***This is an original Plot, please do not steal, copy, or use anything from this rp for personal use or your own roleplay.***
Land of Azera. Four Provinces at war fighting the Rule of one evil man...
Four wandering travelers find themselves in The Central City. It is a bustling and busy place, centered in the middle of the four provinces. It is also where The Self Proclaimed "King" Malik lives. It was once the Holy Land for the Four Provinces, where the fabled Priests and Priestesses of the Old Gods of Azeroth held sanctuary for all. That was… until King Malik. He ran the Holy Ones from their Holy Palace and took over not only the Central City, but the four provinces as well.
Legend has it that the Four Provinces once housed their own spirit guardians. These Guardians were kept in elaborate temples, with their own contingent of temple masters and maids to attend to them. During Malik’s rise to power, he attacked the temples and slaughtered the Temple Hands. It was by the brave sacrifices of Temple Masters and Maidens that they were able to send the Spirits away. For Centuries the Spirits had not claimed a host… but with the rise of Malik, the Guardians searched out their perfect Human Host, marking them and imbuing them with awesome powers to defeat evil and restore the balance.
The Province to the North was guarded by the Spirit of the Forest, and often seen in the shape of a Caribou. Filled with thick dense forests and beautiful mountain passes to the Northern most parts, and gently sloping hills further south where farming is aplenty. Winter, however, is never kind in the North. The summers are kind and fair and allow for the Northmen to travel south and barter their furs and goods for food stuffs they will need in the winter months. This is the Province known as Caledon. The people there are hearty and Strong. Known to produce fine warriors, and are often seen as warmongering, as the Caledon clans tend to fight against Malik’s border agents on a regular basis, and guard the Dark Forest’s creatures from venturing south. Caledon is considered the bread basket of Azera. It is reminiscent to what we would have considered Ancient Germania and Scandinavia. (powers would be earth based)
The Province in the South is guarded by the Fire Spirit often seen as a massive snake. Mostly Desert lands with the occasional watery oasis. Farming takes great engineering feats involving sophisticated irrigation, and travel is usually done on Camel. Most people live nomadic lives, but there are cities where water can be found, usually along the River Nine, named so for the way the main river forks out at nine different locations and leads to nine large grandiose cities of terracotta. All of it built on the back of a lucrative Slave Trade. Most of the people in what is referred to as The Wastelands are considered barbaric by many, with their nomadic lifestyle and their staunch traditions to the Old Gods –namely their patron deity the Fire-Breathing Serpent (Ouk'nu), and ritual sacrifice. Snakes are considered holy and sacred to the Nomadic people of Abdhu’Jai. The Southernmost part is unpassable as the desert goes on for hundreds of miles with no water in sight. It is also rumored that Sand Wyrms live there and those who have tried to trek across it in hopes of exploring have never been heard from again. The Jai's are reminiscent of The Egyptians, & The Byzantine Era. (powers would be fire based)
To the East is where the Mountains climb higher than even those of Caledon. Here it is said the people of Volshiv live among the clouds and are protected by the Flying spirit of Wind often seen in the form of a Dove. On a still quiet day, if you stand on the Eastern border you can hear the whistling winds careen through the highest peaks in all of Azera. Very little is known about the Volshi. They are very reclusive and rarely travel West to the Central City. They are known to be fair of face and hair, willowy and spry and some of the last humans to retain some semblance of magical power. The Volshi were the only ones to escape the mad grip of Malik in the beginning –but it did not stop them from sending their Guardian to find a host as well. (air based powers)
To the West is the Province of Fenlyk. Guarded by the Water Spirit, known to take the form of a massive Koi Fish. The Region is mostly littered with waterways and wet lands, it is the fishing capital of all Azera. More fish is produced in Fenlyk than anywhere else in the Four Provinces. They trade frequently with Caledon and Abdhu’Jai. Aside from fish and watersports Fenlyk is known for its textile and fashion. It is the most modernized Province of the four, the wealthiest and one of the most influential. Their Navy is without rival, as it should be to protect the city from the Ocean's monsters that tend to capture vessels that wander too far from the mainland. They would be reminiscent of Ancient Greeks or Atlantis. (water based powers)
One woman is tasked to find the guardians, teach them and guide them to their glorious destiny. To find them she pulls from the ancient Prophecy, one that even involves her. Her name is Aria, a native of Volshiv who was taken from her home when she was no older than three. She doesn’t remember her home, or her birth parents. Only that she was marked by the Spirit Guardians –slated by the Gods to be their High Priestess. She was destined to be the most holy and powerful figure of her time, but Malik’s invasion from across the open sea and his march across the border lands of Abdhu’Jai and Fenlyk brought him to Central City and the beginning of his reign of terror. Of course when Malik invaded she was but a small child of six, training to be become The High Priestess. She escaped with the help of an Elder Priest who raised her in hiding, and continued her training so she could ensure the Guardians would find their way. A bounty is out for Aria’s head – though Malik has no real idea of who she is, he is aware of the markings that would and do adorn her body. She realizes he will discover her soon enough, and finding the Guardians has become imperative to free the city and provinces of the would-be Tyrant. Destroying Malik and returning peace to the four Provinces is also the only way to restore the Spirit Guardians back to their pantheons and peace to the land.
A traveler from each province finds themselves in Central City. Compelled to travel and see the world, or to simply get away from their old life. For any number of reasons, Fate brings them to the Central City. What they don’t realize is: they are chosen and marked as the host of their region’s Spirit Guardian. It lives within them and gives them power. It is a comforting, and yet frightening source for the four individuals -it just needs to be awakened in them, and that is where Aria comes in.
Aria feels it in her bones that the time has come. She’s been gifted visions of the travelers to come. She only sees them as their spirit so their faces remain shrouded in mystery. The Gods guide her to come out of hiding after hiding away for nearly twenty years. The raids took place when she was only six, and now she is twenty-seven. Time has passed and the people grow deeper into oppression. Most of the Tyranny is evident in the Central City. The outlying villages and townships of the Provinces are routinely raided, and it seems Malik is constantly fighting with the Caledons. The Fennish bow down to his reign their pacifism making them complacent and easy to dominate. The Nomads –Jais of the south are raided frequently and without mercy. The Volshi remain for the most part safe, but rumor has it they have amassed a huge army and are prepared to come down from their cities in the clouds to set Malik straight. Aria knows it will be too little too late. Malik has to be cut down at the source… from his False throne: The Holy Alter that should be hers.
Aria must find the Guardians, help them discover their own powers and talents, and if need be –sacrifice herself to help them cleanse the world and usher in a new peaceful Era. She must help the Guardians restore balance, but first… she has to find them and convince them.
Cast of Characters
Caledon Guardian: TAKEN
Username: Bloody_Eve Name: Saraya Guardian: Caledon guardian Personality:guardian soft hearted, peaceful, adapts to surroundings and situations quickly, reserved Bio & History:before being chosen, Saraya was a beautiful soul that loved children of her providence. she was married to a knight that protected the temple, and they were expecting their first born... Until the ambush. her husband was taken from her, and after that, her baby didn't surviv. With the passion she felt, she thought she would never survive... Until the spirit chose her. Weapon of Choice: Double edge sword Primary Special Power: Air Control (force-fields & shrouding scents) Secondary Powers (limit 3): healing, invisibility, speed
Fenlyk Guardian: TAKEN
Username: Arya Name: Lara Guardian: Fenlyk- fish tattoo on neck Personality: quiet, shy, honest. Bio & History: She was chosen as a guardian from birth, but neither her parents nor herself knew that at all. Her parents were simple fishers, her dad going out to sea for the daily haul and her mom selling whatever fish had been caught in the markets. Everything was pretty peaceful, until Malik took the ruling of everything under his hand. Since the region she lived bowed down peacefully, nothing really bad happened there. But something was up, which came in the form of her house being raided by Malik's forces. She managed to run off, while her parents were nailed to the door of what used to be her house. Now just walks around the provinces, hiding herself from Malik's grasp. Weapon of Choice: Staff(not the magic kind) Primary Special Power: Hydrokinesis Secondary Powers (limit 3): Soundless steps Weakness and limitations to your powers: Manipulating water requires some concentration. No concentration, no hydrokinesis.
Volshiv Guardian: TAKEN
Username:Darien Name:Adimar Aethon Guardian: Volshiv Guardian Personality:Witty, calculating, devious, pragmatic Bio & History: Adimar hails from the high peaks of Volshiv. He has traveled the Sky Cities, and down in the Volishi Valleys where most Volshi tend to avoid due to the dense foliage and wild animals that haunt the forest beneath them. He is considered one of the best warriors of Volshi -bested only by the High Lord of Volshi. Having been marked a guardian since the day of his birth, at 32 Adimar is well versed in the landscape of politics and battle. He's had his skirmishes with King Malik's invading soldiers over the years. Adimar has spent his life preparing for battle against Malik -knowing his destiny from the very beginning and in order to save his people, he must go fight.
Adimar travels to the central city in hopes of finding his fellow Volshi, Aria, who was spirited away as a baby to be the next High Priestess. All in Volshiv know the name of Aria, and an army is amassed waiting to help her at the call to battle. Adimar intends to lead that army and reclaim the Holy Throne... but don't confuse his motives as one of honor -Adimar has plans of his own... to be free. Weapon of Choice: Archer by trade, but also carries a sword of Volshi Steel passed down in his family for generations Primary Special Power: Weather Manipulation, allows him to create any number of storms for up to eight hours. Lightning, tornado, rain etc... Secondary Powers (limit 3): 1. Flight Assist: Allows him to use the wind to propel him upwards into the air for short bursts of time, or to surge him forward quickly. 2. Lashing Tailwind: The name of his attack where he kicks out a devastating blast of cold air to temporarily immobilize opponents. 3. Eagle Eye: Allows him to possess the body of any bird and see through it's eyes. He uses this skill a great deal for scouting. Weakness and limitations to your powers: As with any magic user Adimar will eventually run out of Mana: or his magical stamina. He is very powerful, but the more power he uses, the more mana he uses. His powers are limited he can only make one storm a day, but can use his three minor attack powers intermittently as long as he has the mana to do so. Also, his other great weakness is a pretty woman. He does not hide his playboy like nature.
Adbhu'Jai Guardian: TAKEN
Username: Kastanstyrax Name: Rhuarc Guardian: Adbhu'Jai Guardian, Mark is twin serpents, one branded into each wrist Personality: Gruff, loyal, fierce, devoted, Bio & History: Rhuarc is an extremely large man, standing tall at 6ft 10’ and weighing around 19st 12lbs he is an imposing physical specimen. Rhuarc is a muscled figure and very much represents the typical stereotype of a wasteland barbarian. His body is adorned with various, tattoos, brands and scars. Born into the traditional nomadic life of the Abdhu’Jai people. At ten years old Rhuarc departed on the traditional journey to the sacred temple of Ouk'nu in the deep southern deserts, as all young men do in an effort to prove himself to his tribe and the great fire deity. It wasn't long before Rhuarc and his people grew used to the merciless raids of Malik and his forces, causing a deep distrust of anyone not from within the nomadic Jai. Rhuarc's father and brother were killed in one so called raid while his sister was taken presumably as a slave. Weapon of Choice: A large, brutal looking great sword with a wicked looking serrated edge Primary Special Power: Pyrokenisis Secondary Powers (limit 3): Increased reactions and agility (like that of a serpent) Ability to communicate with serpents Unaffected by poisons
High Preistess: TAKEN
Username: Darien Name: Aria Tolshiv Guardian: Not a Guardian, but the High Priestess of the Guardians. She is their guide and mentor. She is marked with the symbols of every Guardian in a straight line down her spine -each marked in their prospective color. Personality: Passionate devotion, motherly, calm gentle -but a tempest of fury if invoked. A Natural Born Ruler Bio & History: Born in Volshiv, Aria was marked from the day of her Birth as the next High Priestess wielding the marks of all four Guardians. Then they were tiny dots of color, now a woman they have taken full shape down her spine weaving one another together. Her arrival was kept as secret as possible but her coming was foreseen by the Holy Ones who came and collected her. They took her still suckling at her mother's breast, taking her into Central City before she ever knew her mother's name.
When she was six the raids of Malik's wrath arrived. He had laid claim to the throne for many years, but upon word that the new High Priestess had been born he ordered the temples and monasteries burned and destroyed. He decreed that the Old Gods, or Guardians, were no more and that he was God. He lived an unnaturally long life -one none of the Holy Scholars could figure out. It was by the handiwork of Elder Rigby that Aria was smuggled out. Since then she was raised in seclusion with nothing but Elder Rigby to teach her, and her many tombs and scrolls from which she studied preparing for the day to take her birth right. The Holy Alter. It would make her more powerful than any king or Lord of the Four Provinces, but it is not for Power she wishes to take the Alter Throne back... it is for the people. She too has suffered by Malik's hand, she wishes it to end. Weapon of Choice: She is often seen walking with a Staff, this is her bow staff, her weapon of choice. Meant to disarm and injure but not kill Primary Special Power: Absolute Intuition -she has a knowing about her. It is unexplainable. Secondary Powers (limit 3): 1. Ability to enter the spirit realm either while sleeping or through meditation 2. Can whisper thoughts into the minds of men - Persuasion Weakness/limitations: Aria is not a fighter, that alone makes her weak physically. Mentally she is strong. Her powers of absolute intuition are more like a strong 6th sense -but not always available. When she enters the spirit realm, awake or asleep she is vulnerable to attack and needs to be guarded by someone she trusts. Her powers of persuasion can be ignored by a person with an iron will.
King Malik: Pending
*** Side characters who travel with the Guardians are more than welcome to help make up the caravan***
Rules: 1. All Standard ES rules apply 2. Have Fun 3. No insta-romance 4. This is a literate RP. I ask for a post on average of 800 words (not characters If I have to set a character limit I will) 5. Basic Grammar and Spelling please 6. PM Me with the title of the Rp: Rise of the Guardians, and a basic Character Skeleton. 7. You have ten (10) days to post. Failure to post within ten days forfeits your turn.
Please note: You may play more than one character, but you may only play one Guardian.
Your powers should not be so much that combined you are incredibly powerful and basically unstoppable. Please have ONE main power that does only a small handful of acceptable things, and up to three minor skills. All your power and all your skill -your character is still mortal and MUST HAVE A WEAKNESS. I don't want characters with god-like powers. Our group will face tasks where they are defeated, injured, or captured. No one should be capable of having fail-safes to constantly win.
Examples of powers: Water Manipulation: can take water from the ground, the air, or even from a direct water source and create water funnels that attack, or a massive wave, or even turn that water to ice and create a spear with which to throw at enemies.
Healing: you can heal but not raise the dead -that is necromancy and would be considered a Primary power
Air Manipulation: Would be more like controlling the weather. Or maybe you can rush the air at an opponent flinging them back, take the air from them and let them choke.
Earth Manipulation: Use of the ground, make it shake, split open into chasms to swallow whole platoons, or maybe use the plant life around you, grow your own and use it to attack.
If you still have questions regarding your powers, please don't hesitate to PM me. I want these characters to be humble -not all powerful.
Guardian: (are you a guardian, if so what does your marking look like?)
“The Holy Ones, rose from the earth, the oceans, the desert, and came down from the heavens. They united their lands and for a thousand years fought off the scourges of evil that plagued the world – a thousand years they battled?” Aria asked halting her lessons and looked up Elder Rigby. He was once a Temple Master, still was in Aria’s eyes. Aria was skeptical of her night history lesson and gave her elder an incredulous look. “Yes, it is known,” Rigby grumbled, shuffling his weary feet to sit down on a stool across the table from Aria. She looked at him under the flicker of candlelight. He was frail, old, and bald but save for the wisps of white hairs that stemmed from his temples, but his robes were always in perfect order. Aria felt it within her… Rigby was dying, soon her guardian would pass from this world… which meant Aria would have to move on and go in search of the Guardians meant to save the Four Provinces. “Says the scroll,” Aria challenged. The entire table was littered with scrolls saved and salvaged from ravaged temples across the land. “How did the Guardians even manage to keep a mortal host alive for a thousand years?” “How do you know they didn’t?” Rigby challenged back. “The Holy Ones are still a mystery to this day –they are Gods, they do not need to explain themselves, or have reasons for why they do what they do.” “But the Guardians have found new hosts,” Aria tried. “Yes, and when the time comes, you will have to depart to find them. Now finish reading the scroll on the creation of the Wastelands,” He commanded of her. Aria gave him a last look before looking down at the scroll and reading the flourishing script.
“Caledon the Mighty carried his war hammer swinging with lethal grace. With one strike to the ground, the Earth opened into a chasm and swallowed the Demon Hoards whole. Fenlyk the Siren, filled the chasm with her water drowning them, creating the River Nine. Jaihash the Quick and Volshiv the Tempest claimed those that did not fall or drown. Jaihash created a poisonous cloud that Volshiv sent on the wind to choke and decimate the hoards. Thus the Wastelands were created. Jaihash seeing what the work of his poison had accomplished, claimed the southern battlefields as his own. He claimed victory of the land and vowed his people would be filled with fire in their veins to propel them in life in a barren landscape. With the great battle over, and a thousand years of War finally ended the Guardians set up council in their own City. Azeroth, the High God-“
Aria had to stop her reading, the sudden sound of a loud bang came upon the front door. Rigby frowned, and both of them wondered who on Earth would be banging on their door this late in the night. “Stay seated, Aria,” Rigby ordered. Aria stayed as instructed but watched as Rigby answered the door. They Smith’s boy rushed in quickly, looking flushed and sweaty. He must have rode from the town to their small cottage right on the Fenlyk and Caledon boarder. “Elder Rigby,” The Smith’s boy bowed quickly. “Priestess,” He bowed again as Aria finally rose to her feet and walked over. A Sense of dread was filling in her chest. Whatever news he brought could not be good. “What is it Balden?” Rigby demanded. “Malik’s men. They’re in the Village. It’s a raid. If they find Lady Aria they will kill her, or worse. I rode from the Smithy, stole a horse from the stables and tried to get to you as quickly as possible.” He said breathlessly. Aria tensed. Malik’s men were here. “And there’s more. It’s not just soldiers. Malik has sent something darker,” “What is it boy, spit it out!” Rigby shouted. “Malik has a Mage.”
Aria felt the world shift. A Mage? She’d read about them, Rigby had told her stories of them. They were dark sorcerers and rare. The gift of magic was incredibly rare, but sometimes when one is desperate and greedy for power, they can sell their soul to the Demons of Olde and will be imbued with their dark magical gifts. From his place Rigby seemed to go into a panic. “They must know she is here! We must be quick! Balden you will take Aria away from here. Balden gasped. “Elder Rigby, Balden is only a boy of ten and four, you can’t expect him to come as my guard,” Aria protested. It gave Rigby pause as he hurriedly packed a sack with food. “And he will be killed with the rest of us if he stays.” Aria and Balden shared a look. “Now quickly child, go gather your things. It is time for you to leave.” “I can’t leave you behind!” Aria tried to protest. “Mi’lady, we must hurry if we wish to get out of here before Malik’s men reach this place,” Balden attempted. Aria felt hesitant. She didn’t want to leave Rigby behind, but deep inside she had known Rigby would be dying soon. She just hoped it would be a peaceful death, turns out it was going to be bloody and violent.
Aria made quick work to pack her lonely little bag with a small set of clothes and other essentials. Grabbing her bow-staff she hurried from the small cottage and even in the night she saw the amber glow of fire coming from the village above the treetops. She was nearly stunned to stillness if not for Balden who quickly pushed her towards his horse. Aria straddled the saddle behind Balden and Rigby came forward tying the sack of food to the saddle and handed Balden an old sword. "Use this well Balden, protect Aria -help her get to the Central City. It is time for her to fulfill her destiny. You are here for a reason, my boy." Balden sat straighter and took the Templar blade with a firm hand. "I will do my best Father Rigby," Balden said and without further pretense kicked the sides of his horse to carry Aria far away from the burning village.
It was not long after Aria and the young Balden left did Malik's troops come upon the quaint little cottage. Elder Rigby was waiting for them. Sitting inside at the table when they smashed the door down with a hurdled ball of flame. Rigby did not move even as the men came and swarmed around him, blades and crossbows aimed for his frail old body. Others began to ransack the house, turning over tables, throwing open closet doors and ripping the insides out. They turned the cottage inside out, all in an attempt to find Aria. The scavenging didn't cease even as a three men entered, two large and terrifying soldiers flanked one man who slowly began to remove his black leather gloves. Rigby stared him down, taking in his appearance. Pale sickly skin, marked and pocked, even tattooed from his jaw down disappearing into his robes; his hair was as red and wild as the fire he wielded, and his teeth were filed to points aged yellow and decayed from lack of hygiene. Black leather and Red brocade made his robes, and as his black eyes settled on Rigby he grinned. "Elder Rigby... so I've finally found the Temple Master of Azeroth," the Mage crooned, his voice like saccharine acid. "You have found nothing but an old man," Rigby told him calmly. "And you will find nothing more here." The Mage walked around the table and sat down across from him. The soldiers that surrounded Rigby backed away allowing the men to talk without weapons in their way. "So she is gone?" He asked. "The little Priestess you've tried so hard to keep hidden away?" Rigby remained silent. "You know I'll find her, and when I do I will present her to King Malik and he will cut out her still beating heart. You can't stop him you know?" "I know I can not stop him. That is not my task," Rigby defended. He needed to stall for time, give Aria and Balden as much time as he could to let them make an escape. The Mage chuckled darkly. "You are an old fool. You think she can?" "By herself? No. With the help of the Guardians? Yes." The Mage's dark grin vanished into a sneer of absolute loathing disgust. "She will die by Malik's hands before she ever finds the first," "Agree to disagree," Rigby glared. Under the table his hands balled into white knuckled fists. "Where is she headed?" Rigby went silent. He would not reveal Aria and Balden's direction. "I'll ask again old man," the Mage growled his short ream of patience coming to an end. "Where is she?"
Rigby held his silence, even as the soldiers ripped him from his seat and dragged him outside towards a tree where a noose was already hanging. They tortured him, and yet he refused to answer. They beat him, they cut him, to took from him his ears, a finger, they even took an eye, and when their torture came to an end -as did Rigby's life, they hung him from the noose and left him to hang there and rot. Then they burned the cottage and the gardens around it.
The relentless heat of the shining sun overhead beat down furiously causing a heavy sweat to sting Rhuarc's eyes as he made his way through the desert. He had left the caravan with his people behind three days ago in order to scout ahead making sure there were no hidden dangers in the shifting sands that he and his people called home. They were far enough from the border that raids by the false king Malik should not trouble them, but life for the Adbhu'Jai was a tough life especially given how much infighting was done between the Jai people. Luckily enough Rhuarc was not involved in a blood-feud with any of the other Jai tribes although given the fiery nature of the Adbhu'Jai that peace may not last for long. The tall nomad pulled out his water skin and drank deeply, the cool liquid inside quenching his thirst for the moment. Despite the refreshment that the water gave he knew that he should not drink too much, in the desert wastelands water was often a far more precious commodity than gold.
As Rhuarc continued on his journey his attention was caught by two figures ahead of him, one dressed entirely in white while the other donned the traditional nomadic garb of the Jai. Checking to see that the sword on his back was not caught and would be easy to draw if needed Rhuarc crept up on the two figures, keeping his distance until he was sure that he could strike first if he needed to. It was a lesson that all Adbhu'Jai children learned; The wastelands were a dangerous place and a lack of caution meant a dead child. Calling out in the harsh, guttural tongue of the Jai Rhuarc called out a warning announcing his presence to the figures in front, although he only addressed the figure that was not wearing white, to speak to one wearing white would be a great insult. As Rhuarc glanced at the tattooed and scarred body that was so common amongst all Adbhu'Jai a grin broke over his face as he recognised the man in front of him. [b "Ayab!"]
Ayab reytuned his smile before closing the distance to his old friend and firmly punching Rhuarc across his jaw, the force of the blow enough to knock the larger Jai man to the ground. An even larger grin broke out on Rhuarc's face. [b "You honour me, friend."] Rhuarc returned the punch across the jaw in kind with slightly less force than he himself had received. This was one reason why the other Provinces looked down upon the Adbhu'Jai as barbarians. To an outsider this greeting looked like the Jai were constantly violent and uncivilised where as in reality the traditional greeting of a closed fist punch across the jaw for men and an open palmed slap across the cheek for females was a tradition that dated back to the very first Adbhu'Jai people and was meant to symbolise a respect for the others strength. The harder the hit the more respect you had for a person. The figure in white was also an old Jai tradition. An adversary could be forced into submissiveness if in battle an opponent was able to place bare hands on an opponant if they still carried a weapon and were still able to fight. The captive or [i Akh] would serve the one who placed hands upon them for one year and one day, unable to touch a weapon or disobey the one who had made the [i Akh] unless it would cause further dishonour. This tradition was so easily mistaken for slavery but if anyone so much as openly spoke of [i Akh] being slaves to an Adbhu'Jai they would soon find themselves in a battle to the death.
[b "May you find shade and may your feet carry you far. What news do you bear?"] The traditional greetings exchanged Rhuarc got down to the practical, the wastelands were large and communication was often difficult unless one was near the River Nine where one could travel quicker than on foot. [+red "You honour me with your shade, friend. Perrik and Unkor have declared a blood feud with The Tardaad Jai and Shade-stealer is launching more raids at the border. The Antior Jai have lost many good men in the last three weeks or so. On more joyous news Delphus is to become an Elder."] The naming of a new Elder was far more significant than it would first appear. The nature of the Adbhu'Jai people and their love for challenges meant that they were constantly competing with one another to show honour and strength in any way possible. This meant that many men died young and as a result there is often a lack of experience and wisdom coming from the Elder Jai people to pass on. A new Elder was significant and joyous occasion especially it was the father of one of Rhuarc's childhood friends. The news regarding the increased raids by Malik was to be expected, Shade-stealer was the title that the Jai often referred to the false king as given how he was trying to take their home from them.
[+red "Shade-stealer grows bolder with every victory he gains, soon enough we will fall if nothing is done. Ouk'nu punish me if it is not true."] [b "Ayab we do what we can, we are nomads, if we have our feet the Jai will live. Come friend, accompany me to the River Nine and Kerabdras. That is where our caravans are heading. The journey will be more pleasant wit you friend."]
Saraya, a beautiful martyr and humble servant of her sacred city, had a smile bigger than the River Nine could fathom. After teaching the youth the history of their fair homeland, she felt enough strength in her legs to stand firm and walk home. Her basket was full of generosity and good wishes of her fellow neighbors, almost as full as the bundle within the belly of the beauty the townsmen swore Caledon had created to feast their eyes upon. Humble was she of the compliments given, for they knew her love protected the city, and due to the timing, he should be home now, doing what he loved... cooking for his loving wife.
On the way, though, she spotted a Fawn, but it seemed to be running away. Saraya looked ahead... something was amiss. The mighty Caledon could see it plainly. She huffed and walked home, safely, yet hastily, to her shop, but it was closed... very strange.
The gracious wind seemed to blow oddly now. Saraya caught it as quickly as the doves above. The pleasent little creatures seemed to be fleeing from something. Knowing her natural ability of precise guesses, some sort of storm was approaching. If that was the case, she should hasten to her cottage, and be sure to close the windows... but, as she turned the corner of old Mr.Hopkins' garden, she noticed horsemen racing in the other direction while carriages took haste past her. This worried her.why we're they in such a hurry?
Finally, she reached her sanctuary. She figured that she would see the blinds open and fresh bread sitting on the stoop...but the blinds were shut. This puzzled her even more. Stepping in, she saw her husband putting on his armour. "Felliope? Why do you put your armour on?"she asked in their language. They spoke some English, but we're more used to their native tongue, which was used to honour their temple and their rituals and practices. Her husband turned to his wife with a face as serious as the statue of their Protector. "We must protect our walls. There is a threat that is breaching, and they called upon me to lead the troupes. "
A threat? Saraya stared back, very worried. She knew it was her husband's duty to protect the city, but she never wanted him to fight anything he couldn't come home from. Felliope read her face like a book and kissed her. "Please do not be stubborn with me, love. Stay away from the fight. Get as far away from the city as you can"
"Saraya, please... protect yourself. Protect our child... do whatever you can to stay alive... I will find you when the battle is over"
Saraya's face screwed up with fear, and her husband couldn't stand the look. He kissed her, hoping it would help. "Go... Please" he said before hurrying out the door and to his steed. He took off, other knights joining to make haste to the wall. Saraya, despite her loving husband's pleas and her mind saying to find ground to hide, she gave in to her stubbornness and started after the knights, grabbing onto her white steed and making haste towards the threat amongst them.
The crackling sounds of cannons, the songs of swords, the dark clouds hovering about the temple... Saraya couldn't stay away. Her need for doing her part kicked in, and she rode into the tarnished ruins of part of her once beautiful home. She spotted the troupes. The battle looked like the turn for the worst. They we're breaking into the temple! She rode past the troupes to look for her husband, and found him... He was pinned against the pillars, and the enemy was going to strike. Saraya had to think fast. She grabbed two sickle swords, flinging them into the back of the enemy. Success.
Felliope looked to her in shock. "Saraya!!" He yelled. Before he could even get to her, a cannon sounded and collided to where the both of them were.. then, there was nothing.
Burning buildings, ash as white as the Temple's stones... Death hung in the air. Saraya was on the ground, her steed on the ground dead from impact. Her body instantly began to escalate the pain she never thought she could experience. It hurt so terrible that she couldn't even move. Suddenly, a pair of armour shoes stopped just feet from her. It then slowly knelt... Felliope... Tears fell when she realized what her stubbornness had gotten her... She was losing their child...
Felliope lifted her head and rested her head on his legs as he leaned against a pillar... "Saraya..." he said before kissing her forehead. "I love you"
Her sobs we're carried along with the smoke."I am so sorry..." she started. Felliope shook his head. All he could do was kiss her forehead. With that, all he could do was lay next to her... and soon enough, darkness took them.
[i Saraya... Saraya]
All she could see was light... She thought she was in Paradise, but everything was a blur. She looked up, and she saw a dove... Caledon? Was the mighty spirit there to carry the three of them to Paradise?
[i I saw your act of bravery... and it has warmed my heart. I have chosen my host..]
Host... the dove restedvon her forehead, then disappeared into mist... She sat up with a start, screaming from was thought to be a dream.But, when she looked to a body laying next to her, and a blanket with a bundle inside... she knew... she began to cry, but a voice in her head shook her from it. [i I have chosen you to carry my power. There is a threat among us, and you must find her]
Saraya sniffled. Find who? She sighed as she slowly stood, and looked to the two. Her hands reached for them when she noticed her once tanned skin had paled to a porcelain white. Her once red hair had faded to snow white, and the Mark of the dove had appeared over her heart. Scared, she shut her eyes, and focused on the task at hand... burying her family.
With the new strength she never knew she had, she lifted him over her shoulder, then grabbed the bundle before walking uphill, to the highest peak, and began digging. There, she buried her husband and child together, and made a tombstone: in loving memory of Felliope Scalfon, Saraya Scalfon and son... Rest in Paradise.
With that, she turned and walked to their cottage, and grabbed a weapon he had gotten her when they were newlyweds; a double ended sword. She changed her rags to her white attire, and pinned her hair up. She stepped outside afterward, breathing in air before looking to her sword. "Where must i go?" She sighed. The spirit spoke [i You must search for the city... she will be there, and so will the other spirits]
Other spirits... Saraya took a deep breath, said her goodbyes to her loves, and started walking, silent, with each day the spirit within speaking to her of what was waiting for her... but all she could think of... was revenge.
The merchant caravan was approaching the city from where Malik rule with an iron fist, approximately a one day journey before actually entering the city itself. They probably wouldn't be looking for her there if they still were trying to find her. From their point of view, why would she come closer to the place from where the guy who wanted her captured, to them it wouldn't make any sense. But that didn't mean she could do anything stupid, as would still have to be on her guard and not attract attention to herself. The last thing she wanted was to be captured by those gits.
But who was she and who were the they who either were actively after her or not anymore? She was an 19 year old female with the name of Lara who had run away from home three years ago, but she hadn't run away from home because she wanted to. They wanted to capture her alive and bring her back, but she managed to escape them when her parents distracted long enough for her to run away. Her parents died and she never went back to the kingdom where she was born to visit their graves because she still feared them. They would still be actively hunting her down, definitely not a safe place to be if one wanted freedom.
The people referred to as 'they' were the people who served Malik, or King Malik as that self-centered totalitarian idiot wanted everyone else to call him. She still did not understand why he had sent armed men to raid for the kingdom she had lived in hadn't revolted at all when Malik took the seat in his throne. The other three kingdoms had revolted sometime after that event passed, but still the kingdom she lived in did not. The raid didn't make any sense to her at all, but it had happened, meaning that in this confusing thing, there was some reason behind it all.
What was she doing with a merchant caravan? Simple, she was one of the people helping to guard it, that was how desperate the boss of this caravan had been. To be fair she did know how to fight with the staff that her parents had given her before she ran away. It wasn't what she wanted to do at all but one had to earn a living somehow. She always was on the lookout for the odd job which would help her survive. Like helping shop owners with something, hunting animals or fish and then bringing them in to sell for coin or keeping it for herself to cook alone. In those three years of living alone, she had so many jobs, traveled a great distance, and endured many hardships.
Currently she was riding the horse that had been given to her at a plodding place along with the rest of the caravan. She was also trying to sort out the dream from last night and what she had felt in the morning after the dream. Just like with the raid, this also didn't make any sense whatsoever, but it felt very eery. Why would she have this dream, she wasn't the type who had dreams that often nor were they clear as that one. The dream started off with two people on horses, one definitely was a boy and the other one was wearing white robes and carrying a stick not unlike her own. Something was happening in the background and theses two it seemed were galloping hard to get away from it. Then the view centered on the white robed person and dimmed out everything else. There appeared four symbols shining brightly around it, as if either revealing what was on the mind of the person robed in white or something else. The four symbols turned out to be animals, there was a dove, a fish, a snake, and an animal which she hadn't seen before. That was the end of the dream.
Upon waking up, something else in the strange department was experienced. The back of her neck prickled slightly and it was warm to the touch. Lara knew what was on the back of her neck, it was a tattoo of a fish. That was nothing new to her as her parents had told her that. Well she didn't believe that at first as a kid, but when her parents showed it to her in a mirror, that was evidence one couldn't refute. But what Lara couldn't figure out was how her tattoo on the back of her neck relate in any way to the fish in the dreams. Or how did it relate to the dream in general? It was just something that demanded answers, but from where?
As usual the boss of the caravan rode up and down it to ensure everything was in good condition. As usual he talked with everyone, it wasn't bothersome at all because he just wanted to make sure his caravan reached the city without something happening to it. In short he was trying to do his job.
It came her turn as he was plodding his was down the caravan. He pulled his horse parallel to hers and started asking the same questions as he did everyday. She answered with either a simple nod of the head for yes and a slight side-to-side shake of the head for a no. The first two days of her answering questions in this manner had somewhat surprised the boss but he eventually got used to it. Probably figured out that not everyone was a loud talker. After the list of questions had been gone through, he asked a new one. It was about her feeling tense, well she was always on the lookout for any surprises, especially the ones which would result in the caravan being attacked. That was what she explained to him.
He fell silent for awhile before he made a proposal of sorts. At first Lara didn't know what he meant by it, but then the realization dawned on her. What he proposed was, [+green "You know, after we get to the city, the two of us... could, have some fun together."] This wasn't the first time something like this had happened, nor would it be the last. Over the three years of running, these types of questions started popping up. She always answered a no with a different explanation each time. When she said no this time, the explanation was that she was already promised to someone and was going to meet them in the city. It was all lies, but nothing else could be done.
The boss was quiet for sometime before pulling away and heading towards the back of the caravan. That left her in her usual place of quietness and solitude. She didn't know whether she wanted to continue thinking about what she had been thinking about before she had been interrupted, but there was something in there that was just too much to just leave lying there. She went back to thinking.
It took Balden and Aria nearly two weeks of hard riding and hiding out in the forests, avoiding Malik's patrols and even the border patrols of some of the less friendly Caledon Clans, before they even found the main road leading from Fenlyk to the Central City. Aria was exhausted as was Balden -both of them craving a warm meal and a hot bath. They stopped only for a short while at the top of the hill outside Central City. From their place they could see the tall spires waving their banners, but where the Fortress once gleamed white stone and marble, it was now blackened by ash and soot. The banners black and blood red. Aria frowned from the top of the horse, her heart aching at the sight. She remembered being a little girl, growing up in those sacred and hallow halls. Seeing it now as it was, stirred something within her. A raging spirit hungry for vengeance. She would take back her home, she would sit on the holy alter and restore it. She took one look at the blackened keep and vowed she would destroy Malik.
Balden's feet hit the ground, making a clean dismount from the weary horse. He tenderly stroked his hand down the neck of the beast and studied Aria. Her eyes were intense, nearly glowing with the promise of retribution, and she sat back stiffened and her hands fist in angry knots. "mi'lady, can I ask what you are thinking?" Balden asked. Two weeks on the road with his ultimate crush had helped to stem his nervousness around her. He never would have imagined being on this sort of adventure. He rather liked to imagine himself as Aria's Steward. He would serve her loyally and faithfully, he would protect her at all costs, and Gods be good -he would succeed at it. Balden was no squire, and certainly no knight or warrior. He was a Blacksmith's apprentice, or he had been. He was well aware of what Malik's men would have done to the villagers and Elder Rigby.
Aria looked at him, as if his voice was unfamiliar. To be fair he hadn't spoken much, they were running for their lives. "I was thinking about how we have been running from Malik's hounds... and now we are about to walk into the Wolf's Den..." Balden couldn't help but grin at her words. He'd been thinking the same exact thing. "They say the best place to hide, is to hide in plain sight, and this is Central City -it's supposedly very diverse. There are people from the furthest reaches of Caledon, down to the deserts of The Wastelands... Of course, there's a load of Fenlyks," he said the last word with a hint of disgust. Why shouldn't he? The Fenlyks could have helped put Malik in his place, instead they bowed to him -refused to fight for their freedom. His mother had been from Fenlyk -not that he knew his mother. "I am Volshi," She reminded him. No matter how diverse the City was... Volshi were still a rarity, they never came down from the clouds. Some people harked them to Angels, or Lords of the Sky. Balden was more inclined to believe the first -knowing Aria first hand. "I know," He mumbled. He had been to the City before, traveling with his Master to trade their wares to the more rich of the city. "The moment I reach those gates, the guards will spot me and I will be captured on the simple facts I am a female Volshi. Malik could care less if another Volshiv woman entered the city. He's probably ordered all of them to be captured, tortured and killed." Balden swallowed past the lump in his throat. She had a point. He hadn't thought of that before. Faced with a conundrum he was ill prepared for he turned and looked to Aria for leadership. "What are you thinking?" Aria studied the walls, the Caravan making their way down the main road towards to City Gates, and finally a slow smile spread on her face. "I have a plan," she finally said looking to him.
Balden hung off of every word Aria said to him. She was familiar with the cities hidden passages, she would sneak in under the cover of darkness entering the city by a hidden door beside a sewage drain that led out of the city and towards the rivers of Fenlyk. He would meet her down in the catacombs where the sewage drained out of the city from. He was not looking forward to the smell, but Aria told him it was the only surefire way for her to get in the city unseen. He was tasked with riding into the city with the Caravan, and finding an Inn for them to sleep. With no coin that was going to be difficult. He left Aria at the forests edge, hidden safely while he rode the horse towards the gates. The guards didn't pass him a second glance, but their eyes did scan those entering the city with great scrutiny. Even Balden could see they were looking for something particular. As he snuck in on the tails of a Caravan, he was for the most part overlooked, and once inside he made quick work breaking away from the group he'd entered with and went in search of a place to stay.
It took Balden the better part of the day to find an Inn where to stay, but with no coin, and being a mixed race individual, he was turned from every inn he came upon. They wouldn't even allow him to work for a stall in the barn. With sunset coming upon him, and knowing that with the moon Aria would slip beneath the streets of the City and would need a place to sleep, he grew nervous. He needed to find a place to garner shelter and food. That was when he heard the heavy fall of a hammer striking out and shaping red hot metal. Balden smirked, maybe he couldn't find an Inn, but perhaps he could work for the Blacksmith and earn his keep. Balden hurried over towards the burly man as he worked. He was large and bald, his head tattooed with intricate northern designs, by his lighter color skin, he could tell the man came from the Northern Reaches of Caledon. Balden took the gamble. "Excuse me, Sir? I'm new to the city," "What do you want?" The man gruffed, hammering out the shape of a sword, his brow glittering with soot and sweat, and his shaggy red beard singed from the fires. He didn't bother to look up from his work. "I am looking for a job. In my last village I was a Blacksmith Apprentice, but my Master... has recently passed away, I'm searching for new tutelage," The Blacksmith, smirked, taking the sword and sifting it back through the hot coals and hammered it some more. "Where do you hail from?" "Ada Village, it's on the boarder of Fenlyk and - "Caledon, I know the place. No wonder I couldn't place your accent," when he looked up however, he frowned at Balden -looking him over, "Mixed aren't yeh?" Balden did blush at that. His mother had been a whore in Fenlyk when his father had fucked her and gotten her pregnant. Unable to care for Balden, and not knowing who or where his father was; his mother had given him up. It was because of his mother he had tawny tan olive skin like many Fenlyks, and the large eyes and reddened hair of Caledons. "I apologize, Sir. If my mixed breeding offends you," He forced from his mouth. "If it offended me I would have cut you with hot iron the moment you opened your mouth," The Smith warned. Balden backed up slightly. The Smith stood and studied Balden for a moment and finally walked over and forced him to hold up his arm and let him feel out his biceps, then he checked his hands -calloused and forever blackened like a Smith's. "Good to see you're not a liar." Balden stood with baited breath as he waited, but he could also see the smith still need a nudge of encouragement. "Please sir, I promise I won't let you down. I want to earn my keep. I'll be a good worker, and I'm a fast learner. I only ask for a stall for my horse. I can sleep with the horse for now. At least give me a chance? Work me, see if I'm worth keeping?" The Smith knew he'd been had, and Balden had to count his good graces he was led to a man of heart and honor. One who's mind was not clouded by greed for coin and hatred for the different. "Bah!" He barked, giving into his conscious. "Go put your horse in the back stable, bring me wood from the far wall outside the stable." Balden nodded and quickly took off to obey. He had secured a place for Aria and himself, and he had a good feeling about this Blacksmith. Perhaps he could trust him.
The Moon was at its highest peak in the night sky when Aria slipped from her place hidden in the trees and followed closely to the cover of the stream that washed away gods only knew what from the city. Water was a sacred element, the fact that Malik was tainting the waters of Azera with sewage, angered Aria deeply, even the smoke and ash he let his fires send into the sky was frustrating for her. Air, the water, the Earth and even fire -all elements were inherently important to the Gods and the Guardians. Aria hated to see the damage, but it was truly a reflection of Malik's corruption. The entire city was under his rule. She could only imagine how far it had fallen into a deep depression since his conquest. She was about to find out once she was done wadding through sewage to get inside the fortress of a city. She had to get inside the city though, her Guardians were in there and in need of her guidance.
[i -Go now, do not tarry, the watch makes its rounds...-]
The omnipotent voice whispered into her mind. Elder Rigby had called it The Knowing. He said it was like a sixth sense -one gifted by the Gods to guide and help her stay safe and find her way. With the absence of the mental voice, Aria heard the sounds of clinking armor as guards walked the outside of the wall on patrol. Aria felt her heart begin to race. There was no more time, she had to plunge into the blackened water of Central City. The smell alone was enough to make Aria gag, having to ruin a perfectly good set of clothes to swim through... it was enough to make her taste the vomit in her mouth. It had to be done. The balance of the world rested on her -and she knew she'd have to do a lot she didn't want to in order to save the Four Provinces and reclaim Azera...
The caravans that Rhuarc had been travelling with arrived in one of the sprawling terracotta cities, known as Kerabdras, almost five days ago now and since then Rhuarc and Ayab had been enjoying themselves. The Adbhu'Jai were a nomadic people and so travelled often, most not seeing one of the cities along the River Nine for months or years at a time so being able to spend time in a city was a rare treat for Rhuarc. The large Adbhu'Jai man and his companion walked down the streets his eyes were drawn to the different people and different activities that were going on that he normally wouldn't see out in the Wasteland. The camels that pulled the caravans were being cared for by various men, who at the same time were unloading their wares for trade to other Jai tribes that may be in the city. No horses could be seen in Kerabdras which might seem odd to a foreigner but to the Adbhu'Jai it was as natural as the sand covering the Wastelands. Horses were taboo in Jai culture for they were seen as the greatest form of dishonour and weakness. The Adbhu'Jai were wanderers and if thweir own feet could not carry them anywhere then they were unfit as Jai. It was said across the provinces that the Adbhu'Jai could run as far as horses could carry the other inhabitants of the Four Provinces. It was a testament to how hard life in the Wasteland was if one needed the speed and strength to match a horse in order to survive.
Of all the various sights in the terracotta city by far the most interesting to just about all men were the various tests of honour and strength that were in abundance. There were tests of might with men wrestling and fighting with their bare hands, there were tests of skill with men fighting with spears trying to draw first blood in order to win, there were tests of endurance with men cutting themselves with long knives where you had to endure more cuts than your opponent and there were tests of devotion where men tried to see how many bites from a serpent that they could endure. Rhuarc enjoyed watching the Adbhu'Jai in the setting of a city, he would never trade it for their nomadic lifestyle, but it was good to see so many of his people come together and tests themselves against other Jai. It was an honourable pursuit. Of course the various Tests of Honour were not all that was happening in Kerabdras, Men were being tattood to depict victories in battle or show loyalty to the Ouk'nu, men were being branded to show loyalty to tribe and the Old Ways. This was a decidly Jai custom and as far as Rhuarc knew no other Province willingly subjected themselves to such markings. the blacksmiths also worked their forges in order to produce weapons which would ultimately be used to fight against Shade-stealer and his raiding parties. Watching the smiths work brought Rhuarc's mind to his own blade, a most deadly instrument. A sword made from a curious heavy black steel with a wicked serrated edge that had never failed him in battle, some claimed the curious black metal was stained with soot from Ouk'nu himself as the holy serpent's own flame was used in the forging. No doubt exaggeration but Rhuarc took notes of the whispers none the less. Rhuarc had found the blade when he had faught against Shade-stealer in one of the raids, as far as he could tell no Jai was wielding it nor any soldier of the False King, it could have been one of the abominations that Shade-stealer employed but Rhuarc didn't know. Accompanying the sound of the smiths working their metal was the sound of various merchants peddeling wares and the occasional slapping sound of old friends meeting again, like Rhuarc and Ayab had greeted each other however in order to maintain a semblance of decorum in the terracotta cities a firm slap was needed instead of the full punch.
[+red "...It was as much a shock to me as anyone else. My own sister laying the marriage wreath at Coul's feet. I almost wished she had laid it at a Menin Jai's feet"] Ayab laughed at his own joke while Rhuarc absentmindedly listened as he took in the surrounds of the city. [b "Coul is an honourable man, and an acceptable match. Ouk'nu save anyone who tried to talk your sister into changing her mind."] Ayab's younger sister Aya was a fiery woman, slender and graceful and was indeed more than Coul deserved but she chose who she lay the wreath at and if she chose Coul then there wasn't a force in Azeroth that could talk her out of them. [+red "True my friend. I have heard that Elder Mandarb is speaking in the city about Shade-stealer, we should seek him out."] Mandarb was one of the oldest Adbhu'Jai elders, a respected individual amongst all of the Jai tribes, an extremely rare trait. It didn't take long to find the Elder speaking, the throng of people surrounding the man in simple brown robes, surrounded by four white robed [i Akh] marked him out easily enough. The two men sat and listened for at least three hours on what Elder Mandarb had to say, eventually the older gentleman's speech came to an end an the crowd dispersed, not Ayab and Rhuarc, however, as they approached the revered Elder.
Mandarb was a bald man, with a large white bushy beard, tall by most standards of the four provinces but of average height for a Jai, Rhuarc was taller by almost a head. The most obvious feature however was the lack of a left arm below the elbow. Mandarb had lost it in the first year of raids fighting Malik but had continued to fight the False King for twenty years after that, and fought well. After exchanging the traditional greetings the Elder spoke; [+blue "I have heard of you. You are Ayab of the Farlan Jai, and you are Rhuarc also of the Farlan Jai. I wish to discuss a proposal with you."] Rhuarc was instantly wary, why should an Elder know him, he had fought against Malik and had the curious black sword but otherwise he had lived as all nomads had. Elder Mandarb walked d the two Jai men through Kerabdras explaining his plan. [b "No, it will not work. We have worshiped Ouk'nu from here, why should honouring the Great Serpent in the Central City make a difference. It is a fool's errand."] Ayab raised an eyebrow at such words, questioning an Elder was seldom done especially one as respected as Mandarb. [+blue "I have fought Shade-stealer far longer than you, we cannot win the way we have been going, we must do something else."] Rhuarc remarked that the words were eerily similar to words Ayab had spoken when they first men days ago. [b "Then do something else but I will have no part in it. Find someone else to send on this insanity. The Central City is nothing but a cesspool of evil. If you think any good can come from such a place then you must be mad."] [+blue "Choose your next words carefully Farlan. Ouk'nu has sent me a vision, I have a feeling that this must be done."] [b "Then you misunderstand him Mndarb!"] Ayab inhaled sharply, showng such disrespect to any of the Adbhu'Jai would be enough to warrant a challenge but to speak so to an Elder was even worse. [+blue "Your words must be answered. I propose a challenge of faith to decide who is right in this matter. Maybe then you shall learn respect."] Rhuarc bowed his head slightly, he knew that he had overstepped but his honour could not allow him to deny a challenge. To refuse a challenge was grounds for exile, a fate worse than death to any Jai. One of Mandarb's [i Akh] brought a serpent and the two met sat down, facing each other the serpent in the centre between them. As the challenger Mandarb moved first, exposing his right arm for the snake to bite, as the snake sunk its fangs into the man's flesh Mandarb's expression barely changed. Rhuarc mirrored his action. Back and forth this went until the snake had bitten them both five times, a long challenge. As the snake was presented to Mandarb for a sixth time the older man held out his bloodied arm and seemed to falter for a moment before retracting it again, Rhuarc had the advantage. Once more the serpent bit the younger Jai and the challenge was complete, Rhuarc had won.
Rhuarc studied the Elder for several minutes in silence, impressed by the old man's commitment, men half his age often could not take three bites. [b "I will go, you showed great honour Elder Mandarb and I spoke out off turn. I shall see what Shade-stealer has hidden in his city."] Rhuarc knew that Mandarb had been right all along and despite winning the challenge he felt that he needed to make amends for his words. As per the Old Ways if a Jai was sent by an Elder out of the Wastelands he could not go alone. Ayab would accompany him. At dawn the two would run as fast and as far as their feet would carry them.
Saraya hung onto the lessons that The Caledon spirit proposed. As her two week walk transpired, she had found herself spotting unfamiliar scouts. She looked around before hurrying to the safety of trees, sheilding herself from sight. As she investigated, ignoring the odd feeling of running, she spotted the same troupes that attacked her home march past her before they halted and broke and scouted the South and the East. With that much of musk in the air, her sensitive noise could quickly calculate the number of each of the troupes. Seeing the troupes quickly dissipated her ill prepared act of revenge. Malik, despite his tantrum, may have been general, but finding him through his troupes would be a task...
Suddenly, she heard a call of halt. Saraya quickly jumped into the trees, to camaflauge her form as a steed trotted steadily forward. The terror sitting upon it, covered in bronze and black armour reeked of animosity and pure five days journey.
She listened attentively as he spoke with one of his troupes, demanding answers as to why they hadn't caught the Caledon Spirit. They were speaking in their native tongue, which she was fluent in understanding. What she could make out was that their general that lead the attack was killed by a woman... But, the body of the woman has not been found.
Saraya stared at the two as they conversed... She heard Malik speak that the Caledon Spirit must have escaped and found a host. Saraya hitched her breath as she listened to the conversation. Though she wanted revenge for her family, she was not naive. At the stage she was, she knew she would never stand a chance against his troupes. She was but a underling to the practices of her protector, and it be a great dishonor if she used her senses poorly.
Malik looked to the rest of the troupes before revealing a sword and jabbing it into the gut of his follower. This would have shocked Saraya, but her reaction shocked herself. She felt nothing towards the enemy. But, as she watched as the body drop, and his bow and arrows hit the ground, the Porcelain beauty couldn't help but wonder why the beast of all evil would bite it's own tail to keep control.
Malik called his troupes to keep moving afterward. His troupes stepped in unison, marching off, leaving the body. After being sure that they had marched a good distance, Saraya descended from the trees and walked up to the body. Not even thinking twice, she stripped the corpse of the bow and arrows and a cloak from his napsack. She couldn't help but notice his sleeping face, however. He looked no younger than fourteen, maybe sixteen years of age. She sighed as she closed his eyes, then stood. She couldn't mourn the life that was lost. She had to keep moving. [I Sconc-ga] she muttered to herself [I Sconc-ga, rughshi haru muskau] [u (Damnit, why must he be sixteen)]
The Central City was four days from where she stood. She had been walking without rest ever since she left her once proud city in ruin. She stripped away her sandels, feeling a great discomfort in the confignment that she hadn't felt before. She didn't feel tired, nor hungry, nor did she feel the need to detour. To stray to safety is to stray in the blind side of the enemy. And now that she crossed paths with the enemy, she had to be sure to steady away from his line of sight and thoughts.
It seemed that the Caledon Spirit within was silenced because of her thoughts of revenge... But, now, it seemed to only speak when convenience was necessary.The sound of the spirit's voice reminded her so much of Felliope, and it would often break her heart that her stubborn ways led her here. The spirit knew this, and began feeding into her memory, creating a way to have her listen to the advice given... and it seemed to work. But, all she knew was that Central City was where they're going... and where she will be.
Saraya, however, felt a certain need to keep moving. She wouldn't camp this night, and for what reason, she didn't know. But, as the full moon glazed along the silent trees, she could clearly see the path towards the city that would set her fate in motion.
And there, sitting proudly atop a hill a half - day's journey from where shew stood was the Central City. She sighed in relief as she continued in her pace towards the city. As she did, all she could think of was her once proud city. The perfect white marble now tarnished and destroyed lingered in her mind as the city grew with each step. And as Dawn kissed the pale skin of the Porcelain beauty, the city was at its most massive and proud. Try as she might, she felt not the need to attract attention. She slid on the cloak and wondered in, letting her instinct guide her.
She had found lodging before she stepped out into life walking the paths of the city. She wandered awhile, and noticed the bakeries, the sweet bread like how Felliope used to make filled her nostrils. But, she did not buy one. Instead, she let her instinct guide her to a pub... now why go there?
She stepped into the pub, and ignored the eyes that stared. She thought to strip away the cloak, but to avoid unnecessary attention and conflict, she bowed to the barkeep, as a sign of respect towards the hard work and dedication, and found seating in the shadows before unveiling her form. There, she called for Groot, a beer most loved by her people. She then sighed as she waited. There had to have been a reason why she was guided here. Was the child coming here?
By the time the merchant caravan came to the gates of the city it was about the time of dusk. The sun was almost below the horizon, as if it was an iceberg made of light in a sea of space spanning in many direction and the length of the span was infinite. The past day of the journey had been somewhat dull as it was just a repetition of all the other days pretty much. There as an incident he the caravan was about to be robbed but the robbers were weak willed people who fled at the first signs of armed resistance. There had only been two stops for rest, food, and drink, so coming upon the city at dusk would make ft a good repast before finding a bed somewhere and going to sleep.
The checkpoint was as usual, the 5 W and the one H questions were asked, and they were asked towards each person in the caravan. This time it didn't take as long as it had the last time this caravan had to enter a city, did the gate guards for this city just have more experience than gate guards for other cities? She didn't really care how fast it took, the only part she cared about was being let through and being able to shoo away into the crowd and hide there until she decided it was time to move.
After the gate guards let them through the caravan proceeded to a place where caravans usually stopped for loading/unloading purposes and as a place to keep the carts safe from harm. The horses were automatically led to the stables, and she and the rest of the group in the caravan proceeded to unload and scrutinize the cargo for anything missing and/or damaged. This time there was nothing of that sort so it went by really fast, but the stars and moon were now visible in the night time sky.
It was time to go collect the hard earned money for working as a caravan guard, it wasn't the best amount of money to get payed, but it was much better than what some of the other caravan groups had been offering. Taking into account that this route was also slightly more dangerous with the cargo also being higher valuable it made sense. 300 gold pieces, that was how much she had earned for this job, it was a great success.
She was last in getting the money from the boss of the caravan. As she walked up to him she could see that question he had asked earlier today begin to form. When she had stepped up to him he asked it once more with a pleading tone in his voice. With a firm but very gentle and polite voice Lara answered, [+purple "I don't like disappointing people, but as I said, I am already promised to someone. I have been for a couple of years, we just haven't married because of lack of money."] She could see his countenance droop, [+purple "But don't give up. You're a kind person with a good heart, you'll find someone eventually to be together with and enjoy spending time with them. Don't give up hope in times like these, for in times like these only those who try succeed, and you manage to do it quite excellently."] His countenance wasn't sad anymore, there was still that small amount of regret, but he seemed to understand. With a wave of her hand and a curt goodbye she left to go find a place with food.
Or so that was what she thought, something inside of her head was thinking something completely different, a different place than what she was actually thinking about. She thought about going to eat, but the voice in her head wanted her to go to a specific place, one where one could descend into the sewers.
She hadn't realized this until she came up to the hole in the ground. Looking down there was a six foot diameter circle leading into a pitch black nothingness with the sound of water running. Something inside of her was happy, it sounded bubbly, under the water bubbly. She shook her head to shake the confusion out of herself, but it didn't leave. It just told her to go down, walk down some distance and wait.
She went down the ladder and down onto a pathway that was parallel to the flow of the water. She walked down the path until it ended and only water flowed there, and sat with her back towards the wall. It was slightly cold and she shivered a bit but it wasn't too bad.
Something started to happen, the back of her neck began to warm up and the voice returned. It sounded pleased but she didn't understand what it said. What did all this mean, why did the 'tattoo' only now start to act up and, where did the voice come from as well? It sounded as if it had found the person it was looking for out there and was talking with whoever was out there. For her it was just a confused mass of nonsense jargon, she tried to keep calm by putting her head in between her arms but that didn't work.
Balden hurried down the many steps into the depth of the Catacombs, hoping to reach the sewage line where Aria would be entering from. He was late –he knew he was. Not that he could have helped it. The Blacksmith he found in town had put him to work well into the evening. Between the work and the traveling Balden was exhausted. He’d fallen asleep in the hay with his stolen horse, and had nearly forgotten to wake back up. The Midnight hour was close at hand, and Aria would be arriving any moment. It was his job to greet her, bring her a change of clothes and help her to the stable he was staying in so she could catch up on rest. He felt partially guilty for having been able to eat a hot meal, and take a much needed nap while Aria had been on high alert, hiding, probably hungry, fighting through sever fatigue, and she was literally swimming through a river of shit to reach him. He couldn't fathom doing what she had to do. It was still insanely surreal to him that he was even on this path, helping her. He was only a boy -though he also realized as a teenager of fourteen, he was nearly considered a man. Most boys his age made their own life choices, were preparing for marriage, or preparing to take off for schooling. It seemed he would be taking an adventure -and not just any kind of adventure, but the kind that could get him killed.
He dodged guards, not wanting to draw attention to himself, and watched with mild shock at the way the nighlife came out. Painted women with ample breasts called to other men. Their coin could buy them a fun night with no attachments. Men gambled, everyone drank in excess, and as he made his way through the grit of the city he heard the snarls of dogs, and the shouts of men as the dogs tore one another apart. The once grand and holy city had fallen into one of the levels of Hell. From his perch high above Malik no doubt watched with a smug grin, drinking his red wine and palming the ass of a whore while he admired his handiwork. Balden feared how Aria might take all of this in. It had been her home once, and the stories she told him of Azera's Central City seemed like a fairy tale now.
The putrid stench of sewage reached his nose and he spotted the manhole tucked away in a darkened alley. He stood on the street staring and anxious to enter the dark and creepy alleyway, but knew if he did not Aria would have no one to help her. A Part of him wondered if she really needed the help, but that was the fear of a young boy talking. Of Course she needed help -she planned to take on Malik and crush him. a Part of him also wondered if Aria was capable of violence. She didn't have a violent bone in her body... though to be fair -Balden had only seen Aria from afar, listened to her stories with other kids in the village, and had spoken to her on a rare few occasions when his master had crafted something for her and Rigby. Things were different now. Balden knew... he had to be a man. Today was the day, and this was the moment, or maybe the moment had happened when he'd stolen that horse and raced to warn her. He inched his way into the Alley, wishing he owned at least a dagger, or had the skill of a thief to lift one from another. He sucked in a breath, finally determined and pushed back the last of his fearful thoughts. He made quick work, using the muscles he'd built working in the smithy to lift the heavy grate from the ground and descended into the pitch black depths.
Balden climbed down an iron ladder into the depth of the city's underground and heard the movement of water as it echoed off the old stone walls, as it dripped into puddles and the horrid stench that followed with it. The tunnels were dark and cramped, not to mention the ground slippery. Yet, like any young boy, he ran head long without a flame to light his way. He made it far enough along his eyes began to adjust to the darkness, he could make out small rodent bones that littered the ground, dirt, rats scurried about, and if he didn't know any better he could see a body propped up along the wall with its head hidden in their arms. He stumbled to a stop -catching his breath and blinking past the darkness wishing he'd had the foresight to bring a damn torch. He was certain to remember for the next time. Aria couldn't afford to have a fool helping her and he knew it.
Balden slowed his steps enough to approach the body cautiously. Was it dead? he wasn't sure. Was it a boy or a girl? It didn't look like a guard or even someone who had been down here for very long. He had to be careful -for all he knew it could be an outlaw hiding out in the sewers. It wasn't Aria -he knew that much, she didn't have clothes like those of a hunter or mercenary... though, that would probably change soon. He couldn't tell if the figure was asleep either. Curious as ever he approached her and reached out to touch her shoulder. When she moved and looked up at him, Balden jumped back sheepishly. "S-sorry. I only wanted to see that you were alright. What are you doing down in the sewers? This ain't no place for a lady," How funny he should say that while as he spoke Aria was making her way through the waterways to gain entry. "My name is Balden, I'm an apprentice Blacksmith. I'm actually trying to find something," [i someone] was more like it. "Are you familiar with the sewers? I could use the help."
After three and a half weeks of solid running Rhuarc and Ayab finally had the Central city in their sights, it would only take one more day for the two Adbhu'Jai to reach their destination. The journey had been a long and tiring one, especially since neither Rhuarc nor Ayab had ever left the Wastelands before instead relying on the directions that Elder Mandarb had given them and occasionally asking people that they met on the road. Often any traveller that they met was not particularly forthcoming and in retrospect they probably didn't want anything to do with the two barbarians. Often the two men ran through the night in order to make the Central City in a timely fashion. [b "We shall camp here for the night Ayab then at first light we will head into that city and see if Mandarb was right."] Rhuarc didn't like that he didn't have a definitive reason for being right under Shade-stealer's nose. Mandarb had said that he had a vision that by being here he could help defeat Malik, buy Ouk'nu how it would happen. [+red "Good, I will be glad to finally slow this pace. As much as I love life as a nomad, sometimes time in a city can be good."] Rhuarc chuckled at the statement. What his friend said was true, Rhuarc would not trade his nomadic lifestyle for that of any of the other Four Provinces but on rare occasions a bed was welcome instead of camping. After the pace he had set to to reach the Central City, this was one of those times.
[b "We would be there tonight if someone hadn't spent last night with the stableboy from that village we passed through..."] Rhuarc's voice was dripping with dry sarcasm. [+red "Haha, this is true my friend, but can you blame me? He had a fine figure."] The Adbhu'Jai had a fine respect for strength, stamina and the male form. you needed to be strong in order to survive the deserts of their homeland. As such the jai as a society had a respect for the male figure and didn't bother about a discreet bit of buggery. While a man could not marry another man, they were free to engage in sexual relations if they so wished. Rhuarc wasn't sure how the other Provinces viewed such issues. In almost no time the two Jai had seta fire pit, placed and lit the wood and had their tents pitched for the night ahead with the practised economy of movement that only nomads who had done this almost every day of their lives could manage. This was second nature to them. The two men sat around the campfire in relative silence eating the dried, salted meats that they had brought from their homeland. It was mostly goat or lamb met that was eaten in the Wastelands, with bred accompanying most meals. If one was lucky honey was used to add extra flavour but that was usually reserved for feast days or other special occasions. [+red "I will take first watch tonight friend, get some rest and I will wake you when it is your time for watch."] With a grateful nod Rhuarc made his way to the tent and drifted off into a restful sleep, recovering from the gruelling travelling pace that had been set over the last few weeks and comforted by the knowledge that by tomorrow they will have finally reached their destination.
As the sun started to rise Rhuarc stretched his muscles, Ayab had woken him during the night and there had been no incident to report after his watch. It would only take about three or four hours to make it to the Central City at a casual jog for the two men. [b "Ayab, wake yourself. We move again."] After a few moments of grumbling Ayab was ready to move with his friend and the two set out at a leisurley jog, which was comfortable compared with the blistering pace that had been set since leaving their home. By the time that the two Adbhu'Jai had reached the once gleaming marbled walls now stained with black ash and soot. The two Jai were not the only travellers on the road but at this time of the morning it seemed to mainly be merchants or farmers arriving with the night watch bleary eyed and waving them in without too much of an issue...that was until they caught sight of Rhuarc and Ayab. The guards on duty stared at the two heavily armed men towering over them. Aya and Rhuarc had prepared for this journey and as such were armed accordingly; as per the old customs each man carried three weapons. Rhuarc had the great sword of heavy black metal upon his back along with a belt knife, of nearly a foot of tempered sharpened steel along with a quiver filled with short spears that could be thrown or used in close combat. Aya on the other hand also carried a near identical belt knife but also carried two hand axes tucked in by his side and a large bow made from what seemed to be horn which would give a powerful shot, accompanied by several quivers of arrows. [+green "What is your business here?"] The guard did remarkably well to keep his voice level considering the vicious looking, large armed men in front of him. [b "Do we need a reason to enter the city. I don't see you questioning the others going in. I thought this city was for all those who live in the Four Provinces. Our business is our own, let us be on our way!"] Rhuarc practically snarled the words and his thick Adbhu'Jai accent made him hard to understand sometimes. He stared at the guard and the guard matched his gaze for a few seconds before lowering his eyes and waving his hand signalling the two men through into the city.
[+red "We have made it, friend. Where do we go"] Rhuarc looked around the city streets idly as they walked, he briefly noted a half breed working the forge at a blacksmith before turning his gaze elsewhere. [b "First we find somewhere we can call home while we are in this city. Then Ouk'nu only knows what we do..."]
Peering eyes of the both drunk and sober lingered on her delicate form, but she would not budge. Saraya caped her cloak to prevent too much attention, but it mattered not. Her perfectly pale skin glistened against the candlelight while her snow white curls dangled against the cloak, making the cloak seem filthy in comparison. The Groot calmed her slightly, the sweet and sudsy taste distracting her ever so slightly to the unnecessary invitations of strangers.
She closed her eyes, blocking the rude remarks of men. The difference was clear between her home and this city. Somehow, though, after successfully ignoring them, it felt as though her heart warmed slightly, then warmed even more. what was this sensation?
[I A guardian approaches...] a whisper echoed in her thoughts. She looked about, but alas, her eyes did not fall onto anyone that peeked interest. She looked down, and spotted her marking glow a soft white. She looked up before tying the cloak against her and finally, standing. The attempt to leave seemed easy enough to Saraya, but she underestimated the amount of beauty she had and had gained as the new host. The Drunkards that inhabited the confined space seemed to have plans of their own.
As Saraya bowed of respect of thank you for tolerating her presence for so long, one bearded man standing about 6'3" with tattered and torn attire towered over the 5'6" beauty. [I Watch out behind you] A whisper echoed again. She turned around, and spotted the towering man and sighed as she stood aside to depart. Passing him, the man grabbed her wrist, yanking her to him. "Yer jus gonna leave us hear without a single notification?"
Notification? Her eyes peered over her shoulder to the man while the others stood. "We all know you're a prostitute, so why not just let us have a taste?"
Saraya growled as her understanding unveiled what they have labeled her as. The man then tried to rip away the cloak, only to reveal a bow, arrows, and her double edge sword. She smirked in a way that frightened the men and with a slight jump, had gracefully flipped and kicked away the man holding her captive. The others stood in protest, but Saraya kicked her sword to the side and grabbed the hilt as she landed gracefully on her bare feet. One of her agrms found it's way out of the sleeve from of her attire and hung ever so delicately from the folds like The Caledon Guardian Statue that once stood proud.
[I Drun scrutal umbac utel solipte...] [I (Men don't understand the simplicity...)] Her eyes gleamed for combat. [I ...limort kristu opilu frintu voltori] [I (... of leaving a woman to herself)]
As cowardly as the men were, Saraya simply turned and left the pub. She let her instinct guide her towards the other guardian, the warming sensation from the marking over her heart intensifying the closer she had gotten to them. The silent woman followed until something told her to halt. There was a sewage line that was slightly ajar, and as she stared, a gust of wind hit her sinuses and she could even tell that there was someone down there despite the odor of sewage.
Despite her first thought of waiting, she opened the gateway to the underworld and jumped in. Landing with little reaction, she looked left and right, before allowing herself to follow. Burning now was the marking on her heart when she was close enough. She stared some at the area before spotting a figure that seemed to be curled up against her knees.
Though she urged herself to speak, she knew not the language she spoke and would embarass herself if they couldn't communicate to one another.She knew English, but speaking it came harder to her since she never honestly practiced the speech. But, despite her better judgement, all she spoke was "Hello"
But... For some reason, the woman didn't lift her head to her voice... The spirit inside slowly came in as a whisper [i You are invisible, love. When you are unable to be seen, your voice will no longer sound. You are utterly air, oblivious to everyone in nature's eye. You must return to the streets above the sewers. This place will give signs of witchcraft. ]
Obeying the spirit, she returned to the ladder. [I The sign of witchcraft?] She asked.
The spirit further explained as she reached the surface. [I Above ground, there is light and, therefore, shrouds the glow of the Mark... underneath, where there is no light, the glow of the Mark will show, and the people that dwell here have never seen it before.]
As she closed the sewer with ease, the Mark began to give off it's warm sensation once more. Another guardian approaches. She went back to the pub, relieved that the men had vacated the location. The bartender had bowed his head as she did, and proceeded to take a seat where she was once before. The bartender had handed her Groot without her having to need to ask. Even moreso, he placed a hearty meal before her as a thank you. Having recognized the gesture, she bowed her head to him before she began eating. Whomever the other guardian was will soon find her. She would not become chaos looking for others.
The voice, it wondered to and fro, there and back again in her mind. It emerged and then sunk back into the depths of her mind, like a fish swimming in the water. She didn't understand what it was saying, what language was this that it be using? She only really understood two languages and those were English and her native tongue of Fenlyck.
She was so engrossed in trying to make at least one bit of sense out of it that she didn't notice someone coming until they were almost upon her. Her first reaction was to look up and reach for her staff but something held her back, the voice in her head assured her this person was a friend and no enemy at all. It even seemed this Baldin was looking for the same person as whatever was talking in her head, and it seemed even more pleased. Why did this have to be so confusing, why couldn't the voice in her head offer some explanation?
With the help of the staff she stood up again and turned to face Baldin. [+purple "I don't think I can help you, but something inside of me can. It's like a different entity which knows what will be happening and then telling me to go someplace and then do this or that. It told me to come down here into the sewers and wait for someone who'd be walking through the sewers to get here."]
Now the voice spoke up again and it wanted her to go into the water. [+purple "Now the voice inside of me, it's urging me to go into the water, why I don't know but I'd better do it."] The water was murky and it was filled with filth, but if the voice told her to go in their then that's what she would do. As she stepped into the torrent of liquid filth something happened, a small aura flickered around her and the staff, giving off a small amount of light. The water that was coming into the sewers and passing through where she stood, it wasn't filthy water filled with all sorts of bad things, but it became pure water and continued to flow past her as clean water.
The voice urged her to go on and down the sewers. Turning to Baldin, [+purple "If you want to join me and the voice inside of me in finding this person of yours, just step in front of me and we can begin walking down the sewers."]
Balden was filled with a sense of hope at the woman’s words. Lara, was her name. She was clearly of Fenlyk descent as he noticed by her accent, her words were fluid and gentle like a soft river current. She spoke of a voice inside of her –a different soul that lived within her. It guided her down here the way Aria guided Balden. He watched her curiously as she rose to her feet and made her way towards the water’s edge. The crumbling stone dropped a small fragment into the water with a resounding “Plunk”. She looked confused and lost, as if she was still trying to figure out what was happening inside of her. Balden felt a sense of sympathy for her –but he knew this had to be a good thing. The voice even wanted her to enter the water. “Are you sure you want to go in there?” he asked, regretting his words the moment he said them. Aria was swimming in it, and now Lara was knee deep in it with her staff, but something extraordinary happened. Balden watched with slackened jaw as Lara’s staff seemed to purify the water. Hells Bells! Had he just found the first guardian!? Aria would be immensely pleased if he had. Unless this girl was a witch? Nah, he didn’t think so. For starters: She was way too pretty to be a witch, and they were supposed to be nasty and evil…or so he’d been told. Then again, no witch Balden had ever heard of could purify sewage into drinking water. He still wouldn’t drink it, but upon her offer to join him, he jumped right in. Balden did not walk ahead of her, but at her side, the two of them wadding through the purifying waters and following its current towards the aqueduct that lead out of the city, one that Aria was bound to enter from
The smell of sewage burned out Aria’s ability to smell after she’d been submerged in the rancid waters avoiding the patrol of the Night’s Watch. When she rose from the water and watched as they marched away, her skin was tinted brown with filth and her butter cream hair was browned to match. Her clothes clung to her frame in sticky patches, while her hands and legs forced her upstream, against the current in the depths of the deepest parts of the stream. She knew she wasn’t even in the thick of it. There was a gate that would block her path, she would have to move or cut away. It was there to collect trash from leaving the city. However, the plus side was that it did not connect from the towering wall down to the bottom of the aqueduct. There would be just enough room for Aria to swim under and come up on the other side. Aria had spent the better part of her life in hiding learning every nook and cranny of the Central City’s fortress, just for this exact purpose: Getting in. Next she had to figure how she would be getting out WITH her guardians as well. She would find them in the Central City, but it was very certain that they could not stay. The moment she reached the inner walls of the Fortress and reached the grate she stopped and used the iron bars to hold her up above the water as she caught her breath. The passage leading to the grate was fully submerged, she heaved for air- feeling light headed from lack of air the fumes of trash. Trash and debris clung to the grate blocking her view to the other side, but the archways above her were taller now and she could hear for voices. She heard nothing but the pitter patter of rats. There was no clanking of armor, no heavy footfalls of soldiers. Just the drip, drip, drip of water and slime. Speaking of slime, it was exactly how Aria would have described the water. It was viscous and shimmering with the oils of decayed garbage, food, and waste. She felt bile rise in her throat to know she’d have to dive under the gathered pile of garbage to reach the other side… if Malik hadn’t closed this tiny little weakness already.
She went to heave a final breath but the fumes choked the back of her throat, her eyes burning, and she couldn’t stop the cough, or how she suddenly vomited bile into the very water she was swimming in. As if things couldn’t get worse. She felt her eyes burning –in rage or with tears she wasn’t sure, but she spit the last of her sickness from her mouth and forced herself to dig deep, to take that breath and dive down beneath the water. She wouldn’t open her eyes –she didn’t dare, she used the grate to lead her blindly down almost eight feet until she felt the broken pieces of the grate, not only was it still open, but the opening had been made worse over time. It was slowly corroding away.
[i Close… a little further to go. Keep swimming… they are near…]
Aria felt it in her blood stream, as if every cell of her body was electrified and traveling through her body so fast they seemed to simply vibrate her whole being. She pushed through the opening and forced herself to go as far as she could until the water began to shallow and she could touch the bottom. She came up for breath, her hair dripping with the murky blackened water, and her face smeared with oils and muck. She spit frequently to keep the filth from entering her mouth. She knew they were close, and the way her body felt, the way her blood rushed through her veins, how the marking of a koi fish on her back seemed to writhe and tingle the skin of her back told her it must be the Fenlyk Guardian.
Up ahead she began to hear voices whispering to one another, the sloshing of water as two people walked towards her. She recognized Balden's voice first, but not the other. Aria also noticed how the water seemed to glimmer with power, and around her the water ran clear. It was enough to create a luminescent glow off the water, illuminating the darkness of the sewers. "Balden?" Aria whispered hesitantly into the dim of the sewers. With the call came a loud splash. "That's her!" She heard Balden's voice call. "Aria! Aria where are you?" She heard his frantic swimming and jumping through the waters to reach her. "I am here," Aria giggled as Balden finally reached her, his shorter legs dropping him beneath the water as he was not prepared for the change in depth. Aria quickly grabbed him and helped him stay afloat. "Aria! I'm so glad you made it! I was beginning to fear you wouldn't make it in." "Oh ye have little faith," Aria teased and together they made their way back up to the shallows and Aria came face to face with another youngling. Aria smiled at her, and without asking the name came to her -the knowing at work. "Hello Lara."
The admission to knowing her name was startling for the poor girl, but Aria held her smile. Swimming through the sewers was suddenly worth it. She had found the first guardian and with the help of Balden to boot. "I am Aria, I will explain further with time, first, let's leave this place and find something more suitable, and I daresay but I need a bath," Aria chuckled. Balden was grinning from ear to ear and smiled over at Lara. "I told you I was looking for someone. We have to smuggle her inside the keep. Malik has his goons looking for her," Balden explained. "I found residence with a blacksmith, he 's letting me stay in the stables. You can stay there too," Balden suggested. Aria nodded her head in agreement, and without further pretenses they made their way out of the sewers.
Rhuarc and Ayab walked the many, twisting streets of the Central City, a look of disdain on their hard Jai faces. The City was far larger than any in the Wastelands, even bigger than An'karell or Marquet, which were the two greatest terracotta cities along the banks of the River Nine. Rhuarc was aware that this would probably have been the case, but it was one thing to know something and entirely different to see it first hand. Hawkers shouted their wares at those passing by and trying to drum up some custom and earn some coin for the day. Horses and carts were driven through the streets, as drivers shouted, often in expletives, for those in front of them to get out of the way or be knocked down. The two Adbhu'Jai hadn't spent much time in cities so to find themselves in one as large as this, surrounded by people from across all of the Four Provinces was a culture shock to the two men. Occasionally Rhuarc and Ayab saw another large Jai figure in the crowd but did not recognise any that they passed. Ayab glanced at disdain at two drunkards as they spilled out of a tavern door and continued the brawl that they had started inside, closely followed by a further look of disdain at a man purchasing the services of a whore on one street corner. [+red "Ouk'nu save these people...and they say we are savages? They have no respect, no honour. None of these people follow [i Ahrak-Toh]. How do they live?"] The Adbhu'Jai were not oblivious to the words the other Provinces spoke about them. They knew that the other Provinces looked down on them as barbarians and savages. The truth was different, the Adbhu'Jai were not savages, they followed the Old Ways, the way of [i Ahrak-Toh], of honour and obligation. The other Provinces had forgotten where they had come from, but not the Jai. To be Adbhu'Jai was to follow [i Ahrak-Toh], to follow [i Ahrak-Toh] was to be Adbhu'Jai.
Unfortunately Elder Mandarb had not given them any specifics of what they should look for which meant that the two Jai were in limbo concerning what exactly they should do while in the Central City. Luckily the two men had managed to find somewhere to stay while in the City. The small coin purse that Rhuarc carried would not be enough to find them an inn that would provide room and board for more than a few days at most so they had to be a little more creative with their solution. One innkeeper had told Rhuarc that there was a small community of Jai in the south side of the City and having nothing better to do the two men set out to find this community and hopefully find a place to stay. One of the Jai in this community, a Menin Jai by the name of Saavan, told them of a farmer who was looking for hired guards to keep poachers and bandits from his livestock. The conversation went well and in exchange for allowing them to camp on his farm, and a little bit of cain Rhuarc and Ayab would protect the mans livestock. A fair agreement. The two would have to hunt for their food but the lands here were teeming with possible kills compared with the Wastelands back home so that shouldn't be an issue for either man. Rhuarc and Ayab were just using what little coin they had to do some odd jobs mainly getting Ayab some more arrows from a fletcher and to visit a blacksmith in order to fix one of the hand axes that seemed to have a flaw in the head and blade. The only blacksmith that Rhuarc knew of in the city was the same one he passed on that first day, the one with the half-breed apprentice working the forge, so that was where they headed to.
As they approached the forge, the master was there, the half-breed nowhere to be found. [b "Greetings, sir. How much for your time. My companion has need of a good smith. It is simple work needed, but good."] Ayab brought out the axe. [b "The head is cracked and needs replaced. How much for a new one? We have little coin but will pay a fair price if we can, or pay in kind if we can not."] Rhuarc had no need of the smith's work for himself, his spears were all in fine working order and as far as he could recall the blade of heavy black metal on his black had never needed worked on, and perhaps more curiously never needed sharpened ever, the wicked serrated edge was a keen today as the first day he had found it. [b "One more moment of your time sir..."] Rhuarc hefted the greatsword from his back and held it tip down into the ground. [b "Have you ever seen a blade of this kind before? Or any other weapon made from the same kind of steel?"] Rhuarc had been curious for as long as he had carried the sword but had never found anyone who could tell him anything about the curious heavy black blade. The larger Adbhu'Jai stared into the flames of the forge his eyes mesmerised by the orange glow and the heat coming from the forge. His mind went back to the many times that he had been branded, but one moment in particular stood out. Rhuarc had just come back from fighting against Malik's raiding parties along the border of the Wastelands. He had survived the fighting when many had not been as fortunate, in thanks for surviving he had two serpents branded into the underside of his wrists, in honour of the Great Serpent itself. As Rhuarc stared at the forge now, perhaps it was just the memory, or a trick of the heat but he thought he felt a burning on his brands now, an itching and a pain he had not felt since they were first burned into his flesh. The flash of pain lasted for no more than a second but something was different in the Adbhu'Jai nomad, he couldn't place waht exactly was different but he knew, on a fundamental level that staring into that forge, seeing that fire had changed him irrevocably.
Satisfied with the meal and gratitude, Saraya gracefully thanked the bartender, and made her way to her lodging. The streets we're quiet now. The night sky gleamed and winked along her perfect skin. At the sight of her moon, she could remember Felliope and she running along the moon-kissed bluegrass. His laughter filled her ears, along with her joyous giggle and the memory faded with his words being spoken into the wind: [I I love you]
A tear raced down her cheek from the memory. She refused to rub it away, for it was not fear nor disdain. Her sudden tired form served to be restless after the memory. Instead of wondering to the cot for rest, she began walking through the empty streets. As she did, the spirit began to speak, as if curious of her memory.
[I Who was the voice that laughed?]
Saraya looked down, feeling her cheeks warm. The spirit chuckled within her. [I Do not be shy, love. It is your memory. I do not mind it.]
Saraya stared at the gravel silently. [I It was my late husband... Felliope. I miss him so...] she began to walk on.
The spirit was silent a moment before speaking once more. [I Do not feel bad, my love. It its not a terrible thing to miss the one you loved dearly. I share the same feeling...]
Saraya nodded slowly. [I Yes, I remember. They spoke so briefly of your wife, Contalia. That an evil had murdered her once free spirit and turned her into a statue of delicate marble. She was a beautiful soul] she bowed out of respect of the knowledge.
The spirit seemed to sigh. [I We share a common beginning of a rigorous battle between good and evil, and you share the same pureness that I possessed within me. Use your love well, but also keep in mind that there will be others that will need it... And in your future, I see that another guardian will need it.]
Saraya stared forward. Another guardian? The spirit chuckled. [I Needn't worry. You will learn. You already have some of the virtues that is required for battle. You blank out your thoughts, you use what is necessary, you think fluently on your toes, you are like predator on prey... You must evolve and hone your skills, my love.]
Understanding the message her spirit had given her, she bowed.
As she continued to wonder, she found herself near where the blacksmiths do their business. With the knowledge of it, the Mark began to warm, and quickly intensified. She saw two large customers walk into the bllacksmith's dwelling. It wasn't that the men went onto blacksmith territory, but the words spoken in the manner of authority, yet, curiosity, that caught her. She, curiosity catching the best of her, began walking towards the dwelling. In the dim light, as she peered in, she saw the men stand-in firm and proud, and asked for his Axe to be repaired.
Saraya couldn't help but wonder. She needed to get herself in a position to introduce herself. The spirit within her was silent as she decided to speak. Though she couldn't speak English well, she would try with all her might. [I Ex... cuse...] she said, ll oud enough to get their attention. [I G..Guar...dian... yes?]
Balden had decided to come with her, something went through his mind but what about she wasn't sure. It wasn't easy to walk quietly so they didn't try at all, along the way they whispered quietly about things in the world. Even though the voice inside of her head told her that Balden was trustworthy, until she knew him much better she wouldn't be telling him much about herself. She knew that he knew that she was Fenlyck because of the accent, but that was as far as it would be for now.
As they neared to somewhere, it was hard to tell in the gloomy and dirty darkness, the fish tatoo on the back of her neck started warming up again and she felt a burst of adrenaline. That was followed by splashes in the water and then some feminine voice calling out Balden's name and that caused Balden to surge forward to whoever it was. He also went in, so the person they were trying to find they had just found and her name was Aria. Lara just stood there because she really had know idea what in the Big Ocean was going on.
She was truly shocked when the woman Aria just instantly knew her name. She didn't know her but, why was everything going towards more complicated all the time? Why were seeking answers rewarded with more questions that were even harder to find the answer to? The only real answer that made any sense whatsoever was something major was afoot and she, it was frustrating.
All these thoughts happened while Baldin was leading the three of them to the stables, Lara didn't pay attention much to what the other two were saying because of her thoughts. When they reached the stable Balden went of somewhere, and that was when the voice started up again. Lara swooned and fell down on the hay, [+purple "Just speak the Fenlyck tongue, or even the English tongue."] The voice inside her head just disappeared.
Turning to Aria, [+purple "If you know my name without having met me, then could you please answer this question? How does the voice in my head relate to the tatoo of a fish on the back of my neck that I had from birth, and how does all that relate to Malik's forces raiding Fenlyck and my parents dying?"]
Balden, Aria, and Lara slipped from the sewers under the cover of darkness. Following Balden’s lead he got them from the sewers to the blacksmith’s in the market part of town. Balden opened the door to the stables and hurried Aria and Lara in. “I’ll be back with some hot water and towels so you can clean up,” “Remember Balden, no one can know I am here,” Aria reminded. Balden gave a quick nod of his head and gently shut the door. Alone in the darkness Aria sought out a lantern and lit it. The smell of warm hay and smoke permeated the air. The horses in their stalls watched on curiously one neighing as Lara collapsed into a bale of hay. Aria looked over at her –the stress and confusion evident on her young features. A Maternal instinct fell over Aria and she moved to sit beside Lara and studied her for a moment. Lara spoke first asking how Aria could possibly know her name when they had never met, what was with the voice in her head and how it related to a fish tattoo on her neck, and Malik’s forces. Aria heaved a heavy sigh. “I know you’re name because of everything you mentioned. The tattoo, Malik’s forces, the voice inside your head…” Aria gave her a pointed and firm look under the lantern’s glow. The seriousness of her words were etched into the shadows of her face. “I tend to assume that all know their history, Fenlyk especially. Very prideful when it comes to history and tradition… much like the Jai’s. This is good, though, but just in case you don’t know, I will elaborate,”
“Eons ago, the earth was nothing more than a barren world spinning around the sun in the vastness of the heavens. Five gods traveled here to find solace. You know them, Caledon the Mighty, Fenlyk the Siren, Jaihash the Quick, and Volshiv the Tempest. They were led by their leader Azeroth. Together they formed the four provinces and in the center built a grand city from where they could watch over their creation. They created all sorts of creatures, but there were none to nurture, none to really appreciate the beauty they had created. So each God created their own race, and presided as a guardian over their land. From the Central City, Azeroth kept his eyes on them all and allowed them to their own devices. Their mortals came to revere them as the Gods they were, but as they stepped aside and allowed humanity to flourish, they saw within it a darkness they had not anticipated. So they each chose a host… A guardian to protect and to serve all of Azera. They would serve Azeroth’s holy choice –marked at birth. Always choosing a woman, for women are gentle by nature. He appointed the first High Priestess, imbuing her with his powers and his knowing…. I am the High Priestess. You are a guardian of Fenlyk, Malik killed your parents in the pursuit of destroying the guardians –for we are the only thing that can stop him.”
Balden returned moments later with a large bucket of fresh water and several cloths. He set it down before her and set down her bag with a change of clothes. Aria wasted no time in hiding within a stall to bathe herself as best she could and change into fresh clothes. When she emerged from the stall cleaned and her skin shimmering once male with pale perfection she tucked her silvery blonde hair behind a delicately pointed ear and came to sit down with Balden and Lara answer any and all of their questions well through the night. Balden eventually falling asleep on them and not waking until the dawn came and he heard the heavy footfalls of the smith coming to wake him. By dawn even Aria and Lara had fallen to sleep and when the stable doors opened the Blacksmith stood in stunned silence at what he saw. “I can explain!” Tried Balden, moving to stand protectively infront of Aria, but there was no need. Aria smiled at the blacksmith, sensing in him relief and joy. From under his tunic he removed an amulet of fine making, that herald the old ways and claimed Fealty to the High Priestess of Azera. He was quick to close the stable doors behind him and fall to a knee. ‘My lady,” he greeted. Aria rose to her feet, and with a gentle hand pulled Balden back. “Had I know, I would have come searching for you-“ “there is no need for that… Carrick,” his head snapped up to pin her with a look of wonderment. “It really is you?” “Yes…there are others like you? Yes? Still devoted to the old ways?” “Yes M’lady, we meet in secret, and have been counting the days of your return.” Aria moved to kneel before Carrick the BlackSmith and though he was nearly double her age, she gave him a warm matronly smile and forced him to meet her gaze with soft fingertips to his bushy chin. “You once served the House of Azeroth. You were low enough in rank you were spared by Malik…” Aria continued to read him, and as she revealed secrets only Carrick would have known, the large man began to weep. He had hope. “Now you forge weapons and tact for his vast army…” “Yes, m’lady,” He said a look of guilt on his face. “You were spared for a reason. To help us-“ “Anything. I will hide you here during your stay and if I can help, I will get you back out. I will serve you as I once did before,” A wan smile crossed his face then. “I remember when you were but a tiny tyke…” Aria smiled back at him. “That is the way I assume most remember me as.” “When he circulated the lie that you were dead, the whole damn city nearly went up in flames from a revolt. We feared he had killed the small child we held so much hope in.” “I am very much alive, and very much in need of all the help I can get,” Aria assured him. Carrick nodded. “I assure you m’lady, My life is yours.”
Carrick was stuck somewhere between reality and surrealism. The High Priestess was still alive and currently safe within his home, as was the Fenlyk guardian. He would protect them with his life. Never in all his years did he think he’d ever see the High Priestess again. To be honest, he felt guilty of beginning to believe that the Priestess would never return. He dared not think of it. It was still early morning when he spotted two large Jai’s enter his Forge. “Morning men, can I help ye?” He asked. Balden came skidding to a halt within the smithy, catching the sight of two massive Jai’s and dropped the wood. He’d never seen men so large before –and Carrick was a large bear of a man. The clatter of wood falling, caught Carrick’s attention and he frowned at the boy. “Excuse the boy, he’s new around here. I don’t take it he’s seen much diversity, despite the fact he’s a halfbreed,” Carrick said sounding stern, but when the one Jai gave him his cracked Axe, Carrick smirked and set it back. “This is a clean fix. I will have it ready for you at the end of the week if you don’t mind the wait. Though, for extra coin I can make it a priority and get it done by the end of the day?” He suggested, but the man Ayab, was perfectly fine getting it back when Carrick finished it. The next man then showed him something far more interesting. Carrick took the blade from Rhuarc and handled it carefully. Even he could see how sharp it was. “This is a fine blade…” Carrick said, and glanced around before leaning in, and carefully handing it back toi Rhuarc. “Guard your sword well. The metal is one that cannot be found… not in these parts. I once heard a tale that this particular sort of metal was forged by Jaihash himself. He breathed fire upon the Desolate Sands, charring it solid. Only two blades are made this way. He made them with Caledon the Mighty. For once the sands were turned to metal, Caledon broke it apart and Jaihash forged two steel blades. Twins… There is legend that another like this exists. Black Steel is a myth… but my friend, you have just made it fact. This blade is a holy weapon of great power….” Suddenly Carrick shrugged. “Or so the story goes,” He chuckled light heartedly, but just before he could bid them farewell, a young woman entered. Her curious expression and her uncertainty of even being in the vicinity made Carrick warry. She bypassed him and Balden entirely and walked right up to the two Jai’s who towered over her like monoliths. Her Common Tongue was horrid. Carrick had never met a person who couldn’t speak it, this woman was the first, but he clearly made out the word Guardian –as did Balden. “Did you just say Guardian?” Balden asked, breaking the awkward aura in the forge. Carrick glowered from his place. Balden approached Saraya and offered her a friendly smile. “You might not want to say that too loud around here,” Balden warned. “Even mention of the old ways is grounds for beheading. Malik will hear no word of the Old Ways of Azeroth. You give yourself a death wish to ask a stranger such things,” Carrick scowled quickly chastising her again in Caledon, as he could tell from her accent that was where she was from. He turned to the two Jai’s next and gave them the same warning –knowing that the Jai’s were devout in the old ways. “Mind if I ask what it is you’re doing here in Central City? The old temples have been burned and the Sanctum has been turned into an abomination for Malik’s personal pleasure. This City is no longer safe for people of the old ways… but if you are still true to the old ways… I may be able to help you…” Carrick offered the three travelers.
The blacksmith looked over Ayab's axe and confirmed their suspicion that the axe would be an easy fix. While Rhuarc would have ideally liked the axe fixed as soon as possible, the two Jai simply didn't have enough coin to waste making the axe a priority job. The end of the week would have to do. The sound of the young halfbreed turned Rhuarc's attention to Balden and while the large man gave the young boy a hard stare, he made no further comment. It was when the conversation turned to his sword that Rhuarc truly started listening. He knew the stories of how the Gods had inhabited the land and while in the Wastelands he had heard rumours and whispers from others regarding his sword he had never paid them any heed. To carry a holy weapon, a sword from legend was preposterous, although now that he gave it some thought maybe it wasn't as absurd a first thought. As Rhuarc took back the blade to return it to the place on his back for the first time ever the blade felt warm to the touch. Previously it had felt like any other steel, often cold but the underlying warmth felt like it had been left in the sun all day. [b "A Twin? Interesting..."] If this truly was forged in the flames of Jaihash himself then he held an incredible weapon indeed and if that was the case he wanted to know all he could about it and its supposed twin. He wondered who could hold the other weapon of black steel.
A young woman entered the blacksmiths and while she seemed out of place Rhuarc prepared to pay her no heed, that was until she spoke to him directly. Guardian? He had never been addressed so before. In a way he supposed that he was, he fought against Malik's forces and guarded his homeland from the invaders, he protected the caravans when he travelled with them but somehow her words seemed to have more significance than would first seem. More to it than that was that as she spoke the word Guardian a warmth filled Rhuarc, seemingly starting from the brands on his wrists and working through his body. [b "We were sent by a respected Elder. He told us that if we kept fighting Shade-stealer like we were now that eventually we would fail. We need to find another way to defeat him. Elder Mandarb told us to trust and an act of providence would guide us on our way. "] The insinuation that Rhuarc and Ayab, or any Jai for that matter, might have abandoned the old ways was insulting. To suggest such a thing would normally start a duel and end with blood, the only thing that saved him was that the blacksmith seemed willing to held those that kept the old ways. Not many shared the same view nowadays, Malik's rule of fear was a powerful tool for the false king.
[b "What help can you offer, smith?"] The Adbhu'Jai were no strangers to persecution given how those outside the Wastelands viewed them and their customs. [b "If you can truly help those who follow the old ways then we shall listen."] Rhuarc glanced quickly at Ayab and the other Jai nodded in agreement, Ayab had far more trust in Elder Mandarb than Rhuarc did but things seemed to be lining up nicely. Mandarb had told them to wait for an act of providence and here they were speaking to two people who seemingly kept to the old ways and were willing to help Ayab and himself, when coupled with the warm feeling that filled Rhuarc now, providence certainly seemed appropriate. The blacksmith, Carrick he said his name was, led them out of the shop and round to the stables, before ushering them inside. Rhuarc and Ayab had to duck down slightly in order to enter. Rhuarc didn't know what to expect but he didn't think the help that Carrick was offering would be two small women, although most anyone was small next to the towering Jai. What made matters worse was that one of these woman was Fenlyk. Despite the necessary trade that took place between Fenlyk and the Wastelands the vast majority of Adbhu'Jai held a deep disdain for Fenlyk natives. They had bent the knee to Shade-stealer in an attempt to spare themselves and it did not sit right with the nomads that while they fought and died to try and defeat the false king, these wetlanders did nothing. In the eyes of [i Ahrak-Toh], the system of honour and obligation, the Fenlyk had failed. The Jai's believed that the Fenlyk had [i Toh] towards the rest of the Provinces. They had an obligation to the other Provinces to do their part in order to defeat Malik and it would be impossible to restore their honour until it was done. At seeing the Fenlyk woman, Ayab too seemed uneasy, pointedly neither Jai looked at the women unless absolutely necessary. [b "This is the help you offer to followers of the old ways? Two women hiding in a stable, and one of them honourless no less. I'm not sure how much help this will be."] Rhuarc's objection was not that Lara and Aria were women, in accordance with the old ways women had an honoured place in Adbhu'Jai society. Women were the only Jai who could own property, while the Jai were nomadic people there was still the matter of the nine great terracotta cities along the river Nine. Every building in those cities was owned by a women and while Elders may have influence in the cities, the final decision was always made by a woman. The roofmistress ruled the cities. It was a position of great honour. If this was indeed the providence that Elder Mandarb spoke about it had better make its meaning clear soon or Rhurac and Ayab would not be staying in the stables very long. As it stood he just didn't see how a halfbreed child and three women could help him defeat Shade-stealer and finally give his people peace.
To have the blacksmith speak was surprising enough... But, to chastise her was something she hadn't accounted for. And even in her mother tongue, no less. Saraya huffed, with a face that expressed an almost angry glare. No one ever spoke to her like that. No one dared to. She was tempted to curse, but instead, bowed quickly before shrinking her presence to the entrance of the building. So... the one that stands here must be a guardian.
The spirit commented to keep calm. Saraya took heed to the voice, and exhaled silently... but, as she did, she saw a cold breath escape her, and form a flower... She flustered to it. The spirit was succeeding in calming her.
The two boys then asked something of the three of them. Another aspect of her character besides her stubbornness was her flaring temper. It came out in a number of ways. It usually exerted its way out through sarcasm, yelling, and even fighting. The most dangerous side of it, though, was when she stayed silent. But, despite the feeling of cursing, she held it down and explained her case.
[I Ascor dul brusida wil Faso...] [I (I am looking for a child...)] she said as slowly as possible to make sure he was following her. [I Wantoosh... Stetiel te Saraya... yanto too te bon to delist] [I ( Listen closely... I am Saraya. You must know where I am from...)]
She sighed as she continued on. [I zenten tot tel yedu sorilit. Malik drolt grensca iyeti to run looir gruta... turnis molta wontisan bu y wantu... tuies yelcort hami timul trii fur borto... Mart oituli lilu] [I ( I've only just arrived here. The evil Malik had attacked my homeland not two weeks ago... and killed my unborn son and my husband... I've been chosen to restore my home... and find the tyrant)]
She bowed again to them, and bowed lower to the other guardian that stood to her. Afterwards, she silenced herself. The other guardian and the blacksmith exchanged words of searching for the child. When the blacksmith spoke of her location, she smiled in gratitude.
The darkness was thwarted by a dim light, a fire. She let the men enter first, before slinking her slim figure in behind them. Though she was grateful to have finally succeeded in her first task in finding the child, she still felt uneasy. She never had been viewed as insufficient to any battalion she attended. She had been an important asset to her troupes before... but, that had been before when life was easily taken with mere swords and shield.
There were two girls that sat in the warmth. One had a stare of determination, the other, uncertainty. She recognized one of the girls from the sewers. She was rubbing her neck like before... Though, she'd doubt that from the first encounter would she know of her. Besides, she was unheard, unseen, as she concluded as one of the abilities of her spirit. She tilted her head some as she observed from a distance. She didn't want to offend anyone, nor be chastised again for exposing what was already obvious. She sighed as she stayed at a distance, taking a light seat on a short stack of hay. In her mind, she had to collect herself in a whole new foundation. She felt as though she had been mourning her family's death long enough. One thing she learned was to never allow her personal feelings get in the way of the task at hand. She knew to do it, but she would find it difficult on this voyage... but, what did the spirit mean when it spoke that one of the guardians would require her love more than most?
Saraya let her thoughts subside. She stared toward the fire as her senses began to clear into a conversation long started. She sighed away her tansgressions and lent an ear to the conversation, trying not to intervene whatsoever due to her poor speaking. She needn't embarrass herself further.
She knew the legends of Fenlyck very well for her parents had told all those stories to her as a young kid many a time, so much that she had memorized them. But because of all these events that had escalated the atmosphere Lara wasn't able to think straight, the whole thing was whish wash. She listened to Aria carefully, repeating the story in her head. She knew it but she followed along as if she had heard it the very first time.
Then Aria went off to take a shower and now was much more presentable after that. Questions were flung between her, Aria, and Baldin. But Lara soon fell asleep from the events of the evening.
As it neared the end something inside of her, not the spirit, she worried about the reason why her parents had died. Her thought and Aria's explanation lined up so perfectly Lara just felt dumb(not the stupid definition), shocked, and a mix of other indescribable emotions. One of the feelings she started feeling, two actually were revenge and hatred.
Lara awoke to the sound of someone coming in and opening the door, here was where everything came apart wasn't it? Just when everything was starting to come together, things fell apart. But there was a twist, the blacksmith, Carryck, was actually an ally. Someone who would help them during these hard times. When they had left only she and Aria were left, left completely in quiet but in front of warm light. There was no sound at all except the flickering of the light, peaceful but there was no feeling of security. They were in the city of their enemy who was actively hunting them.
Some more time passed before footsteps were heard, and it was more than just two people. The door into the stables and three people walked in, two of them were nomadic Jai and the other unknown. She didn't hear the first thing uttered by one of the Jai, but the second phrase... just went to damn far. Figuring out how everything was interconnected plus waking up thinking they were found, this Jai did not have any clue what sort of dam he had just broke.
Water can be quiet, seen, and not heard. But water has many different natures and one of them is fast, loud, seen, and merciless. Being called someone without honor by someone who had no idea what her life had been like was infuriating. [i Show the nomadic Jai, he can't get away with it perfectly free], even the Fenlyck spirit agreed the impertinent Jai had gone too far.
Lara got up and turned around to face this little prick of a bigot, and she did something she rarely ever did and that was taking the hood off her head. Her aquamarine colored hair tumbled down her back while the shadows illuminated by light shows piercing ocean blue eyes with an intent stare. There was a face as well, yes it was that of a woman. But it made up for the many years of hard toil, many years of feeling alone and constantly doing something to survive. Things were about to be escalated pretty fast.
The water dam was about to break and the water would burst forward stopping at nothing in its path. Starting out quietly, [+purple "You little nomadic Jai, you little under cooked piece of bigoted little scum."] She began to crescendo with the intention of a slow crescendo and nothing would be held back, [+purple "How dare you, categorize me based on the actions of where I'm from. You have the damnedest audacity to call me someone without honor without even asking one single damn question about my past. For the past couple of years I've been moving around like you nomads, but always by myself with no one to look after me except myself. You at least have your petty clan mates who are addicted into sticking snakes into their arms like the addicts sticking needles in themselves. But I had no one. I watched my parents burn in front of my eyes and then I ran. Yes, I admit this, I ran like a coward. But here's a question, dumbfuck, would you want me fighting you instead of trying to fucking help you in this quest to kill King Malik? Make no mistake, I'll fight till either I die or Malik is dead, I have the same dream as you. To have a land that was like before Malik put his bastardy plans and actions into it."] it had risen to a full crescendo and she had taken an aggressive step towards this bastard. [+purple "You fucking Jaistard."], followed by another aggressive step with a swing of her staff.
She wasn't aiming for the Jai, she hit the floor with the butt of her staff on purpose to push with all the ferocity of water her point. There was an eerie humming sound as the water in the water buckets for the horses started humming.
Aria sat in stony silence within the dimness of the stable. Light filtered in through small open windows, and cracks between the wooden boards that built the structure. She seemed to be watching the tiny motes of dust move through the air that sunlight streamed through, but upon closer inspection one would notice the vacant almost entranced expression on her face. Aria's mind was elsewhere. She sensed other guardians. Two more, and they were close. She felt the brands on her back like fire... they were burning and itching for her to move and find them. But a greater, stronger part within her forced her to stay still, to wait... for they would be coming to her. She searched the Knowing for names and like whispers on the wind she heard Rhuarc and Saraya. One Jai... one Caledon.
[i Patience.... patience... they near...]
The voice whispered through her mind, compelling her to stay seated and chuckling at her desire to rush out the stable and find them herself. She was forced to wait the better half of the day, and it wasn't until Carrick came to the stables doors did Aria finally blink out of her trance and looked at the doors. "Carrick is here -he is not alone," Aria whispered to Lara. No sooner had the words left her lips did Carrick push the heavy doors open and allowed two large and intimidating men to enter the stable, along with a very small petite woman. Two Jais... one Caledon. Aria had not sensed the other Jai.
Aria rose to her feet and moved to greet them all, but the Jai who burned of Ok'nu's fire spoke, his tone condescending and clearly irritating to both Carrick and Lara who was quick to jump and defend herself. The moisture in the air seemed to vibrate as Lara called on her own strengths, but Aria could not let them fight -not here, and hopefully not ever. Lara was right to defend her own honor, but the Jai was justified in his thinking. Aria set a gentle hand to Lara's shoulder and gifted her a matronly smile. "Peace and be still," She said looking towards the Jai, though she spoke to all. For as gentle and light as her voice was -it carried a great deal of weight a severity. "This is no simple woman," Carrick warned Rhuarc. "This is the High Priestess of Azeroth. If anyone can help you -it's her, do not insult her again while you stand on my land," Carrick warned, but did not make any advancement of threat. "Thank you Carrick, your devotion is admirable. What he says is true, I am the High Priestess, your chosen leader by the hand of Azeroth himself. You burn with the fire of your Jai Ancestors and that of Jaihash. I know what you're thinking: You worship Ok'nu... he was only a servant of Jaihash -a pet... you are the host of The Fire God. You are a guardian, as are you Saraya,"
Aria grinned at the way Saraya tried to hide her shock, but approached her cautiously -seeing and sensing fear and doubt among the group. "Malik took something very precious from you..." She breathed reaching out and collecting Saraya's chin in her hand. Her eyes traveled all over Saraya until it landed on her belly, still slightly swollen, but barren. Aria gasped as the knowing struck her. Her eyes welling with unshed tears. "That which is most precious... that act can not be forgiven, if you can learn to work with us... you will have your vengeance and Justice will be served." Aria's head whipped back around to look at Rhuarc and she eyed him with sternness and severity, knowing that to remain docile and gentle would get her no where with a race that glorified strength and valor. She flung out and punched him right in the jaw. She struck harder than she looked like she might, but having struck with all her might she bit back a whimper of pain in her knuckles, shaking out her hand. "I welcome you as a friend -your earlier comments are forgiven, but you must also learn to work with us. Lara is the guardian of Fenlyk, and you can not blame her for the choices of her society as a whole. Like you, she is only trying to survive in this world." "How do you know they are Guardians?" Carrick finally asked. Aria just smiled at Saraya and Rhuarc. "I have been training my whole life to find you all, all that is left is the Volshiv guardian... we will not find them here. I can not force you to accept the truths I have told you all, and I can not force you to help me restore balance to Azera... but I can ask you to follow me, help me bring back the peace we knew as small children, ask you to help me restore the world our forefathers died trying to protect. I ask you to help me finish what they started... and to win our homes back."
The atmosphere inside the stable had become more tense, that much was obvious. The Fenlyk guardian would cause Ayab and Rhuarc issues simply by being who she was, that was unavoidable. To be Jai was to follow [i Ahrak-Toh] and to have failed that system of honour and obligation was a serious transgression to the Jai. Lara defended herself and Rhuarc liked seeing that, it meant that she had passion and fight in her. She had an inner fire and Rhuarc didn't just like that, he respected it as well. There was a fine line between standing your ground, showing having an inner fire and insulting a Jai. Lara crossed that line with her comments surrounding the snakes. Serpents were sacred in the Wastelands, The Jai worshipped Jaihash and the great fire deity Ouk'nu. Her comments about sticking snakes in their arms like some sort of drug was blasphemous and just about as insulting as possible to any Jai. Both men were furious and Ayab went as far as to draw his belt knife and bare the foot of hard, tempered, sharpened steel towards the Fenlyk woman, he likely would have drawn blood if Rhuarc had not barked at him in the harsh guttural tongue of their homeland. Rhuarc was also furious at just how Lara was speaking, she had no respect and in his eyes was accumulating an even bigger debt of [i Toh] not only to the Provinces but to himself and Ayab. The discussion was quick and furious, harsh words being spoken by both Jai, but eventually Ayab sheathed his knife giving Lara a cold, hard stare of rage. [+red "She has [i Toh]"], was the only comment that Ayab made towards Lara, and while his belt knife had been sheathed his hand rested near the weapon, seemingly prepared to draw it in an instant.
[b "Apologies I meant no disrespect to you, Priestess."] Rhuarc didn't have any definitive proof that what Carrick said was true, that this really was the true High Priestess of Azeroth but she had a presence to her, her voice were weighted with authority and power. [b "You honour me, Priestess."] As she spoke Rhuarc felt warmth flood his body again, seemingly in response to her comment regarding him burning with the fire of his ancestors and of Jaihash himself. It was strange to hear the Great Serpent referred to as a pet, his people worshipped Ouk'nu but the way that Aria spoke held no disrespect. How could what she said be true, him a Guardian? It was almost too laughable to think about but it would make sense. Elder Mandarb had studied the Old Ways for his entire life, and he had sent them to this city now to find a way to defeat Shade-stealer and now they find the High Priestess of Azeroth, the one person in all the land who could put an end to Malik and now he was finding out he was supposedly a Guardian as well. It beggared belief. Not only that but it seemed like the Caledon girl that he had met outside the blacksmith's was also a Guardian as well as the Fenlyk girl, much as he disdained her.
The punch to his jaw was stronger than he would have expected from someone her size and while it wasn't the strongest that he had ever received it was a formidable effort. Rhuarc's head snapped back as Aria greeted him in the Jai custom and a smile broke upon his face, Ayab looked pleasantly surprised at the action as well. Rhuarc responded in kind, giving a hard slap across the High Priestess' face, almost as hard as he could, certainly hard enough to draw blood. This was one of the most respected figures in all of Azeroth, one that followers of the old ways should trust. He needed to show her his strength and the level of his respect for her. She was not commanding them, as was her right as High Priestess, she was asking for their trust, she was asking them to follow her. The Jai followed strength and valour and honour. If Aria could display those qualities then Rhuarc and Ayab would follow. [b "We follow [i Ahrak-Toh], we are loyal to the old ways and if you are the High Priestess we will follow. He will help you defeat Shade-stealer and restore balance to the Four Provinces."] Rhuarc thought about what he was committing to and he knew what he was in for, miles of endless travelling, well that was no issue for the Jai, he was a nomad after all. There would be risk and danger as well, fighting Malik and his forces, but he would likely have been fighting the False King back in the Wastelands as well. Travelling with the High Priestess and fighting for her seemed to be perfect for him, he was suited to the task but there was one issue that he could not get out of his mind.
[b "Priestess, there is one more thing that I wish to say. You know my people, we are proud in our ways. When others forgot, we remembered. We live our lives honourably, we live by [i Ahrak-Toh], as they should be..."] Rhuarc very obviously didn't look at Lara as he spoke [b "...I am sure you are an honourable woman. I respect what you stand for but the Jai could only follow one who follows [i Ahrak-Toh]. Forgive me for asking Priestess but would you be willing to learn our ways? It would be seen as a symbol of great respect for our ways if you would be willing to learn. You wouldn't need to adopt them in your everyday life but if you understood our ways it would mean a lot to us."] Rhuarc wasn't sure if he used the right words to convey his feelings, if the High Priestess wanted to take down Malik she would need more than just the Guardians, she would need an army. The Jai would be fierce fighters but they would only follow one who knew [iAhrak-Toh], if Aria did this she would get an army. Ayab meanwhile, was still not over Lara's disrespect [+red "I don't care if you are a Guardian. You have [i Toh] towards us all. Do you think because your parents were killed that makes you special? You saw that and you ran. We who fight him see that everyday, and we still fight. That is the reality of the world. We fight, people we love die and we still fight. You ran. You have [i Toh]."] [b "Peace, Ayab."] The larger Jai barked at his companion, he didn't like Lara but the Priestess wanted them to move on, maybe in time they could both do that. [b "If you say we still have one Guardian to find, let us find them now. We must not waste time, the longer we stay in the city, the greater the chance that Shade-stealer will find us. Let us leave and start his downfall."]
The young woman leaned her back against the wall, before seeing water flashed past her and out of the shock of it, her hands rose, and formed a incantation glyph that she once knew as a child. She did not know why she had done it. In all honesty, she thought she had embarrassed herself once again. But, when she opened her eyes, there was a gust of air that surrounded her form. She gasped some and sighed. [I Force field that is special...] the spirit said.
The vibrations of the air shook her. She slowly allowed the force field to subside before a pair of eyes was felt on her form. A shocked face appeared as quickly as the field dispersed, and saw that she was the Priestess. She bowed her head quickly in the knowing before raising her head, and what was seen was the young child face to face with her. [I "Malik took something very precious from you..."]
Though she wanted to jerk away, she didn't. She couldn't even bring herself to speak. The child scouted her eyes, then her form. Saraya said nothing, but allowed the child to do so, until...
As The Priestess' eyes neared her downfall, Saraya's memory of the war had resurfaced, and what she could remember was [b [i her husband's scream, his eyes wide with impenetrable fear... A cannon flying past her, and she screamed as she tried to race over to save him... An unexpecting cannon hitting her steed, then darkness... Smokey atmosphere, hearing her laboured breathing... the enemy's henchman approaching her, and worsened her condition with a simple act of step... his unforgettable laughter as his abuse worsened... then another calls for retreat... opening her eyes ever so slightly due to pain to see blood staining her once elegant white gown... then the sky... dark of the smoke that tainted the air... hearing a fighting grunt of pain... to a laboured scream into the dark atmosphere... to waking up, a puddle of blood in her gown, and her love limping to her for his final rest...]]
Tears fell when the child's gasp sounded. Saraya looked to where she was staring so shockingly to... Her belly, somewhat swollen from lack of rest and unattended care. She looked to the child in worry, but the child seemed to be fighting back tears of her own. [I "That which is most precious... that act can not be forgiven, if you can learn to work with us... you will have your vengeance and Justice will be served"]
Hearing the young Priestess mourn her loss made her feel tragicly insufficient. Her head turned away as the Priestess adverted her attention to Rhuarc. Tears freely raced down her cheeks, feeling the pain in her heart rise. The men standing around in the stable could now view her as a weakling because of her stubbornness. That was never her intention.
Quickly, she wiped away her tears, remaining silent as she cleared her sinuses silently.She stared before the young Priestess had smiled to her and Rhuarc. [I "I have been training my whole life to find you all, all that is left is the Volshiv guardian... we will not find them here. I can not force you to accept the truths I have told you all, and I can not force you to help me restore balance to Azera... but I can ask you to follow me, help me bring back the peace we knew as small children, ask you to help me restore the world our forefathers died trying to protect. I ask you to help me finish what they started... and to win our homes back."]
Win their homes back. She stared silently, the pain in her eyes and heart lingering from the thought. To be the one responsible for the return of her homeland was a prideful feeling, one she avoided too well.
Ayab, Rhuarc's partner in this voyage, seemed to have words to say to Lara, and upon speaking them, Rhuarc calmed him. Carrick stared at the quiet woman before the two, and then the young Priestess. Saraya made an effort to stand on her barefeet, and once she did, she could only walk past the group, to a wall of hay, where she hid for a time.
For the first time, she let the pain in her heart release. Tears, and cries of dispair filled the bails, trying not to cause alarm to the others. Her burden had always been her stubbornness. She hated that it costed her her family. There, she refused to release it to others, for it only shown weakness and frailty to others that were stronger. She had to be strong on this voyage, but the weakness in her wanted to be released now. So, she lain her head on one of the bails, tears flowing like the River Nine, and a spirit whispering in her ear with powerful softness.
Hearing Rhuarc speak of finding the last guardian, and Saraya sat up quickly, wiping away tears and stood. Her eyes still shown pain, but it couldn't be helped. She had held it in for over a fortnight and it was better to release now than during the voyage. She revealed herself from the bails, standing near the dim fire with Lara, but being sure not to offend anyone, she kept a respectable distance from everyone.
After she had expressed herself Lara immediately knew she had gone too far with the snake comment, the rage had made her forget the Abdu'Jai lore. The Jai who seemed as if he were the follower of the other Jai had pulled out a knife and was about to attack her. She would have welcomed that because it would've been a good chance to show them what sort of fighter she was. Unfortunately the Jai in command of the little two man squad stopped the second Jai in his own language. After a bunch of back and forth arguing, the second Jai had angrily exclaimed, [+red "She has [i Toh]] before sheathing his knife, but Lara could still see the hand near the knife.
The next thing that happened, well it was a very fashionable way of greeting someone in Abdu'Jai. Walking up to someone and punching them and then they returning the favor happily. Lara had relaxed her stance somewhat but not fully, like the second Jai. After that the conversation became more civilized with the Jai commander trying to propose a deal basically, even though it might not seem as such to the priestess.
The other Jai just didn't know how to drop problems, unfortunately he was right and she knew he was right, but in circumstances like these forgiveness was needed. His words, [+red ""I don't care if you are a Guardian. You have [i Toh] towards us all. Do you think because your parents were killed that makes you special? You saw that and you ran. We who fight him see that everyday, and we still fight. That is the reality of the world. We fight, people we love die and we still fight. You ran. You have [i Toh]."] Internally it infuriated her but she could do nothing in face of the hard but true truth.
She had missed what had happened between the priestess and the other women because of her keeping her focus on the nomadic guy who just couldn't let things rest. The other women appeared from behind her and stood, but it was a position of neutrality. She needed a step back away from all this and calm herself down.
She walked towards the door of the stables, her staff in her left hand but showing no signs of malicious intent. Once she had walked past the Jai who had shown his rage by yelling at her(not Rhuarc) she quickly, as a snake(take that you Jai), whipped her staff at the heels to make the Jai fall back. She did not care what the Jai actually did, Lara just walked herself out of the stables and into the smithy.
There she sat down on one of the benches near the fire, put her hood back up, closed her eyes and began to think. She started humming a song, a song without words. It was always sung by two females and there were many songs praising all sorts of water. This one praised the calm and pristine lakes. The Fenlyck Guardian joined in as the second singer. It was a beautiful sounding duet inside her head, and the tattoo on her neck began to act up again. But unlike last time, this time it was a warm and pleasant feeling, one of warmth and safety and security.
Once she was done Lara noticed that Carryck had come in and was looking with what appeared to be slight concern. Lara quickly turned her head back towards the fire and knelt her head.
Rhuarc struck back with a great force in the Jai manner, it stung the skin of her cheek and it made her eyes water, but she blinked past it and grinned at him. She could taste the faint traces of blood in her mouth, but cared little for it as he promised to follow her if she was indeed the High Priestess. Oh she could assure him that she was, but there was no need for that –they either believed her or they didn’t. Rhuarc had a serious question though, and as he addressed her with the severity of his request Aria listened intently. [b “I respect what you stand for but the Jai could only follow one who follows Ahrak-Toh. Forgive me for asking Priestess but would you be willing to learn our ways? It would be seen as a symbol of great respect for our ways if you would be willing to learn. You wouldn't need to adopt them in your everyday life but if you understood our ways it would mean a lot to us."] Aria contemplated her answer. She was not Jai, it was not within her to be like the Jai –she was first and foremost the High Priestess a servant of all the Provinces and all the people. She held neither province nor their beliefs above any of the others. She learned of them and studied their more basic beliefs, but she did not know the complexities only someone who grew up in that culture would know. Before she could speak, however, Ayab barked his anger towards Lara.
They seemed unable to get past their own issues, but Lara seemed to take the high road; remaining quiet and leaving the stables… at least it was the high road until she struck out at Ayab’s ankles with her staff and caused him to wobble on his feet. “Let her go,” Aria suggested. “I shall speak to her later. Her attack was unnecessary, but neither were your words, neither of you have each other’s life story. Neither of you know one another –the anger is not needed or wanted at this time,” She told them. [b "Peace, Ayab."] Rhuarc barked at his companion. “I will go check on Lara,” Carrick said and with a gruff, tromped with his heavy feet out of the stable and back to the forge. “Thank you Carrick,” Aria watched him leave before she looked over to Rhuarc. “I will do my best to learn your ways, I must have you understand that I have to respect every province and their culture. I cannot hold one above the other, but it would honor me if you would teach me the ways,” Aria informed him with a subtle bow of her head.
It took Aria a moment to realize it was only herself, Rhuarc and Ayab still in the stables, as Saraya had slipped away to self-comfort. Aria felt the mourning in Saraya’s heart, and her own cried out for her loss. All of them had lost a great deal because of Malik. By the Holy Wings of Azeroth, she would get them vengeance. Rhuarch’s last words caught Aria’s attention from the feeling of disquiet she was feeling from Saraya. He spoke of the last guardian, and how time was of the essence. No truer words had been spoken. Time [i was] of the essence and they had very little of it. “You are right, my friend. We must begin our preparations to leave… and I cannot stay here. Every day I am here, is a day Malik could discover me and kill me where I stand. I will need your help gathering supplies. I cannot leave this stable. It will raise no suspicion if two Jai’s are in the city purchasing food and water and traveling gear. No one will question you, and Carrick will tell you where to go where you will not be discriminated. He had connections in this city with people of the old ways of Azeroth. Heed his advice, and be safe. I trust your judgement to ensure we will have all the supplies we will need when we leave. We will be a small troupe… and I need a disguise or I will have to be smuggled out, and I’d rather not go the way I came,” she said remembered the sludge and the filth she had to swim through just to get into the city.
Aria bid Rhuarc and Ayab luck on their mission to gather supplies and a wagon, she gave them all the coin she had and waited until they were gone before she turned around to confront Saraya. She watched the young woman for a moment and finally smiled. “For someone so young you have lost a great deal. Only three and twenty years… losing everything. Lara is younger still and will need us both to show her the way. I was always envious of women like you,” Aria blushed slightly and bowed her head. Saraya was the closest to her age, and experienced enough to understand Aria, who at nearly 30 was considered an old maid. “Women who could marry and have children. Lead a normal life, fall in love… you’re aware that as High Priestess I cannot have such things. I am wife, mother, daughter & sister to all of Azera. I belong to the people. I belong to you, and Lara, and Rhuarc… and the final guardian when we find him. Saraya, I know you have suffered loss, you have been holding it in. It’s unhealthy, let it go, and let it out. None will judge you for the pain of your loss,” and with those words Aria pulled Saraya into her arms and held her tightly, allowing the woman to finally release all her pain and her tears.
Carrick entered his forge, Balden working the fires trying to prove his mettle. The boy was good, well trained, and had a wealth of potential. He was a faithful and loyal young man –Carrick would find a way to help the lad and find him a home, but at the current moment he wanted to check on the second youngest of the group: Lara. She was a tiny little thing, but boy was she spunky, brash and foolishly brave. It took all he had to stifle his grin and chuckle when she swatted her staff at Ayab. Yes, foolishly brave indeed. Ayab was at least three times her size and weight. She caught him looking at her, and he gave a wan smile to her and to Balden who slowed his work and looked at him curiously. “Keep working that shoe, I will check your work soon enough, boy,” he told the lad and made his way over to Lara and sat down beside her. For a moment he was quiet and looked down at her hands clasped tightly around her staff. “You know... it is not wise to anger a Jai like that. It’s foolish… but I found it very brave of you.” He offered up a grin when she finally looked at him. “I don’t know your story, where you come from, how you got here, the things you’ve seen… but I know you’ve got pride. You’re in the Central City now, and soon you will be traveling with the equivalent of Holy Royalty. I intend to travel with you. You must learn tact, when to attack, when not to, when to speak and how to say it… Diplomacy. You are the youngest, so far of her guards, she will want to protect you most. Do not make the job more difficult by starting fights with bigger men,” he could see the anger rising in her from his inherently sexist comment, but he chuckled it off and raised a placating hand. “Once you’ve proven at least to me, that you can take down a man my size or larger –like the Jai… then I’ll know you are capable of holding your own, until then, I will guard your back just as I will guard the Priestess.” “What about me?” Balden asked from his place. “You boy, you’re my new steward. I will train you to be a true Guard for the Priestess... Both of you,” He said looking to them both. “I am getting old, and a man my age has limited time left in this world.” He gave Lara a pointed look. “We must learn to work together and past our differences. Do not think I will not speak with Ayab on the same things. He too will have to learn to look past his prejudice.” “Because she’s Fenylk,” Balden said, more of a statement than a question. “Yes,” Carrick said with a heavy sigh. “Malik’s reign has caused distrust among the people of the Four Provinces. Where once we all lived in harmony, we now hold caution with those different from us. The Volshiv have gone into hiding, the Fenlyk bowed to the tyrant, the Caledon rebel in small numbers but for the most part live in fear and stay far to the north, and the Jai wage war against Malik to this very day. There was once a time the Central City was a place of commerce and trade, of community and a symbol of unity among the four provinces. It belonged to no man and was governed by all, but was overseen by the High Priestess, the voice of Azeroth himself. When Malik came, he brought with him war, greed, sin, discord and distrust. The more you give into prejudice and anger… the more you allow Malik to win,” He warned, his tone grave.
It was then the two Jai entered the forge looking for Carrick with word of the Priestess’ orders. Find Supplies. Carrick knew of several places they could go and find all they would need for little to no coin. Those faithful would give freely for the Priestess. All Carrick would have to do would be to send them with his crest as a former member of the Holy Guard. He told them where to go, who to speak to, and gave them the crest he carried with him always. “Keep this hidden, speak only to those I have listed,” he warned them both. “Tell them I sent you on behalf of our Lady, and then show them the medallion. They will help you. I have a wagon and I have horses, we can use them for transport. Best of luck my friends,” He watched them go on their way, his eyes firmly on Ayab watching to see that he left without qualm, while keeping Lara behind him where she could not instigate his prejudice further.
Rhuarc's patience was being tested by his longtime friend and travelling companion, clearly the issue between Ayab and the Wetlander Guardian Lara would not go away quickly, and nor should it in his view. [i Ahrak-Toh] was not some simple world view, it was at the heart of who the Jai were as a people. The Fenlyk had left others to fight and die while they cowered away. It was not honourable and it would take a great deal of time and effort for the Province to make up for their failings. Travelling with Lara would be difficult for Rhuarc and Ayab but it was necessary and perhaps it would be the beginning of the mending of that particular relationship. As Lara left the stable her staff whipped out and clipped Ayab on the heels, causing him to stumble. Rhuarc was in two minds, he admired the fight in the Fenlyk woman but her petty acts and childish behaviour did nothing to improve her standing in the Jai's view. She was still young by the standards of the other Provinces but not so with the Jai, there you grew up quick or you died, either by Malik's hand or by the harsh landscape. When Aria addressed his question he was pleasantly surprised by the answer he received, he had expected her to refuse claiming that she could not possibly learn the ways of any Province. While her answer did involve some degree of impartibility the end result was that the High Priestess would seek to learn and understand the ways of [i Ahrak-Toh]. [b "I thank you Priestess, you do more than you know. The other Provinces look down on us for being savages when they just don't understand."] Rhuarc returned the small bow of his head. [b "Having you understand the Jai will help the others to understand us in time. You honour us and perhaps help balance the world once more. You speak of our prejudice against the Fenlyk but we from the Wastelands live with far worse everyday from every Province. We are looked down upon and sneered at by almost everyone who is not Jai often openly to our faces and those who hide their sneers do so out of fear. I say this so you understand that we know more of prejudice than many others."]
[b "We shall see it done Priestess. Come Ayab."] Rhuarc took the coin gratefully from Aria before both Jai left the stable to find Carrick briefly before they could start gathering supplies properly. Carrick, Lara and the halfbreed Balden were in the smithy proper, with the boy working the forge. Rhuarc muttered a few quiet words to Ayab in their native tongue before entering to speak with Carrick, Ayab stood a few paces behind the larger Jai and stared at Lara with disdain, however, he did appear to be holding his tongue for now. Rhuarc told Carrick of his mission and recieved a list of names, some more coin and a medallion that would supposedly help them get all they would need to leave the Central City and start their journey. Rhuarc's view was naturally drawn to the flames of the forge and by extension the young boy working there. [b "How old are you boy?"] Rhuarc had managed to catch a few words of the conversation before he had entered the smithy and heard that Balden was to be trained in combat. As the boy answered his question, a wry smile broke upon the Jai's lips. The boy was fourteen and wasn't trained in combat? The notion seemed absurd to him. When a Jai child reached the age of ten they were sent off on a pilgrimage to the deep south of the Wastelands to an ancient temple to Jaihash and Ouk'nu in an act of devotion. The child had to hunt their food, find water and survive every peril that the Wastelands could throw at them in order to be proved worthy. To survive the journey honoured Jaihash and proved your strength, to be presented with a single knife of a foot of hardened, sharpened, tempered steel upon their return. Death during the journey was not seen as failure. It tok bravery and courage to attempt the journey and regardless the sacrifice was seen as an honour to Jaihash. This ancient practice was one of the reasons that the other Provinces looked at Jai as savage, they misunderstood the custom and saw it only as the ritualistic sacrifice of children. In light of this to hear that a man over the age of pilgrimage did not know how to fight or kill was slightly jarring. [b "Thank you for your aid Carrick, your devotion to the Priestess is most honourable. Forgive me but I overheard your intent to teach the young one to be your steward, to turn him into a true Holy Guard for the Priestess. If you wished I could help train the boy in the art of war. It is of course your decision, him being in your charge, I will respect your decision."]
Having gotten what he needed from the old blacksmith the Jai went into the crowded streets of the Central City to procure all that they would need for the journey ahead. True to the blacksmith's words most people that were on the list that Carrick had given them were happy to provide what was asked for once the medallion was shown, for free or only a few copper pieces. The hope that the High Priestess would help them was enough for most. [+red "I tell you Rhuarc, that Wetlander is as prickly as a Pypas plant. It was completely unreasonable for her to strike me, she was lucky I didn't retaliate..."] Ayab had been ranting about Lara and her lack of honour since they had left the smithy. It was amusing in a way, seeing Ayab so riled up was always entertaining but he had to be careful, she was still a Guardian after all, despite her Fenlyk nature she did still deserve a modicum of respect. [b "Your reactions were no better, yes her actions were unwarranted but she doesn't understand that what she says and does have concequences."] [+red "Well she should! When I was her age I had already been fighting Shade-stealer for three years. She is old enough to know better."] [b "Old enough by our standards. She is not Jai, they grow old slowly in the Wetlands."] The argument had been like that for a while, Ayab ranting and Rhuarc wearily defending the girl, but in truth Rhuarc agreed more with Ayab than his own words. She was old enough to know better, she might be barely an adult by Fenlyk standards but had any Jai her age acted in that manner they would have brought great shame to their name. You grew up quickly in the Wastelands or you did not grow up at all. [b "Silence your tongue, this shop looks promising."] The Jai had acquired all that they needed for the journey with the exception of a way to disguise Aria out of the city. This particular market stall looked to hold paints, dyes and other accessories for women. Unfortunately these dyes, powders and paints were not cheap and even with the medallion they would cost coin but if it was in order to save the Priestess any amount of coin would be worth it. Rhuarc had spent much of his life around trading caravans, he knew how to haggle and what was a fair price, the medallion gave them access to such materials but even friends to the Priestess' cause could not give such expensive materials away for free. Paints and dyes to change Aria's hair colour, powders to change complexion, a few trinkets thrown in for free to help in the deception still cost them several gold and silver pieces, far more than either Rhuarc or Ayab wished to pay but this was a necessity. With everything they needed in tow the two men walked through the city a few times, making sure that they weren't being followed and despite some looks from guards it appeared that they were in the clear. Returning to the stable with copious amounts of supplies, the Jai wasted no time in giving Aria her powders, dyes and paints so she could disguise herself and getting Carrick and Balden so the three men and the boy could load the wagon and make a quick getaway. Rhuarc idly wondered what the last Guardian would be like, soft and quiet like Saraya? Young and petulant like Lara? Perhaps battle worn and hardy like himself, Azeroth knew they could do with more soldiers, soon enough they would find out.
Saraya, after watching the young child depart, and Carrick follow, she slowly sat to the fire. The priestess then spoke to Rhuarc and Ayab of finding supplies so to depart accordingly to find the last guardian. All the while, all she could feel was a overwhelming feeling of fear. In her land, it was never acceptable to be weak.
Once the two comrades left the stable, there was a silence that grew quite contagious. Aria turned to her, and Saraya bowed quickly before adverting her eyes. Then... The Priestess spoke.
[I "For someone so young you have lost a great deal. Only three and twenty years… losing everything."] She cringed some, feeling a heavy burden in her words [i "Lara is younger still and will need us both to show her the way. I was always envious of women like you,”] As Aria blushed slightly and bowed her head to her, Saraya bowed lower, but kept her eyes adverted, so to keep from disrespecting her authority. Saraya was shocked that she admitted that she was envious of her, and didn't understand why. Why would someone as profound like her be envious of a stubborn Martyr that defied rule and order just to lose what she fought so passionately for? [I “Women who could marry and have children. Lead a normal life, fall in love… you’re aware that as High Priestess I cannot have such things. I am wife, mother, daughter & sister to all of Azera. I belong to the people. I belong to you, and Lara, and Rhuarc… and the final guardian when we find him."]
Saraya finally betrayed her order and looked to the Priestess. She felt a shocking sense of pity for her, but still couldn't bring herself to speak. [I " Saraya, I know you have suffered loss, you have been holding it in. It’s unhealthy, let it go, and let it out. None will judge you for the pain of your loss,” ]
Saraya 's lips parted slightly, readying herself to speak, when Aria tugged her into a hug... She gasped at this. A hug, from the High Priestess... As she did, Saraya heard the spirit whisper to her to hug her back... but Saraya was too shocked and terrified to do so.She slowly let her hands hug the fabric lightly, and felt a tingling sensation in her heart... Tears fell, but nothing came out but a shakey exhale. As tears fell onto her garments, she felt the power of the Priestess through her, and she froze. She heard her voice speak, but it wasn't her speaking. It was soft like a pleasent thought, and somewhat seductive to the drunken ear.
[I "Do... Do not cry for my loss, Priestess... I mourn my loss because it was my stubbornness that killed them."]
It was not her voice, but the voice that came out was soft, warm, and echoed. She shocked herself that her English had much improved, and by a simple touch of the Priestess.
[I "I seek revenge for my family... But, the fault was mine for not heeding warning and hiding. I feared losing him to the hands of Malik's troupes. I would not be able to live without at least attempting to save all that I fought so hard to claim."]
Her voice spoke fluently as she would in her mother tongue. She released her priestess and sought refuge in her own arms.
[I " i was once chosen to live the life of chastity because of the beauty I possessed. But, I chose to fight. Against many attacks of Malik's troupes, I fought side by side with men, defying law that women we're feeble creatures, and named a martyr for my bravery. Though, I've claimed that title, I still would not conform to the life of chastity. I had fallen in love with my General, and my general fell in love with me. We asked for marriage. It was accepted"]
She smiled to the memory.
[I "the day of the attack..."] her lips tighted. [I "... I feared letting him fight alone. I saved him, but... a cannon ball hit my steed, knocked me off. I saved my child, but Malik's troupes found me... hurt me... then to have Felliope die in my arms as I lost our son..."] tears welled up in her eyes as she relived her tragedy.
[I "it was my fault... I seek revenge for my family. To seek redemption for my stubbornness. The spirit speaks to me to say that it was not my fault. It is what keeps me going. If I find Malik, I will take my revenge, and live on as the spirit's vessel. If what he says is true, i may be able to love an guardian... I know not who... but, time will reveal"]
She sighed and looked to the priestess. [I "in these heartbreaking days of bloodshed and loss, since I have became a vessel for my protector, I have sometimes wished i had chosen the life of chastity... maybe I would not have this heaviness in my heart..."] Saraya nodded. [I but, the spirit chose me because of my pureness of heart and love I carried. So, I do not regret being who I am... Discon-ga]
Discon-ga... meaning 'Decision of Pure Heart'. Saraya then sighed as she curled up. Now, she was truly afraid. Against her better judgment, she revealed her weakness to the priestess. She only hoped that she could still be useful.. Suddenly, it felt as though two pairs of arms wrapped around her, both were familiar. One felt as warm and comforting as the day she had awakened as the guardian, the other... a soft, hypnotic and oh, too familiar strength in it's grip, but she fit into it just right.... a memory of laying in Felliope's arms came to mind. The both of them were trying to ease her from her fears.
She shut her eyes to the warmth and tears fell. [I Sron gima, Sron] I love you both... I love you
Carrick had stopped after entering the forge, and there was some sound of ruffling followed by Carrick telling Balden to get back to work. Work, three years of constant work to survive in all sorts of situations. Three years of prowling and trying to blend in as to not to be noticed by anyone else. Three years of carrying a feeling and thoughts which should have never had been formed in the first place. She had learned much in three years but other things had gone into disuse, like fishing.
Before going further with anything Carrick had sat down to her left which was followed by silence. Did he want something, or did he just sit down here for no reason?
He did want something, he was lecturing her. For her it was irritating to hear about all her faults but she knew it was necessary. This group had been formed by fate and in order for it to work they had to work together. It would be hard to gain the trust of the Jai, especially after the barn incident. She didn't know how to use this diplomacy effectively, walking around three years without being able to have debates with other people had had a serious impact on her debate skills. And when she had to use those skills in front of the Jai, they were threadbare.
Not starting fights with bigger men, really sexist and she felt angered at that. But on the other hand she didn't have much fighting experience fighting as the Jai had, for them it was a constant fight against something. She'd probably not stand a chance if she fought either one of the Jai right now. SHe did hear the small talk between Balden and Carrick and it somewhat lifted her spirits, to be more precise her feelings. The spirit inside of her hadn't been helpful so far.
She wanted to tear down the barriers of prejudice but if the other party didn't want to tear it down then it would never be teared down. Unfortuantely that would have to happen in a deadly situation, she would never be able to talk her way out of it with the Jai. They were not talkers, they were fighters. All this was bad, no unity and the group would fall apart.
Then the Jai entered the forge and had a talk with Carrick about getting supplies. She didn't turn around, better for the Jai not to notice her doing something that might add even more critizism. She did have an idea of following them but she decided not to, the Jai already thought bad of her and if they did catch her snooping around, they wouldn't think better of her.
After they had left Lara closed her eyes and felt for water in the room, which was one huge bucket of water that was used for dipping hot metal in to cool it off so it would solidify. The water wasn't smooth but was constantly vibrating and flowing somewhere, kind of like what she had been doing for the past three years. Closing her mind off to the outside world she concentrated on making the water still, the vibrations would not move it nor the air flow on the surface. It was hard and it didn't seem to be working. That was when the spirit finally said something, the voice felt like it was out of the depths. It would take practice to master this power but she was on the right way. The most Lara suceeded in doing was in calming the water down a bit.
And that was when the Jai had come back with a load of supplies. Carrick and Balden had left to help with getting the supplies onto the wagon. Lara was left alone in the forge, sitting some distance away from a hot fire. An idea suddenly came to her, an idea which the Fenlyck spirit liked not at all.
She stood up and walked over to the wagon to see the four men loading the wagon, the idea she had was strenghtened in carrying it out.m The spirit attempting to convince her not to do it but she was already moving.
Walking up to the cart she laid her staff on the cart and then walked to the Jai which was called Ayab. Unhooding herself, [+purple "Hit me."]
So Rhuarc wished to help train Balden... Carrick agreed to think about it, in other words, he was going to ask if Balden wished to learn from them both. His answer had been one a true warrior would say: “I can never learn too much. I can only grow from what the Jai and you can teach me.” Such wise words for a boy so small, and he was small… they’d have to start force feeding him protein rich foods to get some muscle and weight on him. Carrick decided then, that he would cook up a large feast for them all. A Final meal of sorts, before they took off to the countryside and began their trek. Where they would be going, Carrick had no idea. He wondered if the Priestess had an idea. Not willing to bother her with questions and knowing she was with Saraya, he decided to enlist the help of Balden with supper by sending the boy with some coin to purchase hearty meats.
Meanwhile Aria held firmly to Saraya as she wept gently. She did her best to give the guardian a sense of comfort, to help ease the distress, but an unexpected symptom from her touch emerged and it was revealed with Saraya spoke again. Her Common Tongue was much improved. Fluent even. She claimed her own stubbornness killed her loved ones. Curious, Aria held Saraya out at arm’s length and looked her over. “I do not understand, explain it to me,” Aria pleaded, and so Saraya spoke of her life, her quest for revenge, and her loss. [i "it was my fault... I seek revenge for my family. To seek redemption for my stubbornness. The spirit speaks to me to say that it was not my fault. It is what keeps me going. If I find Malik, I will take my revenge, and live on as the spirit's vessel. If what he says is true, i may be able to love an guardian... I know not who... but, time will reveal"] Love another guardian? Aria’s brows furrowed. The Word Guardian could be used loosely. A Guardian Host like herself, or a guardian there to protect them all… words were often coy and deceiving. She wondered how her Spirit would know such things, but she didn’t ask questions on it. Instead, she let Saraya finish her peace. She was not like most Caledon’s that Aria had met. They were generally rough –even the women. They were battle hungry clansmen who lived in revelry and told stories of the stars and the earth. Saraya was different… softer, gentler… but just as strong willed.
“Discon-ga...” Aria whispered with her, and for a quiet moment watched her move to self-comfort herself. This was all well and good, but time was of the essence and as much as Aria would have liked to mourn for her own losses, she could not, and Saraya could not cling to the past. “Now it is time to move on,” She said firmly but gently. “Learn from your past, but do not cling to it, or you will lose sight of what is ahead of you.” Aria sighed then and crossed her own arms looking about pensively. “You mentioned Caledon speaking with you, that you might find love with another guardian. I don’t suppose he spoke what type of love, or if he meant a Guardian host? They tend to refer to one another by name… how curious….” Her brow furrowed further and she gave Saraya a very pointed look. “If it is Romance you seek, I suggest setting it behind you for now, you still mourn for your loss and we have too many large fish to fry before all is said and done, and right now… we all need each other’s love and understanding,” Aria reached out with a smile, gifting Saraya a reassuring squeeze to her shoulder and turned, quietly slipping outside of the stable to give Saraya privacy.
Aria entered the forge just as Rhuarc and Ayab had returned with a mass of supplies. Carrick was busy with Rhuarc loading all the goods onto the covered wagon they would be using. They would be leaving in the morning, and Aria intended for them to start their way towards Volshi. The last guardian they needed to find was Volshiv, where better to start looking than in Volshi? She walked over to the wagon to watch the men and pulled her cloak around her shoulders, and kept her hood up. She couldn’t be too cautious here in the city. “You seem to have thought of everything Rhuarc,” Aria said watching as Carrick raised a large sack of grain up and into the back corner of the wagon. There was plenty of food, medical supplies, cooking utensils, blankets… some of it Carrick had brought out from his house to load onto the wagon, including a large locked trunk filled with weapons and armor. “Thank you for going out and collecting all of our supplies,” She didn’t ask for any leftover coin, and instead opted to let Rhuarc keep the remaining coin. They all fell silent however as Lara came over to the four of them. Carrick and Rhuarc stood closest to the wagon. Ayab tossing supplies to Rhuarc who then tossed them up to Carrick who loaded the wagon meticulously. “Lara?” Aria questioned with a bit of nervousness. The girl was determined and marched straight over to Ayab removing her hood. [i “Hit me,”] she commanded. Aria quirked a brow with an amused grin. “Lara-“ Carrick tried, but Aria help up a hand to silence him. “Peace, Carrick. She only wishes to display her own strength to the Jai.” Carrick glared, unhappy with it, but settled none the less and crossed his arms watching them both closely. “Go ahead Ayab, greet her and make amends. We cannot be successful if there is always to be bitterness betwixt you,” Aria advised.
Aria had given her blessing, and watched as Ayab struck Lara across the face, and she return the favor. With things shaky but on the mend, she was able to focus on other things. “Priestess, I must implore you to go inside, none will see you there, you run the risk of being seen here in the forge. Go where it is safe,” Carrick said, acting the role of Guard as he had nearly 20 years ago. Aria frowned –not delighting in having to hide. This was her home… the Central City had been her home as far back as she could remember, for years she had missed running through the halls of the Sanctum, playing with other city children, or just delighting in the sounds of midday prayers and temple bells. She missed the city, but Carrick was right, she needed to hide. Balden came running into the forge then, looking winded and hugging a bundle of wrapped meats in his arms. “Balden, boy… what is it?” Carrick asked. Aria sensed fear and dread in him. “You’ve seen something haven’t you?” Aria asked. Balden nodded his head, rushing towards her and stuffing the meats under one arm and all but pushing Aria towards the main house. “You have to hide! You can’t be seen. He’s returned. Can’t let him find you again…” Aria frowned, and even Carrick jumped down from the wagon to calm Balden. “Who’s here boy?” “The Mage! The one who attacked our village and the Clans north of us in Caledon… all looking for Aria. He’s returned to the city. I saw him-“ “Did he see you?” Carrick demanded. “No… I don’t think so, but we need to hide Aria just in case!” Carrick was forced to agree, and quickly grabbed Aria by the arm and steered her towards the house. “Lara, come. Rhuarc find Saraya and bring her inside. I can explain your presence but not the women’s. Them I must hide, Ayab, please take them down to the cellar. Inside my home is the kitchen table, under that rug is the secret door. Lift that up, drop them in there, I must keep watch at the front of my forge. Balden, drop that food off on the counter and get back to work on that shoe. Look busy, boy!” He barked. Aria had grabbed Lara in the midst of Carrick barking orders and hurried over towards Ayab and the house. They found the trap door leading down to the cellar and as soon as Rhuarc brought Saraya to the cellar the door was closed, the rug replaced and the table reset, and all just in time before the forge door slammed open.
There were eight of them –armed guards and the one Mage. Balden and Carrick were quick at work tending to their own things. Balden hammering away at a horse shoe while Carrick continued to heat up the iron of what would be a sword. “Wasn’t expecting the King’s men in my forge this evening,” Carrick said smoothly. “We weren’t expecting to visit… but I just came from the Caledon and Fenlyk Border… had a nice chat with Father Rigby… you remember him… don’t you?” The Mage sneered showing off his pointed yellow and rotted teeth. Balden stopped his work and glanced around at the guards who moved about the forge like a group of children, unable to keep their grubby hands off of anything. “How is it possible you spoke with Father Rigby… I thought he died in the fires your king set to the Temple…” The Mage never stopped his sadistic grin. “Yes well… it seems he survived. Ran away like the coward he is… or rather… was. You see, King Malik doesn’t care much for traitors, he likes to see that they are disposed of…” The Mage’s voice trailed off as he caught Balden staring in horror, gripping his hammer tightly. “Who’s the boy?” He asked with a venomous hiss. “Hired help, also brought on two Jai’s that entered the city yesterday. I thinking of traveling North to Caledon in the morning. Thought it wouldn’t hurt to hire an extra forge hand and some muscle for protection on the road….” “Oh? What takes you to Caledon?” “Trade obviously,” Carrick glared, caring less of the Mage’s tactics. Trying to get a rise out of him. “They pay good money for the swords and shields I make…” The Mage glared. “So you admit to supplying the enemy with weapons-“ “No, I admit to being a man of trade. I don’t care what side you’re on… as long as you pay my price…” Carrick held his hand out then and the Mage gave a huff of disgust, and with a wave of his hand a coin purse appeared in Carrick’s hand. He felt the weight of it and smirked. “A Lord of War… I can appreciate that. You deal in more than weapons… so give me your secrets…”
A Clash was heard from the house as the Mage’s men ransacked his home… this was not uncommon for Carrick, and he remained impassive by the fact the priestess and two guardians were holed up in his basement. “Don’t make too much of a mess… the Jais I hired don’t take kindly to your methods…” Carrick warned the guards in the house. They stilled their work of destruction and started back out the house reluctantly and back into the forge, one so foolish to forcefully knock Rhuarc in the shoulder while passing. “They won’t break more of your things, now tell me what you know of Father Rigby.” “He was the old man in charge of the High Priestesses education –rather like a surrogate guardian. I wasn’t a Temple Guard for long before King Malik. All I know is that when the raids hit, Father Rigby supposedly smuggled the wee Priestess out of the city –after that I don’t know what happened, where he went, what he did with the girl… none of it.” “He took her… she’s alive… and I followed a trail that led me to the King’s road and back to the city. She’s here… I can smell her in the air…. She’s close…” The Mage crooned as he made his way leisurely through the forge. “There’s word that the Guardians are awakening… haven’t heard anything about that have you? I know you’ve got… friends in low places.” The Mage stopped and looked Rhuarc over suspiciously but did little else. Knowing better than to anger a Jai. “This is the first I’m hearing it. Must have your work cut out for you... Can’t even find to catch a small woman,” Carrick smirked. Balden trembled with fear. Aria held Saraya and Lara close to her in the darkness listening to the faint voices above them and in the forge. The Mage growled with distain. “A Shame you are leaving in the morning… I had a job in mind for you.” “Oh? And what’s that?” Carrick asked, folding his massive arms across his chest and leaning against his work bench. “I was going to pay you a King’s Ransom to hunt down the bitch and bring me her head,” The Mage whipped around to face Carrick his robes fanning out around him. “Are you so certain she’s in the city? Perhaps she’s close by where she can keep an eye on it and still get news quickly?” Carrick suggested. The Mage was perplexed –he had not thought of that. “Go on your trip… and if you find her… you know what your King asks of you.” Carrick only nodded his head, but before the Mage could leave, Carrick whistled at him. “Forgetting something? Your boys left damage to my home…” Carrick held his hand out once more and the Mage sneered. “Find the Priestess and you can live like a king…” with that the door slammed shut and Balden collapsed to the floor, pale and shaky. Even Carrick slumped with his own nerves. The Gods must have been watching out, for that was the most civil meeting Carrick had ever had with the King’s Mage.
Rhuarc listened to Balden's words and he was satisfied with what he heard from the boy, he was young but had a good head on his shoulders. That would serve him well in the journey they were on. [b "I warn you, this will not be easy, it will be a long and hard trial. I will be a tough teacher, and I will expect the same commitment and effort as I would from any Jai student of the blade."] Rhuarc was bestowing on Balden a greater honour than the child would know, everyone knew the Jai were deeply protective of their culture and the secrets that they held yet here was Rhuarc willingly offering to part with the combat techniques that his people had used for as long as there had been Jai. The large Jai had come to respect Carrick in the short time that they had known each other for, he could see that the blacksmith was an honourable man, devoted to his cause and would willingly lay down his life for the Priestess. If Carrick trusted the boy then so did Rhuarc, the Jai normally had excellent instincts, they had kept him alive in the past and they had never let him down before.
The men had almost finished loading the wagon finishing up by putting a few large crates of weapons and armour in the wagon, courtesy of Carrick. Rhuarc and the Jai didn't use armour like the Caledon or the other Provinces, they fought in their own skin. It was true that not wearing armour was more dangerous, but the heavy steel that protected also slowed you down significantly. Many Jai today were alive because when they fought those in armour they could move quicker and land a killing blow before those who they were fighting knew what was happening, besides not wearing armour meant the opportunity to gain and show off scars collected in battle, there was honour in that. Strike hard and fast, like the snakes which were sacred to them. That was when Lara entered the room and Rhuarc tensed up, he had hoped that Ayab and Lara would move past their differences but it seemed like that was not going to happen just yet. Ayab stared her down as she asked him to strike her across the face, Rhuarc watched with interest as Aria told Carrick to be silent, this was for Ayab and Lara to deal with. A minute passed, and another, and another, and another and for the longest time it seemed like Ayab would disregard the High Priestess and refuse to strike her before he reluctantly lifted his left and and gave a halfhearted slap across her face. It was a weak slap by Ayab's standards, far weaker than his greeting to Rhuarc or Rhuarc's greeting to the Priestess. It was hard enough for her position as a Guardian but not an ounce of strength more, very clearly Lara did not have Ayab's respect yet. Rhuarc picked up on the intricacies of his veiled insult to the Fenlyk woman that the others might not notice, the Jai culture was still very foreign to them.
As Balden returned and informed them that a Mage was about to descend on them Rhuarc and Ayab's body language shifted in an instant, they both seemed ready to fight in an instant, their eyes alert, hands ready to draw weapons at a moment's notice. Carrick gave Ayab an instruction and the younger Jai followed it through, keeping one hand near his belt knife just in case he escorted the women into Carrick's house, under the table and into the secret room under the floor before returning just in time before the armed men entered the forge. Rhuarc stood leaning against the back wall, seemingly lazy and unconcerned at the new arrivals, in truth the way he was leaning was mostly to hide the heavy blade of black steel from the prying eyes of the Mage, he was sure the weapon would raise questions. Ayab was looking equally unconcerned, picking up the odd weapon and examining it before moving on to another, but the two Jai were listening intently at the exchange between the Mage and the blacksmith. As the Mage looked his way Rhuarc stared him in his black eyes a flutter of nervousness in his chest. The Jai had heard stories of Mages but had never encountered one personally, they were fearsome foes, in fact it was a Mage that was responsible for Elder Mandarb losing most of his left arm, it was one of the reasons that Mandarb was so resected amongst the Jai, he had managed to kill a Mage which is a task not often achieved. Rhaurc held his emotions in check as the Mage handed over what looked like a weighty coinpurse to the smith in exchange of information, the Jai wasn't sure how the encounter would end so he was analysing how best to dispatch the challenge in front of him. The soldiers would fall easily enough, they were simply men and would not be expecting the assault. His sword would be too large and unwieldy in such close quarters, better to use his knife or a few short spears quickly. The Mage would be a different challenge, and one that he didn't know what to do about, Rhuarc was sure that Ayab was also sizing up the possible adversaries.
Carrick seemed unperturbed at the ransack of the house despite the women hidden beneath and that was all that kept the two Jai in check, as the soldiers left the house one knocked into him and Rhuarc, who stood far larger than the soldier, looked down and gave a snarl at the idiot. If he could have gotten away with it he would have snapped the soldier's neck in an instant. The tense words with the mage continued for a moment before the assortment of the King's men left and all in the forge, even the Jai, exhaled a deep breath of relief. [b "That was too close. I would suggest leaving now but the abomination will surely be watching us. Leaving before morning will only raise suspicion. The Priestess must be kept safe at all costs. You did not tell us that you had dealings with the King's men, blacksmith. You ave some explaining to do."] Rhuarc was sure that the blacksmith was trustworthy but dealings with Shade-stealer's men could not be ignored, it was better to play it safe. The coin the Mage had given Carrick would serve them well on their quest, Rhuarc gave a chuckle in the irony that the money that was meant to ensure the death of the High Priestess would be used to keep her safe and bring the downfall of the False King Malik. [+red "That Mage will be troublesome, Malik and his abominations should not be underestimated. Have you had many dealings with it before?"] With the Mage taking an interest in Carrick it was becoming even more imperative for them to leave the Central City and find the last Guardian. Then the fight against Malik could truly begin.
Saraya watched as the priestess left her to reassemble herself. She sighed as she stood, swiping away the hay from her clothing, and stretched. Aria was right after all, she mustn't let it cripple her sense of urgency. There was war amiss, and if she could be of any use, she had to go back into her previous state of mind... War is just, Aim is neigh.
As she doused the fire, there was a scent that made her hair stand on edge. The enemy was in the city! She must warn the priestess!
Before she could even get to the stable door, Rhuarc had opened the door, with eyes as serious as the storm that was approaching them... She knew then that he knew as well. All she could do was bow to the knowledge and made haste to the stable, where orders of haste were given to hide.
Rhuarc guided her to a hidden latch to a cellar, and without hesitation, her instinct told her to do what was necessary. She nodded to Rhuarc in a swift thank you, and decended into the dark surroundings. Saraya backed away as the young child and the Priestess took refuge, and waited as the latch door closed and carpeting covered it from sight. After a thud of a table sounded, silence impregnated the cellar. There, they waited.
The doors to the stable swung open in a thud, and with it, a foul stench that even she grimaced to. But, what made her halt all movement and a frozen expression of shock take her face... The voice that spoke.
The voice... it was dark, laced with intrigue and malice. A terrifying and traumatizing chuckle sounded lightly, yet her ears picked it up as if he were sitting just an arm's length from her. Compared with her memory, the voice she remembered had an life- shattering effect. This Demon 's voice was the same.
The spirit somehow broke through her shock, and urged her... [center [I Hear me! Focus, love]] it was an urgent whisper, spoken as an temperamental spirit that hurried across your senses, and speak within your ear with an attention grabbing echo. Saraya sharpened her breathing, and as the spirit spoke, she felt that sense of urgency creeping up from her spine. [Center [I Saraya... You must shroud their scent... his soldiers are coming...]]
Wait... [I SHROUD] their scent? Saraya gasped, looking up as his prediction was proven true... one soldier was heading this way, to their cellar, to their temporary sanctuary. Saraya placed her hands on the ground, hoping that she could succeed on detouring the enemy. [Center [I breathe, and relax... Imagine hugging them, comforting them as the loving martyr that you are... cover them with your love...]]
Saraya began thinking... The priestess would never allow me to do so... but, even she would want a comforting hand at times. She still suffers how all chosen leaders suffer... like she for her homeland. And what about the other?
The child was young, vibrant. When she was at that age, she had grace and beauty, with will, strength and stubbornness. She hoped that she would want her help... maybe then, she could...
A thud on the stairs sounded. The enemy was closer than she thought. [I Scon-ga] she cursed. As she shed away her sword and bow and arrows aside to keep the silence, she refocused, using her emotions to wrap around them as she placed her hands on the ground once more... But, it proved to be more complex. She tried, but it wouldn't stretch.
Though, as she exhaled slowly, that strong embrace she remembered wrapped around her again. Suddenly, she felt her heart warm, and with it, his face appeared. [I now, Saraya... Use it, now] she channeled her energy without question. She shrouded them in her tender love and care in her mind, and as she completed that, she looked up. The footfalls had halted near the table. She hoped that it worked... She continued to scan the ground above them, watching the ground as it squeaked and creaked. It halted for a moment... she heard the sadistic voice speak again. It grabbed his hounds and demanded their return. They retreated as the voice spoke once more, striking conversation with Carrick a about finding the priestess. This was one of their methods, to create cross agents to infiltrate, and kidnap or else price was on their head. Saraya slowly released the ground from it's purpose, and looked up as silence finally impregnated the forge.
The table was moved, then the carpet, letting in light finally. As the hidden door opened, and fresh air took the cellar, Saraya was frozen, sitting on the ground aside her weapons. Her mind was racing, so much in fact that she had almost forgotten that the door was open. She grabbed her weapons absent-mindedly before climbing out of the cellar. Saraya knew they would speak of a plan to leave without raising suspicion, but Saraya was plotting alone. The Mage, whom they spoke of as the leader of this brigade, was going to scout left and right for The Priestess, as a way to gain control of The Guardians. She knew that the spirits were a threat, but for them to scout Centeral City would mean that Malik was growing worried of his mistake. He claimed no Spirits, therefore his worst fear was being realized.
Suddenly, her stubbornness had claimed her well-being. She felt herself shift to a warrior that she had once took pride in being. Her mind narrowed to the point of strategy. Once before meeting them, Lara had been in a sewer, vast was it. It had been a passageway that they had entered, so that was not a suitable escape.
She then thought of the wagon... She smirked as she hurried to the Priestess' side. Grabbing her hand, she felt that she could build the courage to speak, and she did.
[I The wagon... If we use the wagon, we may still strike a chance in leaving safely together...]
She looked around for barrels, and began dragging at least five to the wagon. [I Strouga yemil tregul.] She realized that she was explaining too fast. She went to the Priestess with haste, taking her hand. [i The three of us will hide in the barrels. We put fruit within them, and I shall shroud our scent so not to raise suspicion. Our weapons should be placed in the other barrels filled with trout. i will shroud them, too. Any weapon that were made for trade should be displayed as a decoy. Make sure your scent, as well as Ayab, Rhuarc and the young Apprentice are the only scents on you weapons you've made for trade. They will be searching for unknown scents, so leave it to me to shroud our scents and keep from sight.] she looked towards everyone, hoping they understood her idea. If it could work, they would be able to make haste to find the last guardian without surprise. [I do you not think it is possible?] Her accent in English still sounded seductive, but she couldn't think of it. Time was of the essence. They must think fast and smart.
And of course Carryck would be the one to voice his complaints out loud. It wasn't like she was trying to kill herself by fighting the Jai, if she did anything that would result in making or death to herself or anyone else then the priestess wouldn't allow it so the mission wouldn't fail. Talking about the priestess, she didn't think her idea was a bad one, on the other hand the priestess thought it was an acceptable idea. Se even saw the the thought process behind it.
Lara braced for the hit, but the actual hit was lacking both in strength and faith. It was like the Jai just hit her because circumstances caused him to do it but the Jai didn't have any faith because of the irritating, irradiating distrust between the two of them. She hit him back across in the same way he had slapped her. The would take awhile but she wanted to show this Jai the futility of distrust, the futility of keeping a past grudge which should just be let free and forgotten forever.
Before anything could happen Balden had run in almost breathless with a worried look on his face. This worry and fear wasn't unfounded as Balden had spotted the King's mage riding with a host of troops to this direction. It was an uncomfortable situation but Carrick had a plan, and it also seemed as if this wasn't the first time he had been 'visited' in this fashion.
The plan involved the three women being hid into a secret underground storage compartment, and the guys would be on top. Somewhat sexist but the plan did have a sound base to support it, the King's men wouldn't ask too many questions about three new males, three females would be extremely hard to explain to the nosy bastards.
No questions asked and only actions. The Jais opened up the entrance to the secret underground tunnel and the three women hurried down into the big empty room at the end of the tunnel. The entrance was closed and their were sounds of objects being placed on top of the entrance, all was dark and so far the only sound that could be heard was the faint breaths.
That was before what seemed as if a horde of horses stampeded through the house and abruptly stopped. The women who's name she hadn't learned at all started doing something but she didn't pay attention, she only closed her eyes and meditated. The guardian inhabiting her started to recoil in disgust from the foul presence up above, why did the presence seem so similar? Why did it remind both of them of someone from the past? It was someone from the past, three years from the past. The same person who had went out with intent to do harm and had killed her parents, it was him. But it wasn't the time to openly show the hatred or all this hard work would be for nothing, nothing at all.
Eventually the stampeding horses went away and all was silent until the entrance was opened back up. The rush of fresh air was refreshing but time was off the essence. Once all of them regrouped around the wagon the woman who's name she did not know started acting up, seemed there was another plan involving hiding.
It also involved barrels (those dwarves and hobbit), hiding in the barrels to get past the city defenses. It would be a pain but it was necessary, so she took the initiative. Walking up to one of the barrels on the cart Lara hid her staff in the cart, jumped unto the cart and opened up one of the empty barrels. She then jumped in, took the lid, and then sealed herself within the woody confines of the barrel.
She did feel odd though, sitting there and reflecting. She felt like the seventh wheel, not exactly not needed but not exactly needed.
With the exit of the Mage, Carrick was able to slow the beating of his nervous heart. He tossed Balden the coin purse and looked to Rhuarc as he addressed him. Yes, it was fair to say Carrick owed them some form of explanation. “I was once a guard of the Holy Sanctum. A guard of the Priestess, I was young and devoted to my little priestess. The first day I met her, she was nothing more than a tiny tyke of five years and she came through the sanctum with arms full of freshly picked wildflowers. She gifted us all with one that day, and thanked us for our continued service. I was newly appointed, and at five she called me out as a new face and welcomed me personally. Five years old… and already such an adult,” he commented with an air of nostalgia. “But when the raids hit the following year… that little girl I had grown so attached to, who I had watched over and guarded, was whisked away while we fought off the hordes of greedy power hungry men. Some of us were captured when the Sanctum fell. I was among those captured, I was spared because I was young, impressionable and I had a trade skill they could use… I have been biding my time here in this forge ever since,” he confessed. “Usually they come to me with requests for weapons, sometimes small jobs delivering packages.. but this is the first time the Mage has come to my door asking me to kill someone. He knows she’s alive… and he knows she’ll find one of us from the old days…. He’s watching me, and you’re right –they’re not to be underestimated and the Priestess must be protected at all costs. Like you, Rhuarc, she’s a guardian too… the Host of Azeroth himself.” Those final words carried severity and weight. Azeroth had always marked his priestess… but he’d never housed himself within one before… not until Aria.
Balden was the one sent to retrieve the women from under the floor, and when he lifted the trap door he gifted them a friendly smile. “It’s all clear!” He told them and helped them up one by one. Aria was the last to come out, and looked around to see the house had be lightly ransacked, and Saraya was quick at work with a plan involving wooden barrels. She suggested that the three of them hide within it, and while it might work to get them out… it wouldn’t provide a long term cover. Lara seemed to weigh the idea by climbing into a barrel as example. Aria lifted the lid back up and peeked inside where she hid. “Boo,” She teased. Carrick was quick to calm Saraya with a heavy hand to her dainty shoulder. “Peace dear Saraya. The barrels are a fine idea. They’ll make great cover for all of our gear, but I am a smith –they know what I carry –weapons, tools, armor. Everyone’s will be meshed together so none stick out, besides…” He smirked mischievously and walked towards the floor of his wagon. “You think you’re the first people I’ve smuggled out of this city?” Carrick was a man of many talents and tricks as he slid the wooden paneling of the wagon floor to display that I was a false wagon bed, and underneath was a padded enclave large enough for four people to lay down and hide under. “These soldiers are known to be real ass holes and tip over barrels of food stuffs, and other things. They care not of the work that went into it. Just that they are thorough in their search… I like your style of thinking though,” He told her with a hidden grin and they watched as a blushing Balden helped Lara out of the barrel.
“Once we are on the road we won’t need to hide,” Aria added as she reached in and touched the soft padding that lined the hidden compartment of the wagon. “No we won’t, but you will need a disguise,” Carrick said pointing a finger at her. It was then made aware to Aria that Rhuarc and Ayab had brought with them dyes and clothing to help hide her when they had gone out to gather supplies. She grinned at the haul they brought back and looked it over. The colors would not last forever, but it would be enough to tint her hair darker, which was all they needed to keep her from drawing attention with her silver white hair. It was a dead giveaway to her Volshiv Heritage.
Aria enlisted Saraya's help in applying the dyes to her hair that night, while Carrick was busy at work roasting meats and cooking them a final meal before they left. He wanted to leave at sunrise, they were all in agreement of that. The sooner they left the better. Carrick made up sleeping arrangements for his guests, go so far as to relinquish his own large bed to allow the three women to sleep in, Balden slept in a small cot, while Carrick Rhuarc and Ayab slept on their own prospective pile of furs next to the hearth in the living room, closest to the door. This way if the Mage and his goons decided to surprise them in the night they would be the first line of defense, to allow the women to flee with the Priestess.
Morning came as it always did, with the cawing of a rooster, the pinkish glimmering hues of a rising sun, and the morning fog that seemed to linger over everything. Aria was the first one up, the moment the first ray of sunshine hit her body, her eyes snapped open and she looked beside her. On either side slept Saraya and Lara, the three of them nestled like life long sisters under the blankets. Aria noted how peaceful both of them looked, and then slid out the edge of the bed just as Carrick came knocking. "Time to wake up, we need to eat and leave." He called through the door. His deep rustic voice waking the other two. Aria looked to them both -she even looked different with her charcoal grey hair and pale skin, it made her icy blue eyes that much more strange looking. Today was a big day, today was the day they would all be leaving. First things first. Carrick had to smuggle Aria out.
The plan was as follows: Rhuarc, Ayab, Balden and Carrick would ride out with the carriage hiding Aria in the hidden bed, while Saraya and Lara left on their own. They had entered the city -they could just as easily leave it as their own little group. They planned to meet up and regroup once they were outside of the city and heading East towards to Volshi Mountains in search of their final Guardian.
Rhuarc listened to Carrick talk about his time before he was a smith, a time when he served a higher purpose as the guard of the Holy Sanctum. From the look on his face he was remembering the time with a mix of shame, regret and nostalgia, it must be difficult for the blacksmith to dedicate himself to a cause, have that torn away from him and be forced into submission and to work for those that took his Priestess away. Now after all these years later find out that she was alive and that he had a purpose again, it was a lot for any man to contemplate. Rhuarc wondered what his life would have been like if Elder Mandarb had never sent him to the central city, probably a simple life of wandering the deserts with caravans and surviving from one day to the next but most likely fighting the False King. With the women rejoining them, talk soon turned to how they would leave the Central City and make their way towards the last Guardian the suggestions of barrels was raised. Rhuarc was glad that he would not require to hide in one of those things, there was absolutely no way in Azeroth that either he or Ayab would ever fit. He was far more comfortable out in the open, weapons in hand. Carrick's concern surrounding the plan were well founded and apparently it mattered not as the wagon that the group wild be travelling with had a false bottom large enough for Aria to hide in.
The rest of the night passed far too slowly for the Jai's liking, Rhuarc was unable to let himself relax, instead waiting for the Mage or some soldiers to break down the door and drag them all before Shade-stealer in chains for harbouring the High Priestess before promptly removing their heads. He was a snake waiting to strike at prey that might never come, and did not make for a particularly good guest. It was Ayab that snapped him out of his trace, a few words were exchanged in the harsh sounding guttural tongue of the Jai people and the younger Jai was able to talk some sense into his friend. In the morning they were off on a dangerous journey, enjoy the peace they had now, it might never come again. While the women worked with Aria to apply the dyes to her hair and conceal her identity while Carrick and Balden worked on the meats for dinner. As soon as the women had finished their tasks Carrick announced that the meal was ready, despite only her hair changing colour Rhuarc hardly recognised the High Priestess, he was sure it would be a suitable disguise.The two Jai were hesitant at trying the meats that Carrick had acquired and roasted, cooked in the Caledon style they were far different than anything that Rhuarc or Ayab had eaten before. In the Wastelands food was scarce in the wilds, if you were lucky you might find some hardy desert goat wandering around but more often than not you ate what you were able to hunt or what rations you had packed from your last time in a city or with a caravan. Bread and a small drab of honey was what Rhuarc had been used to for the longest time, he had had some meat marinaded in Jai spices before he left Elder Mandarb, the feast that Carrick was putting on now was wonderful compared to what he had been surviving off lately.
As the others drifted slowly off to sleep Rhuarc and Ayab decided that a watch still needed to be kept, in reality it was just an old habit from the Wastelands, a Jai who didn't have a watch kept at night was a dead Jai, in truth neither warrior expected there to be an issue but that didn't mean that they weren't prepared for it. Ayab took an uneventful first watch and after several hours of nothing interesting woke his companion who also had an uneventful night, eventually watching the pink and orange hue of the rising sun light the smithy. Rhuarc thought he heard someone stirring amongst the women but his attention was immediately captured by the old grizzled smith rousing himself from his slumber, who in turn announced tot he women that they would be leaving imminently. With the wagon already prepared the night before there wasn't much left to ready other than the High Priestess being hidden away in the false wagon bottom while Carrick, Balden Rhuarc and Ayab left the Central City first while Lara and Saraya followed later. The streets of the City were busier than Rhuarc would have expected at this early hour, most were merchants setting up stalls for the long trading day ahead, or those just entering the city after travelling all night, some guards changing shift caught Rhuarc's eye but aside from a quick glance at the two large Jai they paid the group no heed. At the city gates several alert men stood guard, surveying the few that entered and the even fewer who left. They muttered amongst themselves too softly for Rhuarc to overhear when they saw the wagon approaching. Carrick took the lead, talking to the men,while the two Jai guards stayed silent, like any paid help would, two men looked around the wagon, searching its contents thoroughly. Rhuarc had to make a conscious decision to keep his hand off the handle of his belt knife, praying to Jaihash that Aria was not discovered. After what seemed like an eternity the group were let through and they were well and truly free from the Central City, the wagon rumbled along, Carrick and Balden riding while the Jai walked alongside, for a mile or two before finding a suitable place to stop and wait for Lara and Saraya to catch up. Soon they would head east into the Mountains and with Azeroths blessing towards the final guardian.
Saraya nodded quickly to the gesture. She didn't feel the need to waste any time. With the plan being articulated by Carrick, she felt a silent call of dedication fill her spirit.
With the task of dying the priestess' hair, she thought of young Lara and herself. If the plan was for them to escape the city as a pair, they had to think smart. She, after having the priestess situated, had went right to work with her task.
Throughout the night, she had used similar methods to contouring her face as she would when she had to spy on the enemy. With a touch of dye, she aged her hair to a pleasent grey, and added age to her once flawless face with simple earth and water along with dye to add contrast. She was sure not to alarm the Jai, for she read well of their attributes. One of their strengths were that they would protect what was necessary. The Priestess was tjr mission, and, being humble and also woman, knowing that she was thought of as meek and fragile, and maybe even unlikely to be stronger physically, she saw fit for Rhuarc and the men to focus on the Priestess, for she was top priority. After all, she knew how to use her feminine wiles to her advantage.
Saraya then looked to Lara. She sighed some. She may be a bit fussy, but she'll have to change her look. But, she decided to rest her arms and thoughts of the task at hand. She looked to Rhuarc, feeling a fair sense of security just watching him observing surroundings. It reminded her so much of Felliope, when they camped and were readying themselves to move camp at dawn. He usually took watch at night, and always stayed before the lips of her sleep tent.
Her memories pleasantly faded to the sight of Rhuarc. She sighed, seeing the faint fire colors peak over the horizen. Dawn approached. She fashioned her hair into a high ponytail, fairly braided and aged before tucking the braid just right. She let her hair fall astray here and there, and checked her look. The skin was flawless, even with the age to it. Her hair, though white, shown silver grey along the fullness, and she was satisfied. She then grabbed her weapons and stuffed them in a napsack before getting her cloak. She searched around some for an old sheet to drape over her form, to cover the odd clear colored tresses she worn with pride.
After which, she had gently awakened Lara. Lara, though fussy as she expected, yawned and finally attempted to listen. Saraya tried to explain her plan, though English was not easy. She pointed to her face, and then to the dye and earth she had applied. Though Lara fussed and twisted and protested, Saraya succeeded in applying the makeup and dye, before tossing her cloths.
While Lara was changing clothes, she excused herself, trying her hardest not to break the other's attention as she had gotten to the stable. A horse, a horse... She needed horses. She looked about each horse... Until one caught her eye... A white female horse hiding in the back of the stable. She sighed as she looked into the stable to her. She was young... Beautiful with white flowing mane, and even longer tail. Her hooves were covered with hair... But, she seemed worried.
Saraya had walked into the stable, the horse snorting, for she was nervous. Saraya steadied her hand as she looked to her. [I reuletia oprsnu...] [I you needn't fear me]
She steadily touched the steed's nose, the horse, somehow understanding what she had said. She smiled as she began hugging the snout. It was as though they had instantly connected... [I veltu kipru koori] [I (ride with me... Be my steed)] she said and noticed something hiding. She saw a baby horse, only about two weeks old. She smiled. "Take... Her... With us" she whispered, the horse stomping her hoof in joy. The baby horse was just as white as her mother. She only had black fur over the hooves instead of white, which made her special. Saraya nodded to the horse, grabbing a blanket to put on her back.
As a custom of her home, she would never constrict a steed of the air it needed, so they only rode on the back with reigns and a blanket. Afterwhish, she grabbed another steed for Lara, who was young and vigilant.
Saraya hurried, looking to the horse and the horse neighed softly. Saraya nodded and hurried inside, urging Lara to make haste. The wagon and the men had already gone. She must keep to schedule, and take Lara along to the Pub to give the illusion of old mother and daughter.
The pub was silent as she had taken her fill. The bartender that greeted her when she entered, supplied her with Groot... She nodded in a thank you. She looked to Lara. "Must... Seem older with daughter... I must... Not speak" she tried to say as clearly as possible.
Once she was sure that Lara understood the plan, she waited until high noon, to finally put her plan into action.
She had gotten onto the steed, a rope wrapped delicately around the baby horse and his her weapons and Lara's staff underneath the blankets on the horse's back. They traveled, slowly yet surely to the gates, where the guards had halted them. "And what is your purpose?"
Lara played her role well, informing the guards that she was taking her dear mother to visit relatives that were staying near the city. As she explained, the other guards were inspecting the steeds, and then looked to the old lady that sat on the elegant horse. They saw a tired, elder woman under the cloak, and sighed as they looked to each other. Before they could say a word, however, bells rang of alert. Their post had been caught aflame.
With them abandoning their post, Saraya kept into action, using her strength to open the gate, and hurried the horses and Lara out safely before shutting the gates. With that, she jumped onto her steed, and "hyahh'd" the steed into a high sprint to a run.
In her mind, she celebrated temporarily of her plan. She, once they left the pub and was mere walk from the gate, had set aflame hay only yards away from the post. She used her talent of managing time to accomplish the post going up in flames before the guards noticed. With planning being completed swimmingly, she trotted once out of sight, and reunited with the others. She sighed as she demounted her steed and started wiping away the earth on her face, signing as she shed away the cloth covering her tresses. She stared at everyone and nodded, going back to her steed.Their next aim... Getting to the last Guardian... And exacting her revenge on the evil man she dared not see with her eyes.
Sitting within the confines of a wooden barrel felt very odd, as if there was a disconnection with the world outside. Everything happening outside of the barrel could be heard but the sounded came out distorted, and only the occasional flash of light hoed through the little cracks within the barrel. The sound of someone approaching the barrel, the footsteps didn't sound like the usual footsteps one heard.
Her little solitary self-confinement ended when someone opened the top of the barrel up and reopened three connection back to the world. Light flooded in, and even though the sun was setting the drastic change in light stunned er eyes for a few seconds. She did hear someone say 'boo' with a jovial
tone, and based on the voice it had to be Aria.
Standing up straight Lara leaned on the edge of the barrel to overhear the conversation going on down there. She couldn't hear everything, but sometimes one needed to watch with attention as well as listen. Carryck had walked over to the cart and then started what looked like an attempt to pull it apart, which it wasn't since he was just unveiling a secret compartment big enough to store a few people laying down. That was extremely convenient because the guards never bothered to check there, all they ever checked was everything out on top even though the more interesting objects were somehow hidden within the confines of the cart. That she knew from self-experience, even though being involved with that was slightly dangerous as the laws passed by Malik dealt harshly with smuggling.
The day tomorrow, it was indeed a big one tomorrow. Tonight the final preparations would be made and tomorrow they'd be carried through. Balden helped her get out of the barrel although why he blushed was a complete mystery to her. But then again living alone and most of the time away from civilization most things civilized were a mystery, three years away from home did much to change her. 16 years at home she had only aged and matured, but three years of being alone out traveling the kingdoms had changed her more than those 16 years.
Carryck was kind enough to give up the bed for the three women, the old age of chivalry hadn't and would probably never die out. The smell of food permeated throughout the house, part of that was tomorrow and the journey that would continue on. She had nothing to do so she watched Saraya put on makeup on Aria. Makeup wasn't something new to her for it was fairly popular with the higher classes, but honestly she never saw the use for putting it on just for fun. For purposes like these, changing ones appearance to disguise, fine but hopefully she wouldn't have to put on the stuff.
The dusk outside gave away to darkness, the stars shone beautifully on a cloudless dot and the moon was clearly visible, half white and the other left in the dark. Going to bed for a good nights sleep it took her awhile to fall asleep. Sleeping in a bed and sleeping in the wild were two different things and her back muscles were having somewhat of a negative reaction to the softness of the bed. But in the end she managed to fall asleep but not before Aria also came to lay on the bed.
Lara was always a sound sleeper, never any dreams nor moving about, although hard to wake. Not exactly a surprise when she was awakening to her entire body being lightly shaken by someone. Of course it took a while for her to completely comprehend what was going so if Lara seems fussy, it was from attempting to comprehend the outside world while being shaken awake.
Saraya explained the plan to her for the two of them, everything was alright. Except having to put the makeup on. On second glance Saraya had already put the nasty stuff on herself and she appeared much older than last night. Even though she was in disagreement about the makeup, Lara went along with it. It felt sticky and unnatural on her face, and the hair. She eventually just stopped thinking and let Saraya do her job in peace. She didn't feel any difference, except the negative reaction to the makeup, but the sight was a difference. Looking into a mirror she saw herself, but not exactly herself. It was a younger girl with dark brown hair, threw her off completely.
Saraya also wanted her to change but Lara simply took of the top most layer and replaced it with a good cloak that fully covered everything underneath it.
Even though she was ready Saraya had rushed in and was urging her to hurry up. The others had went to complete their part of the plan and it was time to do their part.
They first headed to the pub where Saraya drank something, nothing too interesting. Lara sat patiently and looked around, occasionally giving warming glances to Saraya as part of this masquerade. Even Saraya had words on this matter although her English was still somewhat rough, but it would improve over time.
When it was high noon they left the pub and rode off to the exit gates. On the horses, three of them, they slowly traveled towards the gates where guards stopped them. To the question about destination purposes Lara answered about visiting relatives who were near the city. The whole time the guards were examining this petit caravan. Everything was calm...
Before the fire started. The guards ran off followed by Saraya leaping off the horse and opening the gates, letting the rest through, slamming the gates back shut, and then with a 'hyahh'd' all of them galloped off to the rendezvous point.
They eventually arrived at the rendezvous point where the rest had already come. The ride had been fun and the horse she had ridden was an excellent horse. Dismounting, she walked over to the horse that had her staff and took that out. Having her black shawl with a hood on her horse, Lara took off the cloak and put her old black wear on top.
Then she mounted the horse again, [+purple "I'll be back soon"], and then galloped off into the forest.
Aria was becoming familiar with the feeling of fear. She was fearful at a constant since the attack of the cottage and the death of her guardian. She’d almost hesitated to climb into the hidden floor of the wagon when they prepared to leave, and of all people it was Rhuarc who managed to convince her to lay in the dark cramp space so they could smuggle her out. She knew she had to go, but she was fearful of if they were caught. Despite Carrick’s assurance that they would not be discovered, nor Ayab or Rhuarc’s promises to protect her, or Balden promising she had nothing to fear, Aria still felt it within the marrow of her bones. This was a dangerous gamble. She bid Saraya and Lara a sweet goodbye with hugs and promises that they must return to her whole and safe. Saraya had assured her there was nothing to worry about, while Lara remained her quiet aloof self. She bid them good luck and allowed Carrick to tuck her safely in what Aria could only describe as a coffin.
The cramp dark space was still an improvement from slumming through sewage and waste, but it cloyed stronger at her fear. It was the feeling of being trapped in a dark enclosed space –one she could not get out of without Carrick releasing the hidden spring. She was in a sense trapped and despite how uncomfortable it was, she couldn’t move or fear making a sound. It was a rocky ride, she felt every jostle of the city streets as the wagon was pulled through the city and towards the gates. They were stopped just as Carrick said they would, and with a hand over her mouth to silence her frightened whimpers, and her breathing she listened as the guards searched the barrels and trunks of goods for sale. They didn’t question Carrick more than they would any other. It was a simple standard of procedure. “Where are you headed, Smith?” “North towards the Boarder Clans for market.” “Who are they?” The guards demanded of the two Jai. “Extra muscle should I cross unsavory folk along the way. Bandits and the like.” That had been the extent of their questioning, and then they’d jumped into the back of the wagon shifting through things. Carrick had been right about the barrels. Bad ideas. She heard the clatter, flinching as they dumped one of the barrels onto the wagon floor and kicked it about. “Nothing back here. Let him pass,” and that had been it. They were allowed to start on their way out of town, but Aria was not freed from her small coffin until they reached the rendezvous point.
It took them three hours to reach the rendezvous point, three hours trapped in a rattling coffin that left her dizzy with the beginnings of a migraine. The trick floor opened up with a sudden swing after they’d stopped. The light from above was blinding, but what greeted her was a wonderful view. Carrick stood with Rhuarc, Balden keeping watch and mimicking the stoic Ayab. They each offered her a hand and helped her to sit up and Aria looked around to the bright sunshine and lovely hilly landscape of the country. Currently the usually busy road was clear of other travelers. “Rhuarch, Carrick…” Aria breathed happy to be free of the confines of the smuggler’s hidden compartment. “Oh I’m so glad to see your faces. Have Lara and Saraya joined us yet?” “Not yet,” Carrick informed her and together they helped her down from the wagon. She looked about at their surroundings. They had headed north as they instructed the City Guards, but they were still a few miles from the first major crossroads. They needed to head east towards Volshiv. The trip alone to reach the boarder would take them at least three months by foot. Thankfully they were outfitted with horses, and they would make it in half the time… six to eight weeks. The trip would not be easy, one full of bandits and creatures. Not many people traveled East. It was a difficult terrain, and full of mysterious dangers and creatures.
Aria was able to breathe better when Lara and Saraya finally joined them an hour later. They came galloping like hell beasts towards them, reigning in their horses to a stop as soon as they reached the wagon. “Saraya, Lara! You were successful in your escape!” Aria exclaimed happily, hurrying down from the wagon where she sat with Balden and rushed to greet them. Lara, seemed to have other things on her mind as she collected her gear from the group and mounted her horse once again. “Lara?” she questioned, but Lara did not explain, simply taking off into the wilds of the forest. “Lara!” She shouted after. How impertinent! To just take off with no explanation. It was rude and certainly unfair to them to have to wait on her. She gave Saraya a curious expression, but Saraya did not seem to know of Lara’s plans or where she was going. Carrick grumbled with a matching scowl to the two Jai and turned irritated to the other horses. “That child will get herself killed,” he growled. “Where did she go?” Balden questioned. Aria frowned watching the direction she vanished to. “We will not know until she comes back-“ “If she can make it back. And IF she can find us,” Carrick growled. “We cannot stay here and wait for her.” “And we cannot allow harm to befall her. She is just as important as all the others in the effort to take down Malik,” Aria challenged back. “Balden,” She turned to him. “We are going to continue east. Hurry follow after Lara and travel with her, get her back to us. We will meet you hopefully on the Eastern Pass. Be safe,” Balden was quick to notch his belt where a sword and dagger hung at his hip. Carrick had given it to him earlier for protection, now it seemed he would have use for it. He took to a horse of his own and galloped off after Lara. “Foolish girl,” Carrick grumbled. “I should have gone after her,” “No, Carrick. You are too important. We need you to help us travel these dangerous roads and show us the way to Volshiv. Balden is a brave young man, he will see to it that Lara finds her way back to us,” Aria stated with the firm command and poise of a true leader. Carrick was hesitant, but he relented and with a fist to his heart bowed to her. “Of course m’lady.” Aria looked out at the Eastern road, and while they could not see the mountains of Volshiv yet, she could see the hilly terrain they would soon be traversing. Her gaze was determined, and frightened. “Let’s continue on,” She said and moved to jump into the back of the wagon where she would ride under the cover of the canvas that protected the wagons contents. As the carriage took off, trundling down the path, Aria looked back out among the forest and with concern, prayed Lara and Balden made it back to them. Meanwhile she could hear Carrick grumbling under his breath about selfishness, the impertinence of youth and entitlement, and how he didn’t understand her reasoning for just taking off without an explanation to her group. They were supposed to have each other’s backs, but how could that be if one was so brash as to leave them and take off? Aria was remiss to say she agreed with most of what Carrick had to say, but she made no comment.
Balden rushed into the forest until he came upon Lara, and called for her. He finally caught up to her and rode his horse alongside hers. “Lara!” He gasped, catching his breath from the rush of his ride. “Why did you take off? What could be so important you left all of us behind? The Priestess is frightened for you,” He chided, trying to understand her reasoning. “I was told to ride with you, they would and could not wait for you to return. We will have to try and find them along the Eastern Route… why are we out here?” He asked looking up to the canopy of trees and then to her curiously.
Balden and Carrick rode in the wagon while the two Jai walked by its side, eyes constantly scanning the surroundings for any danger as Aria was hidden in the bottom of the wagon, unable to defend herself. She was the High Priestess and needed to be protected at all costs. Thankfully no such danger came and once the small band had travelled a safe space outside prying eyes, they finally let Aria out of her confines and out into the fresh morning air. [b "I am also gladdened to see you Priestess."] They would never be successful in their mission without the High Priestess, all that needed to be done now was wait for Sarella and Lara to join them, that would take some time yet. Rhuarc drew the obsidian black sword on his black and started working the sword forms that had been taught in the Wastelands for centuries. For a large man Rhuarc managed a graceful elegance in these forms, moving neither particularly quickly nor particularly slowly, merely as quickly as was required. This was simply one way for Rhuarc to pass some of the time waiting while doing something useful, it allowed him to keep his skills sharp while also letting Balden know what standard he would eventually be held up to if he truly did want to learn the way of the blade. Ayab meanwhile continued to scan the surrounding areas keeping watch for any threat of danger. Once or twice Ayab raised his bow, arrow nocked at a hint of movement only for it to end up being a rabbit or other small animal which he promptly killed and collected. In the Wastelands you did not spurn a chance for food, that was a hard habit to break and some extra food would not go amiss.
Rhuarc couldn't be sure what time the others would arrive but it couldn't be too much longer, so he decided to take this opportunity to talk with the one who would be leading them, the one who had started all of this; The High Priestess. [b "Priestess if I may, I thought that while we wait for Lara and Sarella to join us we could start your education into the ways of my people. Are you ready to learn about [i Ahrak-Toh]?"] Aria had said that she would endeavour to understand the Jai ways, it would be a long and complicated process and if she truly was to understand the complex system of honour and obligation that drove the Jai people. [b "I know this will be complicated and you may struggle to understand some of it but I shall be here to guide you Priestess. I will start with the most basic principles."] Rhuarc knew what he had to cover first, it was surreal having to explain this to anyone, all Jai's knew it and no outsider was generally allowed to know. [b "[Ahrak-Toh] is honour and obligation. This is the heart of the Jai. You must always seek to act honourably and bring pride to your [i Daes-mai]..the closest translation you have to this word be a warrior society, and you must also bring pride and honour to the Jai people as a whole. If you do bring dishonour or shame to the Jai or your warrior society you have an obligation [i Toh] to rectify this. Try and cleanse your [i Toh] as soon as possible This can be done in many ways, so I will leave that for another time. The most important thing to know is this, the most insulting thing you can do to a Jai is ask if you have [i Toh]. This would mean that you don't know how you have been acting, how you should behave or if you know how your actions come across. It is most shameful to ask if you have [i Toh], you should always know such things."]
As the large Jai finished talking the two other female Guardians arrived to join the rest of the group but just as it seemed all would be well Lara took off on her own again. Balden took off after the Fenlyk Guardian, Ayab briefly looked towards Rhuarc and with a slight nod from the Jai Guardian Ayab followed after Lara and Balden that way if something dangerous ambushed those two at least one seasoned warrior would be there to fight. Aria decreed that the rest of them should continue moving towards Volshiv, and while Rhuarc agreed that they should find the last Guardian as soon as possible he did not think it was wise to split the party. The journey would be long and dangerous and who knew when Malik or any of his forces might find them but Aria was the High Priestess,s he was their leader and Rhuarc trusted her.
With Lara taking off, the young apprentice being ordered to collect her, and Ayab instructed to follow for protection, Saraya's order was to turn East. She let the soft hoof falls of the horses be her music as she traveled, remembering the sounds of steeds in her voyage to battle. She looked towards the Jai and then the Blacksmith. She grabbed onto her cloak and with a simple gesture, she set it on the shoulders of Rhuarc. The protector looked to her in surprise and confusion, and the young woman smiled wryly to her fellow guardian. "It would be... Selfish... Of me... If i not... Think... Of fellowship" she said slowly, knowing that he may be nonchalant of her. She looked ahead afterwards, and tapped her horse gently to move on.
As the hours passed, she seemed to feel that the youngling was restricted of play. She looked back to the baby steed and let down the rope just enough for her to run about to strengthen her would be powerful legs. The baby was grateful, immediately taking the invitation of running around, yet stayed near her and her mother. It brought a certain joy to her, made her smile. It was first she had ever smiled warmly since that day. Her husband would've been...
A sharp pain ripped through her chest. She gasped and beat her right fist to her heart. She doubled over, her steed slowing down to a halt, neighing softly to her in worry. Saraya patted her steed, trying not to worry her, but when a tight sensation restricted her of her breatthing, she arched. Her left hand sought her throat. The mark over her heart was beginning to turn violet, and as she opened her eyes, her eyes were glowing the violent color. The white cloak had slid off her shoulders, revealing her flawless skin. Her conciousness waned as tears fell. The pain was excruciating, so horrible that she couldnt let out a scream.
As if a chain was wrapped around her neck, she shot straight up, her hands falling from her chest and throat. She tried to breathe, but it felt as though she was being kicked and beaten, like stones flying to meet her form. Her tears were like lava, burning her skin. The comrades hadn't noticed she was behind a good yard before her steed neighed in panic. Even her foal was neighing, trying to run to them, but the rope was still tied. Her cloak finally met the earth as the horse neighed and propped herself on her hind legs, trying to call everyone back. The foal broke free from her rope and charged, though wobbly, to the group.
Saraya felt herself losing conciousness. Her hands found her chest and throat again, before she felt her balance give. As the horse snorted when the group finally began running to her aid, she began sliding and evenutally fell off her steed. The sudden weight loss shocked her horse, and neighed loudly as the foal made it back to her. The collision with the earth knocked air out of her lungs, but her hands were still tight on her chest and throat. She arched , fighting for air as she felt her body being tightened as if in a fist. She dug at the earth, trying to fight against it, and she instantly sat up, eyes vacant of pupils and of life.
Her eyes played what seemed to be a personal vision of a prisoner. The vision was blurry, but the voice could never be mistaken. [i You are mine, now]
She then heard a scream, and screamed herself, feeling a searing pain in the back of her neck. As soon as she felt the cold earth, she was tempted to wake... But, as she tried, her body refused the order. She, instead, stood in darkess, with only one light. She focused on it, and bowed quickly.
The spirit within manifested and urged her to stand. She stood, seeing Caledon in her subconcious still birthing a certain shock... This spirit smiled and placed a hand in her hair, moving a lock of her hair from her face. [i You are truly beautiful, Saraya...]
She stared, feeling the compliment within her being. He then leaned down and placed his lips on hers, a scent of Lavenders and fresh morning dew filled her senses. She then saw him smile and nod. [i What you saw was a sight of a slave being forced to bow down... There is some significance to this sight... That, i do not know. But, there is one thing for certain...]
He looked into her eyes, seeing her face soften to the simple softness her exuded. [i ...You will learn faster than ever before... Your mind has been unlocked, so you will be five times the woman you are... You sill be a force to reckoned with. And i will be sure you are fufilled]
Saraya stepped forward. [i Fufilled?]
She watched as his smile broadened and nodded. [i Time will tell... For now... Wake up... I will see you tonight]
Saraya's eyes opened... Her eyes scanned the blurriness around her before seeing her comrades surrounding her. She blinked a moment before feeling herself breathe in deeply. She sighed and looked to the Priestess. Her voice sounded ancient, as if an older, wiser being had stood with her. [i Priestess, You are magnificent... For this one is chosen to fight... This one will not fail...]
Saraya looked to her with a sudden fazed look. Her pupils returned, but it had a glassy gray tint to it. She then looked around to everyone, seeing the worry on their faces. They hadn't fully grasped what happened... And she felt the same. Her lips parted, and that voice had spoken for her. "Why do you stare?"
She shocked herself, but she prevented herself from showing it. She managed to grab her cloak, and attempt to stand. With a moment of aid from the others, she was successful, and started brushing off the earth. Her steed looked to her and snorted, while the foal wobbled to her, nudging her hand. Saraya smiled and petted her before looking to her steed. "i am fine, love" she said, petting her snout.
While everyone watched her in uncertainty and worry, she looked to the Priestess, a violet hue to her eyes were revealed. Her lips parted ever so slightly as her snow white hair blew in the breeze. She nodded before mounting her steed again, and waited for them to return to their positions. Once done, she continued on in the back as usual, the young foal running around her mother, but staying close to keep a watchful eye on their master.
She had galloped into the forest amidst cries from the priestess, but those cries fell on really deaf ears. Besides, she wasn't planning on going out into the forest and never returning, she did plan on returning but she wanted to take care of something first. Upon entering the woody areas of the forest Lara slowed her horse to walking speed and carefully led it around the trees, making sure the horse didn't eat anything. When travelling through a forest it was best if one didn't leave obvious markings that someone had been there. Aside from the imprint of the horseshoes, nothing else was left that anyone else would've been able to track her.
There was an empty clearing which was close to where she had entered the forest, that was where she directed her horse. In her three years of travelling Lara had found this place quite by accident, and it didn't appear as if anyone else knew of it. It was a good place to rest and get away from the hustle and bustle of regular life, even if it was just for the shortest of moments. She just sat on her horse, feeling like she was on top off the world.
That was until she heard another noise that was rushing through the trees, it could be either a friend or it could be a foe. But after hearing the voice that sped ahead of the rider Lara knew it was only Balden looking for her, and after hearing his voice stop she assumed he had found her. Her assumptions were correct as another steed closed in parallel to hers before stopping, and hearing Balden's voice again. She didn't know what to say to everything Balden was saying, she had never been involved in something so intricate and in such utter secrecy in her life before. Nor did she have a good feel for how her behavior affected others, once upon a time she did but the three years of solitary travel had washed it all away.
After Balden asked his questions, Lara could feel his gaze upon her, as if trying to guess what she would answer. [+purple "I went here to get away from the crowd and think, you're here because they sent you to find me."] Call her a smart ass with the comment towards Balden but it wasn't like she was lying, just merely stating the quite obvious truth. [+purple "As to finding them, that shouldn't be a problem. The carriage will leave extremely obvious tracks and then it will just simply be follow the leader."]
And then another noise, much more terrifying than Balden's had been was heard. Turning around in fear, but it didn't look like her horse was reacting in a negative way. Upon listening in closer, she could hear someone yelling in an unknown language to her while also trying to cut through branches. If someone extremely disliked the forest, that would probably be the Jai. Being desert people, they liked the openness, which was exactly the opposite of the forest. The Jai, the one called Ayab was the one who rode up in an extremely furious manner and began yelling at her in his own language. Lara herself felt angered by all this, but this time she did not attack him. All she did was listen patiently while kneeling her head, the last time she tried to fight back had only ended landed her in a worse position.
Slowly gesturing to Balden they went back along the path. The Jai wanted to get out as fast as possible, but they didn't need speed within a forest but slowness. Galloping on a horse within a forest could end up horribly, either running afoul on some low and tripping thing, to not being able to hear the movement of other objects. The Jai unfortunately didn't see that and instead just yelled more things which Lara ignored.
Once they had gotten out onto the main road did they break into a full speed gallop. Even though this pleased the Jai there was an uneasy silence within the group. They followed the same road that the others had followed like demons after someone's soul, with terrifying determination. They were so determined that they almost galloped fast the cart and its occupants, well the three of them actually galloped past the cart but shortly reversed their course to fall aside with the cart. Only then did the three of the reign in. Except the Jai, Ayab just went back to his nomadic fellow and complained about her to him, some things just would never change.
Aria spent the rest of the afternoon thinking of Rhuarc’s words. Ahrak-Toh was honor and obligation. She had thought she was holding true to this by any standard. Aria knew she could have easily turned away her teachings, religion and just gone off to live her own life –one where she could be a normal person, but Aria knew she was not normal. Aria had been taught since she was old enough to remember that she was a servant to the Will of the gods and the people who worshiped them. She belonged to no one man or woman, and yet belonged to everyone. She could never be married, never mother children, and while sex wasn’t forbidden it wasn’t smiled upon either. That of the High Priestess was a rather lonely existence and had been while she was in the company of Father Rigby. He had been a good man, a good guardian, a good teacher, and a good friend. Rigby had been the father Aria never had. Now he was gone, and the weight of that truth finally had its moment to sink in.
Her sorrow was short lived however, once Saraya fell from her horse and began to tremor on the dirt road. For a fleeting moment, Aria wondered if she’d ever have the moment to grieve properly or to take into account all that was happening. Carrick called the wagon to a halt and Aria jumped down. She saw what the others could not and that was the aura of Caledon. It glimmered a bright and verdant green over Saraya’s figure, and when she finally settled and opened her eyes, the three of them were huddled around her. Aria’s brows were furrowed with a knowing, Caledon was strong in Saraya –she had openly and willingly accepted her path into her heart and so Caledon quickly manifested within her. What was more shocking were the words Caledon said to her through Saraya. “Priestess, You are magnificent... For this one is chosen to fight... This one will not fail...” Aria had only one response, a resounding: “I know,” And leaned forward to help Saraya stand again. Saraya would not fail –her devotion to her Gods and her willingness to help the world would serve her well. “why do you stare?” she asked and Aria only smirked. “You had a bit of a tumble,” Carrick answered with a concerned frown. “Fell from your horse,” He placed a heavy hand to her shoulder and looked her over. “Are you alright?” Aria was observing Saraya, Caledon’s aura had receded back within Saraya, but it was still a tangible thing Aria could reach out and feel. “She will be fine,” Aria assured. “Your concern is noted Carrick… Saraya has… accepted her path, now let us continue to Volshiv,” She said and as both men left the two of them to return to their horse and wagon, Aria reached forward and lifted Saraya’s chin. “Never has there been a guardian so quick to accept their part, and never has there been a guardian who can so quickly hear and speak with their Gods. Hopefully the next time Caledon speaks to you, you won’t be sitting atop a horse. Be prepared for your dreams –give them close attention, they are the gods speaking to you, memories that hold clues to the future… all things are connected, and do not hesitate to come to me with what you see, hear, even smell… I can teach you how to speak with Caledon in a way that doesn’t render you useless. You have a great deal of power in you that I am left to wonder if you are what we in the Septum call A Prya. In other words, you might be of an ancient bloodline that can trace its way back to the very Gods themselves and the first Guardians. Back in the city there is a tomb under the Sanctum where many of the ancient texts are kept and preserved. If Malik has not burned them all… there may be clues there as to how you’ve gained so much power so quickly –the ability to speak with your host God is not…. Common.” Aria released Saraya then and made sure she mounted her horse safely before Carrick called her to return to the wagon and ride. In Fact the ability to convene and speak with the Gods was generally a talent solely of the High Priestess… but Pryas had been known to be intimately connected with their Host Gods in the past. If Saraya was truly a Prya it would make her a vital piece to winning against Malik.
They rode through the afternoon making great headway on the road to Volshiv. Carrick had surmised that if the weather held up, they would be to the Volshiv boarder within three weeks. That was only to the boarder –they still had to pass through the whistling plains which would take them another week, before they reached the bustling city of Tanaka where they would begin their search for the last and final Guardian.
The sun was setting when they heard the cacophony of hooves. Aria looked up to see Laura, Balden and Ayab making their way back. Both Lara and Balden went flying past the group while Ayab managed his horse like a seasoned professional. Most Jai traveled by their feet, but as they were going so far –horses had been provided for them to conserve their strength and energy. Carrick impressively made no comment about Lara having gone off on her own, and whatever she had run off for Balden wasn’t speaking. Aria had to admire his loyalty –whatever it was, he didn’t feel it was his place to reveal why she had run off without so much of a warning or word to where or why. No one else brought it up either, letting it go for the time being.
They traveled without incident for the better of the week. They saw very little passersby, but plenty of game. Balden had shown himself to be an impressive hunter when he bagged a few rabbits and a doe for them to field dress and cook during their evenings making camp and sitting around a fire. It wasn’t until the twelfth night they made camp that things seemed a bit strange. Supper had ended and both Lara and Aria cleaned up the mess of supper together as it was their turn to do so. Carrick stood off to the side pitching a tent while Balden trained with Rhuarc. The boy showed great promise, and Aria would have liked to watch as Balden traded his training between Carrick and Rhuarc, but something in Aria caused her to drop the clay plates she was carrying and she fell to the ground. She was sitting, head bowed and gripping her head. A Terrible pain had lanced through her head behind the eyes…. A warning. Around them the forest was deathly silent… too silent. When asked what was wrong Aria lifted her face, tear streaked and trembling. “I am not certain…. I sense… danger. Something dark and evil is near us… hiding in the shadows…” her voice trailed off and they all looked around their camp to the shadows that encircled them. The camp-fire burned bright and warm… but with each heart beat that passed the air grew colder. “Is it the knowing, Priestess?” Carrick asked, his sword already drawn. Aria frowned. “It is trying to tell me something,” Aria confessed breathlessly. “But it comes too frantically, too quickly, and I can’t make heads or tails…” It was then the wind picked up and whipped about their camp knocking over a tent and strong enough it blew the fire out and shrouded them in absolute darkness just before it let up and everything went still once more
Everything was tense.
Everything was quiet.
So quiet… and then suddenly… Laughter.
“The Mage!” Aria gasped realizing what was happening. Red eyes peered from all around them, and the voice spoke in the air. “You lied to me Carrick… I knew you would. I have always know where your loyalties lie!” He hissed. “But you have led me to the Priestess…” Aria felt a caress of the wind, like a veritable finger against her face and jaw, she cringed and shied away from the magic. “Hello my pretty, I knew you were near…” His laughter was suffocating and the eyes around them neared. “I do hope you enjoy my little nightmares. Once they dispose of you all they can drag her by her hair all the way back to me,” he cackled. Carrick spun in circles, sword raised. “Show yourself!” Carrick hollered, but nothing came from it. The red eyes advanced them, and just as Balden managed to restart a pitiful little fire they saw what was threatening them.
There was ten of them, cloaked in darkness and not entirely tangible. How did you destroy something that wasn’t solid? They were spirits –dark nightmares sent to destroy them. Each held a skeletal face just as terrifying as their next brethren. The only parts of them that seemed tangible were the nasty corroded blades they carried with deft skeletal hands. “They’re wraiths…” Carrick breathed with uncertainty. Aria had to hunt through her mind to find a way to defeat them… but Wraiths were difficult to kill –and there were ten of them. This Mage was frighteningly powerful, and if there was anything that could defeat a wraith with a single cut… Aria gasped. “Rhuarc! You carry old magic with you!” She said, the knowing informing her exactly what it was he held. “Your blade!” She gasped realizing the truth. “All of you have powers,” she told them hoping to encourage them to not be afraid. “We will defeat them, we won’t let Malik or his Mage win!” Still the wraiths neared –toying with them, their eyes gleaming with malic and power… and without further ado….
Rhuarc was scanning the horizon while the group progressed, looking for danger of any kind Ayab, Balden and Lara had not returned yet but he ws not too worried. The Caledon Guardian, Saraya, was kind enough to give him a cloak and set it upon his shoulders. It was a good gesture, the mountains would be cold and many a man had frozen to death in these lands. Rhuarc was different, he was the Guardian of the fire God and as such was unlikely to face the same fate but he appreciated the gesture nonetheless and accepted the cloak without protest. [b "Thank you, Saraya."] The journey seemed calm for now but as soon as Rhuarc had the thought his calm was shattered. Saraya fell from her horse and let out a cry Rhuarc was instantly put on edge. The others rushed to her side to check if she was hurt but Rhuarc had the great blade of heavy black steel out its scabbard before the Guardian hit the ground Was it simply a fall or was she struck by an arrow or other missile, Rhuarc stood motionless ready to poise his eyes covering as much ground as possible but it appeared there was no need for his blade just yet.
Soon enough the splinter party returned to the fold Ayab making his way straight to his fellow Jai and whispered a few words in Rhuarc's ear which only received a nod in response. From that point on the journey was largely uneventful, travel during the day and camping at night, Rhuarc staying true to his word and training Balden. For the first few days all he did was speak to the boy about what he expected and then started building up his strength and stamina before ever letting him touch a blade. Rhuarc was a hard teacher and he expected nothing less of excellence, pushing Balden harder and harder, the boy would make a good swordsman when his training was complete. Aria and Carrick seemed to be talking and the large Jai could tell that something was not right. [b "Balden ready yourself."] Rhuarc wasn't sure what exactly was going on but he had a suspicion that it wasn't good. He caught Ayab's eye and his fellow Jai also took up his weapons. That was when the Mage showed his face. His laugh sent chills up his spine, it was a trap the whole time, the Mage knew where they were gaoing and more importantly why. That meant that Malik knew as well. Their task had just gotten much more difficult. Their foes seemed to be shadows themselves, how was that possible, Ayab wasted no time and loosed an arrow as soon as he saw the treat, it would have struck the eye of any normal man but it sailed through the wraith unimpeded and buried itself in a tree. A curse in the harsh Jai tongue followed.
The wraiths sprung forward and Rhuarc raised the heavy black blade to meet the onslaught. Immediately he gracefully glided throuygh the sword forms that he had been teaching Balden, Rock on the Mountaintop became Charging Bull which became Wind blowing through Valley which became Heron catching Fish. Each move brought his sword to meet the shadows' corroded blades until he slipped through their defences and cut one from shoulder to hip. The blade in Rhuarc's hands was engulfed in a brilliant white flame as it rent the shadow apart clearly Jaihash had awakened the holy blade in his Guardian's hands and given him a way to fight off these shadows. With the next swing of the blade flames continued to burn and Rhuarc could feel the fight start to swing in their favour. From the corner of his eye he could see the other Guardians and the High Priestess get involved in the fray, Ayab on the other hand was not blessed with the powers of a god. Rhuarc ran over cutting and slashing at any shadow he could reach before laying a hand on the bow of his friend. A warm flame passed from his palm onto the weapon but instead of destroying the weapon it enhanced it, giving the other Jai a chance to fight back against these abominations.
The Guardians fought hard, Rhuarc coming in to use his blade of Ancient Power to defend his fellow Guardians and Balden from harm, he paid particular attention to Saraya and the High Priestess for different reasons. Saraya was a kind woman and he wasn't sure how much battle she had personally been a part of and the High Priestess because if she died, they all failed, she was more important than any of them. With his now flaming arrows Ayab could effectively take part in the fray, distracting Wraiths giving Rhuarc the opportunity to destroy them with the heavy black steel in his hands. Ayab loosed one more shaft, not at a Wraith but at the one who had summoned the abominations; the Mage himself. With Jaihash's holy fire powering the arrow it left a large cut across the cheek of the Mage who recoiled more in surprise than pain. It must be evident that his forces were going to lose this fight. Soon enough the Wraiths no longer tainted the land nd all that remained of the dark forces was the Mage itself. [b "Flee, flee back to Shade-stealer and tell him what you say this night! The Guardians are gathering. Soon enough this war will end and he will fall! You tell your false king that the time of his death approaches!"] Rhuarc shouted at the Mage, there was no point pretending anymore, Malik knew what their mission was. With a mocking smile still on it's face it vanished into the ether leaving the Guardians, Balden and Carrick in the clearing alone.
[b "Is everyone alright? We should check everyone for wounds, treat them if necessary and rest quickly. Shade-stealer will be after us and I want us to be moving by first light, we need to push harder and travel quicker. We can lose his forces in the mountains but until then we are easy targets. That is, if the Priestess agrees of course."] Everything Rhuarc said was true but the Priestess was in charge and he would obey her word even if he didn't agree with it.
The series of events that had given her that feeling of dying had faded into distant memory, surprisingly with each hoof sounding against the earth. Saraya seemed silent, almost in daze, were it not for her eyes blinking normally. To the fellowship, it may have seemed like an eerie commodity that landed on the unfortunate beauty, but for Saraya herself, she felt an odd thing she hadn't felt before.
The spirit and an entity she could yet recognize both told her confusing riddles... To be fulfilled...
Saraya then thought about what The Priestess said of her sudden connection to her host. He was never harsh, but he was that stern. For the most part, all she could think of was what she said about her being a Prya. She knew a thing or two about their kind. They were believed to have a deep rooted passion and connection to the God they worship.
She never thought that she would be one, however. She believed to that if it is the case, she had a stronger spirit than she thought. This would mean that she had to prevent the enemy from knowing. It was stressful enough protecting one from harm. If they found out that she was a Prya... It would mean a lot more to grab her, as well. She needed to protect The Priestess, not hide with her. She just could not put her in worse harm as is.
Careful silence surrounded Saraya as they traveled. The three weeks of travels with an additional week trekking along the plains will give her plenty of time to prepare for her skills being retaught and honed before the battle of great importance came about.
The sunset caught her eye. On the twelfth night, she had decided to sit near the waters as the men hunted. As she did, though, she thought of Felliope, and sighed as he faded into thought once more. Rhuarc and Ayab were conversing, Carrick and Balden were talking about their training, and Lara was off with The Priestess, or at least nearby.
Saraya had bathed carefully while others were distracted and though Felliope was in her thoughts... Another face came to view, and she caught herself staring upon it longer than intended. "Rhuarc... " she snapped herself out of it, however. Now was not the time for personal endeavors. The priestess... The last of the guardians... Her being Prya... These were to be dealt with first.
She watched the sun kiss the horizen before an odd wind rushed past her. Whispers in the wind with a familiar stench reaped past her nose, and a hiss escaped her. Knowing her comrads, she slipped out of the waters and into her underskirt and top, both bathing in the purest white. She slowly stepped back, letting her sense of smell catch the stench of dark magic.
She grabbed onto her arrows, bow, and sword and began to turn.
The air was silent...
The trees were shivering, but dared not sing.
A stench carried along the dead atmosphere... Until...
The stench of evil choked her a moment. Her eyes flashed violet as she she heard The Caledon spirit speak from within her... [i Protect her! Danger approaches!]
She grabbed onto her double edge sword and dug into the earth with her feet before launching as hard as she could push herself. Carrick screamed "Wraiths!" and The Priestess looked to Rhuarc, then to everyone else. Saraya need not words of encouragement. She simply ran until she surpassed her, and raised her hands to her sides, a gust of wind creating a force field. The wraiths screeched as she pushed them far from everyone, before running at them again.
She jumped in the air, her sword tight in hand as she attacked, and collided with the enemy's. She growled as she swung again and again, and again, the wraiths sneering in anger. She blocked a swing, and dodged another, backing up for just a moment.
Before she would attack again, Rhuarc had taken charge of the fray, a signal to get to the priestess and get her to safety. She turned and grabbed her by the hand, hurrying her back to the camp, and took out her bow and arrows. She let a few fly to cripple the wraiths so Rhuarc could take the advantage. Then, her focus was on the Mage. She would not leave Aria's side until any could take over. Lara and Balden had ran to her and the priestess. She nodded. "Stay here..." Was her only words before she started towards the trees. She created a force field around her in case he sought to try another trick from his sleeve and she had gotten to the trees by the time Rhuarc had attacked. The stench of the Mage's blood caught her, and before he could evaporate, she had took her chance. She launched at him from the trees, but missed him entirely when he turned into mist, with a chuckle so haunting, even she was snapped back to the objective.
"How sweet... The doll would wish to stand against a Mage"
She growled and readied her swords. "...Such a pity... Your precious husband dying..." A growl escaped her. "... Your newborn swimming in its own blood..." She growled again. [I Advert your ears, love... He will do anything to distract you and claim what he wants]
"How did it feel, Doll?" He egged on. She stayed at the ready. "... How did it feel to be at your moment of glory and have it taken away by a cannon?"
[I Listen not, Saraya]
"My sword tasting the flesh of your lover?"
[I Do not believe him]
"My boot stomping on your belly until your newborn breathes no longer? Until your precious son dies before he is even born?"
[I He lies...]
The sword cried from the pressure she applied. She knelt, her anger rising beyond compare. A moan from the trees sounded as she mustered energy, and let out a battle cry so piercing that even the Mage was surprised. The ground shook as she rose to her feet. She readied her sword and launched at him, ripping off cloth and drawing blood before he disappeared. This angered her more. She yelled as loud as she could in a battle cry. "MAGE! "
She finally made her way back with her trophies; The cloth from his clothing, and the blood on her steel. Rhuarc was explaining that they should make haste to the last Guardian, and Saraya said not a word. The priestess noticed her first before Rhuarc did, then Ayab, Then Carrick, who sought out the wagon full of weapons. When the Priestess halted her, Rhuarc had followed, along with the rest of the fellowship, they expected her to be alright... But, a devilish look had appeared, tears streaming down her cheeks, eyes burning with the fires of revenge within her. At that moment, The Priestess knew. "I want the Mage..." Was her sentence when Arya asked if she was alright. She then looked to Rhuarc. Though she wanted to thank him, her voice bore away from it. She nodded to him, a hand instinctly reached for his chest as they do in her homeland. She bowed her head in gratitude, and spoke in English so he could understand. "Thank you..."
Ayab, however, did not see it as a gesture of gratitude. He pushed her away and drew his sword against her. [b "You do not touch him, woman. Know your place"]
Saraya, somewhat unfazed by the action, stared him down. " Do you want to kill me, Ayab?" Her eyes still burned as he stared, and though he felt intimidated by her stare, sought to keep his ground. The sword was now at her neck and her hair pulled to hold her in place. [b "Touch him again... And I will kill you"]
Saraya did not take lightly to threats. Not at this time... Not with the feeling of unshakable rage within her. She grabbed him by his throat and with ease, lifted him and slammed him into the earth, with her sword at his throat. " I have gotten the Mage's stench on it, you think not I will do the same for you?!"
The Priestess was shocked, as were the others of her strength. Though Rhuarc and The Priestess tried to pry her off, she was stronger than they thought. "Do not threaten me, Ayab. I respect Jai, and I will do no harm. It is a simple feature of gratitude. If you cannot accept it, then do not... But, do not... EVER... Threaten me again... Or you will feel the true wrath I bear and the chill of my steel against your hide"
The sweet woman before them held so much pain and anguish in, it came out in a few short sentences. She released him, and turned to Rhuarc, who seemed both bewildered and shocked. She bowed her head quickly before hurrying to the camp she made near the waters. "I am sorry..."
She needed to be alone... She felt the pain... It resurfaced as she rubbed her belly. Tears streamed that night, and freely. She needed it out of her system before she could get to the task at hand... Find this last Guardian.
After they had arrived, there wasn't much to say really. Quick double check that everyone was in one place before the whole group resumed a slow and steady pace in the general direction of the last guardian, in the lands of the east. Otherwise than that, there wasn't much to say.
Each day, it felt too similar to the last one, at least for her. Waking up in the morning to eat, continuing the journey, stopping a few times in between morning and the evening, and then settling down for the evening in a quiet spot where it'd be hard to find them. All of this felt much too similar to what she had experienced when traveling with other caravans, but she wasn't complaining at all. She left all the others alone and they left her alone in her solitude, as usual it left her with plenty of time to think. Although there was one somewhat frustrating experience, the spirit inside of her stayed silent the whole time, like a fish that did not want to take any of the fisherman's baits. What was the purpose of revealing itself before going back into the depths to hide, maybe the spirit had its reasons but whatever they were she could not understand them.
At least with nothing else to do she at least had all the time in perfecting with being one with the horse. At the beginning of the journey the horse she ride wasn't accustomed to her riding style, and the horse was at least a willing creature to adapt to her riding style quickly. After two days she felt the horse and the horse felt her, and in a few days perfect sync was achieved. During this whole time she had also debated about giving the horse a name, usually horses didn't last long enough so it wasn't that useful in attaching feelings to a horse. But this felt different, as if this horse would last a good chunk into the future.
Another evening, same as any of the other evenings in the past three weeks of the journey. The whole group had just eaten dinner, and she along with the priestess were cleaning the dishes, it was their turn after all. The two of them we're heading back towards the rest of the group when all of a sudden Lara saw the form of the priestess fall down, and all the plates and other eating utensils fall down as well which produced a somewhat of a fearful noise. This sudden event at first made her pause and freeze, what was she supposed to do? Setting down he own load of course plates as gently as possible, Lara made her way to the fallen priestess in a tentative manner. Although by the time she got there, the rest of the group had gotten there as well, and just like her they were in a worried state as well. The silence was ominous, a bad wind was blowing and it was blowing in their direction.
And then the priestess came back around, something about a danger, mage, and then some other talk. Lara didn't pay attention to the rest of the conversation, for at the uttering of the word danger she had sprinted back and had taken out her staff before rushing back. Even though the staff itself wasn't big, defensively it was a pretty decent thing to have. Versatile, not being limited to certain techniques.
And then that evil voice came floating, from the darkness it came, in an attempt to severely dishearten them before actually fighting. Taking a look around, it had actually caused the opposite effect, all of them had a bigger urge to resist than let the plan go to complete waste. But the unsettling thing was that they would be fighting wraiths, and out of the conversation it appeared here was only one weapon that could actually kill the wraiths, and that weapon belonged to Rhuarc.
And then the tension snapped, like cooped up water behind a fan finally weakening the damn to the point of where the water overcame the damn. The wraiths and the mage attacked their group, and an impromptu plan was formed on the spot. She and Balden would defend the priestess while the rest would counterattack, and this was put straight into action as any little hesitation would lose precious time.
The plan worked extremely well as the counterattacking group drew the majority of the wraiths as well as the mage himself on themselves while she and Balden had only two of them to deal with. Ever since Balden had begun his fighting lessons with the Jai, he had become something of a force to be reckoned with. Sure he needed a couple of more years, but he was definitely on the right path. She herself, other than blocking and making ineffectual jabs, held off the second wraith while Balden took care of the second wraith.
At one point the staff split in two from one of the wraith's downward swings and moving out of the way she could feel a line going down the outside part of her arm. She could feel the blood start to soak the clothes, but more importantly she was practically defenseless. But a well timed arrow killed the wraith, and Balden had managed to land a critical blow on the other wraith, before finally finishing off the damn thing.
At the same time the rest of the group had dealt with the rest of the wraiths, before the evil mage decided to turn tail and run away. She gripped her right arm on the outside, the bleeding wasn't too bad, but something would have to be done about it. She did know that somewhere in the cart there were plants that when boiled would cleanse the wound and help with the healing process.
But before walking off she witnessed a spectacle, at least it was funny to her. It was the other female guardian, Saraya, she had chucked Ayab and holding him at sword point. That Jai with his ego would eventually trip himself over, and he had done it with Saraya, hopefully he actually learned his lesson this time.
Whatever else passed she didn't pay attention to as she walked over to the cart, jumped in, and started searching among the various other things for the plant. But then a thought drifted through the back of her head, it came out of nowhere. [i You will always be the outsider], that was the thought that so casually drifted through her head, but she then began debating with herself, which stopped her in the midst of her search for the plant.
[center [i [+purple That's not true]]
[i But it is, the Jai already see you as weak]
[i [+purple From the first moment they saw me, the Jai already considered me weak]]
[i But whatever you do in convincing them otherwise, it will never work. No matter what you do, they'll always see the weak side and not the strong. Forever stuck in a paradox]]
[i [+purple I can't do nothing about that, they are Jai and I'm a native of Fenlyck, nothing will change their view of Fenlycks]]
[i But it will be the same for everybody else, you'll always be an outsider, the seventh wheel with no particular use. Even within these three weeks, you have always been on the outside of the group, and it will stay as such]]
[i [+purple That's... that...]]]
Despair seized her and she sat down with her back against the side of the cart, bringing up her bloodied hand to her face. Then something warm ran down and cleared a path through the blood, another warm thing streamed down and cleared another path through the blood on the hand. Slowly, warm tears began cascading trough the blood, slowly washing it away to nothings. In the midst of this despair, she began to pray. [i [+purple Oh Spirit of Fenlyck, I'm lost and in need of guidance. I plead desperately for you to help me.]]
At first nothing happened, nothing happened at all. But then the tattoo on the back of her neck began to warm up, and the warmer it got the more she felt out of tune with the real world. Ir eventually warmed up to where she couldn't feel or see the real world, but only what the spirit decided to show her. The spirit appeared in the form of a fish, [i [+blue Come, let me show you something.]]
On the outside, it would appear as if she was in some sort of trance, or maybe even as if death had taken hold of her. The blood soaked clothes would make that allusion make it look more real. But if one listened closely, or felt for a heartbeat, then they'd easily figure out she wasn't dead.
But if the tattoo on the back of her neck warmed up, wouldn't that mean the similar tattoo on the priestess would also warm up? No one would know, except the priestess.
Balden and Lara were closest. Balden showing off his newfound skill and Lara displaying her proficiency with a bow staff. Aria felt like a fool, and a coward. She wanted to get up and help, wanted to fight back, but the pain in her skull was blinding. She recognized it for what it was… the Mage trying to enter her mind. How powerful was this mage? How far did his powers reach? Who was the real villain to fear, Malik or his Mage? As much as Aria hated to preform her own task… she had to, and collapsed into the dirt as her eyes rolled into the back of her head and so she began a mental battle of wits against the Mage.
Everything else around Aria seemed to melt away as she blockaded her mind and her spirit made to leave her body for the Astral Plane to confront the Mage. The sounds of battle became a distant and hallow echo, from the shriek of Saraya’s battle rage, to Rhuarch’s grunts of victory, to the skills of Carrick and Ayab, who despite not having powers, proved their own merit in the group. Aria was alone in the dim and swirling cosmic dust that sent gentle illuminations across her face. Her body floated, weightless and non-corporeal, but her mind was sharp and her eyes zeroed in on her enemy. Behind her was a towering pillar of florescent colors and glimmering stars. In front of her floated the Mage, his robes of coal and blood billowing about his lanky frame. He gave her a devious smile that showed off the way he filed his teeth into points. “My, my… you are a pretty thing. More lovely than we thought you might be,” he growled at her and sent what could be thought of as a gust of wind her way. It was heavy and suffocating as it whipped her towards the pillar of her mind and slammed her up against the wall. She felt the pain of her hit in her physical body and it twitched while around her Lara and Balden continued the fight protecting her. “And here I was expecting a homely little chit, without a mind to defend herself with...” aria took it for what it was: an offhanded compliment. She was mentally stronger than he had anticipated. Aria couldn’t speak, she was desperately trying to hold the Mage back from toppling her over. For a moment he seemed distracted, as if he was in two places at one time. Aria struggled to push back at him, but it was something she had not learned. She cried out in pain as her mind felt it was being invaded by a swarm of hornets. They crawled and buzzed about her mind making things fuzzy and it difficult to block the Mage from her mind. “Your friends fight so valiantly. How impressive you found three of the guardians so soon. How do you do this? How do you know where to go? Where is the last one? I know you know!” He advanced on her, his hand raised and glided closer. Aria felt herself being ripped away from the pillar and into his open palm. She felt his hand around her neck and her body began to convulse with a need for oxygen. If she died in the Spirit world, her corporeal body would die and wither away too.
Behind her the pillar of cosmic dust and gas began to writhe and take form. It slithered so much like a snake, but held and ethereal grace to it that belayed any evil it may have beheld. The Mage saw this as Aria gasped for breath, and clawed at his wrist. “Are you attempting to distract me while I slaughter your new friends?” He chuckled darkly at her. “Foolish girl, Once I have killed them I will drag their broken bodies back to Malik where he shall string them up at the gates of the Septum for all to see and be warned of what happens to traitors and those who foolishly stand by the Olde Gods of Azera. Then he shall make a public display of you. He will rape you of more than just your body, he will crush your spirit, drink your powerful blood and once he has no use for you I will carve your still beating heart out of your chest and spill its blood over the Alter of Shaman. The dead will rise, and the sun will turn black. All you know and love will turn to ash, and I will be there to enjoy it all!” He hissed, his blackened teeth grinning wickedly at her and Aria groaned, in fear and in pain. She saw the vision he described flash before her eyes and she wept. She could do no less or more, but cry in fear… and with rage… she couldn’t allow that future to take shape, no matter how firm the shadows of it was becoming.
“We… ack!” Aria gasped for breath and shock when the Mage suddenly dropped her, his cheek welled with blood as if he’d been cut. “ARGH! That Sand Sucking Bastard!” he roared. Outside the Spirit World, the Mage had just been shot by Ayab’s arrow. He hissed in irritation, and like black ink in water he recoiled from the Astral plane and was whole with his body once more. Aria remained suspended in the ether of the Spirit World. The Pillar that had writhed behind her, came alive and coiled itself around Aria, shielding her and warming her like a blanket. Aria managed her bloodshot eyes to open and came face to face with a reptilian head. Long waving feelers danced out from his snout and fuchsia eyes stared back like gemstones and gleaming dangerously. Aria knew who it was at first sight. This scaled beast was a dragon, and none other than Azeroth himself. He said nothing, but a knowing washed over Aria, warming her down to the core and she felt her spirit being pulled back within her own body… but when she returned… she was not alone. Azeroth had joined her. He had found her worthy, saw something in herself she didn’t, and would help guide her to keep the Dark Shaman from returning, enslaving all mankind, and shrouding the earth in total darkness.
Aria came awake with a startled and strangled breath. Gasping for air like a fish out of water. Balden was the first to her side, his once youthful face splattered with blackened blood and aged in an instant. He had helped to kill many a wraith, and had proved he could be a vital asset to their mission. A Short distant away, Rhuarc shouted to the Mage to run and hide like the coward he was. "Is everyone alright?” Rhuarc asked. “I think so,” Balden muttered, but he didn’t speak up as not to draw attention to Aria. She was unscathed but looked pale and sickly as if she’d been brought back from a death sleep. Her skin was cold and clammy, and Balden was quick to drape a blanket over her shoulders. “We should check everyone for wounds, treat them if necessary and rest quickly. Shade-stealer will be after us and I want us to be moving by first light, we need to push harder and travel quicker. We can lose his forces in the mountains but until then we are easy targets. That is, if the Priestess agrees of course.” Aria lifted her pale face and sunken eyes up to look at Rhuarc. Carrick walked over followed by Saraya. “I agree with Rhuarc, Priestess,” Carrick said with firm resolve. “We cannot linger. They know where we are and where we are headed. They will press against us harder and harder until we cross the border to Volshiv. Only then will we have some semblance of safety from the Mage. The Mountains are shrouded with ancient magic –his powers and reach end at the border. “ Aria listened dutifully and took their advice. Rhuarc and Carrick had quickly become two of her greatest Advisors during their time together, she did not take their words lightly and if they both informed her it would be wise to rest and move quickly she’d agree with them. “Very well,” She rasped with shaky breath. “We will rest and continue on at first light. No more stops less the horses require it,” She informed them and with Balden’s help stood back on her feet.
“Priestess? Are you well?” Balden asked nervously. Aria forced a flawless but tired smile and nodded. “Yes, I will be. I just need to lie down and rest. I think we all do-“ She stopped short seeing Saraya covered with blood and holding a swath of familiar fabric. “Saraya? Are you alright?” She asked “Is that what I think it is?” she dared to ask, and when she caught the flinty and dangerous look in Saraya’s eyes she knew the woman wanted vengeance. "I want the Mage..." Aria frowned, her own gaze steely. “We all do, Saraya… I make no promises,” She warned and allowed Balden to take her towards the wagon and ignored the outburst that happened in the wake of her absence. When was Ayab not bent out of shape about something? Sometimes it was comical, and other times down right annoying. Aria could have ignored further, gifting Lara a small smile as they approached if it wasn’t for the sudden show of strength and the warning shout from Carrick that forced her to look back.
Saraya had Ayab down on the ground in a grand show of strength. Aria was not surprised by this –Saraya carried Caledon the Mighty within her. One of the strongest and greatest warriors of Olde, but it was her next words that shocked her still. "I have gotten the Mage's stench on it, you think not I will do the same for you?!" The Mage? She had his blood. Aria was suddenly frantic to have the sword and a vial to keep that blood in. So much precious blood had already spilled into the Earth. “Do not threaten me, Ayab. I respect Jai, and I will do no harm. It is a simple feature of gratitude. If you cannot accept it, then do not... But, do not... EVER... Threaten me again... Or you will feel the true wrath I bear and the chill of my steel against your hide" And with a quick turn of her heel, she was gone for the chilled spring that cut through the forest. “Do you wish me to follow her?” Balden asked curiously, Aria shook her head and explained that Saraya was more than capable of taking care of herself. She had run off and taken the bloody sword with her. Aria counted it as a loss and let it go. They’d get another chance –she knew she would and when the chance came she’d try to get enough to use it against him. Blood Magic was incredibly powerful if done correctly, or incredibly dangerous if tampered with without the correct knowledge.
She felt a tingle on her back where the Fenlyk marking laid on her porcelain skin. She knew then that the Fenlyk Guardian was showing itself to Lara. They neared the wagon to make space for Aria to lay down in, but were stopped by the sight of Lara held in a trance like state. Carrick had come over to help Balden with Aria, and he too stopped at the sight of the blood on Lara and her unresponsiveness, but before he could reach out and touch her, Aria was already climbing into the wagon. “What is wrong with her?” Balden asked nervously. “The Guardian of Fenlyk is guiding her. A warm blanket please? And dressings so I may tend to her wound?” Balden nearly tripped over himself to get Aria what she asked for, and in his leaving she shared an amused look with Carrick. Balden’s infatuation with Lara was not unnoticed by the elders of the group. “Will she be alright?” Carrick asked. Aria nodded knowingly. “She’ll be fine, she’s young –this is a lot to ask of someone as young as her, or Balden. I think she’s learning to accept the Guardian within her.” Carrick seemed slightly unconvinced, his concern and worry for Lara etched deeply into the fine lines of his face, but he relented and trusted Aria’s judgement.
[b BALDEN] was quick to return with his arms full of a thick wool blanket and dressings. Aria thanked him and made quick work to tend to Lara’s wound, cleaning it gently with witch hazel, and wrapping it tightly after applying a healing salve made of moss and bark. Her arm might be sore for a few days, but she’d be alright. Balden knew the greatest threat at this point was infection. Worry for Lara was rife in his gaze. He had seen the way the wraith dealt a lethal blow, strong enough to snap her staff, and when she’d tumbled to the ground it was all Balden could do but react. Part of him knew to protect her because she was a guardian and he had to ensure she survived. They all had to, but another, greater part of him wanted to save her for the sake of saving her. Some instinctual part of him wanted to prove himself to her –catch her eye, and maybe more. He knew he was infatuated, but also accepted the fact that Lara probably didn’t and would never look at him that way.
Aria had fallen asleep tucked under the blanket with Lara, too exhausted to stay awake. She seemed to be the only one. After their fight with the Mage and his wraiths it seemed the others stayed close to the fire, tending their sore muscles and keeping alert for a second attack if it would come. If Aria hadn’t alerted them all, they would have been ambushed and then who’s to say they would have been victorious at all? Balden contemplated these things to the best of his ability while around him everyone else carried on with their own business. Balden at the same time, couldn’t sit still and when he spotted Lara’s broken staff sticking up from the mud, he got up and collected the broken pieces. Wood. He frowned and glanced around to where Carrick might be, but Carrick was off doing his own thing with Ayab. Balden knew that what Lara needed was a Staff made of Iron. Balden had been the apprentice of a Blacksmith back in his home town, Carrick WAS a blacksmith among other things and Balden decided then and there that once they found a town he would forge a weapon for Lara that wouldn’t fail her the next time.
Despite the battle being over and the danger having seemingly passed for now Rhuarc still scanned the surrounding landscape searching for any hint of a secondary ambush. He was gladdened that the High Priestess and Carrick had seen the wisdom in his recommendations and decided to move quickly. It was only Ayab and his temper that slowed them as he exchanged words and a vague threat with Saraya, clearly Rhuarc would need to have words with his fellow Jai. Speaking in the harsh guttural tongue that was native to his people so that the others could not understand the two Jai talk. [b "Ayab what madness has taken you? You openly threaten a Guardian! The Guardians are our only hope for defeating Shade-stealer."] Ayab gave a brief glance over to the others a few feet away and responded in a low whisper, also in the Jai tongue. [+red "How does the Hasra hunt?"] The question caught Rhuarc off guard, it seemed like an odd question to ask in response to what Rhuarc had himself said, that was until Rhuarc really thought about the question. A Hasra was a small creature native to the Wastelands who hunted by killing a creature and leaving it in the open waiting for a larger creature to be distracted by the free meal and then take that for itself. [b "You mean this was a ruse?"] [+red "Of course it was, you don't think I would ever really threaten a Guardian. I'm sure Shade-stealer and the Mage have eyes everywhere, they will be watching make no mistake about it. If they think I am willing to betray you I may just be able to get close to him. It is a risk, this I know but I am willing to see it through if needed."] Rhuarc thought about what his friend was really saying, he was willing to subtly undermine the group in small ways in the hope that Malik might offer him the chance to betray the others, and give Ayab an chance to either kill Malik himself of the Mage, or even just disrupt his plans form the inside. It would almost certainly end in death for the Jai. It was most honourable. [b "You play a dangerous game friend, but we must move now."]
Balden and Carrick tended to the Priestess while Lara seemed to sit quietly to herself in contemplation while Ayab patrolled the perimeter of the camp, arrow nocked, keeping the group safe. Rhuarc intended to have a conversation with Saraya at some point, the encounter with the mage seemed to have left her shaken and perhaps she would need a strong reassuring figure to help her deal with whatever she was going through. Rhuarc also wanted to examine the mage's bloody blade and see if he could gleam any insight from the weapon.
The Jai wished to quickly discuss something with the High Priestess before she got the sleep that she so desperately needed after the exertions of the battle. [b "Priestess, we will soon enough reach the land of Volshiv and with any luck this last Guardian but there are things I wish to know before we enter the mountains. These are your people, yes? What are they like, how do they think and how much aid can we expect from these people? I mean no disrespect but I wish to keep us all safe and I simply need to know if I should expect a knife in our back. I will leave you be now, rest and gather your strength, you will need it."] The High Priestess succumbed to sleep after her exhausting encounter so Rhuarc made his way over towards the blacksmith and the young apprentice. [b "You fought well Balden but your forms were sloppy on several occasions, work on them whenever you can, in time I may make a decent swordsman out of you."] The boy had promise but he was a long way from being as skilled as a Holy Guard of the High Priestess or as fierce as a Jai warrior. [b "Carrick, you know the False King better than most, what other abominations has he to send against us? One Mage is bad enough but Elder Mandarb has told tales of other creatures borne from ancient, evil Magic some even worse than Mages. I like to know what I am fighting, if not there is only so much I can do to protect all of us."] Rhuarc glanced at the sleeping High Priestess oblivious to the conversation between her two warrior advisors as they discussed what possible threats they would face. Ayab had managed to gather some firewood as he patrolled and presented it to Rhuarc who arranged it and lit it with a simple touch of his hand, a symbol of his power to the great Fire God, keeping both Lara and Aria warm as they rested. [b "The sun will rise in a few hours and we must leave then. Let them rest and tomorrow we will ride as hard as possible. We need the safety of the mountains."]
Balden seemed to be hanging on for any instruction that would assist Lara in any way, the infatuation of the young boy could be problematic if anything ever came of it, for many reasons. The most important to the Jai Guardian was that a distractedsoldier worrying about those he loved in battle more often than not ended up dead. Rhuarc would need to watch the boy closely and that was before you even considered that the one that Balden seemed infatuated with was a Guardian. A host of one of the Gods themselves, it was sure to provide no end of problems. This group was going to be spending a lot of time together and only time would tell how the relationships between the groups would advance, perhaps he was wrong, perhaps this would be good for both Balden and Lara...if she returned his feelings, if not that would lead to more issues. Rhuarc at least would ignore it until sometime that it became an issue, it wan't any of his business or concern after all.
Saraya smelled the stench of the mage on her blade. It would come to her advantage. She never thought negative about any situation. Knowing that Ayab would test her temper had upset her amazingly at lightening speed. She never got upset that fast, but at the same time, the mage had been in her clutches, and even had gotten a good amount of blood... The blood... She took the vial, and put some into the clear substance, in hopes that it would come to their advantage. After enough dripped into the small vial, she then used his cloth to smear the blood along the shape of the blade. She then tied the cloth onto the hilt of the weapon, and as she blew onto it, a freezing chill touched the blade. There was a song it sang and a certain glow... Whatever the blood contained from the mage, his magic had been spread onto her blade, and it would be of great advantage.
At sunrise, she had been the first to get up. She sighed as she saw the Priestess sitting near a fire. She gave her the vial and nodded. "It can be used to our advantage" she said as she shown her blade. She then nodded in respect before tending to her steed and the foul. The little baby, after the attack, had been scarred badly on her chest. Her mother was no better. She suffered a slash onto her snout and neck. Saraya felt so bad that she couldn't protect her, but the steeds did understand that The Priestess was priority. Saraya had tended to their wounds, and used her chilling breath to close and bring ease to the pain so they could heal properly. The female sighed in a huff, and Saraya smiled to herself. "I've found a name for you... Faith, and little one will be my Pride" she said and petted the two of them.
Sunrise finally kissed the horizon and everyone was up. They had to leave and create distance from this area. They had already spent too much time in this location. She had took the back and continued on, and the ride had went on for about a fortnight before a city had been seen. She dismounted Faith and looked upon the horizon to the city. "It is sunset. Is this where he hides, or must we make haste away?" she asked the Priestess. Knowing that she had a vendetta to keep and stay at bay until the moment where his end was imminent.
She looked to Rhuarc, Carrick, and Lara. "I suggest we set up camp. Let the horses rest tonight... Either that, or we make haste to the city, and risk the Mage's spies watching us from within..." she looked to the Priestess. "Aria, you hold the decision in your hands."
The Saraya that stood was a far more secluded being. Though she seemed off, she never lost sight of protecting the priestess or allies. She felt the need torelax and reserve her strength. The spirit within her hadn't spoken throughout the travel, so it also puzzled her. The city wreaked with enemies, as how her nose could pick up. She looked to Rhuarc, who seemed to have some concern for her. She nodded before jumping into the trees and made her way to wall of the city. The air was heavy with villainy and ... Something else... Was that the last Guardian?
She looked over the wall and spotted an area where nothing was touched. Humans we're roaming freely, but this spot in the far back of the city was odd. It was closed in, and it peaked interest. The odd smell came from there. She then madebher way back to the group. "We must rest untll nightfall. The guardian waits for us" she said before looking to her steeds.
To the outside world she was completely out of tune to. She didn't feel Aria cleaning out and then covering the wound on her arm while Balden ran around and obeyed Aria's commands. No disrespect meant to either one of them, just being completely focused in on the spirit plane made one lost to te real world plane. The only thing she could do was just lay there obviously to the outside world, and wait for the spirit to show her what it wanted to show her. It was just a bit frustrating as the spirit did take its time to begin showing what it wanted to show her. Maybe the spirit did have a personal reason for that, maybe it didn't, but whatever the reason it was forgotten as the spirit began showing what it wanted to show her.
It all began with a scene of after she had been born into, and the most detailed aspect of it was the fish tattoo on the back of the neck of the baby, the baby who was her those many years ago. But there weren't just her mom and dad there, there was a third figure but his face was covered with something. Despite this, it appeared as if her parents knew whoever this third figure was, knew them well enough to let them handle her. [i [+purple Who is that figure?]] [i [+blue Even I do not know the answer to that question.]]
The scene was replaced by darkness, but then the darkness began to be replaced by a fire. There was a house burning, someone had set it on fire. There were many figures surrounding the house, but in the shadows one figure was going away in the opposite direction of the burning house. It stopped to turn back and look at the house awhile longer, before quickly turning around and continue its flight. It was interesting to see this scene not from a first person view, but from a birds eye view. But she still did not understand what was the point of the spirit showing her all this, unless it was in similarity to a preamble.
The night faded away and gave way to a torchlit chamber, a big table there was and on it a map of the country of Fenlyck. There was a group of people discussing, and it sounded like they were fed up with the king and were attempting a coup of some sort. But it was interrupted by a furious knocking sound, loud and erratic, before a figure burst into the chamber. Heavy breathing, as if they had run away from a Koskari sea monster while on water. But there was a look of sorrow behind the face of fear, evidently the figure had seen something sad. He started to rave about being too late, a house on fire, people being killed, but whatever he was raving on made sense to the rest of the group who began looking at each other and their countenances began to change. Looks of horror, frustration, anger, and sorrow replaced the quiet debate that had only moments ago had been happening. And then one asked a question and it came from the masked figure, [+green "All of them?"] The other was about to respond when an authoritative voice came from a corner, [b "The spirit hasn't been released, merely hidden itself away deep within."] All turned around to face he who had spoken these words, an old priest sitting in the corner.
Another darkness descended, only to be replaced by the same chamber, except light streamed in through the glass so no torches burned. There were less people but the discussion was much more heated. There were divisions within the group, and each group was trying to outtalk the others. But then the doors violently burst open and the priest came in like a wave, crushing the argument. [b "Fools, why do you argue? What's the purpose of it, does it further our goals? Take comfort that the spirit is beginning to awaken from its three years of slumber."] That had quite the effect on the group. [+green "You're certain of this?"] [b "Why else would I come so unexpectedly?"] [+green "It's time to spread the world.]
And with that the curtain of darkness descended for its final time, and she went to sleep.
The sun was warm and bright, but the winds carried a chill. Aria hadn’t been able to answer Rhuarc’s question about the Volshi. She explained to him that shortly after she was born she was taken from her mother’s breast and placed into the care of the Septum Elders and from there she was raised within the halls of the Holy Temple. The very building Malik had taken and twisted into his own personal palace. After his invasion of the Central City, she was raised on the Caledon and Fenlyk boarder by Elder Rigby. She felt strange, returning to the land of her forefathers and yet she knew nothing of their culture. All she knew was she looked like a typical Volshi, pale features, willowy and lithe, blue grey eyes and blonde hair so pale it was almost white. No one knew anything about the Volshi –they were an incredibly reclusive race. One did hear rumors though, and it was rumored they lived predominantly on floating masses of earth that hovered above the cliffs of Volshiv, hidden in the clouds, and the only way to travel between them was with flying ships. Of course that was silly, no such thing existed, but Aria was curious to know if it was in fact true.
They were a day’s ride out of Tanaka a thriving city just inside the Volshiv boarder. When they had crossed the boarder there was no check point –nothing. All that stood to mark the change of countries was a stone formation weathered and disfigured, covered in moss and aged from time. It towered high above them, the structure having a twin on the opposite side of the road, like two large sentinels. Balden had been in awe of them, and for Aria, the moment they crossed she had felt a sense of knowing. The final guardian wasn’t far, it was a man, and he was on a path set to cross theirs. Carrick and Rhuarc had seemed to grow closer, and had created a sort of comradery between them. They spoke often, and for this Aria was grateful –they were her two most trusted advisors, and to know that they were creating their own friendship had helped ease her mind. Carrick had spoken with Rhuarc on the threats Malik possessed aside from his Mage. Of course they were nothing more than rumor. Carrick had more interaction with the Mage then he did with the king, but Carrick had lived under the reign of King Malik and knew more than the rest of them. It was supposedly rumored he kept a menagerie of creatures, that he also had a Necromancer on his payroll with a legion of undead Dragur, and a Dark Elf from across the Red Sea. With such creatures in his pocket it was no wonder he had overtaken the Central City and had forced the surrounding Provinces to bow to him. The only thing Carrick knew for certain was of an old Seer who Malik had captured and forced the old woman to foresee events so he could plan accordingly for the best possible outcome for himself. No wonder Malik always seemed to be one step ahead of them. She must not be able to see everything or Malik would have known to look, or maybe she wasn’t always truthful with him. Who knew, all Aria knew was that Carrick said the worst of it was, was the rumor of a dragon he kept under the Septum, chained and tortured with the hopes it would attack with blind rage on anyone it saw. The poor creature.
Rumor and speculation were all they had to go off of, and Aria felt bad she did not have more to offer to her Guardians. Defending themselves against a legion of undead, dark elves and dragons? Those creatures did not live here... they came from over the Red Sea... did Malik come from there as well? Had the creatures of magic and myth finally come back only to destroy humans? Aria couldn't be sure, but the one thing she did know was that everyone was eager to reach Tanaka so they could find an inn, rest and eat home cooked food. Aria didn't blame them, she was looking forward to it as well. She knew they would find the last Guardian in Tanaka, they just had to make it there.
Tanaka came in their sights near the evening, the uphill trek was tiresome for all of them and the horses, but the scenery had been lovely, if not a bit vast. It was wide open spaces as far as the eye could see, until they crested the first hill and saw the fog of the towering narrow mountains that rose up into the clouds and disappeared. The glittering lights of Tanaka greeted them, and guided them along the plateau. It was picturesque with it's wood and whitewashed cottages cobblestone paths, and the myriad of colorful prayer flags that criss-crossed the streets like stitching. Lanterns dotted the sidewalks illuminating the streets. Shop windows were still open, proving that Tanaka was a thriving metropolis that was up and moving at all hours of the day and night.
It was already sundown when they entered the town, but the first thing Aria noticed were all the faces. Everyone was fair featured, tall, and sporting either pale blonde hair or pitch black. Volshi Soldiers marched the streets, making it very clear, very quickly that not only was Tanaka a city, but it was a Militia base. Seeing them enter the city, two City Guards stopped them and held out their hands. Their faces obscured by their helmet visors, but their uniforms made of sturdy black leather, and elegantly etched steel armor. They each carried sturdy looking pikes, their black robes billowing in the gentle wind that seemed to breeze through the lands at a constant. Everyone here was Volshi... and their group was clearly not all of the same race. This the guards noticed right off the bat and for that alone, stopped them. Some might call it racism... others caution. It couldn't be held against them, these were clearly the men who protected the front lines and boarder of Volshiv. Aria dipped her head to hide her face, while beside her on the wagon Carrick did the talking -as usual. "Evening Officers," Carrick greeted. "Not everyday we see travelers here, especially those who come from so far away.." One of the men said and glanced to them all, from Rhuarc and Ayab, to Sarya and Lara. "We have business in Tanaka," Carrick began. "What sort of business?" they demanded, one of the guards walked over towards the wagon on the side where Aria sat beside Carrick. "I'm afraid I can't divulge that," Carrick informed them looking contrite. "You, remove your hood," The second guard ordered. Aria frowned, but knew she had no choice but to obey and slowly lowered her hood.
The two guards tensed, and shared a look with one another at the sight of Aria. After their weeks of traveling, the dyes that Saraya had put into her hair to get her out of the city, had faded out leaving her hair that buttery blonde once more. "I am the reason for their business... please, is there a place more private and secure we may speak?" She asked "I'd like to talk to your superior," Aria requested. The guards, were not stupid... they were piecing together what they could with what they observed. She traveled with a diverse group, raging in gender, age and ethnicity. "Follow us," The first grunted and the group was led through the city towards a barracks and smithing structure just on the outskirts of the city to the north.
Black smoke plumed from the forge, while the grounds were generally quiet. City guards patrolled the area, while soldiers sat around open fires laughing and drinking or playing cards. They were initially taken to what looked like a holding area for criminals. The ground was packed and dark, turned over and the grass killed by foot traffic, wagons and horses. They were instructed to wait outside the building as the torch lights glowed, and the air grew colder, now that the sun was gone. Looking around Aria spotted the iron cell doors, and was shocked to find them empty. Crime must not have been much of an issue in the city. Believable, as the entire city was mostly a Militia installation. Carrick brought the attention to Aria and Rhuarc as they waited, that the soldiers had gone quiet and were watching them. He hoped it was a simple curiosity, and not hostility as it was very apparent the Volshi did not accommodate guests very often.
They didn't have time to ponder, as the two guards returned flanking three other men. The man who walked in the center was not dressed in armor, but an expensive robe, with a crest hanging from his neck. The two other's were trussed up in finer armor and gear than the city Guards or the Soldiers. The introduced themselves, Tanaka's Governor, A Volshiv Commander and left-tenant. "Visitors," The Governor began. "We do not see your kind often. The Guards say you were wanting to speak to us?" The Governor looked at Carrick as if expecting him to be the leader of the group, but he stepped back and looked to Aria. Aria stepped forward and nodded her head. "That is correct. My name is Aria Tolshiv," A hushed murmur fell over the soldiers and the guards, the Mayor looked stunned as did the Commander and Left-tenant. "You mean, you're [i The] Aria Tolshiv?" The Commander asked. "Yes?" Aria answered nervously. "Quickly, child... come inside," Aria made to move, but the guards stopped anyone else from following her. Nervous, to see guards and soldiers blocking her from her group Aria reached towards the Commander. "No, please. They travel with me. These are my companions." "I am sorry, but they cannot follow." "Not even one?" The Commander looked reluctant but gave a nod of his head and allowed Aria to chose one to follow her. "Saraya," Aria called. The Volshi watched the lovely Caldonian cross through their body wall and towards Aria. "Carrick, Rhuarc you know what to do," She told them. Carrick gave a nod of his head and turned around towards the rest of the group, telling them to sit tight while they waited. Carrick and Rhuarc fully aware they would protect Lara and Balden along with their goods.
Aria and Saraya were led inside the fort and right into a large Mess hall, which they passed through towards a set of doors that led to a hallway full of doors. Aria had chosen to bring along Saraya from a tactical point. With Saraya appearances were deceiving, and for as beautiful as she was, they had learned she was just as lethal. Her appearance alone was far less intimidating than Carrick or Rhuarc, and certainly less than Ayab's. Saraya also had a way with words that Aria felt might be useful if she needed help negotiating with the City Officials as to who they were and what they were doing in Volshiv. They were led into an officer's office, where they were asked to take a seat. The commander sat across from them at his desk and eyeballed both of them suspiciously. "You travel with an odd group," he observed. "I travel with those Azeroth has placed in my path," Aria returned confidently. "You seem to know who I am, this makes me curious, and cautious." "Every Man, woman and child in Volshiv knows the name Aria of the House of Tolshiv." Well that was unsettling. "Chosen at birth to be the High Priestess. Are you truly her?" He asked. Aria glanced over at Saraya who seemed to assure her that what they both knew had to be done... be done. "Have others tried to deceive you?" Aria asked, and it was the left-tenant who answered. "Yes, hoping to travel past Tanaka and into Volshiv territories. If they are a mere explorer, we send them back. When we discover they are a spy, we kill them." Aria didn't doubt that for a second, and with a sigh stood up and turned her back on the men. "Saraya, if you'd please," She asked, and allowed the woman to unbutton the back of her dress and show the men in the room the markings on her back. Saraya would be the only one in their group privy to what the mark actually looked like. It was a totem at the base of her neck and down her spine. The head of a black dragon crested her nape, it's fearsome Magenta eyes seeming to glow even on her skin, beneath it and within the dragon was the large antlers and face of a caribou for Caledon, a swirling Koi for Fenlyk, a Hawk for Volshiv, and finally a coiled serpent for Abhu'Jai. Rune text rained down along the sides of the totem. The mark was not simply a mark, but a work of art that had grown with Aria for all her days, the colors vibrant and pure, and covering the whole of her back. The men were in awe as Saraya closed the buttons back up for Aria.
"It really is you..." The governor breathed in awe. Aria did not respond, just stared the commander down. "So those you travel with..." the commander began, but Aria cut in. "Are The Guardians of Azera. We have come to Volshiv in hopes of refuge and to find our final Guardian." "Refuge you may have!" The Governor exclaimed with great joy. "I shall allow you rooms in my own homestead, Priestess," he bowed. "Your hospitality is a reprieve. Thank you," aria said and looked towards the other two men. "Is there anything else I can do for you?" "Yes," The Commander interjected. "You can maintain your low profile. We are harsh on spies, but they are everywhere, and while we are confident there are none in the city, I can not promise it either. You are of the House of Tolshiv, and you are our Priestess. You honor us with your trust, and we hope to serve you well." "Thank you..." Aria muttered and turned with Saraya as they were escorted back outside to their group. Walking the halls together Aria looked over sideways at Saraya. "Do you think they can be trusted?" she asked, even if it was a little late to be asking such a question. "I want you to be my eyes and ears of the city. The Governor was right," She continued to whisper. "I must remain hidden, low profile. I rely on Carrick and Rhuarc for matters of battle and tactics, but you I will rely on to find answers. I want to gleam a feel for this city and its people, you are good with socializing, and speak easily with others. Do this for me, let me know if they are loyal to the old ways... and why the House of Tolshiv seems to be so significant. Can you do this for me, Saraya?"
The House of Aethon was one of the thirteen Nobel Houses in Volshiv, all governed by the High Lord of Volshiv. Adimar was of the House of Aethon. It was a home nestled on a floating land mass high up in the clouds, where a sprawling city surrounded it. Of the bluffs of their island were docks for the many Air ships that traveled between the Sky Lands. It was a well kept secret, the way they lived, their magic and their technology. Adimar was not at home on their floating island, surrounded by the city and the many familiar faces he had grown up with. These days he was a Captain in the Volshiv Army. He commanded his own platoon of soldiers. They had patrolled their boarders, fighting several times with pitiful attempts on Mailk's part to breech the Volshiv Boarder. At 32 Adimar had fought and killed on and off a battlefield, had bedded many a beautiful woman, and had earned himself the respect and ear of the Political. He was also the Guardian for Volshi. This was no secret, those who knew him knew who and what he was, and those who had heard rumors, could only believe in those things.
He was currently holed up in the city of Tanaka awaiting orders for their next boarder patrol. He and his five men liked to spend their evening on the barracks drinking, smoking cigars and playing cards around a fire. They laughed easily, brutally teased on another, and on occasion a fist would be thrown but within moments things would be settled. Adimar was seated outside enjoying the crisp nighttime air, and the warmth of a nearby fire when one of his men seemed preoccupied by something. "What is it you see Rupert?" Adimar questioned. "Those pretty little fillies," "Pretty?" Adimar asked with a quirk of his brow and turned in his seat to see a small caravan being led towards the Main Hall by two city guards. "Very pretty..." Adimar grinned seeing the three women in the group. One of them was noticeably young, just a teenager as she rode a horse beside an equally young man. Two Jai traveled with them, and an older man with flaming red hair and beard. There was also the woman who sat on the wagon beside him -clearly Volshiv, and finally an exotic Caldonian. "Out of towners..." Adimar murmured.
His steel blue eyes were calculating on the group as the City Governor came out followed by their commander and lef-tenant. Adimar wished he was closer, so he could hear what was being said. Whatever it was, had the Governor and the two men behind him tense with shock, and murmurs began to make their way to Adimar. Thad, another of his men leaned over. "They say that is [i The] Aria Tolshiv. It's who she's claiming to be..." Adimar tensed and watched the young woman step down from the wagon with the red haired man's help and started towards the Governor to speak with them, even turning to call over the Caldonian to follow her. "You jest... Malik killed her during the Raids of Central city..." "That was only rumor. No body was ever found." Another of Adimar's men whispered throwing a card at Rupert. "Hush you idiots," Adimar demanded, he was busy watching the remainder of the group. How they interacted. He noticed right off the bat that the large red head walked straight to the younger two of their group and had them dismount their horses, and they congregated at their wagon. One Jai stood alone... Adimar was just impressed to see one Jai, let alone two. Were they the cause for his restlessness?He knew his calling was coming, his own tattoo had begun to write just an hour ago. It was slightly uncomfortable as he couldn't reach it under his thick leather jerkin to scratch at it, but he knew those who had just arrived had something to do with it. If she was in fact Aria Tolshiv, that meant she was the High Priestess of Azeroth...
He stood up suddenly, his steel grey eyes hard on the group, and he began to advance. His pitch black hair, swished subtly against his back, it was long and he kept it pulled back with a silver cuff. He noticed that his approach had set the one Jai on edge. Adimar smirked, seeing how he wished to draw his blade, but Adimar stopped far enough away that it helped better the tension and caught the eye of the red haired man. "Ayab.. peace, my friend..." He advised and walked over to join him, along with the other Jai. The Red head placed a heavy but comforting hand to the Jai, Ayab's shoulder and stared Adimar down. They weren't too much different in age. Adimar would have guessed he was just a couple years younger than the man. The three of them stood protectively like a barrier between Adimar and the two teens. "I am Carrick, these are my friends. Is there something we can do for you?" "Ah, Carrick. I am Adimar of the House Aethon. A pleasure to meet you all," he said, his voice smooth but hard to read. All of him was hard to read, but there was a dark glint in his eyes. It was always there. Adimar was always find trouble, or making it for himself. "Tell me, is what I'm hearing my men whisper true? Do you walk with the Priestess of Azeroth?" Adimar smirked then. "Peace," he called, slightly amused by how they reacted to his question. "The Priestess is safest here, in this country, and in this city. If she is what she claims to be, every man and woman here would lay down their life for her. Including myself." "How kind of you," Carrick stated, crossing his arms. "You see, I've been waiting for her to return since she was taken from her family. I have been training for the day she calls me to arms." "You think she will call on you? Why you?" Carrick asked. Adimar smirked once more. "Why I am like you my friend, a guardian-" Carrick burst into laughter at that. Adimar was stunned, no one had ever laughed at him like that. "Are you not the Caledonian Guardian?" "No, boy. Caledon may be where my family hails, but I am Central City born and bred... no, the Caledonian Guardian is with the Priestess," "You mean that tiny little waif of a creature is the Guardian for Caledon the Mighty?!" Adimar demanded to know. Carrick crossed his arms, it was the trio's turn to look smug at the arrogant Volshiv. "That would be correct. Now I'll believe you're the Volshiv Guardian when the priestess returns and confirms it."Adimar growled, not caring for the man Carrick or his attitude. "I will wait here for her return." "No, she will seek you out. You don't trust outsiders... neither do we," Carrick warned. Adimar had to relent, in the man's position he'd be just as hyper protective of the priestess as well.
He didn't have to wait long as not to shortly after, the Governor emerged with the Commander and Lef-tenant with the Priestess and her Guardian in tow. They walked closely together, whispering softly and Adimar turned his eyes on them, causing Aria to stop short, and her eyes widen at him. Without word he bowed his head and fell to a knee before her. His hand fisted over his heart. His action caused the others present in the barracks to do the same.
ARia stood beside Saraya, holding her hand tightly as nervous tremors ran through her. She didn't understand why they all bowed to her, or how they all knew her name. It was disconcerting, but with Saraya's strength Aria was able to make her way towards the group and stared Adimar down. "You... you found us. We've been looking for you," Adimar lifted his head and peered up at Aria, and gave her a handsome smile. "My lady, I have prepared my whole life for this."
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