*Rise of the Guardians* The Chronicles

/ By darien [+Watch]

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The blacksmith looked over Ayab's axe and confirmed their suspicion that the axe would be an easy fix. While Rhuarc would have ideally liked the axe fixed as soon as possible, the two Jai simply didn't have enough coin to waste making the axe a priority job. The end of the week would have to do. The sound of the young halfbreed turned Rhuarc's attention to Balden and while the large man gave the young boy a hard stare, he made no further comment. It was when the conversation turned to his sword that Rhuarc truly started listening. He knew the stories of how the Gods had inhabited the land and while in the Wastelands he had heard rumours and whispers from others regarding his sword he had never paid them any heed. To carry a holy weapon, a sword from legend was preposterous, although now that he gave it some thought maybe it wasn't as absurd a first thought. As Rhuarc took back the blade to return it to the place on his back for the first time ever the blade felt warm to the touch. Previously it had felt like any other steel, often cold but the underlying warmth felt like it had been left in the sun all day. [b "A Twin? Interesting..."] If this truly was forged in the flames of Jaihash himself then he held an incredible weapon indeed and if that was the case he wanted to know all he could about it and its supposed twin. He wondered who could hold the other weapon of black steel.

A young woman entered the blacksmiths and while she seemed out of place Rhuarc prepared to pay her no heed, that was until she spoke to him directly. Guardian? He had never been addressed so before. In a way he supposed that he was, he fought against Malik's forces and guarded his homeland from the invaders, he protected the caravans when he travelled with them but somehow her words seemed to have more significance than would first seem. More to it than that was that as she spoke the word Guardian a warmth filled Rhuarc, seemingly starting from the brands on his wrists and working through his body. [b "We were sent by a respected Elder. He told us that if we kept fighting Shade-stealer like we were now that eventually we would fail. We need to find another way to defeat him. Elder Mandarb told us to trust and an act of providence would guide us on our way. "] The insinuation that Rhuarc and Ayab, or any Jai for that matter, might have abandoned the old ways was insulting. To suggest such a thing would normally start a duel and end with blood, the only thing that saved him was that the blacksmith seemed willing to held those that kept the old ways. Not many shared the same view nowadays, Malik's rule of fear was a powerful tool for the false king.

[b "What help can you offer, smith?"] The Adbhu'Jai were no strangers to persecution given how those outside the Wastelands viewed them and their customs. [b "If you can truly help those who follow the old ways then we shall listen."] Rhuarc glanced quickly at Ayab and the other Jai nodded in agreement, Ayab had far more trust in Elder Mandarb than Rhuarc did but things seemed to be lining up nicely. Mandarb had told them to wait for an act of providence and here they were speaking to two people who seemingly kept to the old ways and were willing to help Ayab and himself, when coupled with the warm feeling that filled Rhuarc now, providence certainly seemed appropriate. The blacksmith, Carrick he said his name was, led them out of the shop and round to the stables, before ushering them inside. Rhuarc and Ayab had to duck down slightly in order to enter. Rhuarc didn't know what to expect but he didn't think the help that Carrick was offering would be two small women, although most anyone was small next to the towering Jai. What made matters worse was that one of these woman was Fenlyk. Despite the necessary trade that took place between Fenlyk and the Wastelands the vast majority of Adbhu'Jai held a deep disdain for Fenlyk natives. They had bent the knee to Shade-stealer in an attempt to spare themselves and it did not sit right with the nomads that while they fought and died to try and defeat the false king, these wetlanders did nothing. In the eyes of [i Ahrak-Toh], the system of honour and obligation, the Fenlyk had failed. The Jai's believed that the Fenlyk had [i Toh] towards the rest of the Provinces. They had an obligation to the other Provinces to do their part in order to defeat Malik and it would be impossible to restore their honour until it was done. At seeing the Fenlyk woman, Ayab too seemed uneasy, pointedly neither Jai looked at the women unless absolutely necessary. [b "This is the help you offer to followers of the old ways? Two women hiding in a stable, and one of them honourless no less. I'm not sure how much help this will be."] Rhuarc's objection was not that Lara and Aria were women, in accordance with the old ways women had an honoured place in Adbhu'Jai society. Women were the only Jai who could own property, while the Jai were nomadic people there was still the matter of the nine great terracotta cities along the river Nine. Every building in those cities was owned by a women and while Elders may have influence in the cities, the final decision was always made by a woman. The roofmistress ruled the cities. It was a position of great honour. If this was indeed the providence that Elder Mandarb spoke about it had better make its meaning clear soon or Rhurac and Ayab would not be staying in the stables very long. As it stood he just didn't see how a halfbreed child and three women could help him defeat Shade-stealer and finally give his people peace.
  Rhuarc / Kastanstyrax / 1y 71d 12h 30m 31s
Balden, Aria, and Lara slipped from the sewers under the cover of darkness. Following Balden’s lead he got them from the sewers to the blacksmith’s in the market part of town. Balden opened the door to the stables and hurried Aria and Lara in.
“I’ll be back with some hot water and towels so you can clean up,”
“Remember Balden, no one can know I am here,” Aria reminded. Balden gave a quick nod of his head and gently shut the door. Alone in the darkness Aria sought out a lantern and lit it. The smell of warm hay and smoke permeated the air. The horses in their stalls watched on curiously one neighing as Lara collapsed into a bale of hay. Aria looked over at her –the stress and confusion evident on her young features. A Maternal instinct fell over Aria and she moved to sit beside Lara and studied her for a moment. Lara spoke first asking how Aria could possibly know her name when they had never met, what was with the voice in her head and how it related to a fish tattoo on her neck, and Malik’s forces. Aria heaved a heavy sigh. “I know you’re name because of everything you mentioned. The tattoo, Malik’s forces, the voice inside your head…” Aria gave her a pointed and firm look under the lantern’s glow. The seriousness of her words were etched into the shadows of her face. “I tend to assume that all know their history, Fenlyk especially. Very prideful when it comes to history and tradition… much like the Jai’s. This is good, though, but just in case you don’t know, I will elaborate,”

“Eons ago, the earth was nothing more than a barren world spinning around the sun in the vastness of the heavens. Five gods traveled here to find solace. You know them, Caledon the Mighty, Fenlyk the Siren, Jaihash the Quick, and Volshiv the Tempest. They were led by their leader Azeroth. Together they formed the four provinces and in the center built a grand city from where they could watch over their creation. They created all sorts of creatures, but there were none to nurture, none to really appreciate the beauty they had created. So each God created their own race, and presided as a guardian over their land. From the Central City, Azeroth kept his eyes on them all and allowed them to their own devices. Their mortals came to revere them as the Gods they were, but as they stepped aside and allowed humanity to flourish, they saw within it a darkness they had not anticipated. So they each chose a host… A guardian to protect and to serve all of Azera. They would serve Azeroth’s holy choice –marked at birth. Always choosing a woman, for women are gentle by nature. He appointed the first High Priestess, imbuing her with his powers and his knowing…. I am the High Priestess. You are a guardian of Fenlyk, Malik killed your parents in the pursuit of destroying the guardians –for we are the only thing that can stop him.”

Balden returned moments later with a large bucket of fresh water and several cloths. He set it down before her and set down her bag with a change of clothes. Aria wasted no time in hiding within a stall to bathe herself as best she could and change into fresh clothes. When she emerged from the stall cleaned and her skin shimmering once male with pale perfection she tucked her silvery blonde hair behind a delicately pointed ear and came to sit down with Balden and Lara answer any and all of their questions well through the night. Balden eventually falling asleep on them and not waking until the dawn came and he heard the heavy footfalls of the smith coming to wake him. By dawn even Aria and Lara had fallen to sleep and when the stable doors opened the Blacksmith stood in stunned silence at what he saw.
“I can explain!” Tried Balden, moving to stand protectively infront of Aria, but there was no need. Aria smiled at the blacksmith, sensing in him relief and joy. From under his tunic he removed an amulet of fine making, that herald the old ways and claimed Fealty to the High Priestess of Azera. He was quick to close the stable doors behind him and fall to a knee.
‘My lady,” he greeted. Aria rose to her feet, and with a gentle hand pulled Balden back. “Had I know, I would have come searching for you-“
“there is no need for that… Carrick,” his head snapped up to pin her with a look of wonderment.
“It really is you?”
“Yes…there are others like you? Yes? Still devoted to the old ways?”
“Yes M’lady, we meet in secret, and have been counting the days of your return.” Aria moved to kneel before Carrick the BlackSmith and though he was nearly double her age, she gave him a warm matronly smile and forced him to meet her gaze with soft fingertips to his bushy chin.
“You once served the House of Azeroth. You were low enough in rank you were spared by Malik…” Aria continued to read him, and as she revealed secrets only Carrick would have known, the large man began to weep. He had hope. “Now you forge weapons and tact for his vast army…”
“Yes, m’lady,” He said a look of guilt on his face.
“You were spared for a reason. To help us-“
“Anything. I will hide you here during your stay and if I can help, I will get you back out. I will serve you as I once did before,” A wan smile crossed his face then. “I remember when you were but a tiny tyke…” Aria smiled back at him. “That is the way I assume most remember me as.”
“When he circulated the lie that you were dead, the whole damn city nearly went up in flames from a revolt. We feared he had killed the small child we held so much hope in.”
“I am very much alive, and very much in need of all the help I can get,” Aria assured him. Carrick nodded.
“I assure you m’lady, My life is yours.”

[center ~*~*~*~*~]

Carrick was stuck somewhere between reality and surrealism. The High Priestess was still alive and currently safe within his home, as was the Fenlyk guardian. He would protect them with his life. Never in all his years did he think he’d ever see the High Priestess again. To be honest, he felt guilty of beginning to believe that the Priestess would never return. He dared not think of it. It was still early morning when he spotted two large Jai’s enter his Forge.
“Morning men, can I help ye?” He asked. Balden came skidding to a halt within the smithy, catching the sight of two massive Jai’s and dropped the wood. He’d never seen men so large before –and Carrick was a large bear of a man. The clatter of wood falling, caught Carrick’s attention and he frowned at the boy. “Excuse the boy, he’s new around here. I don’t take it he’s seen much diversity, despite the fact he’s a halfbreed,” Carrick said sounding stern, but when the one Jai gave him his cracked Axe, Carrick smirked and set it back. “This is a clean fix. I will have it ready for you at the end of the week if you don’t mind the wait. Though, for extra coin I can make it a priority and get it done by the end of the day?” He suggested, but the man Ayab, was perfectly fine getting it back when Carrick finished it. The next man then showed him something far more interesting. Carrick took the blade from Rhuarc and handled it carefully. Even he could see how sharp it was. “This is a fine blade…” Carrick said, and glanced around before leaning in, and carefully handing it back toi Rhuarc. “Guard your sword well. The metal is one that cannot be found… not in these parts. I once heard a tale that this particular sort of metal was forged by Jaihash himself. He breathed fire upon the Desolate Sands, charring it solid. Only two blades are made this way. He made them with Caledon the Mighty. For once the sands were turned to metal, Caledon broke it apart and Jaihash forged two steel blades. Twins… There is legend that another like this exists. Black Steel is a myth… but my friend, you have just made it fact. This blade is a holy weapon of great power….” Suddenly Carrick shrugged. “Or so the story goes,” He chuckled light heartedly, but just before he could bid them farewell, a young woman entered. Her curious expression and her uncertainty of even being in the vicinity made Carrick warry. She bypassed him and Balden entirely and walked right up to the two Jai’s who towered over her like monoliths. Her Common Tongue was horrid. Carrick had never met a person who couldn’t speak it, this woman was the first, but he clearly made out the word Guardian –as did Balden.
“Did you just say Guardian?” Balden asked, breaking the awkward aura in the forge. Carrick glowered from his place. Balden approached Saraya and offered her a friendly smile. “You might not want to say that too loud around here,” Balden warned.
“Even mention of the old ways is grounds for beheading. Malik will hear no word of the Old Ways of Azeroth. You give yourself a death wish to ask a stranger such things,” Carrick scowled quickly chastising her again in Caledon, as he could tell from her accent that was where she was from. He turned to the two Jai’s next and gave them the same warning –knowing that the Jai’s were devout in the old ways. “Mind if I ask what it is you’re doing here in Central City? The old temples have been burned and the Sanctum has been turned into an abomination for Malik’s personal pleasure. This City is no longer safe for people of the old ways… but if you are still true to the old ways… I may be able to help you…” Carrick offered the three travelers.
  darien / 1y 72d 12h 10m 29s
Balden had decided to come with her, something went through his mind but what about she wasn't sure. It wasn't easy to walk quietly so they didn't try at all, along the way they whispered quietly about things in the world. Even though the voice inside of her head told her that Balden was trustworthy, until she knew him much better she wouldn't be telling him much about herself. She knew that he knew that she was Fenlyck because of the accent, but that was as far as it would be for now.

As they neared to somewhere, it was hard to tell in the gloomy and dirty darkness, the fish tatoo on the back of her neck started warming up again and she felt a burst of adrenaline. That was followed by splashes in the water and then some feminine voice calling out Balden's name and that caused Balden to surge forward to whoever it was. He also went in, so the person they were trying to find they had just found and her name was Aria. Lara just stood there because she really had know idea what in the Big Ocean was going on.

She was truly shocked when the woman Aria just instantly knew her name. She didn't know her but, why was everything going towards more complicated all the time? Why were seeking answers rewarded with more questions that were even harder to find the answer to? The only real answer that made any sense whatsoever was something major was afoot and she, it was frustrating.

All these thoughts happened while Baldin was leading the three of them to the stables, Lara didn't pay attention much to what the other two were saying because of her thoughts. When they reached the stable Balden went of somewhere, and that was when the voice started up again. Lara swooned and fell down on the hay, [+purple "Just speak the Fenlyck tongue, or even the English tongue."] The voice inside her head just disappeared.

Turning to Aria, [+purple "If you know my name without having met me, then could you please answer this question? How does the voice in my head relate to the tatoo of a fish on the back of my neck that I had from birth, and how does all that relate to Malik's forces raiding Fenlyck and my parents dying?"]
  Lara / Arya / 1y 76d 7h 16m 47s
Satisfied with the meal and gratitude, Saraya gracefully thanked the bartender, and made her way to her lodging. The streets we're quiet now. The night sky gleamed and winked along her perfect skin. At the sight of her moon, she could remember Felliope and she running along the moon-kissed bluegrass. His laughter filled her ears, along with her joyous giggle and the memory faded with his words being spoken into the wind: [I I love you]

A tear raced down her cheek from the memory. She refused to rub it away, for it was not fear nor disdain. Her sudden tired form served to be restless after the memory. Instead of wondering to the cot for rest, she began walking through the empty streets. As she did, the spirit began to speak, as if curious of her memory.

[I Who was the voice that laughed?]

Saraya looked down, feeling her cheeks warm. The spirit chuckled within her. [I Do not be shy, love. It is your memory. I do not mind it.]

Saraya stared at the gravel silently. [I It was my late husband... Felliope. I miss him so...] she began to walk on.

The spirit was silent a moment before speaking once more. [I Do not feel bad, my love. It its not a terrible thing to miss the one you loved dearly. I share the same feeling...]

Saraya nodded slowly. [I Yes, I remember. They spoke so briefly of your wife, Contalia. That an evil had murdered her once free spirit and turned her into a statue of delicate marble. She was a beautiful soul] she bowed out of respect of the knowledge.

The spirit seemed to sigh. [I We share a common beginning of a rigorous battle between good and evil, and you share the same pureness that I possessed within me. Use your love well, but also keep in mind that there will be others that will need it... And in your future, I see that another guardian will need it.]

Saraya stared forward. Another guardian? The spirit chuckled. [I Needn't worry. You will learn. You already have some of the virtues that is required for battle. You blank out your thoughts, you use what is necessary, you think fluently on your toes, you are like predator on prey... You must evolve and hone your skills, my love.]

Understanding the message her spirit had given her, she bowed.

As she continued to wonder, she found herself near where the blacksmiths do their business. With the knowledge of it, the Mark began to warm, and quickly intensified. She saw two large customers walk into the bllacksmith's dwelling. It wasn't that the men went onto blacksmith territory, but the words spoken in the manner of authority, yet, curiosity, that caught her. She, curiosity catching the best of her, began walking towards the dwelling. In the dim light, as she peered in, she saw the men stand-in firm and proud, and asked for his Axe to be repaired.

Saraya couldn't help but wonder. She needed to get herself in a position to introduce herself. The spirit within her was silent as she decided to speak. Though she couldn't speak English well, she would try with all her might. [I Ex... cuse...] she said, ll oud enough to get their attention. [I G..Guar...dian... yes?]
  Saraya air spirit / Bloody_Eve / 1y 72d 7h 45m 44s
Rhuarc and Ayab walked the many, twisting streets of the Central City, a look of disdain on their hard Jai faces. The City was far larger than any in the Wastelands, even bigger than An'karell or Marquet, which were the two greatest terracotta cities along the banks of the River Nine. Rhuarc was aware that this would probably have been the case, but it was one thing to know something and entirely different to see it first hand. Hawkers shouted their wares at those passing by and trying to drum up some custom and earn some coin for the day. Horses and carts were driven through the streets, as drivers shouted, often in expletives, for those in front of them to get out of the way or be knocked down. The two Adbhu'Jai hadn't spent much time in cities so to find themselves in one as large as this, surrounded by people from across all of the Four Provinces was a culture shock to the two men. Occasionally Rhuarc and Ayab saw another large Jai figure in the crowd but did not recognise any that they passed. Ayab glanced at disdain at two drunkards as they spilled out of a tavern door and continued the brawl that they had started inside, closely followed by a further look of disdain at a man purchasing the services of a whore on one street corner. [+red "Ouk'nu save these people...and they say we are savages? They have no respect, no honour. None of these people follow [i Ahrak-Toh]. How do they live?"] The Adbhu'Jai were not oblivious to the words the other Provinces spoke about them. They knew that the other Provinces looked down on them as barbarians and savages. The truth was different, the Adbhu'Jai were not savages, they followed the Old Ways, the way of [i Ahrak-Toh], of honour and obligation. The other Provinces had forgotten where they had come from, but not the Jai. To be Adbhu'Jai was to follow [i Ahrak-Toh], to follow [i Ahrak-Toh] was to be Adbhu'Jai.

Unfortunately Elder Mandarb had not given them any specifics of what they should look for which meant that the two Jai were in limbo concerning what exactly they should do while in the Central City. Luckily the two men had managed to find somewhere to stay while in the City. The small coin purse that Rhuarc carried would not be enough to find them an inn that would provide room and board for more than a few days at most so they had to be a little more creative with their solution. One innkeeper had told Rhuarc that there was a small community of Jai in the south side of the City and having nothing better to do the two men set out to find this community and hopefully find a place to stay. One of the Jai in this community, a Menin Jai by the name of Saavan, told them of a farmer who was looking for hired guards to keep poachers and bandits from his livestock. The conversation went well and in exchange for allowing them to camp on his farm, and a little bit of cain Rhuarc and Ayab would protect the mans livestock. A fair agreement. The two would have to hunt for their food but the lands here were teeming with possible kills compared with the Wastelands back home so that shouldn't be an issue for either man. Rhuarc and Ayab were just using what little coin they had to do some odd jobs mainly getting Ayab some more arrows from a fletcher and to visit a blacksmith in order to fix one of the hand axes that seemed to have a flaw in the head and blade. The only blacksmith that Rhuarc knew of in the city was the same one he passed on that first day, the one with the half-breed apprentice working the forge, so that was where they headed to.

As they approached the forge, the master was there, the half-breed nowhere to be found. [b "Greetings, sir. How much for your time. My companion has need of a good smith. It is simple work needed, but good."] Ayab brought out the axe. [b "The head is cracked and needs replaced. How much for a new one? We have little coin but will pay a fair price if we can, or pay in kind if we can not."] Rhuarc had no need of the smith's work for himself, his spears were all in fine working order and as far as he could recall the blade of heavy black metal on his black had never needed worked on, and perhaps more curiously never needed sharpened ever, the wicked serrated edge was a keen today as the first day he had found it. [b "One more moment of your time sir..."] Rhuarc hefted the greatsword from his back and held it tip down into the ground. [b "Have you ever seen a blade of this kind before? Or any other weapon made from the same kind of steel?"] Rhuarc had been curious for as long as he had carried the sword but had never found anyone who could tell him anything about the curious heavy black blade. The larger Adbhu'Jai stared into the flames of the forge his eyes mesmerised by the orange glow and the heat coming from the forge. His mind went back to the many times that he had been branded, but one moment in particular stood out. Rhuarc had just come back from fighting against Malik's raiding parties along the border of the Wastelands. He had survived the fighting when many had not been as fortunate, in thanks for surviving he had two serpents branded into the underside of his wrists, in honour of the Great Serpent itself. As Rhuarc stared at the forge now, perhaps it was just the memory, or a trick of the heat but he thought he felt a burning on his brands now, an itching and a pain he had not felt since they were first burned into his flesh. The flash of pain lasted for no more than a second but something was different in the Adbhu'Jai nomad, he couldn't place waht exactly was different but he knew, on a fundamental level that staring into that forge, seeing that fire had changed him irrevocably.
  Rhuarc / Kastanstyrax / 1y 78d 11h 50m 54s
Balden was filled with a sense of hope at the woman’s words. Lara, was her name. She was clearly of Fenlyk descent as he noticed by her accent, her words were fluid and gentle like a soft river current. She spoke of a voice inside of her –a different soul that lived within her. It guided her down here the way Aria guided Balden. He watched her curiously as she rose to her feet and made her way towards the water’s edge. The crumbling stone dropped a small fragment into the water with a resounding “Plunk”. She looked confused and lost, as if she was still trying to figure out what was happening inside of her. Balden felt a sense of sympathy for her –but he knew this had to be a good thing. The voice even wanted her to enter the water.
“Are you sure you want to go in there?” he asked, regretting his words the moment he said them. Aria was swimming in it, and now Lara was knee deep in it with her staff, but something extraordinary happened. Balden watched with slackened jaw as Lara’s staff seemed to purify the water. Hells Bells! Had he just found the first guardian!? Aria would be immensely pleased if he had. Unless this girl was a witch? Nah, he didn’t think so. For starters: She was way too pretty to be a witch, and they were supposed to be nasty and evil…or so he’d been told. Then again, no witch Balden had ever heard of could purify sewage into drinking water. He still wouldn’t drink it, but upon her offer to join him, he jumped right in. Balden did not walk ahead of her, but at her side, the two of them wadding through the purifying waters and following its current towards the aqueduct that lead out of the city, one that Aria was bound to enter from

[center ~*~*~*~]

The smell of sewage burned out Aria’s ability to smell after she’d been submerged in the rancid waters avoiding the patrol of the Night’s Watch. When she rose from the water and watched as they marched away, her skin was tinted brown with filth and her butter cream hair was browned to match. Her clothes clung to her frame in sticky patches, while her hands and legs forced her upstream, against the current in the depths of the deepest parts of the stream. She knew she wasn’t even in the thick of it. There was a gate that would block her path, she would have to move or cut away. It was there to collect trash from leaving the city. However, the plus side was that it did not connect from the towering wall down to the bottom of the aqueduct. There would be just enough room for Aria to swim under and come up on the other side. Aria had spent the better part of her life in hiding learning every nook and cranny of the Central City’s fortress, just for this exact purpose: Getting in. Next she had to figure how she would be getting out WITH her guardians as well. She would find them in the Central City, but it was very certain that they could not stay.
The moment she reached the inner walls of the Fortress and reached the grate she stopped and used the iron bars to hold her up above the water as she caught her breath. The passage leading to the grate was fully submerged, she heaved for air- feeling light headed from lack of air the fumes of trash. Trash and debris clung to the grate blocking her view to the other side, but the archways above her were taller now and she could hear for voices. She heard nothing but the pitter patter of rats. There was no clanking of armor, no heavy footfalls of soldiers. Just the drip, drip, drip of water and slime. Speaking of slime, it was exactly how Aria would have described the water. It was viscous and shimmering with the oils of decayed garbage, food, and waste. She felt bile rise in her throat to know she’d have to dive under the gathered pile of garbage to reach the other side… if Malik hadn’t closed this tiny little weakness already.

She went to heave a final breath but the fumes choked the back of her throat, her eyes burning, and she couldn’t stop the cough, or how she suddenly vomited bile into the very water she was swimming in. As if things couldn’t get worse. She felt her eyes burning –in rage or with tears she wasn’t sure, but she spit the last of her sickness from her mouth and forced herself to dig deep, to take that breath and dive down beneath the water. She wouldn’t open her eyes –she didn’t dare, she used the grate to lead her blindly down almost eight feet until she felt the broken pieces of the grate, not only was it still open, but the opening had been made worse over time. It was slowly corroding away.

[i Close… a little further to go. Keep swimming… they are near…]

Aria felt it in her blood stream, as if every cell of her body was electrified and traveling through her body so fast they seemed to simply vibrate her whole being. She pushed through the opening and forced herself to go as far as she could until the water began to shallow and she could touch the bottom. She came up for breath, her hair dripping with the murky blackened water, and her face smeared with oils and muck. She spit frequently to keep the filth from entering her mouth. She knew they were close, and the way her body felt, the way her blood rushed through her veins, how the marking of a koi fish on her back seemed to writhe and tingle the skin of her back told her it must be the Fenlyk Guardian.

Up ahead she began to hear voices whispering to one another, the sloshing of water as two people walked towards her. She recognized Balden's voice first, but not the other. Aria also noticed how the water seemed to glimmer with power, and around her the water ran clear. It was enough to create a luminescent glow off the water, illuminating the darkness of the sewers.
"Balden?" Aria whispered hesitantly into the dim of the sewers. With the call came a loud splash.
"That's her!" She heard Balden's voice call. "Aria! Aria where are you?" She heard his frantic swimming and jumping through the waters to reach her.
"I am here," Aria giggled as Balden finally reached her, his shorter legs dropping him beneath the water as he was not prepared for the change in depth. Aria quickly grabbed him and helped him stay afloat.
"Aria! I'm so glad you made it! I was beginning to fear you wouldn't make it in."
"Oh ye have little faith," Aria teased and together they made their way back up to the shallows and Aria came face to face with another youngling. Aria smiled at her, and without asking the name came to her -the knowing at work. "Hello Lara."

The admission to knowing her name was startling for the poor girl, but Aria held her smile. Swimming through the sewers was suddenly worth it. She had found the first guardian and with the help of Balden to boot.
"I am Aria, I will explain further with time, first, let's leave this place and find something more suitable, and I daresay but I need a bath," Aria chuckled. Balden was grinning from ear to ear and smiled over at Lara.
"I told you I was looking for someone. We have to smuggle her inside the keep. Malik has his goons looking for her," Balden explained. "I found residence with a blacksmith, he 's letting me stay in the stables. You can stay there too," Balden suggested. Aria nodded her head in agreement, and without further pretenses they made their way out of the sewers.
  *Aria Tolshiv / darien / 1y 79d 14h 5m 9s
The voice, it wondered to and fro, there and back again in her mind. It emerged and then sunk back into the depths of her mind, like a fish swimming in the water. She didn't understand what it was saying, what language was this that it be using? She only really understood two languages and those were English and her native tongue of Fenlyck.

She was so engrossed in trying to make at least one bit of sense out of it that she didn't notice someone coming until they were almost upon her. Her first reaction was to look up and reach for her staff but something held her back, the voice in her head assured her this person was a friend and no enemy at all. It even seemed this Baldin was looking for the same person as whatever was talking in her head, and it seemed even more pleased. Why did this have to be so confusing, why couldn't the voice in her head offer some explanation?

With the help of the staff she stood up again and turned to face Baldin. [+purple "I don't think I can help you, but something inside of me can. It's like a different entity which knows what will be happening and then telling me to go someplace and then do this or that. It told me to come down here into the sewers and wait for someone who'd be walking through the sewers to get here."]

Now the voice spoke up again and it wanted her to go into the water. [+purple "Now the voice inside of me, it's urging me to go into the water, why I don't know but I'd better do it."] The water was murky and it was filled with filth, but if the voice told her to go in their then that's what she would do. As she stepped into the torrent of liquid filth something happened, a small aura flickered around her and the staff, giving off a small amount of light. The water that was coming into the sewers and passing through where she stood, it wasn't filthy water filled with all sorts of bad things, but it became pure water and continued to flow past her as clean water.

The voice urged her to go on and down the sewers. Turning to Baldin, [+purple "If you want to join me and the voice inside of me in finding this person of yours, just step in front of me and we can begin walking down the sewers."]
  Lara / Arya / 1y 86d 13h 59m 59s
Peering eyes of the both drunk and sober lingered on her delicate form, but she would not budge. Saraya caped her cloak to prevent too much attention, but it mattered not. Her perfectly pale skin glistened against the candlelight while her snow white curls dangled against the cloak, making the cloak seem filthy in comparison. The Groot calmed her slightly, the sweet and sudsy taste distracting her ever so slightly to the unnecessary invitations of strangers.

She closed her eyes, blocking the rude remarks of men. The difference was clear between her home and this city. Somehow, though, after successfully ignoring them, it felt as though her heart warmed slightly, then warmed even more. what was this sensation?

[I A guardian approaches...] a whisper echoed in her thoughts. She looked about, but alas, her eyes did not fall onto anyone that peeked interest. She looked down, and spotted her marking glow a soft white. She looked up before tying the cloak against her and finally, standing. The attempt to leave seemed easy enough to Saraya, but she underestimated the amount of beauty she had and had gained as the new host. The Drunkards that inhabited the confined space seemed to have plans of their own.

As Saraya bowed of respect of thank you for tolerating her presence for so long, one bearded man standing about 6'3" with tattered and torn attire towered over the 5'6" beauty. [I Watch out behind you] A whisper echoed again. She turned around, and spotted the towering man and sighed as she stood aside to depart. Passing him, the man grabbed her wrist, yanking her to him. "Yer jus gonna leave us hear without a single notification?"

Notification? Her eyes peered over her shoulder to the man while the others stood. "We all know you're a prostitute, so why not just let us have a taste?"

Saraya growled as her understanding unveiled what they have labeled her as. The man then tried to rip away the cloak, only to reveal a bow, arrows, and her double edge sword. She smirked in a way that frightened the men and with a slight jump, had gracefully flipped and kicked away the man holding her captive. The others stood in protest, but Saraya kicked her sword to the side and grabbed the hilt as she landed gracefully on her bare feet. One of her agrms found it's way out of the sleeve from of her attire and hung ever so delicately from the folds like The Caledon Guardian Statue that once stood proud.

[I Drun scrutal umbac utel solipte...] [I ] Her eyes gleamed for combat. [I ...limort kristu opilu frintu voltori] [I ]

As cowardly as the men were, Saraya simply turned and left the pub. She let her instinct guide her towards the other guardian, the warming sensation from the marking over her heart intensifying the closer she had gotten to them. The silent woman followed until something told her to halt. There was a sewage line that was slightly ajar, and as she stared, a gust of wind hit her sinuses and she could even tell that there was someone down there despite the odor of sewage.

Despite her first thought of waiting, she opened the gateway to the underworld and jumped in. Landing with little reaction, she looked left and right, before allowing herself to follow. Burning now was the marking on her heart when she was close enough. She stared some at the area before spotting a figure that seemed to be curled up against her knees.

Though she urged herself to speak, she knew not the language she spoke and would embarass herself if they couldn't communicate to one another.She knew English, but speaking it came harder to her since she never honestly practiced the speech. But, despite her better judgement, all she spoke was "Hello"

But... For some reason, the woman didn't lift her head to her voice... The spirit inside slowly came in as a whisper [i You are invisible, love. When you are unable to be seen, your voice will no longer sound. You are utterly air, oblivious to everyone in nature's eye. You must return to the streets above the sewers. This place will give signs of witchcraft. ]

Obeying the spirit, she returned to the ladder. [I The sign of witchcraft?] She asked.

The spirit further explained as she reached the surface. [I Above ground, there is light and, therefore, shrouds the glow of the Mark... underneath, where there is no light, the glow of the Mark will show, and the people that dwell here have never seen it before.]

As she closed the sewer with ease, the Mark began to give off it's warm sensation once more. Another guardian approaches. She went back to the pub, relieved that the men had vacated the location. The bartender had bowed his head as she did, and proceeded to take a seat where she was once before. The bartender had handed her Groot without her having to need to ask. Even moreso, he placed a hearty meal before her as a thank you. Having recognized the gesture, she bowed her head to him before she began eating. Whomever the other guardian was will soon find her. She would not become chaos looking for others.
  Saraya air spirit / Bloody_Eve / 1y 87d 4h 24m 15s
After three and a half weeks of solid running Rhuarc and Ayab finally had the Central city in their sights, it would only take one more day for the two Adbhu'Jai to reach their destination. The journey had been a long and tiring one, especially since neither Rhuarc nor Ayab had ever left the Wastelands before instead relying on the directions that Elder Mandarb had given them and occasionally asking people that they met on the road. Often any traveller that they met was not particularly forthcoming and in retrospect they probably didn't want anything to do with the two barbarians. Often the two men ran through the night in order to make the Central City in a timely fashion. [b "We shall camp here for the night Ayab then at first light we will head into that city and see if Mandarb was right."] Rhuarc didn't like that he didn't have a definitive reason for being right under Shade-stealer's nose. Mandarb had said that he had a vision that by being here he could help defeat Malik, buy Ouk'nu how it would happen. [+red "Good, I will be glad to finally slow this pace. As much as I love life as a nomad, sometimes time in a city can be good."] Rhuarc chuckled at the statement. What his friend said was true, Rhuarc would not trade his nomadic lifestyle for that of any of the other Four Provinces but on rare occasions a bed was welcome instead of camping. After the pace he had set to to reach the Central City, this was one of those times.

[b "We would be there tonight if someone hadn't spent last night with the stableboy from that village we passed through..."] Rhuarc's voice was dripping with dry sarcasm. [+red "Haha, this is true my friend, but can you blame me? He had a fine figure."] The Adbhu'Jai had a fine respect for strength, stamina and the male form. you needed to be strong in order to survive the deserts of their homeland. As such the jai as a society had a respect for the male figure and didn't bother about a discreet bit of buggery. While a man could not marry another man, they were free to engage in sexual relations if they so wished. Rhuarc wasn't sure how the other Provinces viewed such issues. In almost no time the two Jai had seta fire pit, placed and lit the wood and had their tents pitched for the night ahead with the practised economy of movement that only nomads who had done this almost every day of their lives could manage. This was second nature to them. The two men sat around the campfire in relative silence eating the dried, salted meats that they had brought from their homeland. It was mostly goat or lamb met that was eaten in the Wastelands, with bred accompanying most meals. If one was lucky honey was used to add extra flavour but that was usually reserved for feast days or other special occasions. [+red "I will take first watch tonight friend, get some rest and I will wake you when it is your time for watch."] With a grateful nod Rhuarc made his way to the tent and drifted off into a restful sleep, recovering from the gruelling travelling pace that had been set over the last few weeks and comforted by the knowledge that by tomorrow they will have finally reached their destination.

As the sun started to rise Rhuarc stretched his muscles, Ayab had woken him during the night and there had been no incident to report after his watch. It would only take about three or four hours to make it to the Central City at a casual jog for the two men. [b "Ayab, wake yourself. We move again."] After a few moments of grumbling Ayab was ready to move with his friend and the two set out at a leisurley jog, which was comfortable compared with the blistering pace that had been set since leaving their home. By the time that the two Adbhu'Jai had reached the once gleaming marbled walls now stained with black ash and soot. The two Jai were not the only travellers on the road but at this time of the morning it seemed to mainly be merchants or farmers arriving with the night watch bleary eyed and waving them in without too much of an issue...that was until they caught sight of Rhuarc and Ayab. The guards on duty stared at the two heavily armed men towering over them. Aya and Rhuarc had prepared for this journey and as such were armed accordingly; as per the old customs each man carried three weapons. Rhuarc had the great sword of heavy black metal upon his back along with a belt knife, of nearly a foot of tempered sharpened steel along with a quiver filled with short spears that could be thrown or used in close combat. Aya on the other hand also carried a near identical belt knife but also carried two hand axes tucked in by his side and a large bow made from what seemed to be horn which would give a powerful shot, accompanied by several quivers of arrows. [+green "What is your business here?"] The guard did remarkably well to keep his voice level considering the vicious looking, large armed men in front of him. [b "Do we need a reason to enter the city. I don't see you questioning the others going in. I thought this city was for all those who live in the Four Provinces. Our business is our own, let us be on our way!"] Rhuarc practically snarled the words and his thick Adbhu'Jai accent made him hard to understand sometimes. He stared at the guard and the guard matched his gaze for a few seconds before lowering his eyes and waving his hand signalling the two men through into the city.

[+red "We have made it, friend. Where do we go"] Rhuarc looked around the city streets idly as they walked, he briefly noted a half breed working the forge at a blacksmith before turning his gaze elsewhere. [b "First we find somewhere we can call home while we are in this city. Then Ouk'nu only knows what we do..."]
  Rhuarc / Kastanstyrax / 1y 88d 3h 45m 46s
Balden hurried down the many steps into the depth of the Catacombs, hoping to reach the sewage line where Aria would be entering from. He was late –he knew he was. Not that he could have helped it. The Blacksmith he found in town had put him to work well into the evening. Between the work and the traveling Balden was exhausted. He’d fallen asleep in the hay with his stolen horse, and had nearly forgotten to wake back up. The Midnight hour was close at hand, and Aria would be arriving any moment. It was his job to greet her, bring her a change of clothes and help her to the stable he was staying in so she could catch up on rest. He felt partially guilty for having been able to eat a hot meal, and take a much needed nap while Aria had been on high alert, hiding, probably hungry, fighting through sever fatigue, and she was literally swimming through a river of shit to reach him. He couldn't fathom doing what she had to do. It was still insanely surreal to him that he was even on this path, helping her. He was only a boy -though he also realized as a teenager of fourteen, he was nearly considered a man. Most boys his age made their own life choices, were preparing for marriage, or preparing to take off for schooling. It seemed he would be taking an adventure -and not just any kind of adventure, but the kind that could get him killed.

He dodged guards, not wanting to draw attention to himself, and watched with mild shock at the way the nighlife came out. Painted women with ample breasts called to other men. Their coin could buy them a fun night with no attachments. Men gambled, everyone drank in excess, and as he made his way through the grit of the city he heard the snarls of dogs, and the shouts of men as the dogs tore one another apart. The once grand and holy city had fallen into one of the levels of Hell. From his perch high above Malik no doubt watched with a smug grin, drinking his red wine and palming the ass of a whore while he admired his handiwork. Balden feared how Aria might take all of this in. It had been her home once, and the stories she told him of Azera's Central City seemed like a fairy tale now.

The putrid stench of sewage reached his nose and he spotted the manhole tucked away in a darkened alley. He stood on the street staring and anxious to enter the dark and creepy alleyway, but knew if he did not Aria would have no one to help her. A Part of him wondered if she really needed the help, but that was the fear of a young boy talking. Of Course she needed help -she planned to take on Malik and crush him. a Part of him also wondered if Aria was capable of violence. She didn't have a violent bone in her body... though to be fair -Balden had only seen Aria from afar, listened to her stories with other kids in the village, and had spoken to her on a rare few occasions when his master had crafted something for her and Rigby. Things were different now. Balden knew... he had to be a man. Today was the day, and this was the moment, or maybe the moment had happened when he'd stolen that horse and raced to warn her. He inched his way into the Alley, wishing he owned at least a dagger, or had the skill of a thief to lift one from another. He sucked in a breath, finally determined and pushed back the last of his fearful thoughts. He made quick work, using the muscles he'd built working in the smithy to lift the heavy grate from the ground and descended into the pitch black depths.

Balden climbed down an iron ladder into the depth of the city's underground and heard the movement of water as it echoed off the old stone walls, as it dripped into puddles and the horrid stench that followed with it. The tunnels were dark and cramped, not to mention the ground slippery. Yet, like any young boy, he ran head long without a flame to light his way. He made it far enough along his eyes began to adjust to the darkness, he could make out small rodent bones that littered the ground, dirt, rats scurried about, and if he didn't know any better he could see a body propped up along the wall with its head hidden in their arms. He stumbled to a stop -catching his breath and blinking past the darkness wishing he'd had the foresight to bring a damn torch. He was certain to remember for the next time. Aria couldn't afford to have a fool helping her and he knew it.

Balden slowed his steps enough to approach the body cautiously. Was it dead? he wasn't sure. Was it a boy or a girl? It didn't look like a guard or even someone who had been down here for very long. He had to be careful -for all he knew it could be an outlaw hiding out in the sewers. It wasn't Aria -he knew that much, she didn't have clothes like those of a hunter or mercenary... though, that would probably change soon. He couldn't tell if the figure was asleep either. Curious as ever he approached her and reached out to touch her shoulder. When she moved and looked up at him, Balden jumped back sheepishly.
"S-sorry. I only wanted to see that you were alright. What are you doing down in the sewers? This ain't no place for a lady," How funny he should say that while as he spoke Aria was making her way through the waterways to gain entry. "My name is Balden, I'm an apprentice Blacksmith. I'm actually trying to find something," [i someone] was more like it. "Are you familiar with the sewers? I could use the help."
  *Aria Tolshiv / darien / 1y 92d 13h 49m 32s
By the time the merchant caravan came to the gates of the city it was about the time of dusk. The sun was almost below the horizon, as if it was an iceberg made of light in a sea of space spanning in many direction and the length of the span was infinite. The past day of the journey had been somewhat dull as it was just a repetition of all the other days pretty much. There as an incident he the caravan was about to be robbed but the robbers were weak willed people who fled at the first signs of armed resistance. There had only been two stops for rest, food, and drink, so coming upon the city at dusk would make ft a good repast before finding a bed somewhere and going to sleep.

The checkpoint was as usual, the 5 W and the one H questions were asked, and they were asked towards each person in the caravan. This time it didn't take as long as it had the last time this caravan had to enter a city, did the gate guards for this city just have more experience than gate guards for other cities? She didn't really care how fast it took, the only part she cared about was being let through and being able to shoo away into the crowd and hide there until she decided it was time to move.

After the gate guards let them through the caravan proceeded to a place where caravans usually stopped for loading/unloading purposes and as a place to keep the carts safe from harm. The horses were automatically led to the stables, and she and the rest of the group in the caravan proceeded to unload and scrutinize the cargo for anything missing and/or damaged. This time there was nothing of that sort so it went by really fast, but the stars and moon were now visible in the night time sky.

It was time to go collect the hard earned money for working as a caravan guard, it wasn't the best amount of money to get payed, but it was much better than what some of the other caravan groups had been offering. Taking into account that this route was also slightly more dangerous with the cargo also being higher valuable it made sense. 300 gold pieces, that was how much she had earned for this job, it was a great success.

She was last in getting the money from the boss of the caravan. As she walked up to him she could see that question he had asked earlier today begin to form. When she had stepped up to him he asked it once more with a pleading tone in his voice. With a firm but very gentle and polite voice Lara answered, [+purple "I don't like disappointing people, but as I said, I am already promised to someone. I have been for a couple of years, we just haven't married because of lack of money."] She could see his countenance droop, [+purple "But don't give up. You're a kind person with a good heart, you'll find someone eventually to be together with and enjoy spending time with them. Don't give up hope in times like these, for in times like these only those who try succeed, and you manage to do it quite excellently."] His countenance wasn't sad anymore, there was still that small amount of regret, but he seemed to understand. With a wave of her hand and a curt goodbye she left to go find a place with food.

Or so that was what she thought, something inside of her head was thinking something completely different, a different place than what she was actually thinking about. She thought about going to eat, but the voice in her head wanted her to go to a specific place, one where one could descend into the sewers.

She hadn't realized this until she came up to the hole in the ground. Looking down there was a six foot diameter circle leading into a pitch black nothingness with the sound of water running. Something inside of her was happy, it sounded bubbly, under the water bubbly. She shook her head to shake the confusion out of herself, but it didn't leave. It just told her to go down, walk down some distance and wait.

She went down the ladder and down onto a pathway that was parallel to the flow of the water. She walked down the path until it ended and only water flowed there, and sat with her back towards the wall. It was slightly cold and she shivered a bit but it wasn't too bad.

Something started to happen, the back of her neck began to warm up and the voice returned. It sounded pleased but she didn't understand what it said. What did all this mean, why did the 'tattoo' only now start to act up and, where did the voice come from as well? It sounded as if it had found the person it was looking for out there and was talking with whoever was out there. For her it was just a confused mass of nonsense jargon, she tried to keep calm by putting her head in between her arms but that didn't work.

When would the answers finally come?
  Lara / Arya / 1y 97d 7h 34m 22s
Saraya hung onto the lessons that The Caledon spirit proposed. As her two week walk transpired, she had found herself spotting unfamiliar scouts. She looked around before hurrying to the safety of trees, sheilding herself from sight. As she investigated, ignoring the odd feeling of running, she spotted the same troupes that attacked her home march past her before they halted and broke and scouted the South and the East. With that much of musk in the air, her sensitive noise could quickly calculate the number of each of the troupes. Seeing the troupes quickly dissipated her ill prepared act of revenge. Malik, despite his tantrum, may have been general, but finding him through his troupes would be a task...

Suddenly, she heard a call of halt. Saraya quickly jumped into the trees, to camaflauge her form as a steed trotted steadily forward. The terror sitting upon it, covered in bronze and black armour reeked of animosity and pure five days journey.

She listened attentively as he spoke with one of his troupes, demanding answers as to why they hadn't caught the Caledon Spirit. They were speaking in their native tongue, which she was fluent in understanding. What she could make out was that their general that lead the attack was killed by a woman... But, the body of the woman has not been found.

Saraya stared at the two as they conversed... She heard Malik speak that the Caledon Spirit must have escaped and found a host. Saraya hitched her breath as she listened to the conversation. Though she wanted revenge for her family, she was not naive. At the stage she was, she knew she would never stand a chance against his troupes. She was but a underling to the practices of her protector, and it be a great dishonor if she used her senses poorly.

Malik looked to the rest of the troupes before revealing a sword and jabbing it into the gut of his follower. This would have shocked Saraya, but her reaction shocked herself. She felt nothing towards the enemy. But, as she watched as the body drop, and his bow and arrows hit the ground, the Porcelain beauty couldn't help but wonder why the beast of all evil would bite it's own tail to keep control.

Malik called his troupes to keep moving afterward. His troupes stepped in unison, marching off, leaving the body. After being sure that they had marched a good distance, Saraya descended from the trees and walked up to the body. Not even thinking twice, she stripped the corpse of the bow and arrows and a cloak from his napsack. She couldn't help but notice his sleeping face, however. He looked no younger than fourteen, maybe sixteen years of age. She sighed as she closed his eyes, then stood. She couldn't mourn the life that was lost. She had to keep moving. [I Sconc-ga] she muttered to herself [I Sconc-ga, rughshi haru muskau] [u ]

The Central City was four days from where she stood. She had been walking without rest ever since she left her once proud city in ruin. She stripped away her sandels, feeling a great discomfort in the confignment that she hadn't felt before. She didn't feel tired, nor hungry, nor did she feel the need to detour. To stray to safety is to stray in the blind side of the enemy. And now that she crossed paths with the enemy, she had to be sure to steady away from his line of sight and thoughts.

It seemed that the Caledon Spirit within was silenced because of her thoughts of revenge... But, now, it seemed to only speak when convenience was necessary.The sound of the spirit's voice reminded her so much of Felliope, and it would often break her heart that her stubborn ways led her here. The spirit knew this, and began feeding into her memory, creating a way to have her listen to the advice given... and it seemed to work. But, all she knew was that Central City was where they're going... and where she will be.

Saraya, however, felt a certain need to keep moving. She wouldn't camp this night, and for what reason, she didn't know. But, as the full moon glazed along the silent trees, she could clearly see the path towards the city that would set her fate in motion.

And there, sitting proudly atop a hill a half - day's journey from where shew stood was the Central City. She sighed in relief as she continued in her pace towards the city. As she did, all she could think of was her once proud city. The perfect white marble now tarnished and destroyed lingered in her mind as the city grew with each step. And as Dawn kissed the pale skin of the Porcelain beauty, the city was at its most massive and proud. Try as she might, she felt not the need to attract attention. She slid on the cloak and wondered in, letting her instinct guide her.

She had found lodging before she stepped out into life walking the paths of the city. She wandered awhile, and noticed the bakeries, the sweet bread like how Felliope used to make filled her nostrils. But, she did not buy one. Instead, she let her instinct guide her to a pub... now why go there?

She stepped into the pub, and ignored the eyes that stared. She thought to strip away the cloak, but to avoid unnecessary attention and conflict, she bowed to the barkeep, as a sign of respect towards the hard work and dedication, and found seating in the shadows before unveiling her form. There, she called for Groot, a beer most loved by her people. She then sighed as she waited. There had to have been a reason why she was guided here. Was the child coming here?
  Saraya air spirit / Bloody_Eve / 1y 98d 30m 34s
The caravans that Rhuarc had been travelling with arrived in one of the sprawling terracotta cities, known as Kerabdras, almost five days ago now and since then Rhuarc and Ayab had been enjoying themselves. The Adbhu'Jai were a nomadic people and so travelled often, most not seeing one of the cities along the River Nine for months or years at a time so being able to spend time in a city was a rare treat for Rhuarc. The large Adbhu'Jai man and his companion walked down the streets his eyes were drawn to the different people and different activities that were going on that he normally wouldn't see out in the Wasteland. The camels that pulled the caravans were being cared for by various men, who at the same time were unloading their wares for trade to other Jai tribes that may be in the city. No horses could be seen in Kerabdras which might seem odd to a foreigner but to the Adbhu'Jai it was as natural as the sand covering the Wastelands. Horses were taboo in Jai culture for they were seen as the greatest form of dishonour and weakness. The Adbhu'Jai were wanderers and if thweir own feet could not carry them anywhere then they were unfit as Jai. It was said across the provinces that the Adbhu'Jai could run as far as horses could carry the other inhabitants of the Four Provinces. It was a testament to how hard life in the Wasteland was if one needed the speed and strength to match a horse in order to survive.

Of all the various sights in the terracotta city by far the most interesting to just about all men were the various tests of honour and strength that were in abundance. There were tests of might with men wrestling and fighting with their bare hands, there were tests of skill with men fighting with spears trying to draw first blood in order to win, there were tests of endurance with men cutting themselves with long knives where you had to endure more cuts than your opponent and there were tests of devotion where men tried to see how many bites from a serpent that they could endure. Rhuarc enjoyed watching the Adbhu'Jai in the setting of a city, he would never trade it for their nomadic lifestyle, but it was good to see so many of his people come together and tests themselves against other Jai. It was an honourable pursuit. Of course the various Tests of Honour were not all that was happening in Kerabdras, Men were being tattood to depict victories in battle or show loyalty to the Ouk'nu, men were being branded to show loyalty to tribe and the Old Ways. This was a decidly Jai custom and as far as Rhuarc knew no other Province willingly subjected themselves to such markings. the blacksmiths also worked their forges in order to produce weapons which would ultimately be used to fight against Shade-stealer and his raiding parties. Watching the smiths work brought Rhuarc's mind to his own blade, a most deadly instrument. A sword made from a curious heavy black steel with a wicked serrated edge that had never failed him in battle, some claimed the curious black metal was stained with soot from Ouk'nu himself as the holy serpent's own flame was used in the forging. No doubt exaggeration but Rhuarc took notes of the whispers none the less. Rhuarc had found the blade when he had faught against Shade-stealer in one of the raids, as far as he could tell no Jai was wielding it nor any soldier of the False King, it could have been one of the abominations that Shade-stealer employed but Rhuarc didn't know. Accompanying the sound of the smiths working their metal was the sound of various merchants peddeling wares and the occasional slapping sound of old friends meeting again, like Rhuarc and Ayab had greeted each other however in order to maintain a semblance of decorum in the terracotta cities a firm slap was needed instead of the full punch.

[+red "...It was as much a shock to me as anyone else. My own sister laying the marriage wreath at Coul's feet. I almost wished she had laid it at a Menin Jai's feet"] Ayab laughed at his own joke while Rhuarc absentmindedly listened as he took in the surrounds of the city. [b "Coul is an honourable man, and an acceptable match. Ouk'nu save anyone who tried to talk your sister into changing her mind."] Ayab's younger sister Aya was a fiery woman, slender and graceful and was indeed more than Coul deserved but she chose who she lay the wreath at and if she chose Coul then there wasn't a force in Azeroth that could talk her out of them. [+red "True my friend. I have heard that Elder Mandarb is speaking in the city about Shade-stealer, we should seek him out."] Mandarb was one of the oldest Adbhu'Jai elders, a respected individual amongst all of the Jai tribes, an extremely rare trait. It didn't take long to find the Elder speaking, the throng of people surrounding the man in simple brown robes, surrounded by four white robed [i Akh] marked him out easily enough. The two men sat and listened for at least three hours on what Elder Mandarb had to say, eventually the older gentleman's speech came to an end an the crowd dispersed, not Ayab and Rhuarc, however, as they approached the revered Elder.

Mandarb was a bald man, with a large white bushy beard, tall by most standards of the four provinces but of average height for a Jai, Rhuarc was taller by almost a head. The most obvious feature however was the lack of a left arm below the elbow. Mandarb had lost it in the first year of raids fighting Malik but had continued to fight the False King for twenty years after that, and fought well. After exchanging the traditional greetings the Elder spoke; [+blue "I have heard of you. You are Ayab of the Farlan Jai, and you are Rhuarc also of the Farlan Jai. I wish to discuss a proposal with you."] Rhuarc was instantly wary, why should an Elder know him, he had fought against Malik and had the curious black sword but otherwise he had lived as all nomads had. Elder Mandarb walked d the two Jai men through Kerabdras explaining his plan. [b "No, it will not work. We have worshiped Ouk'nu from here, why should honouring the Great Serpent in the Central City make a difference. It is a fool's errand."] Ayab raised an eyebrow at such words, questioning an Elder was seldom done especially one as respected as Mandarb. [+blue "I have fought Shade-stealer far longer than you, we cannot win the way we have been going, we must do something else."] Rhuarc remarked that the words were eerily similar to words Ayab had spoken when they first men days ago. [b "Then do something else but I will have no part in it. Find someone else to send on this insanity. The Central City is nothing but a cesspool of evil. If you think any good can come from such a place then you must be mad."] [+blue "Choose your next words carefully Farlan. Ouk'nu has sent me a vision, I have a feeling that this must be done."] [b "Then you misunderstand him Mndarb!"] Ayab inhaled sharply, showng such disrespect to any of the Adbhu'Jai would be enough to warrant a challenge but to speak so to an Elder was even worse. [+blue "Your words must be answered. I propose a challenge of faith to decide who is right in this matter. Maybe then you shall learn respect."] Rhuarc bowed his head slightly, he knew that he had overstepped but his honour could not allow him to deny a challenge. To refuse a challenge was grounds for exile, a fate worse than death to any Jai. One of Mandarb's [i Akh] brought a serpent and the two met sat down, facing each other the serpent in the centre between them. As the challenger Mandarb moved first, exposing his right arm for the snake to bite, as the snake sunk its fangs into the man's flesh Mandarb's expression barely changed. Rhuarc mirrored his action. Back and forth this went until the snake had bitten them both five times, a long challenge. As the snake was presented to Mandarb for a sixth time the older man held out his bloodied arm and seemed to falter for a moment before retracting it again, Rhuarc had the advantage. Once more the serpent bit the younger Jai and the challenge was complete, Rhuarc had won.

Rhuarc studied the Elder for several minutes in silence, impressed by the old man's commitment, men half his age often could not take three bites. [b "I will go, you showed great honour Elder Mandarb and I spoke out off turn. I shall see what Shade-stealer has hidden in his city."] Rhuarc knew that Mandarb had been right all along and despite winning the challenge he felt that he needed to make amends for his words. As per the Old Ways if a Jai was sent by an Elder out of the Wastelands he could not go alone. Ayab would accompany him. At dawn the two would run as fast and as far as their feet would carry them.
  Rhuarc / Kastanstyrax / 1y 98d 5h 26m 54s
It took Balden and Aria nearly two weeks of hard riding and hiding out in the forests, avoiding Malik's patrols and even the border patrols of some of the less friendly Caledon Clans, before they even found the main road leading from Fenlyk to the Central City. Aria was exhausted as was Balden -both of them craving a warm meal and a hot bath. They stopped only for a short while at the top of the hill outside Central City. From their place they could see the tall spires waving their banners, but where the Fortress once gleamed white stone and marble, it was now blackened by ash and soot. The banners black and blood red. Aria frowned from the top of the horse, her heart aching at the sight. She remembered being a little girl, growing up in those sacred and hallow halls. Seeing it now as it was, stirred something within her. A raging spirit hungry for vengeance. She would take back her home, she would sit on the holy alter and restore it. She took one look at the blackened keep and vowed she would destroy Malik.

Balden's feet hit the ground, making a clean dismount from the weary horse. He tenderly stroked his hand down the neck of the beast and studied Aria. Her eyes were intense, nearly glowing with the promise of retribution, and she sat back stiffened and her hands fist in angry knots.
"mi'lady, can I ask what you are thinking?" Balden asked. Two weeks on the road with his ultimate crush had helped to stem his nervousness around her. He never would have imagined being on this sort of adventure. He rather liked to imagine himself as Aria's Steward. He would serve her loyally and faithfully, he would protect her at all costs, and Gods be good -he would succeed at it. Balden was no squire, and certainly no knight or warrior. He was a Blacksmith's apprentice, or he had been. He was well aware of what Malik's men would have done to the villagers and Elder Rigby.

Aria looked at him, as if his voice was unfamiliar. To be fair he hadn't spoken much, they were running for their lives. "I was thinking about how we have been running from Malik's hounds... and now we are about to walk into the Wolf's Den..." Balden couldn't help but grin at her words. He'd been thinking the same exact thing.
"They say the best place to hide, is to hide in plain sight, and this is Central City -it's supposedly very diverse. There are people from the furthest reaches of Caledon, down to the deserts of The Wastelands... Of course, there's a load of Fenlyks," he said the last word with a hint of disgust. Why shouldn't he? The Fenlyks could have helped put Malik in his place, instead they bowed to him -refused to fight for their freedom. His mother had been from Fenlyk -not that he knew his mother.
"I am Volshi," She reminded him. No matter how diverse the City was... Volshi were still a rarity, they never came down from the clouds. Some people harked them to Angels, or Lords of the Sky. Balden was more inclined to believe the first -knowing Aria first hand.
"I know," He mumbled. He had been to the City before, traveling with his Master to trade their wares to the more rich of the city.
"The moment I reach those gates, the guards will spot me and I will be captured on the simple facts I am a female Volshi. Malik could care less if another Volshiv woman entered the city. He's probably ordered all of them to be captured, tortured and killed." Balden swallowed past the lump in his throat. She had a point. He hadn't thought of that before. Faced with a conundrum he was ill prepared for he turned and looked to Aria for leadership.
"What are you thinking?" Aria studied the walls, the Caravan making their way down the main road towards to City Gates, and finally a slow smile spread on her face.
"I have a plan," she finally said looking to him.

Balden hung off of every word Aria said to him. She was familiar with the cities hidden passages, she would sneak in under the cover of darkness entering the city by a hidden door beside a sewage drain that led out of the city and towards the rivers of Fenlyk. He would meet her down in the catacombs where the sewage drained out of the city from. He was not looking forward to the smell, but Aria told him it was the only surefire way for her to get in the city unseen. He was tasked with riding into the city with the Caravan, and finding an Inn for them to sleep. With no coin that was going to be difficult. He left Aria at the forests edge, hidden safely while he rode the horse towards the gates. The guards didn't pass him a second glance, but their eyes did scan those entering the city with great scrutiny. Even Balden could see they were looking for something particular. As he snuck in on the tails of a Caravan, he was for the most part overlooked, and once inside he made quick work breaking away from the group he'd entered with and went in search of a place to stay.

It took Balden the better part of the day to find an Inn where to stay, but with no coin, and being a mixed race individual, he was turned from every inn he came upon. They wouldn't even allow him to work for a stall in the barn. With sunset coming upon him, and knowing that with the moon Aria would slip beneath the streets of the City and would need a place to sleep, he grew nervous. He needed to find a place to garner shelter and food. That was when he heard the heavy fall of a hammer striking out and shaping red hot metal. Balden smirked, maybe he couldn't find an Inn, but perhaps he could work for the Blacksmith and earn his keep. Balden hurried over towards the burly man as he worked. He was large and bald, his head tattooed with intricate northern designs, by his lighter color skin, he could tell the man came from the Northern Reaches of Caledon. Balden took the gamble.
"Excuse me, Sir? I'm new to the city,"
"What do you want?" The man gruffed, hammering out the shape of a sword, his brow glittering with soot and sweat, and his shaggy red beard singed from the fires. He didn't bother to look up from his work.
"I am looking for a job. In my last village I was a Blacksmith Apprentice, but my Master... has recently passed away, I'm searching for new tutelage," The Blacksmith, smirked, taking the sword and sifting it back through the hot coals and hammered it some more.
"Where do you hail from?"
"Ada Village, it's on the boarder of Fenlyk and -
"Caledon, I know the place. No wonder I couldn't place your accent," when he looked up however, he frowned at Balden -looking him over, "Mixed aren't yeh?" Balden did blush at that. His mother had been a whore in Fenlyk when his father had fucked her and gotten her pregnant. Unable to care for Balden, and not knowing who or where his father was; his mother had given him up. It was because of his mother he had tawny tan olive skin like many Fenlyks, and the large eyes and reddened hair of Caledons.
"I apologize, Sir. If my mixed breeding offends you," He forced from his mouth.
"If it offended me I would have cut you with hot iron the moment you opened your mouth," The Smith warned. Balden backed up slightly. The Smith stood and studied Balden for a moment and finally walked over and forced him to hold up his arm and let him feel out his biceps, then he checked his hands -calloused and forever blackened like a Smith's. "Good to see you're not a liar." Balden stood with baited breath as he waited, but he could also see the smith still need a nudge of encouragement.
"Please sir, I promise I won't let you down. I want to earn my keep. I'll be a good worker, and I'm a fast learner. I only ask for a stall for my horse. I can sleep with the horse for now. At least give me a chance? Work me, see if I'm worth keeping?" The Smith knew he'd been had, and Balden had to count his good graces he was led to a man of heart and honor. One who's mind was not clouded by greed for coin and hatred for the different.
"Bah!" He barked, giving into his conscious. "Go put your horse in the back stable, bring me wood from the far wall outside the stable." Balden nodded and quickly took off to obey. He had secured a place for Aria and himself, and he had a good feeling about this Blacksmith. Perhaps he could trust him.

[center ~*~*~*~*~]

The Moon was at its highest peak in the night sky when Aria slipped from her place hidden in the trees and followed closely to the cover of the stream that washed away gods only knew what from the city. Water was a sacred element, the fact that Malik was tainting the waters of Azera with sewage, angered Aria deeply, even the smoke and ash he let his fires send into the sky was frustrating for her. Air, the water, the Earth and even fire -all elements were inherently important to the Gods and the Guardians. Aria hated to see the damage, but it was truly a reflection of Malik's corruption. The entire city was under his rule. She could only imagine how far it had fallen into a deep depression since his conquest. She was about to find out once she was done wadding through sewage to get inside the fortress of a city. She had to get inside the city though, her Guardians were in there and in need of her guidance.

[i -Go now, do not tarry, the watch makes its rounds...-]

The omnipotent voice whispered into her mind. Elder Rigby had called it The Knowing. He said it was like a sixth sense -one gifted by the Gods to guide and help her stay safe and find her way. With the absence of the mental voice, Aria heard the sounds of clinking armor as guards walked the outside of the wall on patrol. Aria felt her heart begin to race. There was no more time, she had to plunge into the blackened water of Central City. The smell alone was enough to make Aria gag, having to ruin a perfectly good set of clothes to swim through... it was enough to make her taste the vomit in her mouth. It had to be done. The balance of the world rested on her -and she knew she'd have to do a lot she didn't want to in order to save the Four Provinces and reclaim Azera...
  *Aria Tolshiv / darien / 1y 99d 3h 11m 58s
The merchant caravan was approaching the city from where Malik rule with an iron fist, approximately a one day journey before actually entering the city itself. They probably wouldn't be looking for her there if they still were trying to find her. From their point of view, why would she come closer to the place from where the guy who wanted her captured, to them it wouldn't make any sense. But that didn't mean she could do anything stupid, as would still have to be on her guard and not attract attention to herself. The last thing she wanted was to be captured by those gits.

But who was she and who were the they who either were actively after her or not anymore? She was an 19 year old female with the name of Lara who had run away from home three years ago, but she hadn't run away from home because she wanted to. They wanted to capture her alive and bring her back, but she managed to escape them when her parents distracted long enough for her to run away. Her parents died and she never went back to the kingdom where she was born to visit their graves because she still feared them. They would still be actively hunting her down, definitely not a safe place to be if one wanted freedom.

The people referred to as 'they' were the people who served Malik, or King Malik as that self-centered totalitarian idiot wanted everyone else to call him. She still did not understand why he had sent armed men to raid for the kingdom she had lived in hadn't revolted at all when Malik took the seat in his throne. The other three kingdoms had revolted sometime after that event passed, but still the kingdom she lived in did not. The raid didn't make any sense to her at all, but it had happened, meaning that in this confusing thing, there was some reason behind it all.

What was she doing with a merchant caravan? Simple, she was one of the people helping to guard it, that was how desperate the boss of this caravan had been. To be fair she did know how to fight with the staff that her parents had given her before she ran away. It wasn't what she wanted to do at all but one had to earn a living somehow. She always was on the lookout for the odd job which would help her survive. Like helping shop owners with something, hunting animals or fish and then bringing them in to sell for coin or keeping it for herself to cook alone. In those three years of living alone, she had so many jobs, traveled a great distance, and endured many hardships.

Currently she was riding the horse that had been given to her at a plodding place along with the rest of the caravan. She was also trying to sort out the dream from last night and what she had felt in the morning after the dream. Just like with the raid, this also didn't make any sense whatsoever, but it felt very eery. Why would she have this dream, she wasn't the type who had dreams that often nor were they clear as that one. The dream started off with two people on horses, one definitely was a boy and the other one was wearing white robes and carrying a stick not unlike her own. Something was happening in the background and theses two it seemed were galloping hard to get away from it. Then the view centered on the white robed person and dimmed out everything else. There appeared four symbols shining brightly around it, as if either revealing what was on the mind of the person robed in white or something else. The four symbols turned out to be animals, there was a dove, a fish, a snake, and an animal which she hadn't seen before. That was the end of the dream.

Upon waking up, something else in the strange department was experienced. The back of her neck prickled slightly and it was warm to the touch. Lara knew what was on the back of her neck, it was a tattoo of a fish. That was nothing new to her as her parents had told her that. Well she didn't believe that at first as a kid, but when her parents showed it to her in a mirror, that was evidence one couldn't refute. But what Lara couldn't figure out was how her tattoo on the back of her neck relate in any way to the fish in the dreams. Or how did it relate to the dream in general? It was just something that demanded answers, but from where?

As usual the boss of the caravan rode up and down it to ensure everything was in good condition. As usual he talked with everyone, it wasn't bothersome at all because he just wanted to make sure his caravan reached the city without something happening to it. In short he was trying to do his job.

It came her turn as he was plodding his was down the caravan. He pulled his horse parallel to hers and started asking the same questions as he did everyday. She answered with either a simple nod of the head for yes and a slight side-to-side shake of the head for a no. The first two days of her answering questions in this manner had somewhat surprised the boss but he eventually got used to it. Probably figured out that not everyone was a loud talker. After the list of questions had been gone through, he asked a new one. It was about her feeling tense, well she was always on the lookout for any surprises, especially the ones which would result in the caravan being attacked. That was what she explained to him.

He fell silent for awhile before he made a proposal of sorts. At first Lara didn't know what he meant by it, but then the realization dawned on her. What he proposed was, [+green "You know, after we get to the city, the two of us... could, have some fun together."] This wasn't the first time something like this had happened, nor would it be the last. Over the three years of running, these types of questions started popping up. She always answered a no with a different explanation each time. When she said no this time, the explanation was that she was already promised to someone and was going to meet them in the city. It was all lies, but nothing else could be done.

The boss was quiet for sometime before pulling away and heading towards the back of the caravan. That left her in her usual place of quietness and solitude. She didn't know whether she wanted to continue thinking about what she had been thinking about before she had been interrupted, but there was something in there that was just too much to just leave lying there. She went back to thinking.
  Lara / Arya / 1y 101d 14h 18s
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