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The sun was warm and bright, but the winds carried a chill. Aria hadn’t been able to answer Rhuarc’s question about the Volshi. She explained to him that shortly after she was born she was taken from her mother’s breast and placed into the care of the Septum Elders and from there she was raised within the halls of the Holy Temple. The very building Malik had taken and twisted into his own personal palace. After his invasion of the Central City, she was raised on the Caledon and Fenlyk boarder by Elder Rigby. She felt strange, returning to the land of her forefathers and yet she knew nothing of their culture. All she knew was she looked like a typical Volshi, pale features, willowy and lithe, blue grey eyes and blonde hair so pale it was almost white. No one knew anything about the Volshi –they were an incredibly reclusive race. One did hear rumors though, and it was rumored they lived predominantly on floating masses of earth that hovered above the cliffs of Volshiv, hidden in the clouds, and the only way to travel between them was with flying ships. Of course that was silly, no such thing existed, but Aria was curious to know if it was in fact true.
They were a day’s ride out of Tanaka a thriving city just inside the Volshiv boarder. When they had crossed the boarder there was no check point –nothing. All that stood to mark the change of countries was a stone formation weathered and disfigured, covered in moss and aged from time. It towered high above them, the structure having a twin on the opposite side of the road, like two large sentinels. Balden had been in awe of them, and for Aria, the moment they crossed she had felt a sense of knowing. The final guardian wasn’t far, it was a man, and he was on a path set to cross theirs. Carrick and Rhuarc had seemed to grow closer, and had created a sort of comradery between them. They spoke often, and for this Aria was grateful –they were her two most trusted advisors, and to know that they were creating their own friendship had helped ease her mind. Carrick had spoken with Rhuarc on the threats Malik possessed aside from his Mage. Of course they were nothing more than rumor. Carrick had more interaction with the Mage then he did with the king, but Carrick had lived under the reign of King Malik and knew more than the rest of them. It was supposedly rumored he kept a menagerie of creatures, that he also had a Necromancer on his payroll with a legion of undead Dragur, and a Dark Elf from across the Red Sea. With such creatures in his pocket it was no wonder he had overtaken the Central City and had forced the surrounding Provinces to bow to him. The only thing Carrick knew for certain was of an old Seer who Malik had captured and forced the old woman to foresee events so he could plan accordingly for the best possible outcome for himself. No wonder Malik always seemed to be one step ahead of them. She must not be able to see everything or Malik would have known to look, or maybe she wasn’t always truthful with him. Who knew, all Aria knew was that Carrick said the worst of it was, was the rumor of a dragon he kept under the Septum, chained and tortured with the hopes it would attack with blind rage on anyone it saw. The poor creature.
Rumor and speculation were all they had to go off of, and Aria felt bad she did not have more to offer to her Guardians. Defending themselves against a legion of undead, dark elves and dragons? Those creatures did not live here... they came from over the Red Sea... did Malik come from there as well? Had the creatures of magic and myth finally come back only to destroy humans? Aria couldn't be sure, but the one thing she did know was that everyone was eager to reach Tanaka so they could find an inn, rest and eat home cooked food. Aria didn't blame them, she was looking forward to it as well. She knew they would find the last Guardian in Tanaka, they just had to make it there.
Tanaka came in their sights near the evening, the uphill trek was tiresome for all of them and the horses, but the scenery had been lovely, if not a bit vast. It was wide open spaces as far as the eye could see, until they crested the first hill and saw the fog of the towering narrow mountains that rose up into the clouds and disappeared. The glittering lights of Tanaka greeted them, and guided them along the plateau. It was picturesque with it's wood and whitewashed cottages cobblestone paths, and the myriad of colorful prayer flags that criss-crossed the streets like stitching. Lanterns dotted the sidewalks illuminating the streets. Shop windows were still open, proving that Tanaka was a thriving metropolis that was up and moving at all hours of the day and night.
It was already sundown when they entered the town, but the first thing Aria noticed were all the faces. Everyone was fair featured, tall, and sporting either pale blonde hair or pitch black. Volshi Soldiers marched the streets, making it very clear, very quickly that not only was Tanaka a city, but it was a Militia base. Seeing them enter the city, two City Guards stopped them and held out their hands. Their faces obscured by their helmet visors, but their uniforms made of sturdy black leather, and elegantly etched steel armor. They each carried sturdy looking pikes, their black robes billowing in the gentle wind that seemed to breeze through the lands at a constant. Everyone here was Volshi... and their group was clearly not all of the same race. This the guards noticed right off the bat and for that alone, stopped them. Some might call it racism... others caution. It couldn't be held against them, these were clearly the men who protected the front lines and boarder of Volshiv. Aria dipped her head to hide her face, while beside her on the wagon Carrick did the talking -as usual.
"Evening Officers," Carrick greeted.
"Not everyday we see travelers here, especially those who come from so far away.." One of the men said and glanced to them all, from Rhuarc and Ayab, to Sarya and Lara.
"We have business in Tanaka," Carrick began.
"What sort of business?" they demanded, one of the guards walked over towards the wagon on the side where Aria sat beside Carrick.
"I'm afraid I can't divulge that," Carrick informed them looking contrite.
"You, remove your hood," The second guard ordered. Aria frowned, but knew she had no choice but to obey and slowly lowered her hood.
The two guards tensed, and shared a look with one another at the sight of Aria. After their weeks of traveling, the dyes that Saraya had put into her hair to get her out of the city, had faded out leaving her hair that buttery blonde once more.
"I am the reason for their business... please, is there a place more private and secure we may speak?" She asked "I'd like to talk to your superior," Aria requested. The guards, were not stupid... they were piecing together what they could with what they observed. She traveled with a diverse group, raging in gender, age and ethnicity.
"Follow us," The first grunted and the group was led through the city towards a barracks and smithing structure just on the outskirts of the city to the north.
Black smoke plumed from the forge, while the grounds were generally quiet. City guards patrolled the area, while soldiers sat around open fires laughing and drinking or playing cards. They were initially taken to what looked like a holding area for criminals. The ground was packed and dark, turned over and the grass killed by foot traffic, wagons and horses. They were instructed to wait outside the building as the torch lights glowed, and the air grew colder, now that the sun was gone. Looking around Aria spotted the iron cell doors, and was shocked to find them empty. Crime must not have been much of an issue in the city. Believable, as the entire city was mostly a Militia installation. Carrick brought the attention to Aria and Rhuarc as they waited, that the soldiers had gone quiet and were watching them. He hoped it was a simple curiosity, and not hostility as it was very apparent the Volshi did not accommodate guests very often.
They didn't have time to ponder, as the two guards returned flanking three other men. The man who walked in the center was not dressed in armor, but an expensive robe, with a crest hanging from his neck. The two other's were trussed up in finer armor and gear than the city Guards or the Soldiers. The introduced themselves, Tanaka's Governor, A Volshiv Commander and left-tenant.
"Visitors," The Governor began. "We do not see your kind often. The Guards say you were wanting to speak to us?" The Governor looked at Carrick as if expecting him to be the leader of the group, but he stepped back and looked to Aria. Aria stepped forward and nodded her head.
"That is correct. My name is Aria Tolshiv," A hushed murmur fell over the soldiers and the guards, the Mayor looked stunned as did the Commander and Left-tenant.
"You mean, you're [i The] Aria Tolshiv?" The Commander asked.
"Yes?" Aria answered nervously.
"Quickly, child... come inside," Aria made to move, but the guards stopped anyone else from following her. Nervous, to see guards and soldiers blocking her from her group Aria reached towards the Commander.
"No, please. They travel with me. These are my companions."
"I am sorry, but they cannot follow."
"Not even one?" The Commander looked reluctant but gave a nod of his head and allowed Aria to chose one to follow her.
"Saraya," Aria called. The Volshi watched the lovely Caldonian cross through their body wall and towards Aria. "Carrick, Rhuarc you know what to do," She told them. Carrick gave a nod of his head and turned around towards the rest of the group, telling them to sit tight while they waited. Carrick and Rhuarc fully aware they would protect Lara and Balden along with their goods.
Aria and Saraya were led inside the fort and right into a large Mess hall, which they passed through towards a set of doors that led to a hallway full of doors. Aria had chosen to bring along Saraya from a tactical point. With Saraya appearances were deceiving, and for as beautiful as she was, they had learned she was just as lethal. Her appearance alone was far less intimidating than Carrick or Rhuarc, and certainly less than Ayab's. Saraya also had a way with words that Aria felt might be useful if she needed help negotiating with the City Officials as to who they were and what they were doing in Volshiv. They were led into an officer's office, where they were asked to take a seat. The commander sat across from them at his desk and eyeballed both of them suspiciously.
"You travel with an odd group," he observed.
"I travel with those Azeroth has placed in my path," Aria returned confidently. "You seem to know who I am, this makes me curious, and cautious."
"Every Man, woman and child in Volshiv knows the name Aria of the House of Tolshiv." Well that was unsettling. "Chosen at birth to be the High Priestess. Are you truly her?" He asked. Aria glanced over at Saraya who seemed to assure her that what they both knew had to be done... be done.
"Have others tried to deceive you?" Aria asked, and it was the left-tenant who answered.
"Yes, hoping to travel past Tanaka and into Volshiv territories. If they are a mere explorer, we send them back. When we discover they are a spy, we kill them." Aria didn't doubt that for a second, and with a sigh stood up and turned her back on the men.
"Saraya, if you'd please," She asked, and allowed the woman to unbutton the back of her dress and show the men in the room the markings on her back. Saraya would be the only one in their group privy to what the mark actually looked like. It was a totem at the base of her neck and down her spine. The head of a black dragon crested her nape, it's fearsome Magenta eyes seeming to glow even on her skin, beneath it and within the dragon was the large antlers and face of a caribou for Caledon, a swirling Koi for Fenlyk, a Hawk for Volshiv, and finally a coiled serpent for Abhu'Jai. Rune text rained down along the sides of the totem. The mark was not simply a mark, but a work of art that had grown with Aria for all her days, the colors vibrant and pure, and covering the whole of her back. The men were in awe as Saraya closed the buttons back up for Aria.
"It really is you..." The governor breathed in awe. Aria did not respond, just stared the commander down.
"So those you travel with..." the commander began, but Aria cut in.
"Are The Guardians of Azera. We have come to Volshiv in hopes of refuge and to find our final Guardian."
"Refuge you may have!" The Governor exclaimed with great joy. "I shall allow you rooms in my own homestead, Priestess," he bowed.
"Your hospitality is a reprieve. Thank you," aria said and looked towards the other two men. "Is there anything else I can do for you?"
"Yes," The Commander interjected. "You can maintain your low profile. We are harsh on spies, but they are everywhere, and while we are confident there are none in the city, I can not promise it either. You are of the House of Tolshiv, and you are our Priestess. You honor us with your trust, and we hope to serve you well."
"Thank you..." Aria muttered and turned with Saraya as they were escorted back outside to their group. Walking the halls together Aria looked over sideways at Saraya. "Do you think they can be trusted?" she asked, even if it was a little late to be asking such a question. "I want you to be my eyes and ears of the city. The Governor was right," She continued to whisper. "I must remain hidden, low profile. I rely on Carrick and Rhuarc for matters of battle and tactics, but you I will rely on to find answers. I want to gleam a feel for this city and its people, you are good with socializing, and speak easily with others. Do this for me, let me know if they are loyal to the old ways... and why the House of Tolshiv seems to be so significant. Can you do this for me, Saraya?"
To the outside world she was completely out of tune to. She didn't feel Aria cleaning out and then covering the wound on her arm while Balden ran around and obeyed Aria's commands. No disrespect meant to either one of them, just being completely focused in on the spirit plane made one lost to te real world plane. The only thing she could do was just lay there obviously to the outside world, and wait for the spirit to show her what it wanted to show her. It was just a bit frustrating as the spirit did take its time to begin showing what it wanted to show her. Maybe the spirit did have a personal reason for that, maybe it didn't, but whatever the reason it was forgotten as the spirit began showing what it wanted to show her.
It all began with a scene of after she had been born into, and the most detailed aspect of it was the fish tattoo on the back of the neck of the baby, the baby who was her those many years ago. But there weren't just her mom and dad there, there was a third figure but his face was covered with something. Despite this, it appeared as if her parents knew whoever this third figure was, knew them well enough to let them handle her. [i [+purple Who is that figure?]] [i [+blue Even I do not know the answer to that question.]]
The scene was replaced by darkness, but then the darkness began to be replaced by a fire. There was a house burning, someone had set it on fire. There were many figures surrounding the house, but in the shadows one figure was going away in the opposite direction of the burning house. It stopped to turn back and look at the house awhile longer, before quickly turning around and continue its flight. It was interesting to see this scene not from a first person view, but from a birds eye view. But she still did not understand what was the point of the spirit showing her all this, unless it was in similarity to a preamble.
The night faded away and gave way to a torchlit chamber, a big table there was and on it a map of the country of Fenlyck. There was a group of people discussing, and it sounded like they were fed up with the king and were attempting a coup of some sort. But it was interrupted by a furious knocking sound, loud and erratic, before a figure burst into the chamber. Heavy breathing, as if they had run away from a Koskari sea monster while on water. But there was a look of sorrow behind the face of fear, evidently the figure had seen something sad. He started to rave about being too late, a house on fire, people being killed, but whatever he was raving on made sense to the rest of the group who began looking at each other and their countenances began to change. Looks of horror, frustration, anger, and sorrow replaced the quiet debate that had only moments ago had been happening. And then one asked a question and it came from the masked figure, [+green "All of them?"] The other was about to respond when an authoritative voice came from a corner, [b "The spirit hasn't been released, merely hidden itself away deep within."] All turned around to face he who had spoken these words, an old priest sitting in the corner.
Another darkness descended, only to be replaced by the same chamber, except light streamed in through the glass so no torches burned. There were less people but the discussion was much more heated. There were divisions within the group, and each group was trying to outtalk the others. But then the doors violently burst open and the priest came in like a wave, crushing the argument. [b "Fools, why do you argue? What's the purpose of it, does it further our goals? Take comfort that the spirit is beginning to awaken from its three years of slumber."] That had quite the effect on the group. [+green "You're certain of this?"] [b "Why else would I come so unexpectedly?"] [+green "It's time to spread the world.]
And with that the curtain of darkness descended for its final time, and she went to sleep.
Saraya smelled the stench of the mage on her blade. It would come to her advantage. She never thought negative about any situation. Knowing that Ayab would test her temper had upset her amazingly at lightening speed. She never got upset that fast, but at the same time, the mage had been in her clutches, and even had gotten a good amount of blood... The blood... She took the vial, and put some into the clear substance, in hopes that it would come to their advantage. After enough dripped into the small vial, she then used his cloth to smear the blood along the shape of the blade. She then tied the cloth onto the hilt of the weapon, and as she blew onto it, a freezing chill touched the blade. There was a song it sang and a certain glow... Whatever the blood contained from the mage, his magic had been spread onto her blade, and it would be of great advantage.
At sunrise, she had been the first to get up. She sighed as she saw the Priestess sitting near a fire. She gave her the vial and nodded. "It can be used to our advantage" she said as she shown her blade. She then nodded in respect before tending to her steed and the foul. The little baby, after the attack, had been scarred badly on her chest. Her mother was no better. She suffered a slash onto her snout and neck. Saraya felt so bad that she couldn't protect her, but the steeds did understand that The Priestess was priority. Saraya had tended to their wounds, and used her chilling breath to close and bring ease to the pain so they could heal properly. The female sighed in a huff, and Saraya smiled to herself. "I've found a name for you... Faith, and little one will be my Pride" she said and petted the two of them.
Sunrise finally kissed the horizon and everyone was up. They had to leave and create distance from this area. They had already spent too much time in this location. She had took the back and continued on, and the ride had went on for about a fortnight before a city had been seen. She dismounted Faith and looked upon the horizon to the city. "It is sunset. Is this where he hides, or must we make haste away?" she asked the Priestess. Knowing that she had a vendetta to keep and stay at bay until the moment where his end was imminent.
She looked to Rhuarc, Carrick, and Lara. "I suggest we set up camp. Let the horses rest tonight... Either that, or we make haste to the city, and risk the Mage's spies watching us from within..." she looked to the Priestess. "Aria, you hold the decision in your hands."
The Saraya that stood was a far more secluded being. Though she seemed off, she never lost sight of protecting the priestess or allies. She felt the need torelax and reserve her strength. The spirit within her hadn't spoken throughout the travel, so it also puzzled her. The city wreaked with enemies, as how her nose could pick up. She looked to Rhuarc, who seemed to have some concern for her. She nodded before jumping into the trees and made her way to wall of the city. The air was heavy with villainy and ... Something else... Was that the last Guardian?
She looked over the wall and spotted an area where nothing was touched. Humans we're roaming freely, but this spot in the far back of the city was odd. It was closed in, and it peaked interest. The odd smell came from there. She then madebher way back to the group. "We must rest untll nightfall. The guardian waits for us" she said before looking to her steeds.
Despite the battle being over and the danger having seemingly passed for now Rhuarc still scanned the surrounding landscape searching for any hint of a secondary ambush. He was gladdened that the High Priestess and Carrick had seen the wisdom in his recommendations and decided to move quickly. It was only Ayab and his temper that slowed them as he exchanged words and a vague threat with Saraya, clearly Rhuarc would need to have words with his fellow Jai. Speaking in the harsh guttural tongue that was native to his people so that the others could not understand the two Jai talk. [b "Ayab what madness has taken you? You openly threaten a Guardian! The Guardians are our only hope for defeating Shade-stealer."] Ayab gave a brief glance over to the others a few feet away and responded in a low whisper, also in the Jai tongue. [+red "How does the Hasra hunt?"] The question caught Rhuarc off guard, it seemed like an odd question to ask in response to what Rhuarc had himself said, that was until Rhuarc really thought about the question.
A Hasra was a small creature native to the Wastelands who hunted by killing a creature and leaving it in the open waiting for a larger creature to be distracted by the free meal and then take that for itself. [b "You mean this was a ruse?"] [+red "Of course it was, you don't think I would ever really threaten a Guardian. I'm sure Shade-stealer and the Mage have eyes everywhere, they will be watching make no mistake about it. If they think I am willing to betray you I may just be able to get close to him. It is a risk, this I know but I am willing to see it through if needed."] Rhuarc thought about what his friend was really saying, he was willing to subtly undermine the group in small ways in the hope that Malik might offer him the chance to betray the others, and give Ayab an chance to either kill Malik himself of the Mage, or even just disrupt his plans form the inside. It would almost certainly end in death for the Jai. It was most honourable. [b "You play a dangerous game friend, but we must move now."]
Balden and Carrick tended to the Priestess while Lara seemed to sit quietly to herself in contemplation while Ayab patrolled the perimeter of the camp, arrow nocked, keeping the group safe. Rhuarc intended to have a conversation with Saraya at some point, the encounter with the mage seemed to have left her shaken and perhaps she would need a strong reassuring figure to help her deal with whatever she was going through. Rhuarc also wanted to examine the mage's bloody blade and see if he could gleam any insight from the weapon.
The Jai wished to quickly discuss something with the High Priestess before she got the sleep that she so desperately needed after the exertions of the battle. [b "Priestess, we will soon enough reach the land of Volshiv and with any luck this last Guardian but there are things I wish to know before we enter the mountains. These are your people, yes? What are they like, how do they think and how much aid can we expect from these people? I mean no disrespect but I wish to keep us all safe and I simply need to know if I should expect a knife in our back. I will leave you be now, rest and gather your strength, you will need it."] The High Priestess succumbed to sleep after her exhausting encounter so Rhuarc made his way over towards the blacksmith and the young apprentice. [b "You fought well Balden but your forms were sloppy on several occasions, work on them whenever you can, in time I may make a decent swordsman out of you."] The boy had promise but he was a long way from being as skilled as a Holy Guard of the High Priestess or as fierce as a Jai warrior. [b "Carrick, you know the False King better than most, what other abominations has he to send against us? One Mage is bad enough but Elder Mandarb has told tales of other creatures borne from ancient, evil Magic some even worse than Mages. I like to know what I am fighting, if not there is only so much I can do to protect all of us."] Rhuarc glanced at the sleeping High Priestess oblivious to the conversation between her two warrior advisors as they discussed what possible threats they would face. Ayab had managed to gather some firewood as he patrolled and presented it to Rhuarc who arranged it and lit it with a simple touch of his hand, a symbol of his power to the great Fire God, keeping both Lara and Aria warm as they rested. [b "The sun will rise in a few hours and we must leave then. Let them rest and tomorrow we will ride as hard as possible. We need the safety of the mountains."]
Balden seemed to be hanging on for any instruction that would assist Lara in any way, the infatuation of the young boy could be problematic if anything ever came of it, for many reasons. The most important to the Jai Guardian was that a distractedsoldier worrying about those he loved in battle more often than not ended up dead. Rhuarc would need to watch the boy closely and that was before you even considered that the one that Balden seemed infatuated with was a Guardian. A host of one of the Gods themselves, it was sure to provide no end of problems. This group was going to be spending a lot of time together and only time would tell how the relationships between the groups would advance, perhaps he was wrong, perhaps this would be good for both Balden and Lara...if she returned his feelings, if not that would lead to more issues. Rhuarc at least would ignore it until sometime that it became an issue, it wan't any of his business or concern after all.
It was pure Chaos.
Balden and Lara were closest. Balden showing off his newfound skill and Lara displaying her proficiency with a bow staff. Aria felt like a fool, and a coward. She wanted to get up and help, wanted to fight back, but the pain in her skull was blinding. She recognized it for what it was… the Mage trying to enter her mind. How powerful was this mage? How far did his powers reach? Who was the real villain to fear, Malik or his Mage? As much as Aria hated to preform her own task… she had to, and collapsed into the dirt as her eyes rolled into the back of her head and so she began a mental battle of wits against the Mage.
Everything else around Aria seemed to melt away as she blockaded her mind and her spirit made to leave her body for the Astral Plane to confront the Mage. The sounds of battle became a distant and hallow echo, from the shriek of Saraya’s battle rage, to Rhuarch’s grunts of victory, to the skills of Carrick and Ayab, who despite not having powers, proved their own merit in the group. Aria was alone in the dim and swirling cosmic dust that sent gentle illuminations across her face. Her body floated, weightless and non-corporeal, but her mind was sharp and her eyes zeroed in on her enemy. Behind her was a towering pillar of florescent colors and glimmering stars. In front of her floated the Mage, his robes of coal and blood billowing about his lanky frame. He gave her a devious smile that showed off the way he filed his teeth into points.
“My, my… you are a pretty thing. More lovely than we thought you might be,” he growled at her and sent what could be thought of as a gust of wind her way. It was heavy and suffocating as it whipped her towards the pillar of her mind and slammed her up against the wall. She felt the pain of her hit in her physical body and it twitched while around her Lara and Balden continued the fight protecting her. “And here I was expecting a homely little chit, without a mind to defend herself with...” aria took it for what it was: an offhanded compliment. She was mentally stronger than he had anticipated. Aria couldn’t speak, she was desperately trying to hold the Mage back from toppling her over. For a moment he seemed distracted, as if he was in two places at one time. Aria struggled to push back at him, but it was something she had not learned. She cried out in pain as her mind felt it was being invaded by a swarm of hornets. They crawled and buzzed about her mind making things fuzzy and it difficult to block the Mage from her mind. “Your friends fight so valiantly. How impressive you found three of the guardians so soon. How do you do this? How do you know where to go? Where is the last one? I know you know!” He advanced on her, his hand raised and glided closer. Aria felt herself being ripped away from the pillar and into his open palm. She felt his hand around her neck and her body began to convulse with a need for oxygen. If she died in the Spirit world, her corporeal body would die and wither away too.
Behind her the pillar of cosmic dust and gas began to writhe and take form. It slithered so much like a snake, but held and ethereal grace to it that belayed any evil it may have beheld. The Mage saw this as Aria gasped for breath, and clawed at his wrist.
“Are you attempting to distract me while I slaughter your new friends?” He chuckled darkly at her. “Foolish girl, Once I have killed them I will drag their broken bodies back to Malik where he shall string them up at the gates of the Septum for all to see and be warned of what happens to traitors and those who foolishly stand by the Olde Gods of Azera. Then he shall make a public display of you. He will rape you of more than just your body, he will crush your spirit, drink your powerful blood and once he has no use for you I will carve your still beating heart out of your chest and spill its blood over the Alter of Shaman. The dead will rise, and the sun will turn black. All you know and love will turn to ash, and I will be there to enjoy it all!” He hissed, his blackened teeth grinning wickedly at her and Aria groaned, in fear and in pain. She saw the vision he described flash before her eyes and she wept. She could do no less or more, but cry in fear… and with rage… she couldn’t allow that future to take shape, no matter how firm the shadows of it was becoming.
“We… ack!” Aria gasped for breath and shock when the Mage suddenly dropped her, his cheek welled with blood as if he’d been cut.
“ARGH! That Sand Sucking Bastard!” he roared. Outside the Spirit World, the Mage had just been shot by Ayab’s arrow. He hissed in irritation, and like black ink in water he recoiled from the Astral plane and was whole with his body once more. Aria remained suspended in the ether of the Spirit World. The Pillar that had writhed behind her, came alive and coiled itself around Aria, shielding her and warming her like a blanket. Aria managed her bloodshot eyes to open and came face to face with a reptilian head. Long waving feelers danced out from his snout and fuchsia eyes stared back like gemstones and gleaming dangerously. Aria knew who it was at first sight. This scaled beast was a dragon, and none other than Azeroth himself. He said nothing, but a knowing washed over Aria, warming her down to the core and she felt her spirit being pulled back within her own body… but when she returned… she was not alone. Azeroth had joined her. He had found her worthy, saw something in herself she didn’t, and would help guide her to keep the Dark Shaman from returning, enslaving all mankind, and shrouding the earth in total darkness.
Aria came awake with a startled and strangled breath. Gasping for air like a fish out of water. Balden was the first to her side, his once youthful face splattered with blackened blood and aged in an instant. He had helped to kill many a wraith, and had proved he could be a vital asset to their mission. A Short distant away, Rhuarc shouted to the Mage to run and hide like the coward he was.
"Is everyone alright?” Rhuarc asked.
“I think so,” Balden muttered, but he didn’t speak up as not to draw attention to Aria. She was unscathed but looked pale and sickly as if she’d been brought back from a death sleep. Her skin was cold and clammy, and Balden was quick to drape a blanket over her shoulders.
“We should check everyone for wounds, treat them if necessary and rest quickly. Shade-stealer will be after us and I want us to be moving by first light, we need to push harder and travel quicker. We can lose his forces in the mountains but until then we are easy targets. That is, if the Priestess agrees of course.” Aria lifted her pale face and sunken eyes up to look at Rhuarc. Carrick walked over followed by Saraya.
“I agree with Rhuarc, Priestess,” Carrick said with firm resolve. “We cannot linger. They know where we are and where we are headed. They will press against us harder and harder until we cross the border to Volshiv. Only then will we have some semblance of safety from the Mage. The Mountains are shrouded with ancient magic –his powers and reach end at the border. “ Aria listened dutifully and took their advice. Rhuarc and Carrick had quickly become two of her greatest Advisors during their time together, she did not take their words lightly and if they both informed her it would be wise to rest and move quickly she’d agree with them.
“Very well,” She rasped with shaky breath. “We will rest and continue on at first light. No more stops less the horses require it,” She informed them and with Balden’s help stood back on her feet.
“Priestess? Are you well?” Balden asked nervously. Aria forced a flawless but tired smile and nodded. “Yes, I will be. I just need to lie down and rest. I think we all do-“ She stopped short seeing Saraya covered with blood and holding a swath of familiar fabric. “Saraya? Are you alright?” She asked “Is that what I think it is?” she dared to ask, and when she caught the flinty and dangerous look in Saraya’s eyes she knew the woman wanted vengeance.
"I want the Mage..." Aria frowned, her own gaze steely.
“We all do, Saraya… I make no promises,” She warned and allowed Balden to take her towards the wagon and ignored the outburst that happened in the wake of her absence. When was Ayab not bent out of shape about something? Sometimes it was comical, and other times down right annoying. Aria could have ignored further, gifting Lara a small smile as they approached if it wasn’t for the sudden show of strength and the warning shout from Carrick that forced her to look back.
Saraya had Ayab down on the ground in a grand show of strength. Aria was not surprised by this –Saraya carried Caledon the Mighty within her. One of the strongest and greatest warriors of Olde, but it was her next words that shocked her still.
"I have gotten the Mage's stench on it, you think not I will do the same for you?!" The Mage? She had his blood. Aria was suddenly frantic to have the sword and a vial to keep that blood in. So much precious blood had already spilled into the Earth. “Do not threaten me, Ayab. I respect Jai, and I will do no harm. It is a simple feature of gratitude. If you cannot accept it, then do not... But, do not... EVER... Threaten me again... Or you will feel the true wrath I bear and the chill of my steel against your hide" And with a quick turn of her heel, she was gone for the chilled spring that cut through the forest.
“Do you wish me to follow her?” Balden asked curiously, Aria shook her head and explained that Saraya was more than capable of taking care of herself. She had run off and taken the bloody sword with her. Aria counted it as a loss and let it go. They’d get another chance –she knew she would and when the chance came she’d try to get enough to use it against him. Blood Magic was incredibly powerful if done correctly, or incredibly dangerous if tampered with without the correct knowledge.
She felt a tingle on her back where the Fenlyk marking laid on her porcelain skin. She knew then that the Fenlyk Guardian was showing itself to Lara. They neared the wagon to make space for Aria to lay down in, but were stopped by the sight of Lara held in a trance like state. Carrick had come over to help Balden with Aria, and he too stopped at the sight of the blood on Lara and her unresponsiveness, but before he could reach out and touch her, Aria was already climbing into the wagon.
“What is wrong with her?” Balden asked nervously.
“The Guardian of Fenlyk is guiding her. A warm blanket please? And dressings so I may tend to her wound?” Balden nearly tripped over himself to get Aria what she asked for, and in his leaving she shared an amused look with Carrick. Balden’s infatuation with Lara was not unnoticed by the elders of the group.
“Will she be alright?” Carrick asked. Aria nodded knowingly.
“She’ll be fine, she’s young –this is a lot to ask of someone as young as her, or Balden. I think she’s learning to accept the Guardian within her.” Carrick seemed slightly unconvinced, his concern and worry for Lara etched deeply into the fine lines of his face, but he relented and trusted Aria’s judgement.
[b BALDEN] was quick to return with his arms full of a thick wool blanket and dressings. Aria thanked him and made quick work to tend to Lara’s wound, cleaning it gently with witch hazel, and wrapping it tightly after applying a healing salve made of moss and bark. Her arm might be sore for a few days, but she’d be alright. Balden knew the greatest threat at this point was infection. Worry for Lara was rife in his gaze. He had seen the way the wraith dealt a lethal blow, strong enough to snap her staff, and when she’d tumbled to the ground it was all Balden could do but react. Part of him knew to protect her because she was a guardian and he had to ensure she survived. They all had to, but another, greater part of him wanted to save her for the sake of saving her. Some instinctual part of him wanted to prove himself to her –catch her eye, and maybe more. He knew he was infatuated, but also accepted the fact that Lara probably didn’t and would never look at him that way.
Aria had fallen asleep tucked under the blanket with Lara, too exhausted to stay awake. She seemed to be the only one. After their fight with the Mage and his wraiths it seemed the others stayed close to the fire, tending their sore muscles and keeping alert for a second attack if it would come. If Aria hadn’t alerted them all, they would have been ambushed and then who’s to say they would have been victorious at all? Balden contemplated these things to the best of his ability while around him everyone else carried on with their own business. Balden at the same time, couldn’t sit still and when he spotted Lara’s broken staff sticking up from the mud, he got up and collected the broken pieces. Wood. He frowned and glanced around to where Carrick might be, but Carrick was off doing his own thing with Ayab. Balden knew that what Lara needed was a Staff made of Iron. Balden had been the apprentice of a Blacksmith back in his home town, Carrick WAS a blacksmith among other things and Balden decided then and there that once they found a town he would forge a weapon for Lara that wouldn’t fail her the next time.
After they had arrived, there wasn't much to say really. Quick double check that everyone was in one place before the whole group resumed a slow and steady pace in the general direction of the last guardian, in the lands of the east. Otherwise than that, there wasn't much to say.
Each day, it felt too similar to the last one, at least for her. Waking up in the morning to eat, continuing the journey, stopping a few times in between morning and the evening, and then settling down for the evening in a quiet spot where it'd be hard to find them. All of this felt much too similar to what she had experienced when traveling with other caravans, but she wasn't complaining at all. She left all the others alone and they left her alone in her solitude, as usual it left her with plenty of time to think. Although there was one somewhat frustrating experience, the spirit inside of her stayed silent the whole time, like a fish that did not want to take any of the fisherman's baits. What was the purpose of revealing itself before going back into the depths to hide, maybe the spirit had its reasons but whatever they were she could not understand them.
At least with nothing else to do she at least had all the time in perfecting with being one with the horse. At the beginning of the journey the horse she ride wasn't accustomed to her riding style, and the horse was at least a willing creature to adapt to her riding style quickly. After two days she felt the horse and the horse felt her, and in a few days perfect sync was achieved. During this whole time she had also debated about giving the horse a name, usually horses didn't last long enough so it wasn't that useful in attaching feelings to a horse. But this felt different, as if this horse would last a good chunk into the future.
Another evening, same as any of the other evenings in the past three weeks of the journey. The whole group had just eaten dinner, and she along with the priestess were cleaning the dishes, it was their turn after all. The two of them we're heading back towards the rest of the group when all of a sudden Lara saw the form of the priestess fall down, and all the plates and other eating utensils fall down as well which produced a somewhat of a fearful noise. This sudden event at first made her pause and freeze, what was she supposed to do? Setting down he own load of course plates as gently as possible, Lara made her way to the fallen priestess in a tentative manner. Although by the time she got there, the rest of the group had gotten there as well, and just like her they were in a worried state as well. The silence was ominous, a bad wind was blowing and it was blowing in their direction.
And then the priestess came back around, something about a danger, mage, and then some other talk. Lara didn't pay attention to the rest of the conversation, for at the uttering of the word danger she had sprinted back and had taken out her staff before rushing back. Even though the staff itself wasn't big, defensively it was a pretty decent thing to have. Versatile, not being limited to certain techniques.
And then that evil voice came floating, from the darkness it came, in an attempt to severely dishearten them before actually fighting. Taking a look around, it had actually caused the opposite effect, all of them had a bigger urge to resist than let the plan go to complete waste. But the unsettling thing was that they would be fighting wraiths, and out of the conversation it appeared here was only one weapon that could actually kill the wraiths, and that weapon belonged to Rhuarc.
And then the tension snapped, like cooped up water behind a fan finally weakening the damn to the point of where the water overcame the damn. The wraiths and the mage attacked their group, and an impromptu plan was formed on the spot. She and Balden would defend the priestess while the rest would counterattack, and this was put straight into action as any little hesitation would lose precious time.
The plan worked extremely well as the counterattacking group drew the majority of the wraiths as well as the mage himself on themselves while she and Balden had only two of them to deal with. Ever since Balden had begun his fighting lessons with the Jai, he had become something of a force to be reckoned with. Sure he needed a couple of more years, but he was definitely on the right path. She herself, other than blocking and making ineffectual jabs, held off the second wraith while Balden took care of the second wraith.
At one point the staff split in two from one of the wraith's downward swings and moving out of the way she could feel a line going down the outside part of her arm. She could feel the blood start to soak the clothes, but more importantly she was practically defenseless. But a well timed arrow killed the wraith, and Balden had managed to land a critical blow on the other wraith, before finally finishing off the damn thing.
At the same time the rest of the group had dealt with the rest of the wraiths, before the evil mage decided to turn tail and run away. She gripped her right arm on the outside, the bleeding wasn't too bad, but something would have to be done about it. She did know that somewhere in the cart there were plants that when boiled would cleanse the wound and help with the healing process.
But before walking off she witnessed a spectacle, at least it was funny to her. It was the other female guardian, Saraya, she had chucked Ayab and holding him at sword point. That Jai with his ego would eventually trip himself over, and he had done it with Saraya, hopefully he actually learned his lesson this time.
Whatever else passed she didn't pay attention to as she walked over to the cart, jumped in, and started searching among the various other things for the plant. But then a thought drifted through the back of her head, it came out of nowhere. [i You will always be the outsider], that was the thought that so casually drifted through her head, but she then began debating with herself, which stopped her in the midst of her search for the plant.
[center [i [+purple That's not true]]
[i But it is, the Jai already see you as weak]
[i [+purple From the first moment they saw me, the Jai already considered me weak]]
[i But whatever you do in convincing them otherwise, it will never work. No matter what you do, they'll always see the weak side and not the strong. Forever stuck in a paradox]]
[i [+purple I can't do nothing about that, they are Jai and I'm a native of Fenlyck, nothing will change their view of Fenlycks]]
[i But it will be the same for everybody else, you'll always be an outsider, the seventh wheel with no particular use. Even within these three weeks, you have always been on the outside of the group, and it will stay as such]]
[i [+purple That's... that...]]]
Despair seized her and she sat down with her back against the side of the cart, bringing up her bloodied hand to her face. Then something warm ran down and cleared a path through the blood, another warm thing streamed down and cleared another path through the blood on the hand. Slowly, warm tears began cascading trough the blood, slowly washing it away to nothings. In the midst of this despair, she began to pray. [i [+purple Oh Spirit of Fenlyck, I'm lost and in need of guidance. I plead desperately for you to help me.]]
At first nothing happened, nothing happened at all. But then the tattoo on the back of her neck began to warm up, and the warmer it got the more she felt out of tune with the real world. Ir eventually warmed up to where she couldn't feel or see the real world, but only what the spirit decided to show her. The spirit appeared in the form of a fish, [i [+blue Come, let me show you something.]]
On the outside, it would appear as if she was in some sort of trance, or maybe even as if death had taken hold of her. The blood soaked clothes would make that allusion make it look more real. But if one listened closely, or felt for a heartbeat, then they'd easily figure out she wasn't dead.
But if the tattoo on the back of her neck warmed up, wouldn't that mean the similar tattoo on the priestess would also warm up? No one would know, except the priestess.
The series of events that had given her that feeling of dying had faded into distant memory, surprisingly with each hoof sounding against the earth. Saraya seemed silent, almost in daze, were it not for her eyes blinking normally. To the fellowship, it may have seemed like an eerie commodity that landed on the unfortunate beauty, but for Saraya herself, she felt an odd thing she hadn't felt before.
The spirit and an entity she could yet recognize both told her confusing riddles... To be fulfilled...
Saraya then thought about what The Priestess said of her sudden connection to her host. He was never harsh, but he was that stern. For the most part, all she could think of was what she said about her being a Prya. She knew a thing or two about their kind. They were believed to have a deep rooted passion and connection to the God they worship.
She never thought that she would be one, however. She believed to that if it is the case, she had a stronger spirit than she thought. This would mean that she had to prevent the enemy from knowing. It was stressful enough protecting one from harm. If they found out that she was a Prya... It would mean a lot more to grab her, as well. She needed to protect The Priestess, not hide with her. She just could not put her in worse harm as is.
Careful silence surrounded Saraya as they traveled. The three weeks of travels with an additional week trekking along the plains will give her plenty of time to prepare for her skills being retaught and honed before the battle of great importance came about.
The sunset caught her eye. On the twelfth night, she had decided to sit near the waters as the men hunted. As she did, though, she thought of Felliope, and sighed as he faded into thought once more. Rhuarc and Ayab were conversing, Carrick and Balden were talking about their training, and Lara was off with The Priestess, or at least nearby.
Saraya had bathed carefully while others were distracted and though Felliope was in her thoughts... Another face came to view, and she caught herself staring upon it longer than intended. "Rhuarc... " she snapped herself out of it, however. Now was not the time for personal endeavors. The priestess... The last of the guardians... Her being Prya... These were to be dealt with first.
She watched the sun kiss the horizen before an odd wind rushed past her. Whispers in the wind with a familiar stench reaped past her nose, and a hiss escaped her. Knowing her comrads, she slipped out of the waters and into her underskirt and top, both bathing in the purest white. She slowly stepped back, letting her sense of smell catch the stench of dark magic.
She grabbed onto her arrows, bow, and sword and began to turn.
The air was silent...
The trees were shivering, but dared not sing.
A stench carried along the dead atmosphere... Until...
The stench of evil choked her a moment. Her eyes flashed violet as she she heard The Caledon spirit speak from within her... [i Protect her! Danger approaches!]
She grabbed onto her double edge sword and dug into the earth with her feet before launching as hard as she could push herself. Carrick screamed "Wraiths!" and The Priestess looked to Rhuarc, then to everyone else. Saraya need not words of encouragement. She simply ran until she surpassed her, and raised her hands to her sides, a gust of wind creating a force field. The wraiths screeched as she pushed them far from everyone, before running at them again.
She jumped in the air, her sword tight in hand as she attacked, and collided with the enemy's. She growled as she swung again and again, and again, the wraiths sneering in anger. She blocked a swing, and dodged another, backing up for just a moment.
Before she would attack again, Rhuarc had taken charge of the fray, a signal to get to the priestess and get her to safety. She turned and grabbed her by the hand, hurrying her back to the camp, and took out her bow and arrows. She let a few fly to cripple the wraiths so Rhuarc could take the advantage. Then, her focus was on the Mage. She would not leave Aria's side until any could take over. Lara and Balden had ran to her and the priestess. She nodded. "Stay here..." Was her only words before she started towards the trees. She created a force field around her in case he sought to try another trick from his sleeve and she had gotten to the trees by the time Rhuarc had attacked. The stench of the Mage's blood caught her, and before he could evaporate, she had took her chance. She launched at him from the trees, but missed him entirely when he turned into mist, with a chuckle so haunting, even she was snapped back to the objective.
"How sweet... The doll would wish to stand against a Mage"
She growled and readied her swords. "...Such a pity... Your precious husband dying..." A growl escaped her. "... Your newborn swimming in its own blood..." She growled again. [I Advert your ears, love... He will do anything to distract you and claim what he wants]
"How did it feel, Doll?" He egged on. She stayed at the ready. "... How did it feel to be at your moment of glory and have it taken away by a cannon?"
[I Listen not, Saraya]
"My sword tasting the flesh of your lover?"
[I Do not believe him]
"My boot stomping on your belly until your newborn breathes no longer? Until your precious son dies before he is even born?"
[I He lies...]
The sword cried from the pressure she applied. She knelt, her anger rising beyond compare. A moan from the trees sounded as she mustered energy, and let out a battle cry so piercing that even the Mage was surprised. The ground shook as she rose to her feet. She readied her sword and launched at him, ripping off cloth and drawing blood before he disappeared. This angered her more. She yelled as loud as she could in a battle cry. "MAGE! "
She finally made her way back with her trophies; The cloth from his clothing, and the blood on her steel. Rhuarc was explaining that they should make haste to the last Guardian, and Saraya said not a word. The priestess noticed her first before Rhuarc did, then Ayab, Then Carrick, who sought out the wagon full of weapons. When the Priestess halted her, Rhuarc had followed, along with the rest of the fellowship, they expected her to be alright... But, a devilish look had appeared, tears streaming down her cheeks, eyes burning with the fires of revenge within her. At that moment, The Priestess knew. "I want the Mage..." Was her sentence when Arya asked if she was alright. She then looked to Rhuarc. Though she wanted to thank him, her voice bore away from it. She nodded to him, a hand instinctly reached for his chest as they do in her homeland. She bowed her head in gratitude, and spoke in English so he could understand. "Thank you..."
Ayab, however, did not see it as a gesture of gratitude. He pushed her away and drew his sword against her. [b "You do not touch him, woman. Know your place"]
Saraya, somewhat unfazed by the action, stared him down. " Do you want to kill me, Ayab?" Her eyes still burned as he stared, and though he felt intimidated by her stare, sought to keep his ground. The sword was now at her neck and her hair pulled to hold her in place. [b "Touch him again... And I will kill you"]
Saraya did not take lightly to threats. Not at this time... Not with the feeling of unshakable rage within her. She grabbed him by his throat and with ease, lifted him and slammed him into the earth, with her sword at his throat. " I have gotten the Mage's stench on it, you think not I will do the same for you?!"
The Priestess was shocked, as were the others of her strength. Though Rhuarc and The Priestess tried to pry her off, she was stronger than they thought. "Do not threaten me, Ayab. I respect Jai, and I will do no harm. It is a simple feature of gratitude. If you cannot accept it, then do not... But, do not... EVER... Threaten me again... Or you will feel the true wrath I bear and the chill of my steel against your hide"
The sweet woman before them held so much pain and anguish in, it came out in a few short sentences. She released him, and turned to Rhuarc, who seemed both bewildered and shocked. She bowed her head quickly before hurrying to the camp she made near the waters. "I am sorry..."
She needed to be alone... She felt the pain... It resurfaced as she rubbed her belly. Tears streamed that night, and freely. She needed it out of her system before she could get to the task at hand... Find this last Guardian.
Rhuarc was scanning the horizon while the group progressed, looking for danger of any kind Ayab, Balden and Lara had not returned yet but he ws not too worried. The Caledon Guardian, Saraya, was kind enough to give him a cloak and set it upon his shoulders. It was a good gesture, the mountains would be cold and many a man had frozen to death in these lands. Rhuarc was different, he was the Guardian of the fire God and as such was unlikely to face the same fate but he appreciated the gesture nonetheless and accepted the cloak without protest. [b "Thank you, Saraya."] The journey seemed calm for now but as soon as Rhuarc had the thought his calm was shattered. Saraya fell from her horse and let out a cry Rhuarc was instantly put on edge. The others rushed to her side to check if she was hurt but Rhuarc had the great blade of heavy black steel out its scabbard before the Guardian hit the ground Was it simply a fall or was she struck by an arrow or other missile, Rhuarc stood motionless ready to poise his eyes covering as much ground as possible but it appeared there was no need for his blade just yet.
Soon enough the splinter party returned to the fold Ayab making his way straight to his fellow Jai and whispered a few words in Rhuarc's ear which only received a nod in response. From that point on the journey was largely uneventful, travel during the day and camping at night, Rhuarc staying true to his word and training Balden. For the first few days all he did was speak to the boy about what he expected and then started building up his strength and stamina before ever letting him touch a blade. Rhuarc was a hard teacher and he expected nothing less of excellence, pushing Balden harder and harder, the boy would make a good swordsman when his training was complete. Aria and Carrick seemed to be talking and the large Jai could tell that something was not right. [b "Balden ready yourself."] Rhuarc wasn't sure what exactly was going on but he had a suspicion that it wasn't good. He caught Ayab's eye and his fellow Jai also took up his weapons. That was when the Mage showed his face. His laugh sent chills up his spine, it was a trap the whole time, the Mage knew where they were gaoing and more importantly why. That meant that Malik knew as well. Their task had just gotten much more difficult. Their foes seemed to be shadows themselves, how was that possible, Ayab wasted no time and loosed an arrow as soon as he saw the treat, it would have struck the eye of any normal man but it sailed through the wraith unimpeded and buried itself in a tree. A curse in the harsh Jai tongue followed.
The wraiths sprung forward and Rhuarc raised the heavy black blade to meet the onslaught. Immediately he gracefully glided throuygh the sword forms that he had been teaching Balden, Rock on the Mountaintop became Charging Bull which became Wind blowing through Valley which became Heron catching Fish. Each move brought his sword to meet the shadows' corroded blades until he slipped through their defences and cut one from shoulder to hip. The blade in Rhuarc's hands was engulfed in a brilliant white flame as it rent the shadow apart clearly Jaihash had awakened the holy blade in his Guardian's hands and given him a way to fight off these shadows. With the next swing of the blade flames continued to burn and Rhuarc could feel the fight start to swing in their favour. From the corner of his eye he could see the other Guardians and the High Priestess get involved in the fray, Ayab on the other hand was not blessed with the powers of a god. Rhuarc ran over cutting and slashing at any shadow he could reach before laying a hand on the bow of his friend. A warm flame passed from his palm onto the weapon but instead of destroying the weapon it enhanced it, giving the other Jai a chance to fight back against these abominations.
The Guardians fought hard, Rhuarc coming in to use his blade of Ancient Power to defend his fellow Guardians and Balden from harm, he paid particular attention to Saraya and the High Priestess for different reasons. Saraya was a kind woman and he wasn't sure how much battle she had personally been a part of and the High Priestess because if she died, they all failed, she was more important than any of them. With his now flaming arrows Ayab could effectively take part in the fray, distracting Wraiths giving Rhuarc the opportunity to destroy them with the heavy black steel in his hands. Ayab loosed one more shaft, not at a Wraith but at the one who had summoned the abominations; the Mage himself. With Jaihash's holy fire powering the arrow it left a large cut across the cheek of the Mage who recoiled more in surprise than pain. It must be evident that his forces were going to lose this fight. Soon enough the Wraiths no longer tainted the land nd all that remained of the dark forces was the Mage itself. [b "Flee, flee back to Shade-stealer and tell him what you say this night! The Guardians are gathering. Soon enough this war will end and he will fall! You tell your false king that the time of his death approaches!"] Rhuarc shouted at the Mage, there was no point pretending anymore, Malik knew what their mission was. With a mocking smile still on it's face it vanished into the ether leaving the Guardians, Balden and Carrick in the clearing alone.
[b "Is everyone alright? We should check everyone for wounds, treat them if necessary and rest quickly. Shade-stealer will be after us and I want us to be moving by first light, we need to push harder and travel quicker. We can lose his forces in the mountains but until then we are easy targets. That is, if the Priestess agrees of course."] Everything Rhuarc said was true but the Priestess was in charge and he would obey her word even if he didn't agree with it.
Aria spent the rest of the afternoon thinking of Rhuarc’s words. Ahrak-Toh was honor and obligation. She had thought she was holding true to this by any standard. Aria knew she could have easily turned away her teachings, religion and just gone off to live her own life –one where she could be a normal person, but Aria knew she was not normal. Aria had been taught since she was old enough to remember that she was a servant to the Will of the gods and the people who worshiped them. She belonged to no one man or woman, and yet belonged to everyone. She could never be married, never mother children, and while sex wasn’t forbidden it wasn’t smiled upon either. That of the High Priestess was a rather lonely existence and had been while she was in the company of Father Rigby. He had been a good man, a good guardian, a good teacher, and a good friend. Rigby had been the father Aria never had. Now he was gone, and the weight of that truth finally had its moment to sink in.
Her sorrow was short lived however, once Saraya fell from her horse and began to tremor on the dirt road. For a fleeting moment, Aria wondered if she’d ever have the moment to grieve properly or to take into account all that was happening. Carrick called the wagon to a halt and Aria jumped down. She saw what the others could not and that was the aura of Caledon. It glimmered a bright and verdant green over Saraya’s figure, and when she finally settled and opened her eyes, the three of them were huddled around her. Aria’s brows were furrowed with a knowing, Caledon was strong in Saraya –she had openly and willingly accepted her path into her heart and so Caledon quickly manifested within her. What was more shocking were the words Caledon said to her through Saraya.
“Priestess, You are magnificent... For this one is chosen to fight... This one will not fail...” Aria had only one response, a resounding: “I know,” And leaned forward to help Saraya stand again. Saraya would not fail –her devotion to her Gods and her willingness to help the world would serve her well. “why do you stare?” she asked and Aria only smirked.
“You had a bit of a tumble,” Carrick answered with a concerned frown. “Fell from your horse,” He placed a heavy hand to her shoulder and looked her over. “Are you alright?” Aria was observing
Saraya, Caledon’s aura had receded back within Saraya, but it was still a tangible thing Aria could reach out and feel.
“She will be fine,” Aria assured. “Your concern is noted Carrick… Saraya has… accepted her path, now let us continue to Volshiv,” She said and as both men left the two of them to return to their horse and wagon, Aria reached forward and lifted Saraya’s chin. “Never has there been a guardian so quick to accept their part, and never has there been a guardian who can so quickly hear and speak with their Gods. Hopefully the next time Caledon speaks to you, you won’t be sitting atop a horse. Be prepared for your dreams –give them close attention, they are the gods speaking to you, memories that hold clues to the future… all things are connected, and do not hesitate to come to me with what you see, hear, even smell… I can teach you how to speak with Caledon in a way that doesn’t render you useless. You have a great deal of power in you that I am left to wonder if you are what we in the Septum call A Prya. In other words, you might be of an ancient bloodline that can trace its way back to the very Gods themselves and the first Guardians. Back in the city there is a tomb under the Sanctum where many of the ancient texts are kept and preserved. If Malik has not burned them all… there may be clues there as to how you’ve gained so much power so quickly –the ability to speak with your host God is not…. Common.” Aria released Saraya then and made sure she mounted her horse safely before Carrick called her to return to the wagon and ride. In Fact the ability to convene and speak with the Gods was generally a talent solely of the High Priestess… but Pryas had been known to be intimately connected with their Host Gods in the past. If Saraya was truly a Prya it would make her a vital piece to winning against Malik.
They rode through the afternoon making great headway on the road to Volshiv. Carrick had surmised that if the weather held up, they would be to the Volshiv boarder within three weeks. That was only to the boarder –they still had to pass through the whistling plains which would take them another week, before they reached the bustling city of Tanaka where they would begin their search for the last and final Guardian.
The sun was setting when they heard the cacophony of hooves. Aria looked up to see Laura, Balden and Ayab making their way back. Both Lara and Balden went flying past the group while Ayab managed his horse like a seasoned professional. Most Jai traveled by their feet, but as they were going so far –horses had been provided for them to conserve their strength and energy. Carrick impressively made no comment about Lara having gone off on her own, and whatever she had run off for Balden wasn’t speaking. Aria had to admire his loyalty –whatever it was, he didn’t feel it was his place to reveal why she had run off without so much of a warning or word to where or why. No one else brought it up either, letting it go for the time being.
They traveled without incident for the better of the week. They saw very little passersby, but plenty of game. Balden had shown himself to be an impressive hunter when he bagged a few rabbits and a doe for them to field dress and cook during their evenings making camp and sitting around a fire. It wasn’t until the twelfth night they made camp that things seemed a bit strange. Supper had ended and both Lara and Aria cleaned up the mess of supper together as it was their turn to do so. Carrick stood off to the side pitching a tent while Balden trained with Rhuarc. The boy showed great promise, and Aria would have liked to watch as Balden traded his training between Carrick and Rhuarc, but something in Aria caused her to drop the clay plates she was carrying and she fell to the ground. She was sitting, head bowed and gripping her head. A Terrible pain had lanced through her head behind the eyes…. A warning. Around them the forest was deathly silent… too silent. When asked what was wrong Aria lifted her face, tear streaked and trembling.
“I am not certain…. I sense… danger. Something dark and evil is near us… hiding in the shadows…” her voice trailed off and they all looked around their camp to the shadows that encircled them. The camp-fire burned bright and warm… but with each heart beat that passed the air grew colder.
“Is it the knowing, Priestess?” Carrick asked, his sword already drawn. Aria frowned.
“It is trying to tell me something,” Aria confessed breathlessly. “But it comes too frantically, too quickly, and I can’t make heads or tails…” It was then the wind picked up and whipped about their camp knocking over a tent and strong enough it blew the fire out and shrouded them in absolute darkness just before it let up and everything went still once more
Everything was tense.
Everything was quiet.
So quiet… and then suddenly… Laughter.
“The Mage!” Aria gasped realizing what was happening. Red eyes peered from all around them, and the voice spoke in the air.
“You lied to me Carrick… I knew you would. I have always know where your loyalties lie!” He hissed. “But you have led me to the Priestess…” Aria felt a caress of the wind, like a veritable finger against her face and jaw, she cringed and shied away from the magic. “Hello my pretty, I knew you were near…” His laughter was suffocating and the eyes around them neared. “I do hope you enjoy my little nightmares. Once they dispose of you all they can drag her by her hair all the way back to me,” he cackled. Carrick spun in circles, sword raised.
“Show yourself!” Carrick hollered, but nothing came from it. The red eyes advanced them, and just as Balden managed to restart a pitiful little fire they saw what was threatening them.
There was ten of them, cloaked in darkness and not entirely tangible. How did you destroy something that wasn’t solid? They were spirits –dark nightmares sent to destroy them. Each held a skeletal face just as terrifying as their next brethren. The only parts of them that seemed tangible were the nasty corroded blades they carried with deft skeletal hands.
“They’re wraiths…” Carrick breathed with uncertainty. Aria had to hunt through her mind to find a way to defeat them… but Wraiths were difficult to kill –and there were ten of them. This Mage was frighteningly powerful, and if there was anything that could defeat a wraith with a single cut…
Aria gasped. “Rhuarc! You carry old magic with you!” She said, the knowing informing her exactly what it was he held. “Your blade!” She gasped realizing the truth. “All of you have powers,” she told them hoping to encourage them to not be afraid. “We will defeat them, we won’t let Malik or his Mage win!” Still the wraiths neared –toying with them, their eyes gleaming with malic and power… and without further ado….
She had galloped into the forest amidst cries from the priestess, but those cries fell on really deaf ears. Besides, she wasn't planning on going out into the forest and never returning, she did plan on returning but she wanted to take care of something first. Upon entering the woody areas of the forest Lara slowed her horse to walking speed and carefully led it around the trees, making sure the horse didn't eat anything. When travelling through a forest it was best if one didn't leave obvious markings that someone had been there. Aside from the imprint of the horseshoes, nothing else was left that anyone else would've been able to track her.
There was an empty clearing which was close to where she had entered the forest, that was where she directed her horse. In her three years of travelling Lara had found this place quite by accident, and it didn't appear as if anyone else knew of it. It was a good place to rest and get away from the hustle and bustle of regular life, even if it was just for the shortest of moments. She just sat on her horse, feeling like she was on top off the world.
That was until she heard another noise that was rushing through the trees, it could be either a friend or it could be a foe. But after hearing the voice that sped ahead of the rider Lara knew it was only Balden looking for her, and after hearing his voice stop she assumed he had found her. Her assumptions were correct as another steed closed in parallel to hers before stopping, and hearing Balden's voice again. She didn't know what to say to everything Balden was saying, she had never been involved in something so intricate and in such utter secrecy in her life before. Nor did she have a good feel for how her behavior affected others, once upon a time she did but the three years of solitary travel had washed it all away.
After Balden asked his questions, Lara could feel his gaze upon her, as if trying to guess what she would answer. [+purple "I went here to get away from the crowd and think, you're here because they sent you to find me."] Call her a smart ass with the comment towards Balden but it wasn't like she was lying, just merely stating the quite obvious truth. [+purple "As to finding them, that shouldn't be a problem. The carriage will leave extremely obvious tracks and then it will just simply be follow the leader."]
And then another noise, much more terrifying than Balden's had been was heard. Turning around in fear, but it didn't look like her horse was reacting in a negative way. Upon listening in closer, she could hear someone yelling in an unknown language to her while also trying to cut through branches. If someone extremely disliked the forest, that would probably be the Jai. Being desert people, they liked the openness, which was exactly the opposite of the forest. The Jai, the one called Ayab was the one who rode up in an extremely furious manner and began yelling at her in his own language. Lara herself felt angered by all this, but this time she did not attack him. All she did was listen patiently while kneeling her head, the last time she tried to fight back had only ended landed her in a worse position.
Slowly gesturing to Balden they went back along the path. The Jai wanted to get out as fast as possible, but they didn't need speed within a forest but slowness. Galloping on a horse within a forest could end up horribly, either running afoul on some low and tripping thing, to not being able to hear the movement of other objects. The Jai unfortunately didn't see that and instead just yelled more things which Lara ignored.
Once they had gotten out onto the main road did they break into a full speed gallop. Even though this pleased the Jai there was an uneasy silence within the group. They followed the same road that the others had followed like demons after someone's soul, with terrifying determination. They were so determined that they almost galloped fast the cart and its occupants, well the three of them actually galloped past the cart but shortly reversed their course to fall aside with the cart. Only then did the three of the reign in. Except the Jai, Ayab just went back to his nomadic fellow and complained about her to him, some things just would never change.
With Lara taking off, the young apprentice being ordered to collect her, and Ayab instructed to follow for protection, Saraya's order was to turn East. She let the soft hoof falls of the horses be her music as she traveled, remembering the sounds of steeds in her voyage to battle. She looked towards the Jai and then the Blacksmith. She grabbed onto her cloak and with a simple gesture, she set it on the shoulders of Rhuarc. The protector looked to her in surprise and confusion, and the young woman smiled wryly to her fellow guardian. "It would be... Selfish... Of me... If i not... Think... Of fellowship" she said slowly, knowing that he may be nonchalant of her. She looked ahead afterwards, and tapped her horse gently to move on.
As the hours passed, she seemed to feel that the youngling was restricted of play. She looked back to the baby steed and let down the rope just enough for her to run about to strengthen her would be powerful legs. The baby was grateful, immediately taking the invitation of running around, yet stayed near her and her mother. It brought a certain joy to her, made her smile. It was first she had ever smiled warmly since that day. Her husband would've been...
A sharp pain ripped through her chest. She gasped and beat her right fist to her heart. She doubled over, her steed slowing down to a halt, neighing softly to her in worry. Saraya patted her steed, trying not to worry her, but when a tight sensation restricted her of her breatthing, she arched. Her left hand sought her throat. The mark over her heart was beginning to turn violet, and as she opened her eyes, her eyes were glowing the violent color. The white cloak had slid off her shoulders, revealing her flawless skin. Her conciousness waned as tears fell. The pain was excruciating, so horrible that she couldnt let out a scream.
As if a chain was wrapped around her neck, she shot straight up, her hands falling from her chest and throat. She tried to breathe, but it felt as though she was being kicked and beaten, like stones flying to meet her form. Her tears were like lava, burning her skin. The comrades hadn't noticed she was behind a good yard before her steed neighed in panic. Even her foal was neighing, trying to run to them, but the rope was still tied. Her cloak finally met the earth as the horse neighed and propped herself on her hind legs, trying to call everyone back. The foal broke free from her rope and charged, though wobbly, to the group.
Saraya felt herself losing conciousness. Her hands found her chest and throat again, before she felt her balance give. As the horse snorted when the group finally began running to her aid, she began sliding and evenutally fell off her steed. The sudden weight loss shocked her horse, and neighed loudly as the foal made it back to her. The collision with the earth knocked air out of her lungs, but her hands were still tight on her chest and throat. She arched , fighting for air as she felt her body being tightened as if in a fist. She dug at the earth, trying to fight against it, and she instantly sat up, eyes vacant of pupils and of life.
Her eyes played what seemed to be a personal vision of a prisoner. The vision was blurry, but the voice could never be mistaken. [i You are mine, now]
She then heard a scream, and screamed herself, feeling a searing pain in the back of her neck. As soon as she felt the cold earth, she was tempted to wake... But, as she tried, her body refused the order. She, instead, stood in darkess, with only one light. She focused on it, and bowed quickly.
The spirit within manifested and urged her to stand. She stood, seeing Caledon in her subconcious still birthing a certain shock... This spirit smiled and placed a hand in her hair, moving a lock of her hair from her face. [i You are truly beautiful, Saraya...]
She stared, feeling the compliment within her being. He then leaned down and placed his lips on hers, a scent of Lavenders and fresh morning dew filled her senses. She then saw him smile and nod. [i What you saw was a sight of a slave being forced to bow down... There is some significance to this sight... That, i do not know. But, there is one thing for certain...]
He looked into her eyes, seeing her face soften to the simple softness her exuded. [i ...You will learn faster than ever before... Your mind has been unlocked, so you will be five times the woman you are... You sill be a force to reckoned with. And i will be sure you are fufilled]
Saraya stepped forward. [i Fufilled?]
She watched as his smile broadened and nodded. [i Time will tell... For now... Wake up... I will see you tonight]
Saraya's eyes opened... Her eyes scanned the blurriness around her before seeing her comrades surrounding her. She blinked a moment before feeling herself breathe in deeply. She sighed and looked to the Priestess. Her voice sounded ancient, as if an older, wiser being had stood with her. [i Priestess, You are magnificent... For this one is chosen to fight... This one will not fail...]
Saraya looked to her with a sudden fazed look. Her pupils returned, but it had a glassy gray tint to it. She then looked around to everyone, seeing the worry on their faces. They hadn't fully grasped what happened... And she felt the same. Her lips parted, and that voice had spoken for her. "Why do you stare?"
She shocked herself, but she prevented herself from showing it. She managed to grab her cloak, and attempt to stand. With a moment of aid from the others, she was successful, and started brushing off the earth. Her steed looked to her and snorted, while the foal wobbled to her, nudging her hand. Saraya smiled and petted her before looking to her steed. "i am fine, love" she said, petting her snout.
While everyone watched her in uncertainty and worry, she looked to the Priestess, a violet hue to her eyes were revealed. Her lips parted ever so slightly as her snow white hair blew in the breeze. She nodded before mounting her steed again, and waited for them to return to their positions. Once done, she continued on in the back as usual, the young foal running around her mother, but staying close to keep a watchful eye on their master.
Balden and Carrick rode in the wagon while the two Jai walked by its side, eyes constantly scanning the surroundings for any danger as Aria was hidden in the bottom of the wagon, unable to defend herself. She was the High Priestess and needed to be protected at all costs. Thankfully no such danger came and once the small band had travelled a safe space outside prying eyes, they finally let Aria out of her confines and out into the fresh morning air. [b "I am also gladdened to see you Priestess."] They would never be successful in their mission without the High Priestess, all that needed to be done now was wait for Sarella and Lara to join them, that would take some time yet. Rhuarc drew the obsidian black sword on his black and started working the sword forms that had been taught in the Wastelands for centuries. For a large man Rhuarc managed a graceful elegance in these forms, moving neither particularly quickly nor particularly slowly, merely as quickly as was required. This was simply one way for Rhuarc to pass some of the time waiting while doing something useful, it allowed him to keep his skills sharp while also letting Balden know what standard he would eventually be held up to if he truly did want to learn the way of the blade. Ayab meanwhile continued to scan the surrounding areas keeping watch for any threat of danger. Once or twice Ayab raised his bow, arrow nocked at a hint of movement only for it to end up being a rabbit or other small animal which he promptly killed and collected. In the Wastelands you did not spurn a chance for food, that was a hard habit to break and some extra food would not go amiss.
Rhuarc couldn't be sure what time the others would arrive but it couldn't be too much longer, so he decided to take this opportunity to talk with the one who would be leading them, the one who had started all of this; The High Priestess. [b "Priestess if I may, I thought that while we wait for Lara and Sarella to join us we could start your education into the ways of my people. Are you ready to learn about [i Ahrak-Toh]?"] Aria had said that she would endeavour to understand the Jai ways, it would be a long and complicated process and if she truly was to understand the complex system of honour and obligation that drove the Jai people. [b "I know this will be complicated and you may struggle to understand some of it but I shall be here to guide you Priestess. I will start with the most basic principles."] Rhuarc knew what he had to cover first, it was surreal having to explain this to anyone, all Jai's knew it and no outsider was generally allowed to know. [b "[Ahrak-Toh] is honour and obligation. This is the heart of the Jai. You must always seek to act honourably and bring pride to your [i Daes-mai]..the closest translation you have to this word be a warrior society, and you must also bring pride and honour to the Jai people as a whole. If you do bring dishonour or shame to the Jai or your warrior society you have an obligation [i Toh] to rectify this. Try and cleanse your [i Toh] as soon as possible This can be done in many ways, so I will leave that for another time. The most important thing to know is this, the most insulting thing you can do to a Jai is ask if you have [i Toh]. This would mean that you don't know how you have been acting, how you should behave or if you know how your actions come across. It is most shameful to ask if you have [i Toh], you should always know such things."]
As the large Jai finished talking the two other female Guardians arrived to join the rest of the group but just as it seemed all would be well Lara took off on her own again. Balden took off after the Fenlyk Guardian, Ayab briefly looked towards Rhuarc and with a slight nod from the Jai Guardian Ayab followed after Lara and Balden that way if something dangerous ambushed those two at least one seasoned warrior would be there to fight. Aria decreed that the rest of them should continue moving towards Volshiv, and while Rhuarc agreed that they should find the last Guardian as soon as possible he did not think it was wise to split the party. The journey would be long and dangerous and who knew when Malik or any of his forces might find them but Aria was the High Priestess,s he was their leader and Rhuarc trusted her.
Aria was becoming familiar with the feeling of fear. She was fearful at a constant since the attack of the cottage and the death of her guardian. She’d almost hesitated to climb into the hidden floor of the wagon when they prepared to leave, and of all people it was Rhuarc who managed to convince her to lay in the dark cramp space so they could smuggle her out. She knew she had to go, but she was fearful of if they were caught. Despite Carrick’s assurance that they would not be discovered, nor Ayab or Rhuarc’s promises to protect her, or Balden promising she had nothing to fear, Aria still felt it within the marrow of her bones. This was a dangerous gamble. She bid Saraya and Lara a sweet goodbye with hugs and promises that they must return to her whole and safe. Saraya had assured her there was nothing to worry about, while Lara remained her quiet aloof self. She bid them good luck and allowed Carrick to tuck her safely in what Aria could only describe as a coffin.
The cramp dark space was still an improvement from slumming through sewage and waste, but it cloyed stronger at her fear. It was the feeling of being trapped in a dark enclosed space –one she could not get out of without Carrick releasing the hidden spring. She was in a sense trapped and despite how uncomfortable it was, she couldn’t move or fear making a sound. It was a rocky ride, she felt every jostle of the city streets as the wagon was pulled through the city and towards the gates. They were stopped just as Carrick said they would, and with a hand over her mouth to silence her frightened whimpers, and her breathing she listened as the guards searched the barrels and trunks of goods for sale. They didn’t question Carrick more than they would any other. It was a simple standard of procedure.
“Where are you headed, Smith?”
“North towards the Boarder Clans for market.”
“Who are they?” The guards demanded of the two Jai.
“Extra muscle should I cross unsavory folk along the way. Bandits and the like.”
That had been the extent of their questioning, and then they’d jumped into the back of the wagon shifting through things. Carrick had been right about the barrels. Bad ideas. She heard the clatter, flinching as they dumped one of the barrels onto the wagon floor and kicked it about.
“Nothing back here. Let him pass,” and that had been it. They were allowed to start on their way out of town, but Aria was not freed from her small coffin until they reached the rendezvous point.
It took them three hours to reach the rendezvous point, three hours trapped in a rattling coffin that left her dizzy with the beginnings of a migraine. The trick floor opened up with a sudden swing after they’d stopped. The light from above was blinding, but what greeted her was a wonderful view. Carrick stood with Rhuarc, Balden keeping watch and mimicking the stoic Ayab. They each offered her a hand and helped her to sit up and Aria looked around to the bright sunshine and lovely hilly landscape of the country. Currently the usually busy road was clear of other travelers.
“Rhuarch, Carrick…” Aria breathed happy to be free of the confines of the smuggler’s hidden compartment. “Oh I’m so glad to see your faces. Have Lara and Saraya joined us yet?”
“Not yet,” Carrick informed her and together they helped her down from the wagon. She looked about at their surroundings. They had headed north as they instructed the City Guards, but they were still a few miles from the first major crossroads. They needed to head east towards Volshiv. The trip alone to reach the boarder would take them at least three months by foot. Thankfully they were outfitted with horses, and they would make it in half the time… six to eight weeks. The trip would not be easy, one full of bandits and creatures. Not many people traveled East. It was a difficult terrain, and full of mysterious dangers and creatures.
Aria was able to breathe better when Lara and Saraya finally joined them an hour later. They came galloping like hell beasts towards them, reigning in their horses to a stop as soon as they reached the wagon.
“Saraya, Lara! You were successful in your escape!” Aria exclaimed happily, hurrying down from the wagon where she sat with Balden and rushed to greet them. Lara, seemed to have other things on her mind as she collected her gear from the group and mounted her horse once again. “Lara?” she questioned, but Lara did not explain, simply taking off into the wilds of the forest. “Lara!” She shouted after. How impertinent! To just take off with no explanation. It was rude and certainly unfair to them to have to wait on her. She gave Saraya a curious expression, but Saraya did not seem to know of Lara’s plans or where she was going. Carrick grumbled with a matching scowl to the two Jai and turned irritated to the other horses.
“That child will get herself killed,” he growled.
“Where did she go?” Balden questioned. Aria frowned watching the direction she vanished to.
“We will not know until she comes back-“
“If she can make it back. And IF she can find us,” Carrick growled. “We cannot stay here and wait for her.”
“And we cannot allow harm to befall her. She is just as important as all the others in the effort to take down Malik,” Aria challenged back. “Balden,” She turned to him. “We are going to continue east. Hurry follow after Lara and travel with her, get her back to us. We will meet you hopefully on the Eastern Pass. Be safe,” Balden was quick to notch his belt where a sword and dagger hung at his hip. Carrick had given it to him earlier for protection, now it seemed he would have use for it. He took to a horse of his own and galloped off after Lara.
“Foolish girl,” Carrick grumbled. “I should have gone after her,”
“No, Carrick. You are too important. We need you to help us travel these dangerous roads and show us the way to Volshiv. Balden is a brave young man, he will see to it that Lara finds her way back to us,” Aria stated with the firm command and poise of a true leader. Carrick was hesitant, but he relented and with a fist to his heart bowed to her.
“Of course m’lady.”
Aria looked out at the Eastern road, and while they could not see the mountains of Volshiv yet, she could see the hilly terrain they would soon be traversing. Her gaze was determined, and frightened. “Let’s continue on,” She said and moved to jump into the back of the wagon where she would ride under the cover of the canvas that protected the wagons contents. As the carriage took off, trundling down the path, Aria looked back out among the forest and with concern, prayed Lara and Balden made it back to them. Meanwhile she could hear Carrick grumbling under his breath about selfishness, the impertinence of youth and entitlement, and how he didn’t understand her reasoning for just taking off without an explanation to her group. They were supposed to have each other’s backs, but how could that be if one was so brash as to leave them and take off? Aria was remiss to say she agreed with most of what Carrick had to say, but she made no comment.
Balden rushed into the forest until he came upon Lara, and called for her. He finally caught up to her and rode his horse alongside hers. “Lara!” He gasped, catching his breath from the rush of his ride. “Why did you take off? What could be so important you left all of us behind? The Priestess is frightened for you,” He chided, trying to understand her reasoning. “I was told to ride with you, they would and could not wait for you to return. We will have to try and find them along the Eastern Route… why are we out here?” He asked looking up to the canopy of trees and then to her curiously.
Sitting within the confines of a wooden barrel felt very odd, as if there was a disconnection with the world outside. Everything happening outside of the barrel could be heard but the sounded came out distorted, and only the occasional flash of light hoed through the little cracks within the barrel. The sound of someone approaching the barrel, the footsteps didn't sound like the usual footsteps one heard.
Her little solitary self-confinement ended when someone opened the top of the barrel up and reopened three connection back to the world. Light flooded in, and even though the sun was setting the drastic change in light stunned er eyes for a few seconds. She did hear someone say 'boo' with a jovial
tone, and based on the voice it had to be Aria.
Standing up straight Lara leaned on the edge of the barrel to overhear the conversation going on down there. She couldn't hear everything, but sometimes one needed to watch with attention as well as listen. Carryck had walked over to the cart and then started what looked like an attempt to pull it apart, which it wasn't since he was just unveiling a secret compartment big enough to store a few people laying down. That was extremely convenient because the guards never bothered to check there, all they ever checked was everything out on top even though the more interesting objects were somehow hidden within the confines of the cart. That she knew from self-experience, even though being involved with that was slightly dangerous as the laws passed by Malik dealt harshly with smuggling.
The day tomorrow, it was indeed a big one tomorrow. Tonight the final preparations would be made and tomorrow they'd be carried through. Balden helped her get out of the barrel although why he blushed was a complete mystery to her. But then again living alone and most of the time away from civilization most things civilized were a mystery, three years away from home did much to change her. 16 years at home she had only aged and matured, but three years of being alone out traveling the kingdoms had changed her more than those 16 years.
Carryck was kind enough to give up the bed for the three women, the old age of chivalry hadn't and would probably never die out. The smell of food permeated throughout the house, part of that was tomorrow and the journey that would continue on. She had nothing to do so she watched Saraya put on makeup on Aria. Makeup wasn't something new to her for it was fairly popular with the higher classes, but honestly she never saw the use for putting it on just for fun. For purposes like these, changing ones appearance to disguise, fine but hopefully she wouldn't have to put on the stuff.
The dusk outside gave away to darkness, the stars shone beautifully on a cloudless dot and the moon was clearly visible, half white and the other left in the dark. Going to bed for a good nights sleep it took her awhile to fall asleep. Sleeping in a bed and sleeping in the wild were two different things and her back muscles were having somewhat of a negative reaction to the softness of the bed. But in the end she managed to fall asleep but not before Aria also came to lay on the bed.
Lara was always a sound sleeper, never any dreams nor moving about, although hard to wake. Not exactly a surprise when she was awakening to her entire body being lightly shaken by someone. Of course it took a while for her to completely comprehend what was going so if Lara seems fussy, it was from attempting to comprehend the outside world while being shaken awake.
Saraya explained the plan to her for the two of them, everything was alright. Except having to put the makeup on. On second glance Saraya had already put the nasty stuff on herself and she appeared much older than last night. Even though she was in disagreement about the makeup, Lara went along with it. It felt sticky and unnatural on her face, and the hair. She eventually just stopped thinking and let Saraya do her job in peace. She didn't feel any difference, except the negative reaction to the makeup, but the sight was a difference. Looking into a mirror she saw herself, but not exactly herself. It was a younger girl with dark brown hair, threw her off completely.
Saraya also wanted her to change but Lara simply took of the top most layer and replaced it with a good cloak that fully covered everything underneath it.
Even though she was ready Saraya had rushed in and was urging her to hurry up. The others had went to complete their part of the plan and it was time to do their part.
They first headed to the pub where Saraya drank something, nothing too interesting. Lara sat patiently and looked around, occasionally giving warming glances to Saraya as part of this masquerade. Even Saraya had words on this matter although her English was still somewhat rough, but it would improve over time.
When it was high noon they left the pub and rode off to the exit gates. On the horses, three of them, they slowly traveled towards the gates where guards stopped them. To the question about destination purposes Lara answered about visiting relatives who were near the city. The whole time the guards were examining this petit caravan. Everything was calm...
Before the fire started. The guards ran off followed by Saraya leaping off the horse and opening the gates, letting the rest through, slamming the gates back shut, and then with a 'hyahh'd' all of them galloped off to the rendezvous point.
They eventually arrived at the rendezvous point where the rest had already come. The ride had been fun and the horse she had ridden was an excellent horse. Dismounting, she walked over to the horse that had her staff and took that out. Having her black shawl with a hood on her horse, Lara took off the cloak and put her old black wear on top.
Then she mounted the horse again, [+purple "I'll be back soon"], and then galloped off into the forest.
Saraya nodded quickly to the gesture. She didn't feel the need to waste any time. With the plan being articulated by Carrick, she felt a silent call of dedication fill her spirit.
With the task of dying the priestess' hair, she thought of young Lara and herself. If the plan was for them to escape the city as a pair, they had to think smart. She, after having the priestess situated, had went right to work with her task.
Throughout the night, she had used similar methods to contouring her face as she would when she had to spy on the enemy. With a touch of dye, she aged her hair to a pleasent grey, and added age to her once flawless face with simple earth and water along with dye to add contrast. She was sure not to alarm the Jai, for she read well of their attributes. One of their strengths were that they would protect what was necessary. The Priestess was tjr mission, and, being humble and also woman, knowing that she was thought of as meek and fragile, and maybe even unlikely to be stronger physically, she saw fit for Rhuarc and the men to focus on the Priestess, for she was top priority. After all, she knew how to use her feminine wiles to her advantage.
Saraya then looked to Lara. She sighed some. She may be a bit fussy, but she'll have to change her look. But, she decided to rest her arms and thoughts of the task at hand. She looked to Rhuarc, feeling a fair sense of security just watching him observing surroundings. It reminded her so much of Felliope, when they camped and were readying themselves to move camp at dawn. He usually took watch at night, and always stayed before the lips of her sleep tent.
Her memories pleasantly faded to the sight of Rhuarc. She sighed, seeing the faint fire colors peak over the horizen. Dawn approached. She fashioned her hair into a high ponytail, fairly braided and aged before tucking the braid just right. She let her hair fall astray here and there, and checked her look. The skin was flawless, even with the age to it. Her hair, though white, shown silver grey along the fullness, and she was satisfied. She then grabbed her weapons and stuffed them in a napsack before getting her cloak. She searched around some for an old sheet to drape over her form, to cover the odd clear colored tresses she worn with pride.
After which, she had gently awakened Lara. Lara, though fussy as she expected, yawned and finally attempted to listen. Saraya tried to explain her plan, though English was not easy. She pointed to her face, and then to the dye and earth she had applied. Though Lara fussed and twisted and protested, Saraya succeeded in applying the makeup and dye, before tossing her cloths.
While Lara was changing clothes, she excused herself, trying her hardest not to break the other's attention as she had gotten to the stable. A horse, a horse... She needed horses. She looked about each horse... Until one caught her eye... A white female horse hiding in the back of the stable. She sighed as she looked into the stable to her. She was young... Beautiful with white flowing mane, and even longer tail. Her hooves were covered with hair... But, she seemed worried.
Saraya had walked into the stable, the horse snorting, for she was nervous. Saraya steadied her hand as she looked to her. [I reuletia oprsnu...] [I you needn't fear me]
She steadily touched the steed's nose, the horse, somehow understanding what she had said. She smiled as she began hugging the snout. It was as though they had instantly connected... [I veltu kipru koori] [I ] she said and noticed something hiding. She saw a baby horse, only about two weeks old. She smiled. "Take... Her... With us" she whispered, the horse stomping her hoof in joy. The baby horse was just as white as her mother. She only had black fur over the hooves instead of white, which made her special. Saraya nodded to the horse, grabbing a blanket to put on her back.
As a custom of her home, she would never constrict a steed of the air it needed, so they only rode on the back with reigns and a blanket. Afterwhish, she grabbed another steed for Lara, who was young and vigilant.
Saraya hurried, looking to the horse and the horse neighed softly. Saraya nodded and hurried inside, urging Lara to make haste. The wagon and the men had already gone. She must keep to schedule, and take Lara along to the Pub to give the illusion of old mother and daughter.
The pub was silent as she had taken her fill. The bartender that greeted her when she entered, supplied her with Groot... She nodded in a thank you. She looked to Lara. "Must... Seem older with daughter... I must... Not speak" she tried to say as clearly as possible.
Once she was sure that Lara understood the plan, she waited until high noon, to finally put her plan into action.
She had gotten onto the steed, a rope wrapped delicately around the baby horse and his her weapons and Lara's staff underneath the blankets on the horse's back. They traveled, slowly yet surely to the gates, where the guards had halted them. "And what is your purpose?"
Lara played her role well, informing the guards that she was taking her dear mother to visit relatives that were staying near the city. As she explained, the other guards were inspecting the steeds, and then looked to the old lady that sat on the elegant horse. They saw a tired, elder woman under the cloak, and sighed as they looked to each other. Before they could say a word, however, bells rang of alert. Their post had been caught aflame.
With them abandoning their post, Saraya kept into action, using her strength to open the gate, and hurried the horses and Lara out safely before shutting the gates. With that, she jumped onto her steed, and "hyahh'd" the steed into a high sprint to a run.
In her mind, she celebrated temporarily of her plan. She, once they left the pub and was mere walk from the gate, had set aflame hay only yards away from the post. She used her talent of managing time to accomplish the post going up in flames before the guards noticed. With planning being completed swimmingly, she trotted once out of sight, and reunited with the others. She sighed as she demounted her steed and started wiping away the earth on her face, signing as she shed away the cloth covering her tresses. She stared at everyone and nodded, going back to her steed.Their next aim... Getting to the last Guardian... And exacting her revenge on the evil man she dared not see with her eyes.
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