This is a private story. Please do not message or post with a request to join. This RP is for Kastan, Bloody_eve, and Northernwolves
\We will resume from the last Post. To summarize. The attack on the banquet has ended in a call for Car’rai. All of the Clan chiefs and leaders are heading their way to the city of Kerabdras. Rhuarc has escorted Aria and Saraya to visit with the family of their fallen comrade, Ayab. Lara has entrenched herself in the rigors of her training with the Jai Sword Master, Tiniq; and Adimar is furthering his research into anything that might give them a boost in Malik’s defeat.
Meanwhile across the northern stretches of the Ramil, Malik has begun to amas his forces, and his paranoia is pushing his closest advisors away. Word has reached Malik that his Reevers were unsuccessful in capturing the priestess, though he was pleased to hear Luther had finally got what was coming to him.
Now the Clan leaders are gathering, and Kerabdras is becoming a hub of activity….
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As Rhuarc talked with Aya, Coul and Ifenya he let the pain of losing Ayab wash over him. Much had happened since Ayab’s death but he still felt that pain as much as he felt the pain from the wound Malik gave him in Caledon. Rhuarc had focused so much on their journey, to the next step, to the ultimate goal that he had not allowed himself to grieve, not properly. There would likely always be an ache in Rhuarc’s soul at Ayab’s loss and as much as Rhuarc wished that his oldest friend could be by his side it could not be, and no amount of wishing would make it so. Rhuarc had always been a practical man but sitting here with Aya, Coul and Ifenya he was overcome with emotion. He might not have shown it on his face, but those close to him would see the hints of how effected he was at this meeting. Ayab would have seen it. Perhaps it would not be an evil to open himself up more, he stole a glance at Aria, as always he was captivated by her violet eyes, sometimes he felt as if the entire cosmos could be captured in those eyes. Soon enough it was time for Rhuarc, Aria and Saraya to take their leave for there was no more that could be said. No words could adequately explain the loss that Ayab’s death would leave and just being there for the family and returninG Ayab’s knife so that his sister and mother could have a moment of peace before handing it back to the blacksmiths and their son’s name could be recited by another young Jai as they took their place in the world. It was the Jai way, as long as this continued then he would never truly be forgotten, his name would live on as long as the Jai survived.
Not long after exciting Ifenya’s home Saraya departed to take care of business of her own, Rhuarc knew not what it could be but he was grateful to simply spend the time alone with Aria. As they walked through the streets of Kerabdras Rhuarc was quiet as his mind was still on Ayab until Aria brought him back int the moment asking if something was on his mind. Rhuarc was about to answer when his eye caught a small huddle of Jai watching him, muttering to themselves. Aria followed his eye line and saw what he was looking at. "You seem uncomfortable with the attention you’re getting. I’d almost believe you do not wish to be named for the selection of Car’rai.” “It is more than that. I do not even know if I can be named Car’rai. The Car’rai is a chief among chiefs, I had always assumed that to be in contention for selection you had to be a clan chief. I turned down the chance to be chief of the Farlan as I felt my place was with you but Car’rai…this would be a once in a lifetime offer. As children we saw our fathers, brothers and friends go off to fight, stride into the Ramil and test themselves against the harshest experiences this world had to offer and conquer them. They won honour and glory for the clans. The very best of our people, did this time and time again. They accomplished feats that most Jai could only dream of and they were elevated to their position because they deserve it. The rest of the provinces look down on us because they think that we are primitive, that they are better than us. They have their kings and Queens and even central City has you, the High Priestess, while the clans fight in the sand against our own people.” Rhuarc could not hide the hard edge that entered his voice, he had always been proud to be Jai and he was not oblivious to the stares and hushed mutters that he received when others looked at him when he had been out in the other provinces, he could see the fear in their eyes as he walked past and noble ladies in their jewels cower behind their guards. “But they are weaker than us. Those kings and queens in their silks, sitting on their thrones by virtue of nothing else but the chance of their birth. Our chiefs learnt their position, through blood and sacrifice because they had to. If someone became a clan chief simply through birth and they were not worthy then a lot of people would die. It would cause unimaginable ruin! Can you understand Aria, you were born into your position but you have worked to be worthy of it, you have struggled to survive. What if one who did not have your strength of will was born into being the High Priestess instead of you? Could they survive Malik? If they were unworthy what would that mean for the rest of us? That is what it means to be a clan chief and Car’rai is so much more. There have been many great clan chiefs that are rightly revered but to be Car’rai makes you a legend. The greatest of all our people. Children dream of becoming clan chiefs because while it is unlikely it is at least possible. No one dares dream of being Car’rai. I would be responsible for the survival of my people, for the survival of the Old Ways. If I fail, or I am not worthy then I will damn the Jai. It would break me to be a failure and prove myself unworthy but it would be worse if I proved myself to be like my father, and not even try. To have the potential and turn away anyway. I vowed a long time ago never to be like him.” Rhuarc contemplated what that meant for himself. To be unable to refuse the call but unsure whether he could accept it either.
“If I was Car’rai I would need to be there for my people. Always. I fear that if I accept it also means I can no longer be there for you?” In his heart Rhuarc knew what he would choose if he was forced to decide between Aria and his people but he could not tell her that. She would not approve regardless of what his decision would be and Rhuarc hoped that there was yet a solution that mean that no choice was necessary. He trusted Mandarb and the Elder was campaigning for him even after he had rejected the offer to be Clan Chief. There must be a reason for his continued persistence, he must have something planned that Rhuarc was not aware of, that was not surprising. “Perhaps this will all be for naught, after all it is not I that will be doing the choosing. Maybe another will be selected. Kasi and Isak are both fine men who would be honourable choices. It is in the hands of the Gods now.” As they neared the Temple aria spotted a friendly face and called out to him, he was only a young boy, no, he was a man as Rhuarc spotted a knife on his belt, and he was accompanied by who was presumably his mother. Rhuarc thought he vaguely recognised the face of the young man and when Aria said his name it all clicked. This was the young Jai that Aria had encountered on her trip through the Ramil, he had seen the boy at Serenna’s when he had come to inform the Roofmistress that he had completed the Akuta’ram. The boy's mother could scarcely believe what she was hearing, the ridiculous tale that her son had her had been true all along! “Hyoga? The Priestess has spoken with you fondly. I thank you for the help you gave her in the Ramil. If you are a friend of hers then you ar a friend to me. I do not think that we have met I am Rhuarc of the Farlan Jai.” Rhuarc was sure that Aria had told the young Jai all about her travelling companions but it would be rude not to introduce himself and observe the civilities of tradition. Rhuarc struck the young man across the face observing custom and striking him harder than he normally would for a young man in his position but Hyoga had helped Aria when she was in need and Rhuarc was grateful for that, Rhuarc remembered being a young man and receiving a hard blow to the face by someone that he respected and he was sure that Hyoga would be equally as grateful. Rhuarc addressed the boy's mother with his next comment. “Your son is a credit to you. he acted with honour and he has my thanks, as do you." As much as Rhuarc would have loved to stay and talk more with Hyoga and his mother the crowds were starting to gather as word that Aria was out in the streets. Rhuarc said his goodbyes with promises that they would talk more soon and he steered Aria away back towards the temple.
While Aria was instructed to remain in the temple once more Rhuarc was once again invited to Serenna's dinner table. Many of the clan chiefs had already arrived in Kerabdras and Serenna was in fine form playing politics like the best of them. She was building the grounds to various alliances and strengthening the ties of the Farlan and Kerabdras to whoever she could. It could only be a good thing fro the Farlan but it made Rhuarc nervous all the same. Serenna obviously had her reasons for keeping Aria as far away from the other chiefs as she could, she was only interested in furthering her own power. A good Roofmistress was ruthless and put the clan before all else but Serenna was more devious than most and it made Rhuarc nervous. An attendant hurried up to Serenna and whispered frantically in her ear before the woman rose and addressed the room. “Honoured guests, it is my great pleasure to announce that Chief Larat of the Nyphal Jai has entered the city and will be joining us momentarily. With his arrival the chiefs of all Jai clans have gathered in this ancient city. At dawn Elder Mandarb and the clan chiefs will meet and a new Car'rai will be chosen. Let us eat together for tomorrow the course of our people will be decided.” As Serenna finished speaking a small figure, well small for a Jai anyway, entered the banquet hall. He was clad in all black with tattoos covering the lower half of his face like a veil. It reminded Rhuarc eerily of Malik and the way he kept his own face hidden…his side ached at the memory of Malik's blade piercing his flesh. Larat walked with graceful, elegant and effortless steps, he was like a dancer and from his gait alone Rhuarc knew that he would be a deadly opponent in combat; quick, agile and precise. Rhuarc had never seen Larat before, in fact he could count on one hand the number of times that he had met a Nyphal Jai. They sequestered themselves deep into the heart of the Ramil and did not tend to travel far from it unless necessity dictated. They were a secretive people and kept to themselves and Rhaurc was not sure why as the history of the Nyphal Jai was not widely known, not outside of their own clan at least. All the chiefs were now in Kerabdras and tomorrow they would meet and discuss a new Car'rai, Rhuarc knew that whatever came tomorrow the after of his people would never be the same and that somehow he would be wrapped up in it whether he was Car'rai or one of the other chiefs was chosen. Aria would need the support of the Car'rai so Rhuarc would be right in the thick of it. Whatever happened tomorrow Rhuarc knew that hsi world would be different than tonight and he did not want to spend what time he had left being a trinket for Serenna to show off, he stood from the table and walked out of the banquet hall, he saw Serenna stare at him with barely contained rage as he left but he had more important people to spend his time with.
Rhuarc went back to the temple to find Aria in her chambers, he gave a nod of greeting to the guard at her door before entering. Aria was sat reading a book when Rhuarc entered and he couldn't help but smile, he knew she hated being cooped up so much of the day so he was going to do what he could to make her feel better. “Aria, come with me. I want to show you something.” He could see the curiosity on her face but she dutifully put down the book and exited the room, as they left the guard made a move to fall in behind her but a wave of the hand from Rhuarc dismissed them. He wanted to spend some time with Aria alone. Rhuarc snuck Aria out of a back entrance of the temple, away from the prying eyes of Serenna's attendants and guards which would probably infuriate her further. He took her through the winding streets of Kerabdras, lit only by the lanterns and the moon until they came to a small unoccupied building, Rhuarc climbed up onto the roof and leant a hand down to Aria to help her up, from there they carefully traversed over the rooftops of Kerabdras until they came to a dangling tree root that grew out from a rocky outcrop. He gave the root a hard tug to make sure that it was secre and that it would take his weight, he weighed considerably more now than he did when he had last come here as a teenager, and began to climb the roots and eventually come to sit on the outcropping of rock looking out onto the city. Aria followed him with ease, Rhuarc remembered a time when she would struggle with the physical exertion but she followed behind him closely, her time traversing the sands had made her stronger and not just physically. When she joined him and they sat with their legs dangling off of the edge of the rocky outcrop they had a view of almost the entire city of Kerabdras, illuminated by lanterns, the moon and the stars and beyond that the endless sands of the Ramil. It was beautiful. “I used to come here when I was younger. I always liked this view, it has always been peaceful, calming.” Rhuarc thought it best to leave out the part where he used to come here with Serenna when they were teenagers, he didn't think that fact would go down well. “I remember in Tanaka after you went off on your own how angry I was at you. Do you remember? You were for all intents and purposes forbidden from leaving then and it was a mistake. Did you know that even back then I was in love with you? That was why I was so harsh, I was scared of losing you. It was a mistake though, I realise that and it was never my decision to make for you. I didn't want you to be trapped again so I thought I would show you the Kerabdras I see when I think of home." The Jai guardian hoped that Aria could see his homeland for the beautiful place it could be, it might be deadly but there was a softer side of the desert if one looked for it. Rhuarc reached over and put an arm around Aria pulling her in closer to him, he wanted to hold her and never let go. As he spoke his next words his voice was quiet. “All of the chiefs have arrived. Tomorrow they will meet and choose a Car'rai. I don't know what tomorrow brings but I know that whatever happens I will do what I feel is right. Aria, I love you. You are da'thei and that will never change. You are my heart. I can't control what will happen when the sun will rise but for now, tonight, I will enjoy the time I have with you before everything changes.”
Hands were clamped… They were tight on her chin as she sat at the table to her provided abode. She was looking on her map in the middle of the plethora of books Adimar provided for her, using her abilities to finally expand her reach beyond intended roofs. She could now tell the difference between the enemy and ally footfalls on the soil. She could hear the breathing, the near muffled conversations of generals and rookies. She felt like her eyes could see what Eagles could, hear what wolves could hear. Even the beasts that lingered in the dark, over branch and under sand could tell her where their enemy lie by just a drop of an acorn, or hurrying footfalls of two feet or four paws, or even a simple roar in defense.
Carrick was more bewildered than most. It seemed as though she had been distant, and since she came back from meeting Ayab's family, she had been hiding in her books, and for awhile, it seemed that within their temporary home, time stood still. There was no noise… No outside stimulation or distraction. It was just him and his Queen… Saraya.
"You don't have to do this, you know, hide away in books," he finally said in a soft, steady tone, suddenly marveling and loving the way the sheer dress she wore had complimented her sun- kissed skin. He watched her face turn slowly to him as she snapped out of her dedicated trance and her body had followed. There was no hostility in her, nor the past depression that would overcome her face, from what he could feel from her. What was this feeling that was creeping up his spine, though?
"I am sorry," she said in her soft voice, the voice he hadn't heard in days; then she stopped to look at him with her hazel eyes, soft and inviting, before she drew her eyes away and began trying to clean the disorganized table. “I have been doing some… Research”
"You've been quite distant, lately. I've been worried about you." He chuckled to release the tension and poured them both a healthy cup of wine as a diversion, to give his hands something to do, rather than grabbing her, which was running rapidly through his mind repeatedly.
“ I do not mean to have you worry, Carrick…” she said as softly as she had spoken before, which had an effect on Carrick. As she relented and offered a bit of insight on what she was up to, it seemed to Carrick that her words were becoming a mumble, fading into the background. And as her soft, tantalizing voice had faded away, the feeling in his spine grew and suddenly, he felt a eerily familiar itch of desire. Carrick had recalled that this feeling happened before. It seemed like Central City, this happened before… There was a deep rooted desire that he felt within him, a desire that, once before, had given them their son… What was this?
As she moved about, all he could see was the way the moon would kiss her skin and the way her now snow white hair would fall about her shoulders at the height of their making love. Her perfectly smooth legs peeked out from her soft, flowing dress each time she pivoted to get something off the table, and her bare feet sounded like a soft sigh from her own lips. Thank you, Gods… Higasca... She was his wife. He loved that this was truth, for sure.
They were silent for a moment, her far away from him, fidgeting with the books and maps as his desire to close the gap was growing with each aching second.
“… I needed to ensure that the enemy has moved. They seem to be retreating towards Central City, now. They may be planning to move to the mountains… I am not too sure” she had finished. Carrick had nodded before silence took the room again for only a moment.
"I still can't believe we're married," he whispered as he slowly inched towards her. "You're my wife."
"Say it again," she murmured with her back facing him. "I haven't heard you say that for a long time."
"You're my wife," he whispered as he slowly closed the gap between them. "You're my beautiful... strong, and brave wife," he said as he indulged his urge and buried his senses into her hair, making her quiver more and more as he dotted each word with a kiss that were reaching her skin on her neck. "My... wife," he said over her neck after moving her delicate hair, but then pulled back, his common sense and his carnal desire both fighting to remain respectful. "I am sorry."
With the realization that he may have overstepped his boundaries, he backed away. Saraya had nodded and looked to the books before looking back to Carrick. “i apologize. I need air…” She took her time in grabbing her books and left the cot, and into the night.
Once she was, she had took her usual path to a sand hill, the perfect place to be alone, and think. There, she had took out her books and continued to do her research. Much to her dismay, there were questions about Carrick. There may be something about his heritage that made him an ancient. Though, with much certainty, she couldn't fully believe the book. Much to her dismay, she would have to enlist some help. Adimar could possibly help. But, not now. All the Chiefs and Aria had gathered. It wasn't her place. She would stay away, quiet, and do what she always had done… remain in the shadows. The best she could do was watch the horizon, and keep tabs on the enemies and their locations. Until she was needed, she would be there, left to her own devices, and stay within the loop of her enemy.
Carrick was once again put in a worrying state. Again, his wife had disappeared into the night, hiding, and he had no idea where she went. Why had she disappeared? Was it something that he did? Or was it just that she couldn't stand being around the people right now? Carrick couldn't answer that. Only she could, but it was a cycle. Again, she was not with him, with Mogar, Ruscal, or even the younglings. He wasn't with Adimar or Lara. He even peered and noticed Aria and Rhuarc, but no Saraya in sight. He sighed in frustration. Again, she was by herself, for no known reason, and not around anyone that could protect her. He made his way towards Adimar to ask if he had seen her. Adimar answered, but asked if she was alright. Carrick sighed. “I do not know… She just seems… Distant… From all of us” Adimar seemed a bit bewildered about his wording. Carrick looked at his friend before sighing harder. “I don't know how to fix it. It seems she will not talk to us, not about anything. She won't even talk to me. I am her husband!” Ruscal took notice about the conversation, but kept out of it. It didn't stop her from sighing herself. Saraya hasn't spoken with anyone in awhile. And even she began to worry. What was going on?
Over the course of the night, Carrick became more and more worried. She hadn't come home. She hadn't spoken with Mogar or Ruscal. She hadn't even tried to speak with Aria. He could hear that the last Chief had made it, but he wasn't on the Car'ai conversation. He was still worried about Saraya, still wishing she would come from where ever she was and just talk to them. It wasn't a simple request to her, but it was for him. Maybe they could help. But, the night passed on, and still no Saraya in sight. Carrick was more and more worried, agitated, and sick. He knew that he had to give her space, but why was it that she wouldn't talk to even Aria? Was it like the conversation before with Mogar? She still felt like they didn't really care? Or was it something else? Aramis? Was it Caledon? Malik? This was hurting his head. He would have to get to the bottom of this when she does reappear… They all had to… Everyone is getting her cold shoulder, not just him and her people.
He sighed again. Dawn had come. It didn't seem so long ago that the Roofmaster had announced that the last Chief had come, and it was already dawn. He wanted dawn to be when his wife would return, but midday came, and still no Saraya. By then, he had resigned himself to rest. He would need it just in case she returned. But, this shook Ruscal and Mogar. What had gotten into their friend? They were next to lookout for Saraya. They chose not to involve other people. Carrick's hurried questioning the night before alarmed them enough. They would sit and wait for the return of their Queen and friend, but she wouldn't show… not yet…
Aria and Rhuarc bid goodbye to Hyoga and his mother. It was wonderful to see him again, and to know he had earned his knife, made Aria feel humble that she was able to witness a glimmer of the young man’s rise. She might have allowed that lovely feeling to stay with her, but people were beginning to crowd over towards them, and since the attack in the Roofmistress’ Tower, Aria was guarded more than ever. Part of that had been the temple’s doing, and a renewed search for more Holy Guardsmen was in the works. Rhuarc hurried her back towards the temple, and if Aria was being honest she wished she didn’t have to return. The temple meant she was isolated from the others. The temple meant she could not engage with the other clan chiefs already in the City, and it was said the final chief would arrive today. Aria felt staying hidden in the temple made her look weak, and she had become heavily reliant on Rhuarc to speak on her behalf during this time. She did not enjoy this, and all of what she’d seen of the city was only what she’d been allowed to see when Vega took her to the Souk. She had honestly hoped for more freedom once she arrived here, but perhaps that was just her being naive.
Upon reaching the temple, she had to bid Rhuarc goodbye. She wore a bright happy smile, but it was a poor attempt into trying to fool Rhuarc into thinking she was happy with the situation. No when they were both clearly aware she was not. Despite how bright she tired to make her smile for him, there was no hiding the sadness or the fear in her eyes. She was worried about him, and she could see the stress and uncertainty he was facing. It was very likely Rhuarc would have to make a choice not only for himself, but also his people. Tomorrow they would name their choice for Car’rai, and nothing would ever be the same. Once he was gone, she stood just inside the temple, her smile fading, and her heart falling. She still wasn’t over the loss of Max or Vega, and being cooped up had never settled well with her. Two Acolytes came up from behind her, both silent, but also ushering her deeper into the temple to take her back into the inner sanctum for afternoon mediations and prayers with the rest of the temple members, before she would take supper in the privacy of her own room. There she would stay for the remainder of her night, trying to find anything that might keep her occupied as she whittled away the hours of the night.
Mediating was harder than it should have been. She couldn’t focus, knowing she wasn’t going to be at the supper when the final chief arrived. At least Adimar and Saraya would be there, and she knew between the two of them, she would soon get news. Everyone of importance would be there, and yet Serenna argued Aria as a liability to the general public and she truly had been locked up in the temple ever since the Fade’s attack. She was still trying to get over the reality of having taken another person’s life. So many people had died that night, and Aria couldn’t help thinking that maybe Serenna was right, and that Aria was a danger to have around. Aria also didn’t want any more people to get hurt. It left her meditation to result in failure, she was anxious, nervous, scared, whatever you want to call it, but she could feel something ominous was coming. What she wouldn’t give for a few words of wisdom from Vega, right about now.
She didn’t want to be alone, and all this time staying still and alone was forcing her into her own mind. Forcing her to reflect on the last couple years, all their travels, every battle, every attack, every trauma, and Aria was beginning to realize how tired she was becoming. Killing Luther had been necessary, but the entire fight still haunted her, if it had not been for the help and sacrifice of others, Luther very well would have killed her, and his words haunted her more. She didn’t quite believe him when he asked her why Malik would want her alive all of a sudden. She absentmindedly set a hand to her chest where the thin cut had appeared during the battle of Eyuwen. She had made sure clothes covered it because she wasn’t able to explain its presence on her body. She had never physically been cut before, but this had been a wound that simply appeared, and she still bore the thin pink scar. Vega had called it a bad omen, but not to fear it. Its mystery had always bothered Aria, and now after Luther’s words in the sanctum Aria couldn’t help but worry about what it all meant.
Kor’reth escorted her up to her room in the temple, and after ushering Aria into the room, closed the door and took up her post outside in the hall. Aria crossed her chambers, passing by her bed to gather up one of the books Adimar had brought her, he had also managed to find her belongings and her bag after the ship crashed, reuniting her with her diary, and what few meager belongings she actually owned. This book was not for research, this was purely for pleasure. She was several pages in when an acolyte entered with a platter of food, and Aria looked away from it. She knew she should eat, but she was too upset, and the book was barely enough to help distract from her anxiety and her frustration. She wanted to be at that dinner! She wanted to meet the last of the Clan chiefs, to be able to participate, to observe, and to be there with Rhuarc. He’d never show it, but Aria knew better, knew the thoughts on his mind. He had turned down the chance to be Chief of the Farlan… and he had done it because of her. She wasn’t sure how she felt about that, and what she was feeling was entirely conflicted. Which made her even more nervous for tomorrow.
She should have been several more pages into her book, and while she held it up like she could have been reading, she was staring out the window. She watched the paper lanterns bob lazily in the breeze, swaying lightly on the strings that carried them in neat rows across buildings. She couldn’t see the tower from her room, but her view of the city was lovely, and still she couldn’t help but wonder what they were discussing at the dinner, were tensions high? How was Rhuarc handling everything? Were Saraya and Adimar getting a chance to speak on her behalf? Did Serenna know how much this was driving her crazy, and would the woman even care? No. Most likely not. Aria wasn’t blind, she had sent he way Serenna looked at Rhuarc, and if Aria was honest, Rhuarc’s complacency with it had left her feeling… concerned. Serenna was a stunning woman, she was powerful, intelligent, cunning, a gracious host, and from what Aria could see; a just and good Roofmistress. The interest and protection of her people came first. There had to be a history there between them that Aria did not know about, and now instead of worrying about getting a chance to speak with the clan chiefs, she was foolishly stressing over Serenna being with Rhuarc, while she was trapped in this gods forsaken temple!
The door opened behind her, and she assumed it was another Acolyte, or maybe even Kor’reth coming to check on her, but the voice that called her name was the last voice she expected to hear. She turned around quickly, spotting Rhuarc at the door and calling for her to go with him. His smile told her that there was nothing to fear, and for a moment she almost wondered if this was a trick, but she quickly abandoned that thought and accepted he was here and not at the dinner. Why wasn’t he at the dinner? She didn’t hesitate, she snapped her book shut, and got up without a word to join him in the hall. She was going to ask him where they were going when he turned and waved her guard off. She stared up at him shocked. No guards? What was he up to? What did he want to show her?
She followed him out the back entrance, and Aria quickly surmised that Rhuarc was sneaking her out. And in the darkness of night, with nothing but the lanterns and moon above, and the entire city bathed in shadows; Aria followed eagerly and curious. This sort of risk was not something Aria expected Rhuarc to take, and there was no way any of her guards were willing to argue with or stop Rhuarc. She felt a moment of hesitation when he took her to what seemed like a deserted area, as there was no life inside the buildings around them. She glanced behind them and turned to find he was on top of the building hand extended for her. She trusted him, and took his hand, climbing up to join him. He led her across the roofs of kerabdras, her keeping pace and feeling quite energized and warm when he finally stopped to pull on the roots of an old tree braced against a rocky face at the edge of the city.
She watched him climb up, and gave a quiet laugh, that if she had known they would be running around like this, she might have changed into something less, flowing. She managed the climb, and when her head finally popped up over the edge, she gasped at the sight, and quickly scrambled the rest of the way.
[+pink “It’s beautiful!”] she exclaimed, hurrying over to sit down beside him and look at the view of Kerabdrass bathed in the deep indigo of night, illuminating the sands in a subdued golden hue. Rhuarc informed her of his fondness for this place in his younger days. She could certainly see the appeal, and was happy he brought her. With everything that had happened, and with Serenna and the chiefs, Aria hadn’t expected any of this. So she sat quietly, enjoying the moment and gazing out at the city, as Rhuarc talked of Tanaka. It felt like it was so long ago, and yet at the same time felt like it was only yesterday. He confessed to his feelings he held even then, and she smiled happily knowing her own feelings were developing around that same time.
“I remember the time all too well. I was so upset you were angry with me. I didn’t realize your feelings then, but I realized I cared a great deal what you thought of me, and that… the idea of you being cross with me meant you may not wish to stay with me…” She blushed, smiling softly at the memories. “I was quite depressed by that thought, and realized I wanted a way to keep you close…” She still believed he was the best person to lead their armies against Malik, having him close was the bonus. However, these days she feared Rhuarc was further away from her than ever before, and seeing him among his people had shown her what he could be for them. She feared it made her selfish to want to keep him close, and as much as she had come to love Abdhu’jai, she knew she could not stay here forever.
She felt his arm suddenly come around her shoulders and pull her up against his side. She quickly returned the gesture, wrapping her own arm across his back, as if to do so might hold them together forever.
“All of the chiefs have arrived. Tomorrow they will meet and choose a Car'rai. I don't know what tomorrow brings but I know that whatever happens I will do what I feel is right. Aria, I love you. You are da'thei and that will never change. You are my heart. I can't control what will happen when the sun will rise but for now, tonight, I will enjoy the time I have with you before everything changes.”
Her eyes were sad in a way as she looked up at him, he was right, tomorrow would herald a massive change for the Jai and certainly for Rhuarc. Which meant it was no surprise that their deepening relationship would be affected by this change. She reached over to cup his face in her hand. In a strange way it felt like he was preparing them for an inevitable ‘Goodbye’. Now she understood the true reason he had brought her here. If he was chosen, he would not be able to follow her to Central City, and even if he could, Aria did not have the heart to ask such a great sacrifice from him. Tonight was all they really had, and he had chosen her to spend this time with. She would make the most of the night.
“Whatever happens tomorrow, know that I love you too. You mean everything to me. Whatever you choose? You have my support, all I ask is that you do what your heart tells you is right. All of this is so much larger than us, and we are both in positions to move into roles that could lead us down different paths. So, if tonight is all that is guaranteed, I’m glad I get to spend it with you.” Her fingers brushed against his jaw, drawing him close, and she kissed him. Her stomach fluttered as it always did and when she broke it she kept close to him smiling softly and speaking gently. “For what it’s worth, you would have made a fine Chief, Rhuarc. If you are selected for Car’rai, and you choose that. I know you’ll be amazing, and it’s not because you’re Jai’hash’s Guardian. It’s because you’re exactly what your people need, and they need a leader, Rhuarc. We both know it, and I may be bias, but I believe you’re the only person who can accomplish it. I knew you were extraordinary from the moment I met you, and I’m just happy I can call you ‘mine’, even if it’s only for tonight.” She stole another kiss from him, before she wrapped her arms around him and cuddled close fighting off the chill of the night air in the warmth of his arms. The city seemed to glitter as the paper lanterns bobbed and candles flickered in windows, and Aria watched it all with a serene smile on her face. “When dawn comes, can we watch the sunrise together before I have to go back?”
In the days after the Fade’s attack, Adimar had renewed his training with his new falcon, and even taken to sparing more regularly with Thad and the rest of the holy guard. The day of the final clan chief’s arrival, Adimar received a message by as royal Volshi hawk. For a moment it looked as if Hermes had risen from the dead to return to him, but it was not. The hawk had come from the Volshi royal court, and they had sent a hawk to every city in Kerabdras hoping to find him. The letter was from his uncle, the High King of Volshi, with news they had heard of the attack at the border, and the eventual demise of their ship. If he was alive, they wanted him to send word of his livelihood. There was also updates on troop movements and plans ciphered in the letter and written in an old form of the Volshi language, which was perfect for shorthand and sending messages. There was also a section at the beginning of the letter written in the best Jai a Volshi scholar could manage, delivering the same message to any Roofmistress the letter came in contact to about the movements of Malik’s abominable armies on the borders of Abdhu’jai, and the Volshi’s intent to fight with them. There was also a request to the roof mistresses of the cities to forward this letter to Adimar if he was in their city, or to destroy it if he was not. Serenna never intercepted Adimar’s message as he was outside when the hawk arrived and made a familiar call for the bird, instructing it to land. The letter was a wonderful welcome, and though it was from his uncle, Adimar could recognize Sir Karrot’s handwriting.
Having intercepted the letter first, Adimar did his job as Crowned prince of Volshi and brought the letter to Serenna so she could have access to the first half of the letter which had been directly written to the roofmistresses of Abdhu’jai. Volshi had finally done it, finally one of the four provinces formally informed the Jai, they would stand and fight with them. Hopefully Serenna would take this information to the other Chiefs, or at least let him attend the dinner. Much to his surprise Serenna assured him she would like to have an emissary of Volshi in attendance. To which Adimar corrected her, he was not an emissary of Volshi, he was Volshi royalty, but he was the emissary of the High Priestess and as such, was able to fill two roles.
“I know her holiness will be unable to join us due to safety concerns, so I will be there for her, and for my people as well. I will be greatly honored to witness such a magnanimous cultural event for your people, and I look forward to formally offering Volshi support to the new Car’rai.”
So it was a bit shocking when dinner had just begun with the arrival of the final Chief, and Rhuarc stood up suddenly to leave. Supper had yet to truly start, and the chief had barely managed their own seat when Rhuarc hurried out of the room, he wore and odd look on his face. His sudden movement caused Adimar to also jump from his seat with concern. Neither Saraya nor Lara were in attendance either, which left all of the political work to Adimar. He wanted to follow after his friend, and nearby he could see Daken felt the same. In that moment he and Daken shared a look, one that told Adimar to take back his seat, to follow would be unwise. Seeing Serenna visibly angry, he chose to sit back down and would have to act as representation for the other Guardians, Aria, and his country. Thankfully in the battlefield of politics Adimar was far more cunning and capable than with his magic, which he was quite proficient with if he did say so himself, and he did. Adimar could be gracious and charming, and being an outsider made him the topic of conversation allowing him ample opportunities to share his own knowledge and culture with the other Jai. The only thing that could have made this easier than it was, would be if their group was wholly united once more. Lara could not come due to her intensive training, which the Jai could understand and honor. Aria’s absence was due to security and safety concerns. Since the last attack Aria had not been welcomed to a single meal in the tower. In fact he believed today was the first day she’d been able to leave the temple, and that was only so she could pay her respects to Ayab’s family.
So where was Saraya? Adimar looked for other members of her group spotting Ruscal and Mogar. In his search, he noticed Carrick approaching him. Adimar turned in his seat to watch Carrick drop down beside his chair to speak quietly.
“Have you seen Saraya?” Carrick asked. Adimar frowned.
“No. I was actually wondering where she might be herself. I was hoping she would attend this dinner so we might speak to the chiefs on Aria’s behalf together. Can you not find her?” Adimar asked of Carrick. The man gave a sigh, running a hand over his face and looking weathered and stressed.
“I have no idea where she had run off to.”
“Do you think she’s alright?”
“I do not know… She just seems… Distant… From all of us” Adimar stared Carrick down for a hard moment, knowing the man wasn’t being completely honest with him.
“Distant?” Adimar asked, was that what it was? Carrick sighed harder while around them the clatter of silverware filled the air and chatter from between the chiefs took over.
“I don't know how to fix it. It seems she will not talk to us, not about anything. She won't even talk to me. I am her husband!” Adimar didn’t like that answer, and had always thought Carrick wasn’t good enough for Saraya. This was not the place, his friend had made her choice, and so Adimar stood up and waved a hand for Carrick to follow him out into the hall away from prying eyes and ears. As soon as they cleared the room, Adimar turned on Carrick with a stern expression.
“Carrick, if I’ve learned anything about people, and women in general it is that they do not always need a solution to the thing that’s bothering them. Did it ever occur to you that women simply need you to listen?” Carrick seemed dumbfounded by the thought. Adimar wanted to say something smart to him, but bit his tongue, and instead offered up a friendly smile. “I would not worry to greatly. She’s capable out on her own, but since you can’t seem to find her. I will. Stay, enjoy enjoy supper, I will return with Saraya.”
Adimar left Carrick behind to hurry out the tower and into the streets as the last rays off the sun burned across the horizon. He was about to find out if all that training with his new falcon was going to pay off. He closed his eyes, only to open them to reveal cloudy white orbs instead of the bright blue they usually were. His falcon was perched in the room, sleeping, but quickly came awake at the magical connection as Adimar took control of the falcon. The bird quickly flew out of the open window of his room and took off to survey the city and surrounding sands, while Adimar remained outside the Roofmistress Tower, all the while searching the city for any signs of Saraya.
He found Saraya making her way out into the sands, calling back his falcon before she could get suspicious, and began to follow her outside the city. He took his time, gathering a basket of goods he purchased on his way out of town. He caught several stands in the souk, before it closed for the night, and it allowed Saraya a few hours to herself before Adimar came marching slowly up the sand hill, basket in hand and a blanket over his shoulder. Overhead his falcon came flying overhead to circle back and came to land on one of Saraya’s books.
“Nice hideout you have here,” Adimar said coming to stand over her collection of books and notes. He wondered what sort of research she was working on under the light of the moon and her lantern. “Sorry, but I noticed you were not at the dinner tonight. I hope you don’t mind, I could use a getaway from all the politics, myself. The last chief has arrived, so I guess tomorrow means the Jai will name a leader. Good timing too, the Volshi parliament has sent word that they wish to join forces with the Jai.” Adimar dropped the blanket and laid it out for him to sit on, along with the basket of goods he brought. He wasn’t particularly fond of all this sand, and he didn’t bother to mention Carrick’s worried display earlier. He continued on as if her absence was not a big deal, instead choosing that her reaction to withdraw was acceptable. Of course it wasn’t, which was why he had come. To make sure she was alright, to find out if anything was bothering her, to help her, and hopefully coax her back to the group. “Anyway, I took the liberty of bringing some food since you skipped supper. I figured you must have come out here for a reason. So what’s with all the research?” Adimar asked giving her a sideways glance as he removed a fruit from the basket and gave it a brush against his vest to clean it a bit. “Anything I can help you with?” He offered.
Rhuarc was ecstatic that Aria seemed to be as enamoured with the view as he was. This had always been a place of quiet contemplation for Rhuarc. When his mother had been busy with the demands of being the Roofmistress and Rhuarc had already finished his weapons training he would often seek the solace of this view. Seeing Kerabdras and the Ramil laid bare infant of him reminded him why the Jai had to fight, even as a young child Rhuarc knew that this life was worth protecting. “I knew even then that I would be lost without you. I was prepared to push you away if it meant keeping you alive. I was confusing surviving for living. I think I know you well enough now to know that there is a significant difference between them and you do not merely want to survive, you want to live.” Aria was a bright and vibrant soul, she deserved to live and thrive. She may have been named High Priestess through virtue of birth but she wore that mantle with pride and was every bit as deserving of that title as a Jai chief was to theirs. She had demonstrated that she was made for this role. She had a kind heart and a willing ear, if she could help a soul in need then she would regardless if it was a beggar or a king.
As the two lovers embraced Rhuarc could not help but savour the moment as he felt the warmth of Aria’s body against his own. he had not felt the cold in as long as he could remember but the warmth of having Aria in his arms was a flame even more powerful than Jai’hash’s own that coursed through his soul. As she spoke her words echoed his own and it was clear that they both understood the implications of what could happen in the morning. All Aria asked of Rhuarc was that he was true to himself. The Jai had often struggled privately with the weight of expectation that had been thrust upon his shoulders, first as Dhenna’s son, then as the Guardian of Jai’hash, the General of the High Priestess and now very possibly the Car’rai. While it was true that Rhaurc relished a challenge and strove to be the best that he could in every endeavour, that he demanded excellence of himself there was a part of him that had felt as if he would crack under the pressure. With Aria he felt no such insecurity, he was whole and it was as if nothing else mattered, the worries of the crusade against Malik and the fate of his people didn’t exist for as long as they were together but as much as he wished he could Rhuarc could not stop the flow of time. Aria’s words of support meant everything to him, her belief that he would have made a good chief, would be a good Car’rai for his people and was exactly the leader that hi people need…and Rhuarc agreed with her. He knew that He would be a fine chief and he believed a truly great Car’rai but he could not be what he was born to be if he was at war with himself. He loved Aria with his whole being, just as he loved his people with the deepest recesses of his soul. In that moment Rhuarc made a vow. He would find a way to be both the Car’rai and keep Aria in his life, he would not allow the chains of fate to bind him any longer. He would break those chains and be a slave to the whims of others at the cost of his own wants no longer, Rhuarc would have it both. Rhuarc thought to his conversation with Vega on the skyship and her words that Aria was not the ones to unite the Jai and now that the time was here Rhuarc knew that it had to be him, it was always going to be him. As Aria kissed him once more the fire inside him raged once more, stronger than it been at any time since his duel with Malik, Rhuarc had his resolve back, he had a true focus, he would become the Car’rai that he was meant to be and he would keep Aria by his side, he would give her the army that she needed and he would lead them against Shadestealer or he would break he world in trying. “You can call me yours for more than tonight. I am yours until the sun burns out. Aria. There is no God that strides this world that I worship more than I worship your heart.” The two lovers sat in entwined in each others arms for as long as they could, Rhuarc knew that Aria’s guards would be frantic with not knowing where she was and only the fact that she was with Rhuarc would have stopped them from tearing Kerabdras apart to find her. Rhuarc knew that he had a big day tomorrow and he needed to get what little rest was still available to him before whatever awaited him in the morning. They returned to their respective quarters long after midnight and Rhuarc gave a nod to Thad who waited at her door, and remained on guard duty while Rhuarc got what precious few hours of sleep he could.
Rhuarc was woken by the rough shake of a hand on his shoulder, his arm was already moving with his belt knife in hand towards the figure but Daken had already stepped out of reach. “Damn man, you’re not a morning person duly noted.” The words were joking but there was only a half smile on his face. There was more about. “What time is it anyway?” Rhuarc stifled a yawn, it must be early “Just before sunrise. They were being literal when they said the next Car’rai would be chosen at dawn.” Rhuarc gave a grunt, whether it was noise of halfhearted laughter or irritation but he dragged himself out of bed and followed Daken through the temple, Rhuarc realised that he had never asked where the naming of the Car’rai would be but obviously Daken knew, Kasi must have told him where to bring Rhuarc. The two Jai walked in silence contemplating the immensity of the moment that was approaching. Daken led Rhuarc down a set of stairs deep in the temple and along a corridor through the depths of Kerabdras until after what what felt like hours but could realistically only maybe been a half hour or so they reached another set of stairs leading upwards. “I can go no further.” They both knew what lay beyond those stairs; a new era for the Jai. Daken held out an arm and Rhaurc clasped it tightly, he had become a great friend to Rhuarc since they had met travelling the Ramil. He could not replace Ayab but he was a welcome new addition to the group’s inner circle and he was lucky to call Daken a friend. Rhuarc ascended the stairs trying not to let the gravity of the situation weigh on him, he was not a chief but he was being summoned to possible the most sacred and secretive ceremony that his people had. There must have been several chiefs to have spoken out in support of him for his attendance to have been necessary.
Rhuarc emerged into the open air, the sun had not yet risen but it could not be far away. The stairway opened up to a flat circle made of rock, the air was fresh and thirteen figures were already present. The twelve chiefs were arrayed in a circle around the open space and Elder Mandarb was in the centre waiting for the last arrival. “Rhuarc of the Farlan Jai. Be welcome among this meeting of Chiefs. This is a day that shall be notable among the people of the Ramil for today a new Car’rai shall be named, one to lead our people in this time of peril and unimaginable need. We are at the precipice of history and the Land stands balanced upon the edge of a knife. The Car’rai shall determined which way the blade shall fall. Rhuarc, you are not a chief of any Jai clan yet you have earned much respect. You are the Guardian of Jai’hash, the General of the High Priestess and you have crossed blades with Shadestealer and lived. Chiefs Kasi, Isak, Vadu, and the newly named chief of the Farlan Chief Mago have spoken in support of you.” Rhuarc was humbled that four chiefs had spoken for him, it spoke a great deal of his character that four chiefs had spoken for him. Rhaurc immediately released the impact that his friends had made for those chiefs to support him. Daken had vouched to him to Kasi, his own chief and in return won over both twins. Aria’s time with the Danau had enamoured them to him and while its as always likely that his own chief would support Rhuarc given the the title had very almost been his it was a staunch show of support and that no ill will was dividing the clan. What else was clear that this was very much an issue of supporting the High Priestess. Kohrad had established himself as the leader of the Anti High Priestess faction amongst the Jai an it had clearly worked to his advantage. Rhuarc did not think those Jai were necessarily against the High Priestess but felt the fate of their people should remain solely with e Jai and that’s he would wield too much influence if Rhuarc was named. If Rhuarc could best Kohrad and prove himself worthy of their respect then that might just be enough. [+salmon “Yet you are not the only man to have gathered significant support. Chief Kohrad of the Menin Jai, you have the support of your own vote, alongside chiefs Krann, Koh, and Zoga. As there are two candidates who have the support of at least four chiefs the decision shall be made by the Gods. Let Rhuarc of the Farlan and Kohrad of the Menin do battle and the victor shall be worthy of being named Car’rai.”
Rhuarc stood stunned, he had not been expecting to fight this morning, he had not fought a duel since crossing Blades with Malik, and while he thought that his wound had healed enough but he would never know until they crossed steel. The other issue was that Rhuarc did not bring his sword with him. This was holy ground and Jai custom forbade his carrying of weapons other than his belt knife, of course the same would be true of Kohrad. “Elder Mandarb, we have no weapons, how can we duel?” In answer to his question Mandarb nodded to a heavy wooden chest to the right of the stairs the Rhuarc had not noticed before. “Inside are weapons that have been consecrated specifically for this purpose, choose from among them. This shall further test your suitability to be Car’rai, that it is not the weapon that makes the warrior. That you can adapt your style with any weapon against the toughest of opponents and emerge victorious. You may also have the use of a shield if you so wish.” Rhuarc examined the weapons available to him, there was no great sword similar enough to his own to make the choice worthwhile but a pair of scimitars caught his eye. They would be light enough to strike quickly, sharp enough to be deadly and sturdy enough to take a blow as Rhaurc would need to forgo the use of a shield to maximise their potential. The Farlan picked up the scimitars and retreated to one side of the circle of chiefs that had now become an arena in which Rhuarc would fight the most important duel of his life. Rhuarc was completely focused on his opponent now, sizing his opponent up, looking for any advantage he could find.
The Menin inspected the weapons before settling on a long axe and oval shield which he placed upon his back. His long, tangled mass of sandy-brown hair was kept out of his pale blue eyes by red bands, his clothes were festooned with trophies of past victories. From the man’s dark skin Rhuarc could see the white scars that served as an indication of his long and storied past in battle for no many could amass so many scars without considerable skill, and experience with war. Any veteran who had gained those scars in savage battle would doubtless be a dangerous opponent.
“Rhuarc of the Farlan Jai and General to the High Priestess, your opponent, Kohrad Chief of the Menin Jai and champion of the Agoste field.” Elder Mandarb’s voice was loud enough announced to the surrounding chiefs. In response it prompted Kohrad to turn and salute those chiefs surrounding him with his long-axe. On his back Kohrad wore an oval shield, but looking at the length of his axe, Rhuarc guessed it would be staying there. Just as Rhuarc decided no man could use the weapon one-handed, Kohrad turned around and did just that: he flourished the weapon, using long diagonal strokes, first in one hand, then the other, all performed adeptly before he saluted Rhuarc. The Farlan bowed in response and worked his own weapons in one movement. He rolled each wrist in turn, moving the brutal weapons through slow strokes to loosen his hands with out showing Kohrad how fast he could strike.
Neither fighter moved. Though the duel had officially begun, Rhuarc knew it customary to stand a while and size up an opponent. After titles had been announced, insults thrown or respect offered, all bluster was put aside and it was just two warriors ready to do battle.
Rhuarc was taller than his opponent, but the long-axe lent a greater reach and could both chop and hook. Kohrad was a champion of the Agoste field, the Menin Jai’s great tournament to determine the very best of their warriors, but it was likely he’d never have faced twin swords wielded by someone like Rhuarc before, which gave the Farlan an advantage. He had the fire of Jai’hash inside of him, he would be quicker than almost any other warrior while still having the strength that the Jai were famed for. While Rhuarc had dulled against a long axe many times before. Kohrad decided the moment had ended. He raised his axe and cautiously advanced, while Rhuarc stood his ground, his swords held out before him. The Menin made some exploratory passes, circling as he cut, poised to leap backwards should Rhuarc try to rush him.
The Guardian kept his own movement to a minimum, edging beyond Kohrad’s range when necessary, mostly just watching the axeman move. The strokes were superbly dextrous, neat and swift without unnecessary backswing.
At last Rhuarc advanced, stepping forward and lashing up at Kohrad’s knuckles with his left scimitar. The right he readied to chop down with, but the Menin chief twirled backwards with a grace that belied his bulk and swung around behind his body as he moved. Rhuarc held back, realising in time he’d be caught in the leg before he could strike a blow of his own, then leaping forward in behind the stroke. His first blade scraped harmlessly down the Menin’s shield; the second bit the rim and scored his hardened leathers. Kohrad hammered at Rhuarc’s forearm with the butt of his axe then brought the head around to chop at his head. The Farlan guardian caught the axe shaft on his scimitar and tried to push it down and away, but the Menin wrenched his weapon back, quick as a snake, and struck high. Rhuarc twisted and dodged the cut, slashing up at the shaft. Kohrad saw the danger and backed off, instinctively aiming another cut in his wake, but Rhuarc held. When he advanced again he had one sword high, the other at chest height. Kohrad responded by probing forward with the long-axe, twisting it one way then the next as he sought to snag something with the head’s hook. He feinted at the lower weapon, then went left suddenly and flicked the axe down at Rhuarc’s knee, even as Rhuarc slashed across his face. Neither weapon scored as Konrad’s movement took him away. The Farlan didn’t wait this time, but struck down at the axe and followed it past his knee, all the while slashing at Kohrad’s head with his second sword. His scimitar was turned by the Menin’s pauldron and he took a hurried blow on his shoulder as the powerful warrior heaved his axe back. Kohrad drove Rhuarc a step to the side, but the guardian was able to hook the axe again and chop from left to right down into his opponent’s forearm. The scimitar caught Kohrad between wrist and elbow, tearing open the flesh. A spray of blood leapt up and Kohrad lost his grip on the long axe and fell backwards. Rhuarc was already moving in for the killing blow before he realised the fight was won: Kohrad’s arm was half-severed, the bone exposed, and blood spurted over his legs. Rhuarc stayed his thrust half a foot from the downed man’s throat. “Yield!” he commanded. “Enough have died – yield!”
The memories of the banquet hall flooded Rhuarc’s mind, so may Jai dead, Kohrad did not need to join them and Rhaurc did not want to endure the enmity that would come with killing the chief of the Menin, legally sanctioned or not. Rhuarc looked up at the chiefs watching the scene, if they were surprised at the outcome then they did not show it but the chief of the Nymphal Jai looked totally enthralled as if this moment were more important than anything else. The Jai needed to be united by their Car’rai and Rhuarc would not be part of more needless death, Shade-stealer had poisoned this land with malice and cruelty and Rhuarc would not be a part of it. To him this was more of a test of his worthiness to the role of Car’rai than the duel was, any warrior could take a life but it took a leader to save one. Kohrad stared up at him as he grasped his ruined arm before he finally bound his head in submission “I yield.”
The words reverberated around the Ramil as if they had been shouted from the top of the highest point in the desert rather than whispered through gritted teeth. With the duel now over the next part of the ceremony could take place. The Temple Elder beckoned Rhuarc to kneel in front of him in the middle of the circle that he had just fought in. “By virtue of victory in combat you have confirmed the right of your consideration for the position of Car’rai. I call upon the Chiefs of the clans of Adbhu’Jai to pas their judgment. As the representatives of the people of their clans, pass judgement now.” Rhuarc remained kneeling, head bowed. Mago approached and stood behind him and drew his belt knife. “Mago, chief of the Farlan Jai, in the name of your clan make known your judgement.” His fellow Farlan took his knife and cut open his palm his own blood wetting the edge of the blade before he made a cut down Rhuarc’s back opening his own flesh and letting the blood on the knife mix with Rhuarc’s own blood before pressing his bloodied palm over the cut allowing the blood off their wounds to mix. This happened time and time again as every chief repeated the act, their own blood mixing with Rhuarc’s until finally Elder Madras called Kohrad, the last chief. The Menin Jai took his knife and ran the blade through the blood from the brutal wound that Rhuarc himself had given him before pausing, looking down at the helpless figure on his knees before Kohrad. This was exactly the point, the Car’rai had to command total respect and inspire complete loyalty. If there was any doubt that the wrong man could be elevated to the position it was the duty of the chiefs to end the threat before it began. Kohrad could slit Rhuarc’s throat ending the possibility of torment and destruction for their people. No one chief had hesitated to make the cut of Rhuarc’s back, seconds dragged on and every one that passed without Kohrad making the cut felt like an eternity. Kohrad struck with his knife and made one more final cut along Rhuarc’s back alongside those made by the other chiefs and gave his final approval that Rhuarc should be elevated to the highest position a Jai could earn. As Konrad’s blade left its mark the first rays of dawn that had been holding back finally bathed Rhuarc in warm sunlight, the dawning of the day came with the dawning of a new age for his people.
"Rhuarc, with these cuts you are bound by blood to all Jai. Their blood flows through you. You are no longer of the Farlan but now of all Jai, you are our people given life. With these scars your position shall be eternally marked but you are no Wetlander King. We are Jai, and we keep the Old Ways. Titles and position are earned through overcoming trials and showing honour. By your actions you have earned the title of Car’rai and have been chosen by your people to lead them in the darkest of times, once the need is over you shall renounce your title until a Car’rai is needed once more. That is what sets us apart from the Wetlanders with their thrones and crowns of gold. Until the need has passed you shall be the Chief of chiefs, the one chosen to lead us. Car’rai Rhuarc of the Jai, Batosai, Torchbearer, General of the High Priestess, He who comes with the Dawn and Lord of the Morning…Stand and be recognised!”
Rhuarc led the Chiefs and Elder Mandarb through the streets of Kerabdras, even though the sun was just rising the streets were filled with Jai trying to get a look at the procession. Word spread to through the city like wildfire and soon enough it seemed like everyone in the city was crammed into the terracotta streets to get a look at what was happening. Seeing Rhuarc at the front and the twelve bloody scars on his back sent ripples of murmuring through the crowd; “I told you it would be him.” “But he isn’t even a chief, how could the Farlan be named Car’rai?” “Did you see Kohrad’s arm. I saw him fight at the Agost field. It would take a great warrior to inflict such a wound. The Car’rai must be worthy” Rhuarc heard only snippets as he passed but he was not interested, at least not right now, he was heading towards the Temple and the Roofmisteress’s hall. It would be telling who he chose to inform first, Aria or Serenna, and at the moment Rhuarc did not know which one he was going to pick. It soon became apparent that he would not need to make that choice as the closer he got to the junction where he would need to make his choice Serenna and a delegation of her attendants was already standing there watching the scene unfold in front of her. She was resplendent as always and the golden trinkets and jewellery in her hair sparkled and glittered as they caught the early rays of the sun. Mandarb spoke and addressed all who were there, Serenna’s delegation and the common folk at once, Rhuarc liked that idea, Serenna was as much of a politician as the Jai could get and if she could get them alone Rhaurc was sure that’s he would outmanoeuvre him with her words. It was better that this was a public affair. “Jai of Kerabdras, I present to you Car’rai Rhuarc of the Jai, Batosai, Torchbearer, General of the High Priestess, He Who Comes with the Dawn and Lord of the Morning. I present him to you. He is now Chief of Chiefs and he shall lead our people into the future and out of the darkness that Shade-stealer has cast us under.” Rhuarc wasn’t sure where these titles he had gained had actually come from, as far as he knew being Car’rai did not come with noble status for the Jai had no need of such wetlands notions…although he did quite like them. Maybe it was travelling with Adimar for so long but He Who Comes with the Dawn had a certain dramatic flair that he could not help but enjoy.
“Roofmistress, I thank you for the hospitality Kerabdras has shown me thus far and to that of my travelling companions. Kerabdras has been my home for many years and I rest easy in the knowledge that she is safe in your capable hands but I feel we must leave the warmth of your hospitality soon. You gave us water and shade when we were in need and provided safe haven in times of war. I shall forever be grateful, however, It would be remiss of me to stay. I may be Car’rai now but I am also the General of the High Priestess and I will not forsake her or my duty to the rest of the Land. As long as Shade-stealer rules we shall all suffer. Unite behind me fellow Jai, band together, fight with me and let us crush him under the combined strength of our people. We are the finest warriors this world has ever known, If we stand together then no one can stand against us, we shall destroy the False King and save our people and our way of life!” The crowd seemed uncertain at Rhuarc’s words at first. Could he be both the General and the Car’rai? Rhuarc believed that he could, the memory of last night and his time with Aria only made him more determined to succeed. He would neither give her up nor forsake his people to torment and death, Rhuarc would do what was needed and forge a path anew, one that the Priestess and his people could walk down together. It was at that point that Rhuarc spotted Aria, Kumva, Kor’reth and Thad arrive to see what the commotion on the streets was about, no doubt hearing the commotion in the streets and coming to investigate. In Rhuarc’s eyes she shone like the sun in her brilliant white robes. He could see the pride in her eyes at the sight of him although in them was also for the concern for the twelve wounds he wore on his back. He hoped she had heard him speaking, Aria had wanted him to follow his heart and that was exactly what he intended to do. Rhuarc meant what he had said last night, Aria was his heart, they were one and the same. He could no more turn his back on her than stop the sun from rising. As he had just told the Jai gathered in the streets of Kerabdras Rhuarc believed that Aria was their only chance of defeating Malik in a decisive victory that he could not recover from.
“Priestess, come join me if you would for we have much to talk about and I would do it in front of all those present here today for what I have to say will impact many across the Ramil.” Aria made to join him and he could see the venom in Serenna’s eyes that she was not sharing the spotlight with the new Car’rai on her own. “I have journeyed with you across all of the Four Provinces, from the mountains of Volshi to the seas of Fenlyk, to the great plains of Caledon and now to our own endless sands of the Ramil. I have seen what you must do. You must enter the temple of Jai’hash in the very heart of the desert and I as Car’rai give my blessing for you to go on this pilgrimage.” Murmers rippled through the crowd as the processed what Rhaurc had said…others shouted in outrage at the suggestion. The Temple of Jai’hash was the most sacred of sites to the Jai, Dahkil were forbidden from going there and even if they were not it was almost impossible to reach. In the deepest recesses of the desert days away from any settlement and swarming with the deadly sandworms that called that part of the Ramil their home. “This cannot stand. It is unreasonable and unlawful! She may be the High Priestess but she is still a Dahkil! You may be Car’rai but that does not let you break our laws to suit your own agenda. You are meant to be a defender of the Jai and yet here you are flouting our laws with your first proclamation! This can not be tolerated!” There were shouts of support from some of the crowds and even a few of the chiefs by Rhuarc nodded in agreement, Kohrad the Menin chief was enthusiastic in his support for the Roofmistresses’ comments. Rhuarc silenced the crowd by raising his hands before turning to answer Serenna. “I understand your objections but I will assure you now I will not break Jai law. I agree, no Dahkil may enter that temple, and I do not intend to send any Dahkil. We do not need to bend or break the laws to suit The Priestess’ purposes. Instead, we need only place her within them…”There were confused voices among the crowds as they did not understand what Rhuarc was proposing. “If Aria of House Tolshiv, High Priestess of Azera must go to the Temple of Jai’hash and only a Jai may enter the temple then the solution is simple. She must become a Jai.”
If Serenna was outraged before it paled in comparison to the look on her face now, she was so enraged that she could not get her words out but her normally serene and beautiful face was contorted in anger. “This cannot be, she cannot simply be made a Jai, she is Dahkil. She has no Jai blood, no Jai clan!” Rhuarc was ready for this, he had thought long and hard about what Elder Mandarb might have been scheming and although the old Temple Master had not confided in him, Rhuarc was sure that he had worked it out for Elder Mandarb was also aware that Aria would need to go to the Temple of Jai’hash. “What does it mean to be a Jai?” Rhaurc spoke as loud as he could to address the crowd, for this was his gambit, he needed the people to agree with him. If this plan was to succeed then Serenna could not manoeuvre him politically in private, this needed to be public but even then it was a huge risk. “It has never been about blood. Being Jai is keeping the old ways. I have bought the Priestess of our ways, she has had the teachings of a Jai Temple Acolyte, she understands Ahrak-Toh, honour and obligation and how if impacts every action that we do, every decision that we make. She has crossed the Ramil as we all have, setting out alone and learning the lessons that The Long Walk teaches. She has done that which is necessary to earn her knife! By that Reckoning she is Jai! Elder Mandarb, what do the scriptures say on this?” Rhuarc chanced a glance at the old Temple Elder and saw a proud twinkle in his eye, it seemed his instincts were right and this was exactly what Mandarb was planning. “It is as you say Car’rai Rhuarc, to be Jai is to upkeep the Old Ways of Ahrak-Toh. Understanding the system of honour and obligation, to cross the Ramil is to show maturity and understanding of what it takes to survive here. Strength, tenacity and teamwork. I believe she has done this. There is nothing in the texts that specifically mentions that the individual must be Jai by virtue of birth.” Rhuarc let out a silent prayer to the Gods for the specifics that Mandarb had mentioned were just vague enough to make his gambit legal. Upkeeping the Old Ways did not necessarily mean practice the Old Ways and as long as Aria understood and allowed the Jai to practice while keeping to them as much as they could then legally Rhuarc was in the clear. That was still clearly not enough for Serenna; “She has no Clan! A Jai cannot be without a clan, we all serve for the good of the clan over ourselves, it is one of the most basic tenants of our people. Without a clan she cannot be a Jai!.” Rhuarc had no answer to this, Serenna spoke true and while he may be Car’rai he did not have the power to compel the internal affairs of another Clan. Thankfully it seemed that not everyone was against him and Mandarb, Rhuarc and Aria’s allies had not deserted them yet. “I have known of Rhaurc for many years, he brought much honour to the Farlan while he was part of our clan. If the Priestess needs a clan then the Farlan are happy to support her. As Chief of the Farlan Jai, I offer her a place in our clan!” “I too have heard much of Aria Jaiheart. One of my own, Daken has travelled with the Car’rai and seen the loyalty that she inspires. He has also pledged himself to her service, I know Daken’s heart and if that were all I knew about her it would be enough but she also has the blessing of Ryn, my constant companion. I trust the judgement of a lightbender over that of any man. As Chief of the Tardaad Jai, I offer her a place in our clan." “It seems that the Priestess is in high demand for I too wish to support her. My clan came across a solitary Dahkil woman in the desert, close to death but fighting with all of her strength to survive. That strength of spirit is exactly what we teach in our children. She stayed with my people who nursed her back to strength and sent her back on her way into the Ramil. The impact that Aria Jaiheart had on my people has been measured. I am not ashamed to admit that she has inspired us. We were proud to have stood by her then an we are proud to stand by her now. As Chief of the Danau Jai, I offer her a place in my clan.”
This was more than Rhuarc could have hoped for, Aria had three offers of clans to join and they all had their own merits. Aria would need to think carefully on this choice. He glanced over at her, she was clearly in shock at what was happening, whatever she had expected of this morning surely this was not it but as far s Rhuarc could tell it was the only way for her to get to the Temple of Jai’hash without irreducibly damaging her standing with the Jai. Rhuarc had come to know the chiefs well and was sure that no matter what clan Aria chose she would she would not insult the other chiefs, this choice was hers and hers alone. Rhuarc now belonged to all clans and so no matter what she chose he would still be able to support her. Serenna clearly did not like that Aria had managed to manoeuvre herself into a clan without having to speak so much as a word, every obstacle that Serenna was throwing at the Volshi woman was being circumvented, she had only one desperate gambit left. “She has yet to fully earn her knife! Crossing the Ramil is only one part of the test, if she is to be a Jai then let her complete our rites fully. She must complete the recital for the knife that the blacksmiths select for her. Let her list the names of all the Jai that have wielded the steel before her and see if she is worthy then to continue their legacy. Until she has passed that final trial she is no Jai.” There was a murmur of agreement throughout the crowd and attendants and Rhuarc had to admit, that was true, the recital of the names of all the Jai that wielded the same knife of you was a deeply personal and integral part of Jai culture. It was how the Jai were remember long after their deaths. “You speak true, Roofmistress. Let Aria Jaiheart seek out the blacksmiths to select a knife and only after she has passed the Trial of Naming may she venture to the Temple of Jai’hash. As Car’rai this is my proclamation. To punctuate the statement Rhuarc felt he needed a show of strength, if his first act of being named Car’rai was so controversial he had to show them exactly why he had been selected and he knew what to do. Rhuarc thrust his right had into the sky and waited for a heartbeat while he focused on his breathing. He had put aside his doubts, his insecurities and the distraction of his torn loyalty and become the champion that Jai’hash needed.. He was complete. No more was his power just out of reach and finally Rhuarc reached out and seized it. Out of nowhere a bolt of lightning sprung forth from the sky towards Rhuarc but the Jai did not flinch. There was a blinding flash and a deafening crack accompanied by an impact that pushed some of the children present from their feet. When the dust from the impact settled, there stood Rhuarc and in his hand was clutched a bolt of lightning. True cold-blooded fire straining to be free from its masters grasp. Rhaurc had mastered the last gift of Jai’hash that had eluded him.
Saraya had been in her head for a while. She had been in the business of learning about the ability to feel the footfalls of all life on the earth for so long, she felt like she was the earth itself. The lands were so vast, so far beyond the reach of any arms of humanity. She could feel the blade of grass being consumed by the deer. Wolves hunting in packs, cubs were playing… But, there were many disturbing feelings. It seemed as though there were parts of the world in pain… She felt bodies hitting the rocks beneath their feet, She could feel the tears falling upon the sands, the Worms digging underneath with anticipation and fear. Malik’s influence was infecting villages between the kingdoms, the small ill- fated people caught in the snare between good and evil.
She opened her eyes to a voice that suddenly appeared from within her… Funny, she had forgotten that Caledon and her father were still connected. With everything that happened… She felt a sigh of relief that she could still hear them. My, my child… I have never thought that you would be here again… Higasca had sounded amused, but realized that she wasn’t in a talking mood. My daughter, what is wrong? Saraya only stared at him before tears welled up. Her heart felt heavy, like it was drowning in a sea of unresolved pain and anguish and suddenly, the water was being released through her eyes. “Father… Why do I have the feeling that I have failed?” She stared at the entity that was her father. She felt the tears falling on her face as she tried her best not to break. “... Why do I feel that my help has harmed everyone I care about? I couldn’t help Ayab… I couldn’t stop Tanaka from being destroyed… I couldn’t even keep Luther or The Fade from Aria… Malik was worse”
Higasca had slowly inched towards her as she started sobbing. “... I suffered so much with my Aramis within me… And, when Egos took him… I couldn’t bear the thought that I would be unable to save him… Now, I am afraid that he will never get the chance to know me…” Saraya was sitting, hoping and praying that she was speaking babbel, but she knew that she wasn’t. Caledon wasn’t far behind as she kept crying inside. Do you believe it is alright to stay away from others? Do you think it is right to give everyone the silent treatment? Higasca asked as the entity sat beside her.
Saraya had looked forward, avoiding the luminescent glow that was her father’s form. She felt her heart being squeezed underneath the pressure of her guilt and sorrow, and sniffled. “I do not mean to, father… But, no one seems to understand what I am trying to suppress just to be here! I could have helped Ayab more… I could have been able to stop this if I knew how to develop my powers… But, I can't… I am nothing more than i was before i became this… thing”
Higasca’s stare gravitated to her and she refused to acknowledge him. It occurred to Caledon in that moment, that she harbored so much pain, so much doubt and worry, and it worried him so. Saraya moved to wipe her tears, and clutched at her knees. “I sacrificed so much, even my life… And yet, evil seeks to take more from me. Malik has wronged many things in this world, and I cannot allow him to keep doing it… I may not be so proficient with my abilities, but damn it, I will find a way to kill him for trying to take everything from me. Egos was only a piece of my revenge. I realize now… My revenge will not be complete until i take Malik down, too” She sighed, but it gave little relief. So much had built in her breast, and she was unable to speak nor be heard. Pain struck her face, but she had barely flinched.
Caledon felt that the venting had helped, but there was little room to ponder her feelings that built up even without their knowledge. There was little room to grieve Ayab’s death, nor Vega’s. And, she had to be strong through everything Egos had put her through while she was with Aramis. She could have done so much more, but fate had twisted her into a sea of madness, and it felt like she was the marionette.
With the time she had now, though, it had seemed as though her rage, guilt, sorrows and doubt were preventing her from speaking. She spent the time she had either in her head to provide seclusion or out in the desert, exercising her darts or earth walking. He could tell she was giving herself a crash course in her now stabilizing abilities. Both Higasca and Caledon had been impressed with her progress. She had managed to exceed their expectations. Still, she had overlooked healing herself, and in that, perhaps, they could help with.
Higasca had finally spoken after a moment of silence. You worked with what you could in a situation such as this. It has happened. It hurt. Some were deeper scars than others. But, you are also alive. Fate has given me you as my daughter. I do not regret it, Saraya finally turned her gaze towards the entity. I am damn proud of you. Through many hells, you’ve walked, and came out of it and became stronger for it. You are the General that has charged into battles and has walked out of it triumphant. Just like your friends.
Saraya sighed and looked away. It is truth, daughter. You are powerful. It has never changed. Saraya turned again. “What am I to do? I am burdened! My heart hurts, but I cannot speak it. I have to hide it, but why?” she felt tears fall on her cheeks again. Because they all need you to be strong. Everyone is terrified, love.There is a war coming. Many will lose their kin, their loves. Every single one of these souls were pulled into this perpetual madness of good and evil. They will need you all to be strong in this dark hour. And you are one of them that is fully capable of bringing salvation and hope to the people who need it.
Saraya wiped her cheeks. Maybe now isn’t the time to immediately recover. But, you must. They need you. And you need you. Grieve, but do not stay. Use your worry as determination. You will see your son again. You are important to your comrades. And, you are strong. Caledon chimed in. Saraya had nodded to the both of them, before the second entity had sat on the opposite side. There, Saraya had righted herself, and began feeling through the earth again. I can do this, Saraya thought; There was no one, not even Malik, that could stop her.
But, her training had been cut short when a hawk had landed onto one of her books and squawked at her. Saraya’s eyes opened and gravitated towards the creature, tilting her head in acknowledgement of the youngling before a silhouette had appeared. Sighing with a sense of frustration, she left her father and grandfather and waited for the voice to speak, though she hadn’t realized how surprised she was when it wasn’t the voice she was expecting.
“Nice hideout you have here,”
Saraya had looked up to Adimar, who seemed to have a smile on his face. Weirdly enough, she was kind of surprised that it wasn’t Carrick. But, of course Adimar had come. No doubt, Carrick spoke with him. “If Carrick wished to find me, he could have done so himself,” Saraya said, clearly agitated. Adimar had given a sympathetic chuckle before proceeding. “Sorry, but I noticed you were not at the dinner tonight. I hope you don’t mind. I could use a getaway from all the politics, myself.” Saraya had sighed a bit to herself as Adimar continued. “The last Chief has arrived so I guess tomorrow means the Jai will name a leader. Good timing, too. The Volshi parliament has sent word that they wish to join forces with the Jai,” As Adimar had prepared his blanket and sat beside her, she could tell that he was merely attempting to coax her out of her mood and into conversation, in hopes to bring her back into the troupe. He began fidgeting about, showing his distaste for the sand. She chuckled as she turned her hand over, and the grains of sand that had found its way onto the blanket and him lifted and dispersed, leaving Adimar as clean as before he trekked there.
“For the life of me, I cannot see why you have a distaste for sand. It most certainly likes you,” she joked, before turning away. Adimar had a turn to chuckle as he sat there, finally admiring the space she sat in and the night sky. “Anyway, I took the liberty of bringing some food since you skipped supper. I figured you have come out here for a reason. So, what’s with all the research?” Adimar had asked as he reached inside the basket he carried with him and grabbed a fruit. In the process, he gave Saraya a sideways glance as he rubbed the fruit onto his vest. “Anything I can help you with?”
Saraya had taken a moment to gather her words, then resigned by saying “There is much that I am not ready for. It seems as though everyone cannot see the things I am doing, and to be honest, I don't want them to. It is not my strong suit to keep emotions in… In this case, however, it is not so much an easy trek to express anything.” She looked out to the setting sun and rising moon. The soft, dim light graced the sand, giving a glow that only matched the seas. “I need to know about Carrick’s lineage. He is an Ancient… I think there is something like an Apex again that he is going through… I need to know if that is truth” Adimar had asked her what it meant, and Saraya had responded with “It is a power increase, of some sort… But that is most that I know. I hadn’t found that chapter yet”
Saraya had heard Adimar comment on how strange Carrick looked when he saw him last. He asked if she was alright, and she quickly assured him that she was alright. “...Just… The way he was tonight… It wasn’t Carrick. That is all I know” She looked at Adimar. “I think something terrible has happened to him… And it is not like the last Apex.”
She turned away again, trying not to let tears build from within her. “It is a familiar feeling of dread and want. It is like it was with Egos. It is a lingering fear that makes me fear I will never come home to Aramis… My son is months old now… Seeing this dreadful world, I cannot see him… I cannot hold him… It frightens me more than anything.”
Adimar had voiced his opinions on the matter, showing true concern. He agreed that Carrick had been a bit strange as of late, and it bothered him that he wasn’t saying everything that had happened. He was compelled to ask about it, and Saraya nearly gasped at the question, but thought it beneficial to speak on the matter. “He came home… But, something was strange about him. He had stayed away, had been busy with Gods knows what, but came home with a jug of meade and was speaking as though he had already consumed enough to cloud his judgment… And he cornered me. There was something in his eyes… It was a glow about them that scared me… It was carnal desire, something that lingered in the eyes of Egos.” She hugged herself, turning away as a light breeze lifted her hair from her shoulders. “Something is very wrong, Adimar. It does not seem like him… He has never been forceful before, nor has he overshadowed me… But…” She looked out again, the breeze carrying away another silent sigh.
Adimar gave her a face of disbelief. Though Saraya didn’t see it, she could feel it. The disbelief had turned to bewilderment, then to anger. He started cursing, apologizing quickly before asking if she was alright. Saraya had looked to him, nodding, confirming that she was indeed alright. He hadn’t man handled her. She was only shaken up by the eerie resemblance in the situation.
In an attempt to shy away from the situation that had made her uncomfortable, she spoke on what little things that gave her hope… “Rhuarc… I believe he will be Car’rai,” She chuckled softly, looking into the sand. “One thing is for certain… Rhuarc is everything that resembles a just and fair leader. I can feel his love for his people. There is only one that outmatch it." She looked out to the sand, thinking that she loved that Rhuarc loved Aria. They deserved each other. Aria had come a long way, and she had truly been family. They both have. “I know that he would be Car’rai” She looked to Adimar, who saw her tactic and sighed with frustration. He began speaking his thoughts, and she listened watching grains of night shaded sand dance in the breeze. That night, it was what kept Adimar and Saraya talking. She knew that this matter would be handled, but she was scared as to the result of that.
(To be Continued…)
Dawn had come, and Saraya had finally worked the nerve to gather her books into her satchel and upon Adimar’s persistence in escorting her back, returned to the village. Ruscal and Mogar had spotted her, but when they saw Adimar, they had remained. She was unharmed, and with a Guardian. Ruscal watched as Saraya had been the first to hear that they had finally decided on their chosen leader from Kier and Archer. They had then come to Ruscal and Mogar to announce it. As they had ventured further into the city, they spotted Rhuarc being escorted to the Chiefs, and she could see twelve bloodied scars along his back. Saraya had looked to see the Roofmistress… Something was eerie about her. It was as though she had a vendetta against Aria, and it was an attempt to see Rhuarc’s resolve. With her ability, she could feel the gathering of the Chiefs and the Roofmistress. As she made it through the forming crowd of the Jai, The Roofmistress had announced in full confidence that Rhuarc had earned the title of Car’rai. Saraya had smiled as she heard the news, and watched the Jai take great honor in his glory.
“Jai of Kerabdras, I present to you Car’rai Rhuarc of the JAi, Batosai, Torchbearer, General of the High Priestess, He who comes with the Dawn and Lord of the Morning, I present him to you. He is now Chief of Chiefs and he shall lead our people into the future and out of darkness that Shade-Stealer cast us under”
Saraya had smiled as she looked up to Rhuarc. She knew that he would be the Car’rai. She knew that he would be the perfect choice, and a great leader to lead his people into battle and glory.
“Roofmistress, I thank you for the hospitality Kerabdras has shown me thus far and to that of my traveling companions. Kerabdras has been my home for many years and I rest easy in the knowledge that she is safe in your capable hands but I feel we must leave the warmth of your hospitality soon. You gave us water and shade when we were in need and provided safe haven in times of war. I shall forever be grateful, however, It would be remiss of me to stay. I may be Car’rai now but I am also the General of the High Priestess and I will not forsake her or my duty to the rest of the Land. As long as Shade-stealer rules we shall all suffer. Unite behind me fellow Jai, band together, fight with me and let us crush him under the combined strength of our people. We are the finest warriors this world has ever known, If we stand together then no one can stand against us, we shall destroy the False King and save our people and our way of life!”
There was an uneasy silence at first. Saraya had fully agreed to his notion, but when his people had hesitated, she took the chance to stand and at a distance, giving her brother in arms and friend her undoubted support. She knew that the Jai were a bit distant from change and acceptance. But, after what everyone had been through, it was clear that they were not mere Caledonians, or Volshi, or Fenlyk folk… They all were warriors, strong in might and bravery. Everyone had braved the desert and survived. Aria, being the top of the list. And in that, she gave Rhuarc her unshakeable support.
“Priestess, come join me if you would for we have much to talk about and I would do it in front of all those present here today for what I have to say will impact many across the Ramil.”
Saraya had smiled as bright as she could as she watched Aria take to his side, but what caught her attention was The Roofmistress. This woman was angry, clearly jealous of Aria being what Rhuarc wanted. Saraya furrowed her brows. She had her doubts about Serenna, but this seemed to make perfect sense. She wanted Rhuarc, but Rhuarc did not want her.
“I have journeyed with you across all of the Four Provinces, from the mountains of Volshi to the seas of Fenlyk, to the great plains of Caledon and now to our own endless sands of the Ramil. I have seen what you must do. You must enter the temple of Jai’hash in the very heart of the desert and I as Car’rai give my blessing for you to go on this pilgrimage.”
Slowly, Saraya had noticed that the people began to dare themselves to protest against their Car’rai’s proclamation. Saraya hurried to Rhuarc and Aria, to be support in case the Jai were bold enough to protest further. She had to do what she could. Protecting them was her business. Suddenly, The Roofmistress began to speak her venoms on his will.
“This cannot stand. It is unreasonable and unlawful! She may be the High Priestess but she is still a Dahkil! You may be Car’rai but that does not let you break our laws to suit your own agenda. You are meant to be a defender of the Jai and yet here you are flouting our laws with your first proclamation! This can not be tolerated!”
Saraya could tell that this woman was simply trying to dethrone him as soon as he had gotten his place as Car’rai because he hadn’t chosen her to be at his side. She wanted to speak, but she knew it was not her place. Besides, Rhuarc had a rebuttal for her and raised his hands so the protesting Jai could fall silent.
“I understand your objections but I will assure you now I will not break Jai law. I agree, no Dahkil may enter that temple, and I do not intend to send any Dahkil. We do not need to bend or break the laws to suit The Priestess’ purposes. Instead, we need only place her within them…”
She could tell that the Jai people were not understanding what Rhuarc was speaking of, but Saraya did. She smiled and looked to him as he spoke. “If Aria of House Tolshiv, High Priestess of Azera must go to the Temple of Jai’hash and only a Jai may enter the temple then the solution is simple. She must become a Jai.”
Saraya had looked again to The Roofmistress, who had a very cross look on her face. Saraya could tell that this woman was going to be a problem. She always had been. She even tried to lock Aria away because of a war that was already on their doorstep, and they wanted to blame her as if she was the one who brought it along. Saraya had kept her distance simply because she would not have made the situation any better butting heads with a Jai woman with a title, but she wanted to make sure Serenna knew that she was not blind, that she knew her intention. She cannot hide it, not even with her greatest feat of deception.
“This cannot be, she cannot simply be made a Jai, she is Dahkil. She has no Jai blood, no Jai clan!”
Saraya had stared her down, seeing the wrinkles in her face deepen with her anger. She didn’t want Aria to be accepted. She could feel that with her very heartbeat. Again, Rhuarc had a rebuttal. “What does it mean to be a Jai?”
His people hadn’t spoken, not even Serenna. Saraya had watched the crowd before she turned her attention back to their Car’rai. “It has never been about blood. Being Jai is keeping the old ways. I have bought the Priestess of our ways, she has had the teachings of a Jai Temple Acolyte, she understands Ahrak-Toh, honour and obligation and how if impacts every action that we do, every decision that we make. She has crossed the Ramil as we all have, setting out alone and learning the lessons that The Long Walk teaches. She has done that which is necessary to earn her knife! By that Reckoning she is Jai! Elder Mandarb, what do the scriptures say on this?”
Saraya’s gaze traveled to their Eldar, as he had spoken carefully and loud enough for all to hear. “It is as you say Car’rai Rhuarc, to be Jai is to upkeep the Old Ways of Ahrak-Toh. Understanding the system of honour and obligation, to cross the Ramil is to show maturity and understanding of what it takes to survive here. Strength, tenacity and teamwork. I believe she has done this. There is nothing in the texts that specifically mentions that the individual must be Jai by virtue of birth.”
Saraya smiled a bit. She was right about Rhuarc. He knew everything there was to bypass this woman’s antics and ploys. The only problem was her next outburst. “She has no Clan! A Jai cannot be without a clan, we all serve for the good of the clan over ourselves, it is one of the most basic tenants of our people. Without a clan she cannot be a Jai!.”
Saraya had saw that Rhuarc had no answer for this one. She had looked to Adimar, who furrowed his brows, clearly irritated by this woman. But, suddenly, a voice had spoken above the heads of even the Roofmistress. “I have known of Rhaurc for many years, he brought much honour to the Farlan while he was part of our clan. If the Priestess needs a clan then the Farlan are happy to support her. As Chief of the Farlan Jai, I offer her a place in our clan!”
“I too have heard much of Aria Jaiheart. One of my own, Daken has traveled with the Car’rai and seen the loyalty that she inspires. He has also pledged himself to her service, I know Daken’s heart and if that were all I knew about her it would be enough but she also has the blessing of Ryn, my constant companion. I trust the judgement of a lightbender over that of any man. As Chief of the Tardaad Jai, I offer her a place in our clan."
“It seems that the Priestess is in high demand for I too wish to support her. My clan came across a solitary Dahkil woman in the desert, close to death but fighting with all of her strength to survive. That strength of spirit is exactly what we teach in our children. She stayed with my people who nursed her back to strength and sent her back on her way into the Ramil. The impact that Aria Jaiheart had on my people has been measured. I am not ashamed to admit that she has inspired us. We were proud to have stood by her then and we are proud to stand by her now. As Chief of the Danau Jai, I offer her a place in my clan.”
Saraya smiled as she watched the Chiefs accept her sister and friend into their clans. She looked to Rhuarc, who was also relieved that the people had wanted to accept her into their clan. Most assured, Aria would pick a clan that was befitting of her, and fully subjugate her into the people as necessary. But, the Roofmistress wouldn’t quit. Saraya could see the growing anger and jealousy that welled from within, she could feel her feet clutch the sand beneath, and she could feel that this woman hated that Aria was being accepted without speaking on her own behalf.
“She has yet to fully earn her knife! Crossing the Ramil is only one part of the test, if she is to be a Jai then let her complete our rites fully. She must complete the recital for the knife that the blacksmiths select for her. Let her list the names of all the Jai that have wielded the steel before her and see if she is worthy then to continue their legacy. Until she has passed that final trial she is no Jai.”
Saraya sighed to herself. This woman was clearly beyond her agitation and jealousy, and tried her best to throw another wrench in the plan on getting Aria into the temple. Still, she hadn’t stopped anything, and she knew that. Rhuarc had prepared himself for this one.
“You speak true, Roofmistress. Let Aria Jaiheart seek out the blacksmiths to select a knife and only after she has passed the Trial of Naming may she venture to the Temple of Jai’hash. As Car’rai this is my proclamation.”
Suddenly, he reached up to the heavens, and Saraya had a look of near confusion… That was until there was a loud crack and lightning had struck him. Saraya hadn’t moved, nor budged, but when the light had dimmed, there was Rhuarc, in his complete glory, and with the lightning to command in his fingers. Saraya stared at Rhuarc as he shown his resolve, and smiled as the Roofmistress had finally been silenced.
As he made it perfectly clear to make it so, Saraya had watched among the masses as they all complied and bowed to him with respect. She had a feeling that this would be simple, but Serenna wouldn’t make it so. She could tell that this woman did not want to accept Aria as one of the Jai. Nor did she want her to be what Rhuarc wanted. Saraya sighed to herself as she looked to Aria and Rhuarc, only staying nearby just in case they needed her assistance.
Just as things were calming, something or someone had yanked her away from Aria and Rhuarc and off the stage toward them and into a nearby building. It was Carrick. Saraya had gasped at the strength displayed, and looked to Carrick with a surprised, yet on guard look. “What is the meaning of this?!” she exclaimed. Carrick’s face was twisted in a quiet fury, one that Saraya had never dreamed would be on his face.
“What is the meaning of you wandering off last night?! You know how I worry about your safety” he growled towards her. This was anything but him, but she looked around to assure that there weren’t people watching. “Carrick, now is not the time nor the place to be angry with me. I just needed air, is all. I-”
“Don’t pass my worry off as nothing, Saraya. What were you doing for you to be gone all night?” Carrick growled, closing in on her. Saraya began stepping back, seeing a crazed rage from within him. She began to feel a fear she shouldn’t from within herself. “What has gotten into you, Carrick? You are not yourself,” Saraya backed up, balling her fists up as he inched closer. “My wife won’t lay with me. My wife won’t stay in the village for more than a few hours. My WIFE won’t speak with any of her comrades and stay around them. So, what are you up to, Saraya? What are you hiding from me?” Saraya’s heart was beating faster than horses hooves on the earth. She was panicking, nearly passing out from the obstacle before her, but she forced herself to stay conscious.
Suddenly, Carrick’s hand had found her neck, and yanked her towards him. She gasped, clearly terrified of what he would do. “Let me go, Carrick!” She exclaimed. He stared at her hard, fury still burning in his eyes. “Tell me, Saraya. Tell me, right now! What are you doing?” Saraya had to think fast before he became further enraged. Suddenly, within a blink of her terrified eyes, Carrick’s hand had loosened from her neck and fell to the ground, knocked out. He had a punch mark on his left cheek. Saraya, clearly gasping and scared of the whole ordeal, had backed away from him. She didn’t see who helped her, she was so distraught. She huddled up and cried on the corner, finally able to heave away all the fear that held her hostage as she looked at her knocked out husband. What was going on? Why was he so angry? What had gotten into him? She hoped that Rhuarc and Aria didn’t see what had happened. She didn’t want to take away from what needed to be done. She just covered her face until she was able to get up and slip away from the building, through the crowd, and back onto the stage, wiping her face quickly to hide her tears and followed Rhuarc and Aria in silence when it was time to move.
All the while, Ruscal and Mogar had noticed everything. She was on stage with Aria and Rhuarc, and suddenly she wasn’t. They looked about, noticing Kier, Owl, Archer and Crow watching the festivities as Star and Sky were busy eating. Ruscal did spot Saraya, though. She managed to see her hurrying away, back onto the stage. This bewildered Ruscal. What had just happened? Her eyes were red, and there was a mark on her neck she hadn’t seen before. Ruscal had looked towards the crowd. She’ll have to get to the bottom of this. Something was not right. She could feel it.
Aria would have wished the night would never end if she thought it had a chance of coming true, but she knew that it could not, and neither of them could stop the sun no matter how much they wished to try. Aria was left to simply live in the moment and be grateful the time she got to spend with Rhuarc. When it neared midnight she felt him shift beside her and the blissful lull she had descended to was ripped away by the harshness of reality. She followed him quietly and a bit sleepy back to the temple until she was finally deposited back in her room. She watched him leave without a word, and he needed say nothing for everything had already been said between them. Aria knew she should have slept, but it was elusive, and her nerves were running strong. Regardless of whoever was named Car’rai in the morning, Aria would either have to earn their blessing, or take a much more drastic measure. She could not let anything, or anyone stop her from reaching the temple of Jai’hash.
She remained awake for a few more hours, sitting on the ledge of her window looking out at the sleeping city and beyond it, the sands of the Ramil. In her nerves she gripped the crystal pendant Adimar had gifted her long ago, and turned it between her fingers. Who knew what tomorrow would bring, and what it might mean. For Aria, she knew a new trial awaited her regardless of the outcome. She just wasn’t sure how much this trial would ask of her. On her arm she felt the vine slither around her skin, and she glanced down to see it curling against her affectionately, as if to help alleviate some of her anxiety. She smiled at it fondly, have grown so accustomed to its presence on her she could almost forget it was there at times.
“Tomorrow I will offer up a pledge to the Car’rai and all of Jai that you will be planted somewhere very special. Somewhere with plenty of sun and water. Somewhere you will become a most happy tree. You cannot live on my arm forever,” Aria promised the cutting. Aria was certain the vine was sentient as it gave a firm squeeze about her arm as if to hug her. She smiled despite herself and affectionately stroked a leaf before finally retiring to her bed in the hopes of catching some sleep.
Out in the sands, Adimar watched Saraya closely waiting to hear what she might say, and if she’d share her secrets with him in the first place. Aside from all that, she was clearly upset with Carrick, and he cared not the reason. He wasn’t intending to leave his friend alone in the sands at night. She was afraid to share her emotions, bottling them up despite her natural inclination to wear them on her sleeve. Despite this, she at least shared with him her desire to learn more about Carrick’s linage. His bloodline could be traced back to an ancient, and while normally that didn’t mean anything in the grand scheme of things these days, Carrick’s connection with Saraya seemed to have awaken once dormant traits. Saraya called this an ‘apex’, giving way to a rise in power for Carrick. That sounded burdensome to Adimar, and it seemed to be troubling Saraya.
“He does seem to be acting rather strangely, as if he’s paranoid about something. He seemed off tonight, and you don’t seem alright with it. Will you speak to me of this?” Adimar asked, and though Saraya tried to assure him she was alright, he simply gave her a look that said he knew that to be a lie. She relented with a delicate sigh, looking flustered as she swore his behavior and actions wasn’t normal for him, that she feared fort him because these changes were not like the previous one.
He left his fruit forgotten as he listened to her speak, his brow furrowing with every word, until she turned away from him. He knew she tried to hide her tears from him, but he could hear the emotion waver in her voice.
“It is a familiar feeling of dread and want. It is like it was with Egos. It is a lingering fear that makes me fear I will never come home to Aramis… My son is months old now… Seeing this dreadful world, I cannot see him… I cannot hold him… It frightens me more than anything.” He could almost feel her sorrow and he knew nothing else to do but reach out and set a firm hand to her shoulder. Hopefully leaving some assurance that she was not alone and would not have to face such fears alone.
“Saraya, you will see your son again. I promise you, I will help you return to Aramis so you may hold him in your arms once more. However, I am saddened to hear this news of Carrick. I had not known he was making you feel this way. Egos was a torment for you, that your husband would have you comparing feelings to something so traumatic is…” Adimar gave an frustrated sigh. “As I man I would be ashamed if I learned the woman I loved felt this way about me. If it is not too much of an imposition, I’d like for you to tell me what is happening. Saraya, I am your friend, and if there is a way for me to help… I want to help you.”
She gasped looking reluctant, but he could see her slowly relenting to share with him the events that had burdened her so. Carrick’s behavior was apparently erratic, and whatever was going on was enough to give Saraya cause for concern. His actions were unbecoming, including enough spirits to cloud his judgement, and a sort of strange possessiveness that had Saraya drawing connections back to how she felt about Egos. She hugged herself, turning away from him as a light breeze went by them. Adimar remained silent, sensing Saraya was not finished speaking.
“Something is very wrong, Adimar. It does not seem like him… He has never been forceful before, nor has he overshadowed me… But…” Her words trailed off, and she seemed unable to look at him. He did not wish to hear anymore. His own face twisted with anger and confusion, but he was also concerned.
“I do not know what could be wrong with Carrick, but I doubt very much that his ancestry has anything to do with this change of character. Then again, perhaps he was always this way. Aria once confessed to me that he was once in dealings with Malik, and she released him from her service for more than one reason. He hasn’t hurt you has he? You’re alright?” He demanded of her the truth, and though she assured him Carrick had not laid hands on her, Adimar was still reluctant to believe it.
Saraya quickly changed the topic, mentioning her belief in Rhuarc being named Car’rai. He had to agree, from what he could make of Jai politics, Rhuarc stood a very good chance at being named. How such a decision would be made was still a mystery. He didn’t have the heart to press the matter of Carrick further, and didn’t want to speak on something that clearly brought her pain.
“If we’re lucky, and if we have the Gods’ favor… Rhuarc being Car’rai would significantly help our odds at completing the trials. I fear what will happen if Rhuarc is not named, what that means for Aria… and how far will she go to do what she has to. That trek across the desert changed her, and then Luther…” His words faded off. “I want to tell her I’m proud of her, but I know she’d never hear of it.” He sighed heavily, uncertain in his own emotions and looked out into the velvety sands under moonlight with Saraya. “I haven’t told Aria about Lara yet.” To be fair he hadn’t told anyone, so Saraya’s curiosity was completely warranted. “Lara wants to return to Fenlyk after her training to rally the remaining resistance there for the final attack. She’s forging her own path, and… I have to respect that. I cannot help her any more. I’ve taught her everything I can, and the people in Fenlyk have no one to lead them right now. Lara realizes it has to be her who rebuilds her homeland.”
Adimar sat up with Saraya into the early hours of morning. Dawn was nearing and Adimar felt it best that Saraya return back to the city with him. He felt better having been able to talk with Saraya, and felt that they had also grown closer now that they’d both shared their thoughts with the other. The sun had just crested over the dunes, and the city was awake in the early morning. People were already gathered in the streets hoping to hear the name of their new Car’rai. Adimar carefully escorted Saraya through the gathering of people who began to collect outside the main square where on opposing sides was the Roofmistresses tower, and to the other side, the temple. Rhuarc, the elders and the clan chiefs were already gathering in the square, and Serena had emerged from her tower. Adimar gave a quick cursory glance around the faces, but he did not see Aria’s. He was distracted by the call Elder Mandarb made hailing Rhuarc as Car’rai. There was no great thunderous applause, but rather a rumbling murmur of whispers. Rhuarc seemed unbothered, giving his thanks to the roofmistess’ hospitality, and then petitioning his fellow Jai to join him against Malik. Adimar and Saraya make that their moment to step forward and stand with Rhuarc in a show of their own support, however little or grand it was seen by those in witness.
Aria was woken at dawn by Acolytes who had come to dress her. They covered her in soft white robes, fastened the braided cord around her waist, and attempted to place jewelry upon her. But at the sight of the gaudy broach Serena had attempted to use to buy Aria’s favor, she waved it away. She would not give the woman the satisfaction, and Aria was very confident they would have to be in each other’s company today regardless of the outcome. She no longer felt the same reservations as she had before, and after having spent last night with Rhuarc, Aria felt far more confident in their relationship, and knew she did not want to give him up.
So it was a delightful, and horrifying surprise to see Rhuarc before his people and addressing them as their Car’rai as she made her way into the city’s main square. There was a great buzz of energy and curiosity among the Jai gathered. Kuvma, Kor’reth, and Thad accompanied her, as did several of the Temple priests and acolytes. Aria could see Adimar and Saraya moving to stand beside Rhuarc in the strange tension that followed his plea. He remained tall and strong, confident in his plan, and his goals. She watched him, feeling a sense of pride, even with a bit of concern over the angry looking marks that stained is back in blood. He must have sensed her eyes on him, because his gaze found her and she tensed, fighting every urge to simply break way from her company and into his arms.
Thankfully he was suddenly calling for her to join him, as he wished to speak with her in front of everyone. She felt her mouth go dry, feeling a touch awkward as she made her way forward to stand with him. She could feel everyone’s eyes on her, but none more intense or burning with rage the way Serena’s seemed to be. Aria could not be bothered by Serena, her attention was solely on Rhuarc and hearing the words he said to her and the people around them. What he had to see left many enraged, and Aria feeling nervous. He was granting her permission to seek out the temple of Jai’hash. This caused many to shout out angrily in protest.
Aria was not offended by this, she understood how sacred the temple and its surrounding land was to the Jai. It was no surprise to her that the mere suggestion would leave some feeling as though their culture and heritage was being trampled upon by allowing an outsider to visit a place even they dare not tread to. Rhuarc’s blessing was welcomed, but it meant little if the people were not in support. Aria needed their support more than she needed Rhuarc’s. The greatest voice against her pilgrimage was Serena, who spat her ire at the mere idea that Rhuarc would allow a Dahkil to travel to the temple. Going so far as to blame him of breaking their laws. Aria did her best to mask her emotions, glancing over at Saraya and Adimar and seeing the resolve in their eyes, that they still had her back, even as many Jai shouted in agreement with the roof mistress. Aria had expected rejection at some degree, and she knew the best thing to do was remain impassive and stoic, allowing Rhuarc to settle the issue in his own way.
The argument persisted between Rhuarc and Serenna, who was absolutely determined to stop Aria from advancing even one step towards the temple. Rhuarc’s solution left even Aria’s face twisting into one of ultimate shock, while Serenna looked ready to nearly burst a vessel. Become Jai? That was Rhuarc’s solution? Just as Aria thought it couldn’t be possible since she wasn’t Jai, and even if she was, as Priestess she wouldn’t have a clan. Serenna made the same argument. Both women, as well as the entire city square had eyes on Rhuarc. Even Adimar looked wholly curious and confused at the prospect. Rhuarc seemed to be ready for this, asking those gathered what it means to be Jai, and laying witness to the things Aria had done in order to reach this city. Not to mention the Jai influence in her teachings. Even Elder Rigby had tried to teach her of the importance of tradition to the Jai. If it were not for Rhuarc and Ayab, or even Vega’s help, Aria doubled she would have gotten this far in Abdhu’jai at all.
Elder Mandarb assured the people that being Jai did not come from virtue of brith, and she felt her heart flutter at his words of approval. She did her best to mask her shock, and maintain her posture, but this was most unexpected. Serenna’s reminder of her lack of clan, was the only reason Aria felt she would never have the support of the Jai, but all of her attempts to remain stoic melted away as the Farlan Chief spoke, offering her a place among the Farlan. Her heart skipped a beat, jaw slackening in pure shock. Kasi of the Tardaad offered her a place next, making her mouth go dry with nerves. Chief Vaduu of the Danau was the last who offered up a place in their clan. This made both Kuvma and Kor’reth grin from beside her, and give her reassuring expressions.
Aria had never felt so humbled before. Their offers left her to feel quite emotional, and uncertain of what she should say. Which Clan should she choose? She had no chance to even offer her thanks to the chiefs for their invitations, when Serenna made a final toss at stopping Aria. Was it simple jealousy, or was it something else? Surely all of this dislike for Aria was not so simple a thing as a that. Even Aria could not argue with the points Serenna was making, because in the end Serenna was protecting the traditions and customs of her people. Serenna demanded Aria earn her knife, reciting the names of those who came before her. With Rhuarc’s agreement things seemed to be settled, and he suddenly struck his hand into the air, calling lightning to his hand hand. Aria smiled, while around people gasped and murmured in shock. Vega had always said Rhuarc would have to master ‘cold fire’ if he hoped to fully control his powers. Aria had no doubt Vega would be proud, because Aria certainly was.
Rhuarc’s display of power seemed to compel the masses to comply, or as the very least, wait to see if Aria could pass this last trial. Though since Rhuarc desired to make things public, Aria felt now was also the best time to offer of her promise to the Jai people. She waited long enough for him to release the lightening he controlled, before speaking.
“Car’rai Rhuarc, I thank you for this gracious opportunity. I will complete the tasks you have set before me to the greatest of my abilities and with absolute respect. I am incredibly humbled and grateful for this opportunity to become part of the Jai, your culture, and your traditions. As High Priestess, I have no family of my own, no kin, no clan… for I belong to all of Azeroth, just as you now belong to all of Jai.” she looked over at the chiefs and offered them a grateful expression and smile. “I have no words to express my gratitude. You have each offered me something I have only ever dared to dream of. A place where I can belong. This is the greatest gift I have ever been offered, and my decision was not the easiest. Many Tardaad Jai were helpful and welcoming in my crossing as I reached waylays. I was able to walk the last few days into this city with a bright young man from the Farlan who despite his young age taught me a great deal. However, I feel my heart is already with a clan. I choose to join the Danau, for I believe my time spent with them was fate. It was the first time I was able to just… be. At least for a small while. I owe the Danau, specifically Kuvma and Kor’reth for saving me, and for the others who inspired and taught me. I have no means of repaying you other than to graciously accept a place among your clan, Chief Vaduu, and hope to bring the clan much honor.”
Aria finally looked over at Rhuarc, her focus solely on what was happening and offered up her arm. The sleeve of her robe slipped down to her elbow to reveal the living vine upon her arm. “As High Preistess of Azera, I would also like to offer a gift to the Jai, Car’rai Rhuarc. This is a cutting of the last living Sanctuary Tree before its passing. Since then I have planted a new one which now thrives in the Caledon Temple. I have carried this cutting from Caledon, and across the Ramil so that I may offer it to the people of Abdhu’jai. I have thought long and hard as to where I might plant this, and I think it would be best planted at the cradle where the River Nine begins and ends. I would do this in honor of the Jai, in service to Jai’hash, and to honor the old ways by returning the Sanctuary Trees to the four provinces.” She said all of this loud enough for the people to hear, and her arm raised high enough those nearby could see it raise off her arm fanning its leaves under the sun.
From where Adimar stood he noticed Saraya and Carrick hurrying away as Aria began speaking. He arched a brow confused, but it was not his business. He did find it rather bad manners that Carrick would call Saraya away during such a historic moment, one she was fully a part of. Perhaps something was wrong with Carrick, just as Saraya had said. He had to wonder what had caused this. Could it be Carrick finally showing his true colors or was it dark magic? Adimar might have suspected magic simply because the behavior was becoming increasingly out of character for him. However, when Ayab had been struck by the Fade, he had fought off the ill effects of dark magic until the very end. To be fair that was not an easy feat for even the most disciplined mage, and Ayab had managed to fight it off. If dark magic was at hand, then Carrick was loosing against it.
Adimar was listening to Aria offer up the sanctuary tree, when Saraya finally returned. With a cursory glance he was tell she’d been crying and he frowned. Now was not the time to talk about it, but as soon as they were free from witnessing Rhuarc’s rise to power, and the Jai’s historic welcome of an outsider into their populous, Adimar had every intention of pulling Saraya aside to find out what happened.
Once Aria’s gift was accepted, she lowered her arm, and though Serenna was practically steaming out of her ears, she motioned to welcome them all join her for what would be a grand feast this evening. The jai had a Car’rai, and though things started off in an unorthodox way, this was still a cause for celebration. Serenna offered they take shade in the tower until the night’s festivities. There was much to discuss and plan among the chiefs and their new Car’rai. The Chiefs and Rhuarc headed inside, along with Elder Mandarb, and Aria followed behind, not willing to be cast out again. Her eyes followed Rhuarc with quiet pride at his accomplishments. Serenna didn’t seem to want to try and find out what would happen if she tried to send Aria away now. Instead the woman fell into line beside Aria, startling her slightly considering the ire Serenna had just slung her way.
“You should let him go now, before it’s too late” Serenna said quietly from beside her. Aria glanced over at Serenna to see her watching Rhuarc at the lead. Aria frowned, and against her better judgement she looked over to the woman and frowned, and folded her hands against her waist. Just in case one of them felt like lashing out and slapping the roofmistress across the face. Aria wasn’t certain how much more she could take from the Roofmistress of Kerabdras.
“Excuse me?” Aria asked back just as softly. Sensing their private conversation Aria’s guards and Serenna’s attendants backed away to provide them greater privacy as they entered the tower together.
“Don’t play dumb,” she warned. “You heard what I said, so do it, and spare him that pain.” Aria tilted her head confused.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Aria said looking away from Serenna, but she remained undeterred. Going so far as to stop as they entered the tower, letting the chiefs proceed further into the building, while they remained in the hall. Aria remained passive, even as she felt Serenna’s dark eyes boring holes into her own. Though Aria was not prepared for the whispered hiss that escaped Serenna with cutting words and a harsh truth
“Rhuarc is a not just a man,” Serenna spat. “He is a man who the Jai can rally behind. He is best in service to his people. He is Car’rai now.” Aria tensed at Serenna’s words, and felt her body grow clammy the more she spoke. “I have no doubts Rhuarc will be remembered as one of the greats. He already has the prestige of being Jai’hash’s Chosen One, and your General. Elder Vega called him Battosai, not that you would understand the meaning of that, Dahkil.” Aria was finally looking over at Serenna, lips pursed tightly together to keep from speaking while the woman continued her barrage of voicing the very fears Aria had been feeling, and her happiness at the invitation by the other clans to join was squandered by Serenna’s reminder. “He belongs with his people, and part of that means fighting our enemies, and bearing strong Jai children with a Jai wife. Such a partner should be someone who can help him maintain such a status, and who can provide him with children of equal caliber.”
“Is that why you don’t like me? Because I am not Jai?”
“I don’t like you because he loves you!” Serenna hissed dangerously, turning on Aria like a coiled snake. Aria remained entirely poised an unflinching in the face of Serenna’s cold words. “He loves you and would follow you.”
“How would you know that?” Aria asked dully, hands still clasped tightly at her waist.
“Please! He refused a position as clan chief because of you. You can’t give him anything!” Aria could see the passion in Serenna’s body trembling with rage… and a dangerous desire. Aria felt her throat tensing, but still she held her tongue, letting Serenna say what had been burning at her. This had had clearly been causing the roofmistress pain. “You are the High Priestess of Azera. Are you even allowed to Marry? To have children? Do you really think you can let him go on with this farce?”
To be honest, Aria didn’t know the answers to those questions, and she’d been too afraid to find them. She was afraid of what she might find, and she wasn’t sure she was strong enough to withstand duty if it meant having to sacrifice love. Serenna was right, of course she was, Rhuarc was special. His people needed him, and Aria would be irrevocably selfish if she attempted to keep him at her side… because she knew of at least one thing: She could not stay here forever.
Aria wasn’t certain what to say, and maybe that was the worst part. She observed Serenna for a moment longer, and then looked back down the hallway where Rhuarc and the chiefs had ventured off to. Her mind went to last night, to things said and those left unspoken. She suddenly remembered every little step they had taken together since meeting each other to reach this point, and she was not as afraid as she was before. “You’re probably right,” Aria murmured. “Maybe I should let him go, but then that would be giving up…” Serenna blinked as if caught off guard.
“What?” She asked incredulously. Aria didn’t seem bothered by Serenna’s obvious upset. Aria could now cower now.
“I don’t make a habit of giving up Serenna,” Aria said plainly, her tone and turn of her mood startling Serenna and if possible was going to have her seeing red. “You see, I know you’re making this demand of me because you think his affection is one sided.”
“You have shown me nothing that says its not,” Serenna disputed. Aria gave her a genuine if not contrite grin.
“And he has shown me nothing that says his affection matches yours for his. So why would I let him go? Do you love him, or would he simply give you more power?” Serenna glared at Aria’s accusation.
“Rhuarc and I have a past, don’t forget that, and there’s no requirement that says those that enter into a union need to be in love, just be in agreement. Break his heart now, so I can fix it, and he can lead his people.” Aria smiled then, and chuckled softly to herself.
“No. I will not be doing that. If I let him part from me, it is because he wants to. Not because someone would use him for their own personal gain.” Aria and Serenna stared the other down, sparks nearly flying off of the tension they both put off. Aria was unwilling to back down, and though Serenna was a whole head taller than Aria, she felt just as tall. “I should thank you, if you believe I do not love Rhuarc, then that means I can continue to protect him from Shade-stealer.” Serenna’s expression turned calculating, it was new information she hadn’t thought of. “Didn’t think of that did you? Like you said, I am the High Priestess of Azera… which means I have enemies aplenty, and none would hesitate to use Rhuarc against me if they had even the faintest idea of how much he means to me. Now that you know, don’t question it ever again. So try if you must, do what you will, and we will both let Rhuarc decide for himself what he wishes to do with his life.” Serenna was so angry she couldn’t speak, and was instead forced to stand and watch as Aria proceeded down the hall to join the chiefs. She took a steadying breath as she left Serenna behind, and wondering if Vega was laughing and watching.
The bolt of lightning in Rhuarc's grasp strained to be free, it was an incredible power even more so than the flames that Rhuarc had grown used to. Only now did Rhuarc truly realise how much power that he had access to, how little of his own abilities that he had really tested. Ancient texts had often spoken about the raw destructive power that Jai'hash had access to and in the past Rhuarc was not sure if that could be true but as he held one of the primal elemental powers of the world in his hands, it fighting with all its might to find a target to destroy he was starting to see now how true it could be. Rhuarc let go of the bolt and it flew off into the sands to strike at targets unknown but the power on display for all to see had certainly made the impression that he had hoped for. The crowd was silenced at the display of power and that was when Aria spoke of how she graciously accepted Rhuarc's offer to become Jai and truly be one of them and that she accepted Vaduu's generous offer to be part of their clan. Perhaps at one time Rhuarc would have been upset that she had not chosen the Farlan, as that was his own and Ayab's clan but as Car'rai he belonged to all clans, he would still be part of her clan and if she was to be Jai then he would be connected with her. Aria's revelation that she had a cutting of the True Sanctuary tree sent a reverent whisper through the gathered Jai for long had the Jai held the Sanctuary tree sacred. In many ways it was the most beloved symbol of the Old Ways, and as so few trees could survive the harshness of the Ramil the people of Adbhu'Jia had been fascinated with the Sanctuary Tree as a result. Planting a new one by the River Nine would gain her much love from the people and the proclamation was greeted with cheers and shouts of joy.
Soon they all returned once more to the Roofmistress's tower for what seemed like another banquet, hopefully this would be the last before they could get out of Kerabdras and make some more progress in their journey. Rhuarc had enjoyed being home again but he knew that he could not stay, he had more important things to do, they all did. While Rhuarc led the procession into the tower Serenna entered with Aria but Rhuarc knew that the Priestess could take care of herself and was more than a match for the silver tongued Jai Roofmistress. Whatever was discussed between them left the Roofmistress clearly surprised, and for the majority of people watching she seemed her normal, unflappable self but Rhuarc had known Serenna a long time and he could tell thats he was furious at whatever had been said between the two women. Rhuarc was incredibly proud of Aria, there were few who could beat the proud Roofmistress at her own game and while he didn't know the details of what was said he knew the character of the two women. As the celebration of the Car'rai marched on Aria was approached by an unlikely figure. “It is good to see you again Priestess. I much prefer this to our last encounter.” Standing there in his tattered cloak was Casca, the last time that he had seen Aria was when Luther had stabbed him through the heart as he defended her from his assault. It was one thing knowing the Great Heretic was immortal but quite another seeing it in person. Did Aria now understand the true weight of the curse that Azera had placed on him countless years ago? “How does it feel to do what not even Azera could? She may have been a great friend to the Jai but she was never accepted as one of them. It seems that there is much to come from you yet. Are you nervous about your Trial of Naming?”
Rhuarc managed to extract himself from the various Jai that had wanted to congratulate him and find out what he had planned for their people. Rhaurc had never been one for politicking and the whole practice was exhausting for him. He was glad to just grab a moment alone with a horn of mead in hand. He went over to join Saraya, as they had not managed to spend much time together of late and Rhaurc regretted that circumstance had forced them apart. “Are you well Saraya? You do not look your normal self? Where is Carrick? I have not seen him since yesterday and his absence is conspicuous.” Rhuarc was worried about Saraya, she seemed withdrawn and unlike her usual brash self and it seemed that Adimar was also worried as when he saw Rhuarc and Saraya alone he joined them at the table to her her out. “Saraya, we are your friends, let us help you. Do not shut us out again. No person can be a fortress, we are stronger together.” Rhuarc was sure that Adimar also had his concerns and the new Car'rai would not allow her to suffer alone, they had seen how distressed Saraya had been when they were crossing the Ramil and the burden that she had placed on herself during that time. The Guardians could not afford to be divided, especially with Lara spending so much time training, the three of them would need to lean on each other more than ever. “Who would have thought that back when we met for the first time in Central City it would all lead to this. You a Queen and now me as Car'rai, and of course we met our Princeling here in Tanaka.” It was strange to think that Adimar had not been there at the very beginning, he seemed so integral to the group that them being together for any length of time before meeting him seemed absurd. “I'm lucky to have both of you by my side.”
The excitement of The newly titled Car'rai had been enough for Saraya to calm down. She kept her person together as Rhuarc and Aria had been surrounded by the jai, and one she had to keep her eye on, Serenna. She could hear the conversation between them, and almost thought to intervene, but Aria had proven that she could handle her own. All the while, she couldn't help but feel a shiver up her spine as pain became noticeable. Her eyes welled up in tears again, and she fought against them. She couldn’t mess up a momentous moment for Rhuarc. And to see it all unfold meant that she witnessed her friend and treasured ally succeed his people, and be endowed with the greatness that he always had been, she felt relief that the trials would finally be completed, and they could finally know the very thing that could destroy Malik once and for all.
Saraya’s silence did seem to bother a few people, however. Especially the annoying Serenna. Saraya had always intended to allow Aria and the others to find their own strength, but it had seemed that the twists of fate had pulled this Jai into her path. Serenna gave her a hazardous look, one Saraya knew all too well of. Saraya had returned the look, watching as the defeated roofmistress departed. Saraya had sighed as she followed, trying to avoid the thoughts that could ruin such a historic day.
What surprised her was that Adimar had come, and Rhuarc, who had been surrounded by his people, found his way over to her as they celebrated. “Are you well, Saraya? You do not look like your normal self.” Saraya had flustered a moment, looking to both of her comrades. “Where is Carrick? I have not seen him since yesterday and his absence in conspicuous”
She wanted to speak, but when she did, her throat had burned something fierce. She grabbed at her neck as Rhuarc furrowed his brows. “Saraya, we are your friends, let us help you. Do not shut us out again. No person can be a fortress, we are stronger together” Saraya tried once again to speak, but it burned more, far worse than before. She thought they could see her distress, but she realized she hadn’t flinched from her reflection upon her gauntlets. “Who would have thought that back when we met for the first time in Central City it would lead to this. You a Queen, and now me as Car’rai, and of course we met our Princeling here in Tanaka.”
She felt the need to try again. Rhuarc was right. She needed to tell them. And she was trying, so hard, in fact, that when Rhuarc commented “I’m lucky to have the both of you by my side”, she coughed violently, grabbing onto her throat. It was like lava had been lodged in her throat, and as she coughed, Adimar had took notice and offered his aid. With all she could squeeze out, she could utter one word… “Carrick!”
She could feel the burning in her throat, and it had hurt to the point of tears. She held her neck as she forced out the words. “He… Is not… Alright… Something is wrong… He was trying to…” she didn’t realize that his hand mark was on her neck, and his grip had bruised her, to where it was red and almost purple. The stress on her neck had spread, and she tried her best to breathe in and recover, but she was coughing out lava, and her eyes watered with pain brimming. She needed to sit down, and Rhuarc had caught her before she could double over. With the quickness, he managed to find an unoccupied chair and sat her down while Adimar hurried to get her a grog of water. Once Adimar had given Saraya the water, and she quickly drank of it, Rhuarc had made quick work in asking her what had happened as he discovered the violent marks on her neck. “Did he do this to you?” he asked. Saraya, nodded, a little ashamed to have to speak so gravely about her husband, but she had no one else to turn to. She tried to speak, but despite the water’s refreshing coolness, the burning feeling lingered, if not intensified. “What happened, Saraya” came from Rhuarc with lethality. Saraya looked to him with concerned and worried eyes. She was quick to speak, forgetting that her throat was burning. “Please, don't hurt-” she coughed violently due to her mistake. Adimar had already gotten another grog of water, but when he had gotten back, Adimar had started telling him everything she had told her outside the walls. Saraya had hung her head, feeling ashamed, but refused to cry.
As Adimar spun the web of the details she had given him, Mogar had come to see what the commotion was about. When Mogar had seen Saraya’s throat all bruised, He furrowed his brows and looked to Rhaurc. “Who has done this, brother?” His voice was lethal, almost as lethal as Rhuarc’s. Saraya looked between the two men, scared, almost terrified of what would happen to Carrick. They shared a menacing look before looking to her. “Where is he?” Mogar asked. He clenched his fist, and Rhuarc gave a menacing huff. Saraya could've sworn she saw smoke as he exhaled. “He was knocked out… in the building over there” Saraya had pointed to the building Carrick dragged her to. “... I do not know who knocked him out…” she looked to Adimar, then Rhuarc and Mogar. “Please… Please do not hurt him… I need answers… not any more guilt… Please” her pleas were genuine. She needed to ensure that she needed answers about what had happened. “Saraya, you are not to worry. You should not hold any guilt in telling us what has happened. You have us to help. You have my word” Saraya nearly cried. Adimar hugged her in support as Mogar had looked to Rhuarc. “I am with you, brother. If Saraya trusts you and your judgment, so shall i. What shall we do?” Saraya had started drinking the water again and Adimar had offered to get her some food to calm her down. She shook her head, trying to gather her bearings to no avail… She had been putting this off for too long... “I need herbs… and a pipe… I have been delaying this for too long…”
Aria left Serena behind with an obvious rage, while Aria left feeling rather confident in herself. Not that this was a competition, but it had been a battle of sorts. Serena was just overly confident she would win, and simply needed a gentle but firm reminder that she was not the only contender on the field. Serena did have one advantage, and that was her history with Rhuarc, and her innate understanding of their culture. Aria had a unique opportunity to be part of the Jai culture but it did not make up for a lifetime of immersion. She was determined to give it her very best effort, and though she felt confident, there was also cause to remain humble.
She came to enter the room and spotted Rhuarc. She could see the bloody wounds on Rhuarc’s back, and wished she could see to it that they were tended to, but she was also quite certain he would not allow such a thing. He was with Adimar and Saraya all three of them looking quite put out by something. She sighed nervously, sensing things were off-kilter among the group and she could not fight her curiosity. It heightened all the more as she spotted Mogar, Saraya’s attendant leaving the room with quite the profound scowl. Aria had no idea what was going on. Having been separated from them and contained primarily in the temple, Aria realized how much she was out of the loop. Her feet eventually led her towards Rhuarc where she hoped to steal a moment from him. She wanted to know what was afoot.
She came to a sudden halt by the sight of Casca approaching her. Her eyes widened in the belief that she may be seeing a ghost. She had seen him run through with Luther’s sword. How was he still alive? Was this the work of Azera’s curse? She stood stunned for only a moment before a smile began to spread across her face at his words. This was far better than their last encounter, and she was pleased to see him unscathed. She couldn’t help but agree with him, and greeted him warmly like an old friend.
“How does it feel to do what not even Azera could? She may have been a great friend to the Jai but she was never accepted as one of them. It seems that there is much to come from you yet. Are you nervous about your Trial of Naming?”
Aria would be lying if she said she wasn’t. She considered this one of her greatest trials in life. It was an opportunity she had no intentions of wasting. Yes, it would help her immensely in gaining access to the Temple of Jai’hash, but she also couldn’t help but feel that it would also bring her closer to Rhuarc. She couldn’t stop her gaze from wandering even if she tried.
“To be honest, I’m incredibly nervous. I never could have imagined in a thousand years I would be offered such a chance. I understand that there are many Jai, some even in this room, who most likely see this as an affront to their way of life, so I want to make sure I do this right, for them. I just hope this doesn’t put a strain on the Car’rai’s first days of leadership.”
As she spoke, Vadu, Chief of the Danau approached her and Casca. He heard her words and he offered her a smile. “No Car’rai begins his rule without some pushback. I’m sorry, I could not help but overhear your words, and wanted to thank you for honoring the Danau with your choice.” Aria sighed, feeling humbled and happy at the acceptance she was receiving.
“Chief Vadu, the honor is mine. My time with the Danau is something I will cherish for the rest of my life. I only hope to do this right by everyone.”
“I believe you will achieve great things. Your conviction and determination are strong. Not all warriors need wield a weapon of steel. The Danau believe the greatest weapon is one’s mind. I believe yours is quite sharp.” He arched a brow at her and Aria gave a nod of her head to assure him she was no fool. She had evaded Malik and his forces this long, and she’d managed to inflict damage and slowly destroy his line of faithful zealots. She would crush this Trial of Naming, and she would become a member of the Jai. This was her only chance at gaining entrance to the Temple of Jai’hash.
Adimar had entered the room, crossing it quickly, having followed behind Saraya, eager to reach her and learn all he could about what had just happened during Rhuarc’s naming, and why she looked so pale so suddenly. She had hurried away from him to enter with Aria and Serena, and Adimar knew better than to go meddling in the affairs of women. Though as he came into the room he was able to spot her quickly, and saw that Rhuarc was with her. They were alone at a table, and he made quick work over to them, to hear the tail end of Rhuarc’s remark as to Carrick’s absence.
“Saraya, we are your friends, let us help you. Do not shut us out again. No person can be a fortress, we are stronger together.” Adimar came to stand beside them his brows furrowed in concern for her. Saraya had been a good friend and confidant from the moment they had met, he felt awful she did not feel comfortable enough to entrust him with her worries. He felt he had failed her in some way.
“Rhuarc is right, you can’t keep this to yourself, not when we can see the pain you’re suffering. Share your burdens with us, so we can help you, and let us be here for you the way you have always been for us from the day we met you.”
“Who would have thought that back when we met for the first time in Central City it would all lead to this. You a Queen and now me as Car'rai, and of course we met our Princeling here in Tanaka.” Adimar rolled his eyes, as if exhausted by the idea of having to bear a title. “I'm lucky to have both of you by my side.”
Saraya was suddenly coughing violently and holding to her throat. It seemed speaking was difficult for her, and Adimar was quick to reach out with a hand on her arm and help steady her.
“Saraya?” He asked concerned by her display of discomfort.
“Carrick! He… Is not… Alright… Something is wrong… He was trying to…” Trying to what? Adimar frowned as Saraya tried to get the words out of her throat which seemed to be incapable of forming words. Feeling a sense of dread, Adimar reached over to take Saraya’s hand in his own, pulling it away from where it was resting over her throat. His eyes widened in a mixture of horror and absolute rage to see the markings of a hand forming around her throat. He was so infuriated by what he saw he nearly missed her as she began to double over with tears in her eyes. Luckily Rhuarc caught her and helped her into a seat. Adimar left her to grab some water and returned with it quickly to help soothe the fire in her throat.
He was beyond furious, especially after all he had learned during the night of Saraya’s troubles and Carrick’s strange behavior. Rhuarc demanded answers, and when Saraya could not answer them, Adimar divulged all he knew to Rhuarc in place of Saraya. He told Rhuarc of Saraya’s fears that dark magic was involved with Carrick, but there was no way of proving that was the case, as Carrick had not had a run in with either the Fade or Malik, and though he did fight Reevers the other night, they did not posses any magic themselves other than the enchanted tools they had used in their attack. The Mage was felled, and could not have cursed Carrick, which left Adimar to believe that Carrick was either crumbling under the stress of their quest, or he was finally showing his true colors.
Mogar, Saraya’s faithful attendant came over to see what all the commotion was about, but upon inspection of her person, he could see she had been assaulted, and he knew instantly who had caused this damage. It was good for Carrick he was not in the vicinity because all three men seemed ready to go commit a murder. She pleaded with them not to hurt Carrick, as if she could sense their inner thoughts, and her eyes welled with tears. It was a vulnerability Saraya had not shown them before, and Adimar was quick to sit down beside her, and pull her into his arms to provide some comfort for her.
He let her go only so she could have another sip of water once it seemed she was back in control. She wanted herbs and a pipe, for what he was not certain, but Mogar seemed ready to go fetch them for her, and Adimar stood back up from his chair, and saw Aria had finally entered into the room and was speaking with the Heretic. He looked to Rhuarc and Mogar, mostly Mogar, and since Saraya was unable to speak much, he spoke for her.
“Gather the other members of your team. Find Carrick and let’s confine him to his quarters until we can figure out what to do with him. Have Ruscal collect whatever it is that Saraya needs.” He reached a hand down to help Saraya stand up, letting her lean against him. “We must be discrete about this. We don’t need anyone becoming aware that something is amiss. I’m going to take Saraya somewhere quiet so she can collect herself in peace. We will be back.” Saraya tried to protest, but Adimar just shook his head a look of sympathy on his face, and his hand gave hers a gentle squeeze. “Let us help you Saraya, you won’t be able to do anything unless we get you taken care of first. Trust us to handle the rest of it. Come now, even if just for a little bit.” Saraya seemed to relent and nodded her head letting him lead her out of the banquet hall. On the way he spotted a servant to the Roofmistress and requested hot tea and honey be brought to them. He then offered her a kind smile, escorting her away to get some sense of control back over herself.
He led her down the quiet and spacious halls, not having the heart to pry too deeply into her troubles, as he already knew enough to be nearly blinded with rage. He couldn’t deal with Carrick, as he could not abide by men who struck down their women. Especially if it was a woman Adimar respected and revered in friendship, as he did with Saraya. He led her into a room further down the hall leaving the noise of the banquet hall to be a faint din in the distance. It was an empty room with plenty of seats, and no one was inside. It would be the perfect place to let Saraya gather her words. He found the closest spot and set Saraya into a chair to sit in. Once he had her settled, he knelt down before her looking up with concern in his eyes.
“It will be alright Saraya, you may stay here as long as you wish. When you are ready, we may return to the banquet.” He could see her struggling to hold her emotions in check, and he couldn’t help but reach out and wipe away a rouge tear that fell down her cheek. She had been suffering quietly for so long, and it pained his heart to see his friend this way. “Come now, Saraya, you are far too lovely to mar your face with tears. Not for him, not when he has hurt you so terribly. Aramis needs you to stay strong, he will need his mother, and Caledon will need it’s Queen. You will rise above this, I know you will. What is the pipe and herbs for? What are you planning, Saraya?”
It was rare that Serenna was bested in any event and while she hated to admit it The Priestess had certainly come off better in that exchange. She was right, there was nothing that she could to to claim Rhuarc as her prize. For the first time since being in her city Aria had shown a bit of fight in her, the spark of defiance that she would need if she was to stop herself from getting everyone that followed her slaughtered. Perhaps she was not the weak willed waif that Serenna had thought. Rhuarc could be called many things but a fool was certainly not amongst them, it was clear that his feelings for the Priestess were genuine and maybe just perhaps The Priestess returned those feelings. She was right, there was nothing that she could do to force Rhuarc's hand and if she tried the stubborn man would simply dig his heels in and he would reject her out of spite. True, they had a history, a long one and but for a twist of fate she would have already laid the marriage wreath at his feet and he would be standing at her side, perhaps as Chief, but Aria held Rhuarc's gaze now and old memories could quickly be forgotten. Aria still had to partake in the Trial of Naming and if she passed that she would be proclaimed a true Jai, as ridiculous as that was. Until then she still had time to make a match worthy of her status, elevate her position and strengthen her clan.
The Great Heretic gave a rare wry grin at the look on the Priestess's face, it was always a shock the first time he showed himself to someone after they had seen him killed. As painful, uncomfortable and inconvenient as dying was that was still one of the few pleasures that remained for Casca. He could see the true weight of what Azera's curse really meant dawn on Aria. Most people would see immortality as a blessing but Casca had lived too long for any one man, he was being crushed under the weight of his guilt while forced into compassion, outliving any that he might call friend or ally, her own kind greeting only reinforcing his curse. It was a horrific burden. “Often we can not anticipate what trials the world has for us. We cannot control the challenges we must face but we can control our reactions to them. Stay True to yourself and you shall prevail. There is a power beyond the stars that you alone can find. Find yourself and you shall find it and do such wonders that this land has never known. Azera wielded great and terrible power, able to bend the very laws of creation to her will, as my curse can attest to, and yet I believe that you shall wield a power greater than even she could know.” As Chief Vadu interrupted them to offer his thanks and say what an honour it was that Aria had selected the Danau Jai as her clan Casca made his escape back into the depths of the Temple and away from the banquet. He had offered what wisdom he could to the Priestess and he hoped that one day she would be graceful enough to end his suffering.
Rhuarc was glad to be joined by Adimar, maybe together they could coax Saraya into telling them what was going on. Rhuarc's gladness turned to fury as the pain from her throat became apparent and she named Carrick as the perpetrator of his wound. The Jai Guardian had to strain with every fiber of his being not to go and deal with Carrick himself. How could he do this to his wife? It was the most despicable act any husband could do. Rhuarc waved a hand towards Daken and caught his eye. “Take three men that you trust completely and go and find Carrick and lock him in his quarters. Do not let him leave or receive any visitors unless I am with them. Keep him alive but beyond that don't hold back if he puts up a fight. I want this dealt with quickly and quietly. Understood?” The ice cold fury in Rhuarc's voice and the set of his eyes told Daken all he needed to know about how serious this was. Carrick was lucky that Rhuarc was showing him so much mercy, as per Jai law if anyone lay an unwanted hand on another the hand was removed as punishment. Only out of his love for Saraya and as a respect to the friendship they once had was Rhuarc showing such restraint. Saraya voiced that she needed answers and Rhuarc had to agree with his fellow Guardian. Carrick was not the same blacksmith that they had met in Central City. At the beginning of their journey he and Rhuarc had been close but they had slowly drifted apart and while the Jai had initially put that down to his blossoming romance with Saraya now he was not so sure. Rhuarc had done nothing while Balden had been corrupted and it was one of his life's greatest shames. He would not stand idly by while the same thing happened to Carrick. Whether it was the Fade's corruption, Malik's machinations or some other dark force working against them Rhuarc would not allow it to harm anyone else. Rhuarc snuck a glance at Saraya for he knew in his heart that if he had to kill Carrick in order to keep the rest of his friends safe. He would hate it but Rhuarc would do it none the less if no other alternative presented itself. As Daken departed Mogar joined them and enquired about what had happened the look on his face mirror the look on Rhuarc's own. He knew his own temper well enough that doing anything tonight would be rash and ill advised, he trusted Daken enough to confine Carrick to his quarters and he could deal with him tomorrow. Saraya deserved a night of peace. Adimar had taken her under his wing and would see that she had anything that she needed tonight and Rhuarc would see her in the morning and they could deal with Carrick together.
The sun rose over Kerabdras once more and the new dawn would bring important moments for Aria and all of her companions. once everyone had been fed and watered it was time for the days duties to be undertaken. As Aria answered a knock at her door one of her guards opened it to see a Jai woman waiting for her. One look was enough to tell that she was a warrior. The woman was tall and athletically built yet slim. Her whipcord strength was evident by her abs on display. She was not wearing the flowing elegant attire that Serenna or her attendants favoured but simple, practical garb that would be of more use out in the wilds of the Ramil. She had dark grey eyes and her reddish brown hair was shaved in at one side of her head. Unsurprisingly she wore her belt knife at her waist but she carried no other visible weapons, although, she did have several empty quivers slung over her back that suggested she would normally be heavily armed. “Aria Jaiheart, I am Jana of the Ilit Jai. I am to escort you to the blacksmiths for you to collect your knife. Come.” Jana moved off with Aria in her wake, and while teh Jai warrior was polite she did not seem awed in Aria's presence as some others had been. In typical Jai fashion simply being High Priestess did not seem to impress her, Aria would need to do that by herself. For her part Jana did not know what to make of the woman that had caused such a stir in Kerabdras. Jana had volunteered to bring Aria to the blacksmiths, she wanted to try and gauge the woman for herself. “I remember when I earned my own knife. It is a moment that no Jai ever forgets. Is it true that you got that scar from one of Shade-stealer's abominations fighting in Fenlyk?” Of course the city was full of tall tales about what the Priestess and teh Guardians had endured on their journey before crossing the Ramil. Jana was intrigued by the tales of far off adventure and the world beyond the edges of the Ramil. As the two made small talk on their walk it wasn't long before they had reached their destination. “I shall wait for you here, inside you shall find N'Dion.” Jana did not elaborate any further and by by her tone it was best not to keep N'Dion waiting. Aria entered the terracotta building and the first thing that greeted her was the heat of the forge and the sound of hammers on anvils. There were several Jai hammering away while the sweat dripped off them but none of them looked up from there craft to even pay her any attention. As she stood there looking a little lost a hand beckoned her past the forge and towards an older Jai male, his white hair in stark contrast to his dark skin. He did not speak but simply studied her, looking into her eyes, before circling her. He took one of her hands and examined it closely, turning it over, his calloused hands contrasting her soft pale hands.He studied her as though she were an animal that he wanted to buy and was evaluating a potential investment. He lifted her armsand slapped her bicep with a not inconsiderable force. The examination went on for what must have seen like hours until finally he seemed satisfied. He beckoned her once more and led her to the back of the forge where there was a wall full of Jai belt knives. They looked identical at first but there were subtle differences the more that Aria looked at them. “I am N'Dion, the Master of Blades in Kerabdras. I have selected the knife for every Jai that has passed their long walk for many years. I am gained the measure of you and THIS is your knife.” He reached for a knife in the fourth row and near the far left hand side and held it reverently as he held it out towards Aria. “A Jai's knife is no mere weapon, it is their soul, it connects us to our people's past and future. It is who we are and it shall be an extension of yourself. You are the knife and the knife is part of you and in turn so is every Jai that has ever wielded it, just as you shall be when another picks up the knife long after your bones have returned to the Ramil. Aria Jai'heart this is Mwanga.” N'Dion waited for Aria to take the knife from him and hold it in her hands, he could see that it fit her grasp perfectly. Rhuarc would not have mentioned that each Jai knife had a unique name, one that only its wielder and the Master of Blades knew. The name of one's knife was a deeply personal secret and only the Master of Blades knew which knife belonged with which Jai, it was said that N'Dion could flawlessly recall the name of every blade that he had ever given out and to which Jai they belonged but of course none would ever dream of asking him if this was true. “Learn the names of those that have held Mwanga before you and connect your spirit with theirs for then you shall truly be Jai. N'Dion produced a scroll and gave it to Aria. On it was the name of every Jai that had come before her to carry that blade. Weva of the Hiwa Jai, Sakala of the Nyphal Jai, Kyr of the Menin Jai, Bixi of the Farlan Jai,Etaine of the Litse Jai, Chael of the Amavoq Jai… on and on it went until finally it ended two hundred and thirty seven names later with Joka of the Shotir Jai. It would take at least two hours for her to recite them all, memorising them all flawlessly was a daunting task. ”You shall have one week until your Trial of Naming shall begin. Use your time wisely and your name shall be amongst the names that future Jai shall recite."
While Aria was meeting with N'Dion Rhuarc thought it best to meet with Saraya after her night of rest and for them to confront Carrick together, he did not know what was going to happen but he would not allow her to face it alone. Rhuarc prayed silently to the gods in hope that Carrick could be saved, he did not want to lose anyone else to Malik's darkness but he would do what he must for Saraya. He was sure Adimar would join him for he too was close to the Caledonian Guardian. he had managed to procure a simple clay pipe and some smoking herbs that Saraya had requested last night, now all that was left was to find out what she was going to do with them. It did not take long for Rhuarc to find Saraya and Adimar for they too seemed to be expecting what was to come. “Friends, let us go. There does not seem much point delaying the inevitable.” With those words the three Guardians departed, on their way to decide fate of one of the very first to pledge themselves to Aria's cause.
Saraya had sighed with relief that she entrusted her troubles with others. Adimar was especially careful with his words, and with his comfort, in which she was grateful. He made sure to keep her from breaking, and she was appreciative that everyone had chosen to keep it amongst themselves. Especially when Aria and Casca had greeted each other. Mogar had been keeping his head low, but he and Rhuarc had shared another glance as Adimar had taken her hand, and helped her stand.
“Gather the other members of your team. Find Carrick and let’s confine him to his quarters until we can figure out what to do with him. Have Ruscal collect whatever it is that Saraya needs.” Saraya had sighed to herself as he turned to Rhuarc and Mogar. “We must be discreet about this. We don’t need anyone becoming aware that something is amiss. I’m going to take Saraya somewhere quiet so she can collect herself in peace. We will be back.”
As if on cue, Rhuarc had caught the attention of Daken. Saraya felt a little more embarrassed, but still held her tongue. “Take three men that you trust completely and go and find Carrick and lock him in his quarters. Do not let him leave or receive any visitors unless I am with them. Keep him alive but beyond that don't hold back if he puts up a fight. I want this dealt with quickly and quietly. Understood?”
Saraya had looked to Adimar. “I do not think it’ll be-”
“Let us help you Saraya, you won’t be able to do anything unless we get you taken care of first. Trust us to handle the rest of it. Come now, even if just for a little bit.” Saraya couldn’t argue. She nodded and looked to Mogar, him nodding to her. “Do not worry. I will tell Ruscal to give you your herbs. You’ve nothing to fear.” he said reassuringly. Saraya had no choice but to put her trust in them. She departed, being held up by Adimar’s grip, and in that, she felt a little relief.
Adimar had informed one of the servants to get her some tea with honey. Afterwhich, he had found an empty and isolated area and had found her a seat. Saraya had took a seat and she could only release a bit of air and try to heave in enough air to hold it together, but after exhaling, her breathing was shaky, and she felt her emotions begin flooding. She had never thought that she would deal with the likes of Egos before having to deal with such a heartbreaking moment. Adimar had knelt before her and wiped away a stray tear.
“It will be alright, Saraya, you may stay here as long as you wish. When you are ready, we may return to the banquet.”
Saraya had nodded, straightening her back some as she looked at the tapestry and tried to hold it together, but she was shaking… She wanted to cry so bad, but all she managed to escape was a tear, one that he wiped away quickly as she closed her eyes. Never in her existence did she believe that she would have to fear someone she loved. After everything she had been through, with Egos and Felliope, she did not expect that she’d have to add Carrick to the list. “Come now, Saraya, you are far too lovely to mark your face with tears. Not for him, not when he has hurt so terribly. Aramis needs you to stay strong, he will need his mother, and Caledon will need its Queen. You will ride above this I know you will.” Saraya had to sigh, her body still shaking from all the emotions bouncing about from within. She wanted to scream, to weep, to punch, but she couldn’t. All she could do was breathe, and quiver. “What is the pipe and herbs for? What are you planning, Saraya?”
Saraya had looked at Adimar, letting out a ragged breath. Ruscal had hurried down the hallway of the banquet, searching for her friend and Queen. She spotted Adimar and hurried to see Saraya, bundled and shaking underneath her shear clothing, and looked to Adimar. “Is she alright?” Ruscal asked Adimar. He gave a nod, and looked back to Saraya before handing over her small satchel of herbs and her pipe. Saraya had looked up to Ruscal, who nodded to her. “I will come back to check on you soon. “ she said before going over to Adimar. “Do not let her smoke too much of the roots” She whispered and departed as quickly as she had come.
Saraya had sighed as she had clung to the satchel, and looked for the contents within it. Saraya had looked to Adimar as she grabbed her matches and started prepping her pipe. “ My people call it the Melan Root. It had been a great help for the people of Caledon, especially women. It healed many of our ailments, and helped calm our minds. When I was a general in Caledon, I had come across these herbs that helped me calm the storm before battle. It had also helped me when I was pregnant with…” She sniffled as she tried her best to move on from it. “... I had been holding off using it this time… But, I think… I need to…” She sighed to herself as she packed the pipe modestly and lit a match. “I need to think. I need to be able to think clearly.”
The herbs were lit and she inhaled. She took in air as she closed her eyes and exhaled, a great bit of smoke had escaped her lips as she stiffened. She had put the pipes to her lips again before inhaling deeply. And held in her breath. Adimar watched as she visibly began to stop shivering and the room had finally gone silent. She exhaled slowly, eyes closed and her body still. Adimar had watched closely as Saraya had slowly begun to relax. She opened her eyes as she put the pipe back to her lips and pulled from it, this time, she could right herself. As she exhaled this time, Adimar could see a significant amount of change happen to her. As he gathered his courage and sat next to her, allowing his shoulder to cry on and lending his ear to his comrade, he has noticed her breathing were still erratic, but it seems she had a second wind in containing it. She wasn’t panicking, she wasn’t breaking down… It seemed like she had finally been able to calm down, and that made Adimar happy, if only for a moment. She looked to Adimar, her eyes calm, yet dark. “I do not like this at all, Adimar…”
As Adimar took a seat, Saraya had placed the pipe between her teeth, preparing for another inhale. Adimar had started asking questions, mainly about her wellbeing, though they were left with no verbal answer. She would simply nod, and inhale some more. After a few agonizing moments, Saraya’s sigh impregnated the room. All the while, Adimar could see tears falling from her face. She had been quiet about her pain and despair, and some were bound to come out. Her body began to shake again upon the thought of what had transpired. She needed help, and Adimar wasn't sure how to. He hugged her again, feeling the pain in her stifled weeps, and couldn't help but try to say comforts in an attempt to help her gain her self back. When Adimar had asked what she was thinking of, Saraya looked to him, with a stone cold expression. “I want to fight him.”
Fight him? Adimar had furrowed his brows as he looked at her. He began asking why, and Saraya looked back to him. “... Carrick is not himself. And, it seems he’s forgotten who i am… Almost made me forget that fact. Besides, it is the only way to find out what happened to him exactly. I have to provoke him.”
Adimar had thought for a moment as Saraya continued to smoke from her pipe. Saraya couldn’t tell if he understood her plan. She needed to fight him, get him tired and unable to fight so that she could investigate. She would need his and Rhuarc’s help in that regard, and seeing as he was angry with her for some reason, she would use herself as the target.
Adimar had protested, and Saraya had listened to his suggestions… He suggested having Rhuarc fight him, having Mogar fight him, he even included himself into the list of potential opponents for Carrick. But, Saraya was firm. “He wouldn’t focus on you, Adimar… He would only focus on me. It still wouldn’t be an option. And, I don't know how he'd react. I can't let someone I care for…” she blushed some, refusing to answer any further.
Being unable to sway her, Adimar had dozed off through the silence. Saraya, having been calmed enough, had stayed awake, watching the night through the opening nearby. The night had been slow, but inviting. The hours had ticked by within a blink, and Saraya missed nothing. The sunrise was as magnificent as always, and the warmth of its embrace had been welcomed. She had gathered herself in her seat, while stuffing her pipe with the herbs. She was lost in thought, having been unable to sleep with the twaddling in her mind. She had to do something to figure out what was wrong with Carrick. She needed answers, and making him weak enough to be interrogated seems like the best option.
Her thoughts stopped dancing when she heard Adimar come to life from his seat. Saraya hadn’t said much but. “Are you hungry?”
Adimar had admitted to being famished, and chuckled a bit as Saraya stood. “We should eat. I haven’t eaten as of late”
Mogar and Ruscal were huddled together, talking amongst themselves urgently. Kier, Owl, Archer and Crow were also amongst themselves, having a serious conversation. Sky and Star were basking in the sun just outside the banquet hall. Saraya had gathered some food, enough to keep her full for a time and took a seat. Ruscal had noticed that Saraya was in the banquet hall. Adimar had been accompanying her through the night, and she was relieved that she had been-
Something caught her eye. Saraya was too calm. She had to look to Mogar. He had spotted this, too. No doubt, Saraya had a plan for what was going on. Saraya was never a person to hide her intention or her feelings. She only had a need of the Melan Root if she had a plan. After Saraya had eaten her fill, she and Adimar had gotten up and Mogar had gotten up a moment later. Ruscal grabbed his hand firmly. “Remember the plan” she said. Mogar nodded, and began making a b- line towards them. Just as he approached, Rhuarc had come in, bumping into the Guardians. Salutations had come from Adimar as Saraya had nodded in greeting. “Car’rai Rhuarc, my friend.” she said. Saraya had seen the look on Rhuarc’s face and knew. “Friends, let us go. There does not seem much point delaying the inevitable.”
Saraya had nodded and straightened her back as she took in air. Mogar had come up and bowed his head. “I shall come with you, My Queen” he said. Saraya had nodded in acceptance and looked back to Rhuarc. “Please… Lead the way”
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