts. "Or do the Wyverns loan out their caged beast to thieves?"
"I am not caged, p'ka m'dogo," the Silver Cat retorted, fur bristling. "And if you know who I am, then you know what I am capable of." To accent his threat, blood from the cat's closest kill trickled towards Einar's boot. Still, if the beast was involved with Eldan's pursuers, it needed to die.
And Einar could not deny it, but to face a true monster in battle may yet be his most glorious fight to date.
Taking in a breath, Einar leveled the silver monster with a stare many Bayrisian shopkeepers had quaked beneath. His lips quirked in an almost smirk, as he felt the aches of his tumble down the stairs and healing shoulder fade, vision focusing on the creature before him. "What can a cat on a leash do?" Fangs to watch for; a hook through his lip should disable any tricks. "Lick your own prick?" An axe point to the stomach finishes any beast, intelligent or not.
The beast rumbled a growl, betraying its growing temper. "I see no prick but the one before me."
Einar chuckled darkly at the jab. "Do you not have one then, monster?" Despite the fur, the beast must be rippling with muscle; another thing to evade. "Is castration the cage the Wyverns put you in?"
"Uj'nga!" the Silver Cat roared, eyes narrowing and tail lashing. The monster took a couple steps down the stairs, hands flexing as claws emerged - Another thing to watch - but the beast composed himself by the time it reached the stairwell landing. "Leave now, monkey, or you will regret what comes."
A quirk of the lips was the only thing that gave away Einar's inner glee. "Let it come, so I may use your hide as a pelt to take my next woman on."
Eat your heart out, Varigrads, was Einar's only thought as the silver monster thundered down the stairs and came bounding across the room.
Ch'dau could have screamed until Kh'ra's Eyes met in the sky and Antaron was awash in darkness, so great was his frustration with this monkey. The Vidarak fool was quick to block Ch'dau's claws with his axe, a shrill screech emitting where keratin met steel. His irritation building, the Silver Cat whirled about and raised an arm to intercept the hook that arced toward him. The lethal prosthesis snagged briefly in the bone and leather bracer, there, but, before the Kazari could capitalize with a slashing of his free claws, the Vidarak dislodged the hook and danced nimbly out of range.
“Ha!” The rogue reaver sneered tauntingly, hook and axe glinting back the tavern’s lamp light as he circled slowly just beyond the cat-beast’s reach; “Is it the thoughts of the cage that anger you so, monster, or is it knowing that I’ll soon be shagging a wench on your hide?”
You will shag nothing at the end of this, Ch’dau thought to say, for I intend to rip off your ipipi and feed it to you before you die! So great was his frustration with the white-haired t’mbili, though, that the words failed to take form on his lips and escaped him only in the form of an enraged snarl as he lunged at the jeering Vidar. Had the sea-monkey not been as quick as he was, the Kazari’s vicious swipe may very well have opened the man from gullet to groin. As it was, though, the Vidarak seemed to anticipate the attack and evaded it by rolling backward across a table, leaving the claws to splinter a chunk of wood from its surface rather than spilling his guts to the tavern floor.
“Really?” The hook-handed k’tombat’u heckled from the other side of the table, now; “From the tales I’ve heard of the Silver Cat of Coria, I expected to be in the halls of the Varigads, by now!” The mocking smile rippled through the monkey’s beard, again, as he beckoned with his hook hand; “Heeere, kitty kitty!”
The enraged Kazari’s fur bristled, his ear pinned flat to his head, and, as his eyes narrowed and his lips split into a savage snarl, he barked out a short roar of annoyance. The claws came to bear again but, contrary to what the Vidar may have expected, the cat-beast didn’t leap over the table. Instead, Ch’dau sunk his claws into the table-top and flung the entire thing aside as he advanced, paying no mind to the terrified squeaks of the barmaid who had been hiding beneath it…
“I am going to kill you, t’mbili,” the slavering cat-man snarled as the table crashed into another, and the serving girl scampered frantically out of the beast’s path, “I will tear off your arms and legs and eat your k’tomba heart from your chest!”
…The Vidarak feinted with the spike that topped his axe as Ch’dau stormed within range but the Silver Cat simply grunted as he batted the weapon aside at the cost of a gash being opened across the back of one furry paw. The hook followed, of course, and the Kazari’s feral grin only widened as he caught the thing in his other paw, wrenched the Vidarak’s arm to the side, and landed a kick to the monkey’s chest that sent him sprawling on his back atop another table. Before the silver-haired monkey could recoup his breath and regain his feet, the raging Kazari was on top of him, one bleeding paw wrapped around his throat and the other, claws extended, raised and readied to permanently erase the sardonic smirk from his face.
As the growl in Ch’dau’s chest reverberated through the tiny tavern and just before the claws were set to tear off the Vidar’s face, though, a shrill shriek of terror drowned out even the angry chuffing of the Kazari.
“PLEASE!” The horrified serving girl’s pale visage appeared in the periphery of Ch’dau’s red-tinged vision, her tiny hands raised imploringly; “Please, sir… no more… please…”
The Kazari blinked, his turquoise eyes flicking sidelong at the girl for an instant before falling back to the Vidarak pinned beneath him. “Sa’wa,” Ch’dau snorted.
The Silver Cat’s grip around the rogue reaver’s neck tightened and the claws on his other hand retracted as those fingers curled into a fist. “When you wake up,” he snarled, pressing his face closer to the Vidar’s, “be sure to thank this one for your life, yes?”
The silver furred fist hammered into the Vidarak’s face, then, with enough force to bounce the monkey’s head from the table. As the reaver’s eyes rolled back into his head and just before a high-pitched ringing lay claim to his ears, he heard the Silver Cat rumble; “Fetch me some rope, girl…”
Posted on 2020-02-13 at 16:28:39.
Eol Fefalas Keeper of the Kazari RDI Staff Karma: 462/28 8482 Posts
Wakey-wakey, sea-monkey! (Another Eol/CTP collab)
The transition from sleep to wakefulness was not always the kindest to Einar Holgeirsson. At times it was nightmares - jeering faces, wild eyes, a man standing over him, bloodied stone in hand - or it was a sharp jolt - never a wave breaking under a ship, hadn't been for nigh twenty years, but the rock of a carriage or the pestering of a companion - and the rare times it was simple soft sunlight heralding the day and his waking. Ilario favoured a knife to the throat to test Einar's reflexes, while the mother he had left behind on the Coast had a preference for kisses on the forehead. This time it was a flush of liquid over his head, trickling down his spine and scenting the air with cheap ale.
"You couldn't have used rum?" Einar scoffed, once the heaving and panicky beats of his heart had settled. His hooked nose itched from droplets dripping off the tip.
“Hm,” Ch’dau grunted as the now empty ale flagon banged onto the table top between them, “I could have but I chose to drink it rather than waste it on your sleeping pu’nda.”
As if by way of punctuating that statement, the kazari hefted his own mug and took a long pull from the rum and milk concoction that filled it. As he drank, his narrowed blue-green eyes remained intent on the tall man across the table. When the mug finally came away from his lips, it was returned to the tabletop before its twin was pushed toward Einar at the tip of a furry finger. “No milk for you, t’mbili,” the Silver Cat chuffed, nodding at the cup, “though, I have left your hand free enough to reach it.”
It was then that Einar noticed that the silver monster had bound him in rope round the waist, tied his legs to the chair he was seated in, and removed his prosthetic. Kamphundr, he sneered to himself, the beast is smarter than it looks. "What good does one hand being free do when it's the only hand I've got?"
“One hand is good enough for drinking, k’tombat’u,” the kazari shrugged faintly, turning his own mug between his paws as he did, “though if you prefer to try suicide, again, I suppose I can free the other…” He tipped the cup to his mouth, again, licked the liquored milk from his whiskers when it came away, and smirked… “Though, should that be your choice, I suggest you say so quickly. I expect my wife to be here soon and I would sooner kill you before she arrives, yes?”
The Vidarak's eyes widened at that, an eyebrow quirking in question. "I'd say your woman is suicidal for bedding you. Claws must complicate matters of the marriage bed."
The sound that escaped Ch’dau, then, might have been a chuckle, though the words that followed gave the reaver reason to think otherwise. “Mind your tongue, sea-monkey,” the cat chuffed, “lest I pull it from your face and eat it. Why not put it to better use and tell me your name… or do you prefer k’tombat’u?”
I'd prefer you use your tongue to lap at crotch, stinking beast, Einar growled. He tested the ropes at his waist, straining as much as he could under the cat's watchful eye, and found the binding too sufficient. "Agnar," he said. "My name is Agnar."
“Agnar,” the kazari repeated, almost skeptically, in a deep, resonant bass as he watched the Vidarak squirm against his bonds. He sighed, then, lifting his cup again as he reclined almost casually into his seat, the wood creaking in subtle protest against his weight; “Of course it is.”
He indulged in another slow sip of his drink, allowed his slit-pupiled gaze to flick briefly to the door, and then back to the sea-reaver. “You fight better than you lie, Agnar,” Ch’dau rumbled, his cup returning to the table before his hands disappeared beneath its edge only to reemerge with a whetstone and the man’s hook. Saying nothing more, just yet, the kazari readied the stone with a bit of spit and, with a practiced hand, honed the prosthetic’s edge for a long moment before lifting his gaze back to Agnar’s.
“It is in the eyes, you know?” Ch’dau almost purred, tilting his head as he regarded the silver-haired Vidar; “The clues to a lie.” Another faint shrug and another soft sigh followed before the cat spit on the stone, again, flipped the hook, and went to rasping work on the thing’s opposing edge. “My kib… my daughter… taught me that. She was much better at keeping her eyes even when she lied than you seem to be.”
The cat’s eyes returned to the work of whetting the dents and divots out of the hook for another moment. “If you insist on Agnar, though,” he said, just as his gaze lifted back across the table, “you may call me Samuel.” An almost sardonic smile played on his lips as he nodded, once more to the mug he’d slid across the table; “Will you drink with me, Agnar? Or will you continue tightening those knots with your struggling?”
Einar stilled. The mouth-breathing behemoth was remarkably forthcoming for what must be a leashed mercenary. Unless those rumours of the road are true. Einar's eyes snapped to the beast, roaming its striped silver fur, the strange leather harnesses dressing its person, the careful movements with which it brought his hook's edge. "... If only to pass the time," Einar acquiesced. "What are we drinking?"
“Rum for you,” Samuel replied casually, the stone rasping over a particularly stubborn nick in the hook’s metal, “Milk and blood added to mine if you would prefer to drink like a kazari.”
"I'd sooner piss in it," Einar scoffed. Hesitantly, he reached for the mug the silver monster had set before him before grabbing it. He lifted it to his nose - checking for poison as much as goat's blood - and gulped a helping down when he detected no foulplay. "Don't damage the hook, mongrel. I need it for gutting things."
A genuine chuckle burst from Ch’dau’s lips at that comment. “So I have noticed.
For future reference, though, a kazari’s guts are not here,” he returned, running a thumb over the spot where blood still seeped from the hook wound in his own shoulder. He noted the near hollow sound of the cup as Agnar returned the thing to the table. “Another,” he asked, grinding the notch out as even as he could manage without compromising the rest of the metal in his efforts.
With a nod for his answer, Einar downed the next cup of rum that the cat-man poured. The warmth soothed some of the aches, mostly in his shoulder and down his back, but Einar felt a distinct pang in his stump. If he had fingers to curl, his right hand would be a fist at his side at the moment. "I've no doubt you've got guts, monster," Einar retorted. "But that leather thong you've got? That ain't armour."
“A Kazari has no need for what you monkeys call armor,” Ch’dau smirked, a glimmer of amusement playing in the turquoise of his eyes as he watched Agnar down the second cup, “Khr’a has built us with all we need for warring. To don the skin of an elephant for fear of joining the Hunt would dishonor that.”
The big cat inspected the work he’d done on the Vidarak’s hook, then, and, with a satisfied nod, returned the whetstone to his belt before placing the prosthesis on the table between them. “This is an impressive false claw, sea-monkey,” he offered, nodding vaguely at the thing as he, too, took up his cup again, “You make good use of it. I imagine you would like it back?”
Einar's first impulse was to ask what an elephant was, but the mongrel's offer of returning his hook piqued his interest more. "You would return my hook - that you know can pierce flesh - while I sit tied up by what can only be your hand?" He quirked an eyebrow, eyes betraying his distrust. "What's to stop me from freeing myself and using it on you again?"
Something of a chuckle chuffed passed the kazari’s lips at that and his face mirrored the quirk-browed expression as best it could. “Honor and common sense, I would hope,” Ch’dau rumbled, “unless, of course, you make a habit of trying to kill those who come to your aid in a fight.” He lifted his cup, again, drained away the dregs of it, and motioned for the still skittish serving girl to return before turning his eyes back to Agnar. “If that is the case,” he shrugged, producing the reaver’s axe from where it had been leaning against his chair, laying it on the table beside the hook, and offering a wide grin, “tell me, now, and I’ll leave you in a pool of your own blood and brains. Otherwise, we can call this battle finished, continue drinking together, and go our separate ways after, yes?”
Ch’dau watched as the silver-haired Vidarak considered his words, offered another chuckle as the serving girl returned to the table with another bottle of cane liquor and scampered away, again. Then, after refilling his cup with rum, milk, and a splash of his own blood, tipped the thing to his lips and sighed almost in resignation; “Attack me again, Agnar, and I swear by Rrowl’s whiskers, I will be the last to suffer your treachery. You will be left in pieces on this fetid floor and I will not think of you again.”
Threats were customary offerings for Einar, as twenty years an outcast would show anyone. Guards handed them to him when they spied his weaponized prosthetic; merchants glowered when a thieving raider drew near their stalls; children dashed behind their mothers' skirts after they spied a Vidarak, scourge of the sea, entering their towns. That his life was threatened - hells, even that he was tied to a chair - was nothing new to Einar. What was new was the threat coming from a fellow outlander.
Considering him, at nearly seven feet tall, musclebound and hairy, fangs and claws - an upright cat in all senses of the word - Einar was certain this "Samuel" had experienced the same, if not worse persecution than himself.
Still doesn't excuse the pushes to the head, Einar thought. And then, But neither does it invalidate his mistrust.
Perhaps he was tempting fate - as finnicky and cruel a mistress there ever was - but Einar inclined his head to Samuel and said, "Aye, you have my word."
“N’zuri,” the cat chuffed, pushing himself from his seat, “I had hoped as much.”
He tugged a dagger free of his belt as he rounded the table then, crouching beside the chair to which the Vidar was bound, made quick work of cutting the knots loose. Ch’dau rose back to his full height, returning the dagger to its sheath, as the ropes fell away and clapped the man on the shoulder before padding back to his side of the table. “Let us hope neither of us regrets this, hm,” he said, settling back into his chair and nodding meaningfully to the hook and axe that lay between them.
Without being too hasty, Einar collected his hook and axe gladly. He settled his axe in its holster on his belt before fitting his prosthetic in its place, doing up the leather straps to secure it tightly. Enjoying the freedom of movement again, Einar took a moment to drag his finger over his axe's edge. He was surprised to find blood drawn cleanly by sharp steel, rather than the dulled edge he had so gracelessly felled a tree and three assassins with. "You have an eye for blades, cat-man," he drawled, settling his stormy-grey eyes on Samuel. "Do you have a file for your nails as well?"
A chuckle and a nod was Ch’dau’s response to that question. “Weapons are weapons,” he rumbled over the rim of his cup, “and should be maintained as such, yes? They are of little use should they be allowed to remain dull.”
He eyed the reaver for a moment, waiting for the man to take his seat, once more, before proceeding. “So, Agnar,” he pressed, “what is it that brings you to Calestra? Finding a Vidar, here, is almost as rare a thing as finding a Kazari, I think.”
Einar snorted, tasting rum when he did. "And where does one find a Vidarak normally? Pillaging merchants' closets?" He wiped the back of his hand across his chin, finding more stubble than expected; a shave would be in order, made easier by the new edge to his hook. "I'm seeking a fortune, as every man says they are. Where better to find it than in the Trade City? I hear the streets are paved with gold."
At the reaver’s first question, the massive cat simply shrugged and replied; “In personal experience, dead at my feet. Though, even then, much closer to the coast and, even then, much farther north.”
At the man’s words as to why he was in Calestra, though… You can find whatever you want and more in Calestra… The words came to Ch’dau’s mind in Kithran’s voice and his ears flicked in response. The sigh that blew past his lips, then, held a tinge of sadness, as well, but he nodded faintly and offered an affable grin to Agnar. “So I have been told,” the Kazari murmured, his eyes letting go of Agnar’s for a moment and blinking, instead, into the depths of the mug between his paws. “You are here alone, then,” he asked, his gaze lifting once more to frame the Vidarak, “There is not a boatload more of your kind in your wake?”
A bark of a laugh emitted from Einar, sloshing his drink in hand. "You would never know until it was too late, cat-man. The tales of my people singing dirges aboard our ships, banging our shields as we ravage your cities is the words of meyla alone." He leaned his elbow onto the table, leveling Samuel with a stare. "We strike with force, but we strike silently. We are raiders, not morons." He gulped down the dregs of his drink, waving off the skittish barmaid when she went to refill it.
“Says the man who attacks monsters with little more than a dull axe and a fishhook,” Ch’dau grinned in reply as he, too, waved off the serving girl’s offer of a refill. “You are a bold one, rrow’ka,” came a rumbling acknowledgement as the kazari produced a stack of silvers to offer the girl, “but I am unconvinced that your brains are quite right.
Not long ago, a friend told me that he believed that I sought death,” the Silver Cat chuffed, draining away whatever remained in his mug, “Had he been here, tonight, to see you, though…” He shrugged faintly, setting the cup aside and grinning, once again, at the silver-haired sea-monkey “…I am sure he would be certain that is more your goal than mine.”
A moment of silence settled over the table, broken only by the barmaid's footsteps. Einar's eyes didn't leave the pile of coins Samuel had produced when he spoke. "Fortune is not always found in gold and silver, skogkatt." The Vidarak glanced up then, grey meeting turquoise and saying more than any of his lies could even hope to cover. "And is not sought in the bottom of cups. If you are done with your lectures, I have business to tend to away from your bleeding hide."
Lectures? The Silver Cat’s features twisted in something akin to confusion as he searched his mind for a translation. I do not know this word. Then, with a marginal shrugging of his massive shoulders his paws came open and spread wide. “You were free to go the moment you were untied, t’mbili,” Ch’dau said, his head tilting toward the door, “If you have business, do not let me keep you from it…”
Nodding his thanks, Einar stood from the table, feeling all the aches and bruises and welts, and made a great effort to not limp across the room.
“…Mind yourself on Calestra’s streets, Agnar,” Ch’dau called to the Vidarak’s back as the man reached for the door-latch, “Trouble seems to find the likes of you and I even if we are not looking for it, yes?”
A single glance over his shoulder was what Einar spared for Samuel before exiting the Bent Copper.
As Agnar the sea-reaver disappeared through the doorway and into Calestra’s knighted streets, Ch’dau gave a slow shake of his shaggy head and a faint chuckle. Merciful Khr’a, he mused, pushing away from the table, then, why do I feel that tonight is far from the last time I will have to see that one?
Gaining his feet, the kazari stretched before pulling his cloak around him and then called for the serving girl’s attention. When her eyes turned to him, he tapped a finger to the table next to the pile of coin he’d left there; “For the drinks and,” he gestured vaguely to the staircase where streaks of assassins’ blood still stained the wood, “for the mess, hm?” With that he, too, turned his back on the nigh empty tavern and wandered for the door, wondering why Sara had not arrived, yet, and where she might be.
Posted on 2020-02-17 at 09:56:37.
Reralae Dreamer of Bladesong Karma: 142/12 2506 Posts
A Faltering Song
As the two women traversed the back streets of Calestra, Serena was not without many, many questions. She was very patient with Aranwen's responses, slow as they were by her careful recollection.
"From the sounds of it, she certainly seemed even more sticky-fingered than when she was with the Maidens," Sara mused, "Even stole from the cleric we were trying to have help us, one time," she chuckled.
"That does sound like her," Serena smiled, "I am glad. With how quickly she departed…"
Sara paused a moment, "She kept her heart steeled for quite some time. But, gradually, she began to open to us," a light smile flickered along Sara's lips, "She seemed to feel safe," and then she sighed, "Would that I truly kept her safe."
Serena reached over to poke Sara in the side, "Enough of that, now. You know Kithran. She has often acted with no thought to safety. That is not your fault."
Sara sighed, and nodded, "Thank you," she paused once more, this time her eyes lingering on the stalls and other features of the street they were coming upon, "I can find my way from here," she turned to Serena with a warm smile, "Thank you for accompanying me."
Serena frowned, "Will you truly be okay from here? You're unarmed, aren't you?"
Sara nodded, "Yes," she admitted, "But, if it really comes down to it, there is one thing all bladesingers are taught for this eventuality. The bladeless stance."
Serena tilted her head, "Show me," she asked Aranwen, "I want to be certain before I let you go on alone."
“Have you a blade?” Sara asked, “The purpose of the bladeless stance is singular - to take a blade by force when unarmed.”
Serena raised a brow, but nodded. The two women returned back into the side street, where Serena drew a short sword from its hiding place within her robes. Sara set aside the robe she had borrowed, and returned to the centre of the path. As she did so, Sara widened her stance, holding her hands outward and ready. Serena swung slowly, so as not to actually harm Sara, but she need not have worried; Sara stepped aside the swing, before immediately pressing in to close her hands around Serena’s on the blade’s hilt. A firm twist and unarmed strike at Serena’s wrists, and the blade exchanged hands, with Sara moving back and holding the blade at the ready. The tip wavered as her hand still trembled, but it was still nowhere near as bad as her hands had been.
Serena blinked with surprise, “That was fast,” She commented, before smiling at Sara with a curious gaze, “Would you sing with any blade you take? Such as my blade?” She asked.
Sara frowned a bit, “I’m not sure,” She replied, “I haven’t sung since…”
“All the more reason for you to try,” Serena pressed, drawing a second blade, “If you are able to defend yourself, I would see it.”
Serena brought her blade forward, once again moving slower than she normally would, and Sara took a breath, parrying the blow. The notes she began to vocalize were off-key, faltering and unsteady, in the beginning. Hearing this, Serena pushed Sara a bit faster. As she was made to focus more on parrying each of Serena’s practise blows with her own, as well as returning them, Sara’s voice strengthened. Though it was far from the bladesong she used to wield, it was a song.
“That doesn’t sound quite right,” Serena observed, sheathing her blade, “But at the very least, you are still capable with a blade, when you’re focused.”
Sara nodded, offering Serena a smile, “Thank you for this, Serena,” She returned Serena’s blade to her. She was about to speak more, but another woman’s voice broke the air.
Serena immediately moved her hand to one of her hidden blades, but Sara held one hand over hers to stay it, "She is someone I mentored at Megilindor Nost some time ago. Let me talk to her, first."
Sara approached until she was several paces from her once-pupil, "So you have, Nioniel. What do you intend to do, then?" she asked. At her side, her hands quivered, but she held her calm.
The other bladesinger fell silent a moment, "I am not sure," Nioniel answered, "By rights I should bring you in, but you walk with no weapon, and your song… It did not seem anything like the twisted and lawless song that we are told oathbreakers use. Yours was… broken, yes, but there was more to it."
Serena scowled, "If her oaths are broken, it is by no fault of her own. Even if she feels otherwise."
Nioniel nodded, "That is… what I had hoped," she admitted, drawing a wooden curved blade from underneath her cloak, "I couldn't bear the thought that the mentor who bequeathed me her blade had turned oathbreaker."
Sara blinked, "It wasn't a real ceremony, nor a real blade," she began.
Nioniel smiled, "I know, but it meant a lot to me," the smile faded from her lips as she sheathed the wooden blade, and instead drew a steel one, pointing it towards Sara.
Serena stepped forward, but once again, Sara held out her hand to give her pause, "You aren't going to kill me. Not like this, with me unarmed and clearly not a threat to you or the order," Sara pointed out.
"You are an oathbreaker," Nioniel repeated, "Do you think I won't? I will take trial of you, Aranwen."
Nioniel’s swing was far faster than Serena’s had been, and Sara recoiled away, barely avoiding the deadly arc of the blade. Sara took several paces back, even as Serena advanced, sword drawn as advanced on Nioniel. The bladesinger smirked, “This does not concern the followers of Haren’selkia,” she pointed her blade at Serena, “You would defend a deserter and oathbreaker?” She asked.
“I am defending an unarmed woman who has yet to heal,” Serena spat in return, “I would hope you’d have done the same, if you didn’t label her so.”
Nioniel smirked, and from her lips began to sing. As she fought Serena, blade clashing against blade, it became readily apparent that neither were seeking a lethal blow - that would not serve either side. It was a battle of stamina and endurance, both of which both women had in abundance. But as Nioniel led Serena about with her footwork, she suddenly turned to rush at Sara, her blade coming down...
Sara evaded the strike even as she rushed in to grab the hilt, twisting the blade from Nioniel’s grasp just as she had done with Serena earlier, before stepping back. The blade was unsteady in her hands, but she held it ready in front of her, her breathing quick and measured. She didn’t even notice Ch’dau entering the side alley, having followed the sound of battle and bladesong.
The kazari’s eyes narrowed as they fell upon three figures in the alleyways shadows, only one of them the familiar shape of his wife. Another, clad in scarlet and seemingly standing in defense of Sara, was recognizable only by description that he managed to pull from memories of Kithran’s tales. He couldn’t put a name to her, just yet, but she seemed to have the bearing of one of his kibibi’s Laughing Maidens. It was the third figure that gave Ch’dau cause for concern; a younger Sylvari clad in some facsimile of what he had come to recognize as the prefered armor of bladesingers. She stood face to face with Sara who, surprisingly enough, held their blade in hand.
“Huj’mbo,” Ch’dau barked, a paw disappearing beneath his cloak to find the hilt of his own sword as he stalked closer to the three women, “What happens here?”
Nioniel's attention turned to the Kazari, her eyes widening at seeing his approach, “That's what I'd like to know," she turned her viridian gaze towards Sara, "What will you do now, then?” Nioniel asked, looking directly into Sara’s golden eyes.
Sara looked towards Ch'dau, relief coming to her eyes, before took a deep breath, “I am not your enemy, Nioniel,” she told her former-pupil as she lowered the blade, “Even if my resolve and my oaths were broken, I will make it right, somehow. Or die trying.”
She reversed the grip on the stolen blade, and offered it to Nioniel, “I do not act against the order. But I need time. I’m still not yet in any state to truly fight. Would you still come after me, knowing this?”
Nioniel gave a deep sigh, her shoulders relaxing as she smiled, “There’s the mentor who I looked up to,” She took her blade back, and returned it to its sheath, “I was worried we had lost you, Aranwen. I know what I will report to the blademaster, now.”
"What will you say?"
"You haven't given up, nor lost your way," Nioniel replied simply, reaching beneath her cloak to unfasten the sheath with the wooden blade, before offering it to Sara, "Here, I think you need this more than me right now."
Sara accepted the practice blade, before leaning back against Ch'dau, sighing in relief before she looked up into his eyes, "M'une, this is Nioniel. She was very dedicated to finding me, but, I think, we need no longer fear discovery from the other bladesingers."
Ch’dau’s hand came away from the hilt of his blade and his arm wrapped, instead, around Sara, holding her closer as his gaze fixed on Nionel. “I did not fear them before now, m’penzi,” the kazari chuffed softly, eyeing Aranwen’s former pupil, “but it is good to know this one has seen the truth of things.”
He nodded curtly to the other bladesinger then, and rumbled; “Well met, m’wan’ake. And thank you.”
Nioniel looked up towards Ch'dau, taking a breath, "I am thankful I didn't have to fight through you," she murmured, before offering a nod and a wave, "Take care."
“As am I,” Ch’dau returned, tipping his head in guarded respect to the young Sylvari, “May your feet find you home.”
Sara trembled slightly in Ch'dau's arms, "This has been quite a day," she sighed, before pausing, her eyes looking to where she could see red amongst the silver fur, lifting her left hand towards the visible wound, though not touching, "Looks like the same for you; what happened, m'une?"
The kazari let loose a purring sigh, his other arm moving, now, to embrace his wife along with the first. “It is nothing, m’ke,” he assured her, “a misunderstanding with some v’tun’gu Vidarak too stupid to know friend from foe. It has been dealt with.” His head dipped down, then, and, still purring softly, he pressed his lips to her head before his forehead followed; “You are alright, yes?”
Sara tilted her head inquisitively, at first, before she leaned back against Ch'dau, giving a nod, "Better than when I began the day, even," she smiled, "My hands still shake, but… I did hold steel in hand, finally."
“N’zuri,” Ch’dau rumbled, the purring in his chest increasing in volume at her smile and her statement, “This is good, melamin. I am glad for you, though I never doubted steel would find your hand again.” Almost reluctantly, the Kazari’s eyes let go of his wife, then, and turned to the crimson cloaked woman who still stood with them in the alley; “Who is this one?”
"This one is Serena," the maiden replied, stowing her blade, "And you must be Ch'dau? Randel mentioned Kithran had been traveling with both a bladesinger and a…" her voice became deeper and more jaunty, replicating Randel's ever-present enthusiasm, "giant tiger-like cat man Kazari warrior." She held out her hand to him, "I'm glad to know he hasn't gone entirely mad yet."
Ch’dau’s eyes widened a bit when the Maiden introduced herself and something of a smile flitted across his features as his massive paw closed over the tiny proffered hand. “Serena,” he purred, softly, “I have heard your name in many of the Little Kitten’s tales. It is good to finally put a face to the name. N’ku’ona.”
The wan light of the city gleamed back from his eyes as they danced between the Maiden and the Bladesinger and his smile widened a bit, ears flicking faintly against the fabric of the hood that covered his head. “Had I known your plan was to visit the Long Gamble, m’penzi,” he said, arms folding back around Sara, “I might have been inclined to let Garion and Evin drink alone, hm?”
"It was not exactly a planned visit," Sara chuckled with a shake of her head, "I was being pursued by Nioniel, and decided to try losing her by entering Haren'selkia's temple," she explained, "By chance, or fortune, there I met Serena, and their Serah. It was with their Serah's aid that I found that I could hold steel again," she looked back towards Serena with gratitude in her golden eyes.
Ch’dau’s eyes followed suit and he nodded his appreciation to the Maiden called Serena...
“The Long Gamble will welcome you If you’re ever feeling lucky, or are ever in need of some,” Serena offered, wandering back to where Sara had dropped Esme’s cloak, “I should return this before our mage lights my room on fire again.” She nodded to them both, “I hope to see you two again soon, and be sure to send word of any sign of the little peach. We will do the same for you. Good night.” And the maiden turned to begin her journey back home.
…”We will do just that,” the kazari replied from behind a gentle grin, “Though it seems your luck has found us without our seeking it. Be well, Serena.”