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Balden had to hold on for dear life as Lara took off the moment his backside hit the supple leather of the saddle. He watched as they rushed past people and wagons upon wagons filled with people and supplies. The soldiers they rushed past paid them no mind, too busy taking up a defensive positions around the caravan while Adimar and the others rode out to stop the advancing regiment. They rushed past Aria at the front of the caravan, and Balden twisted in the saddle, one arm firmly wrapped at Lara’s waist and waved to Aria. For once smiling at them as they took off. It wasn’t long before the caravan was gone from their vision and long behind them. Balden assumed Lara enjoyed finally having a task, and while they didn’t speak, the silence between them was one of content. They were both busy looking about as they charged down the road. They needed a safe place to camp, a place they could hide out until Adimar’s group returned… he hoped they returned. Adimar seemed, to Balden, the most competent Guardian out of them all. He had training where the others did not, and he knew what he was, what he was capable of… and the others as well. From what he’d heard though, Lara was apparently a natural with the Arcane, summoning a water spirit out of thin air. Adimar had told him only an advanced Mage could have pulled the water from the air. If that were possible, Balden knew that Lara must be very powerful… they just hadn’t tapped into that power yet.
They rode nonstop with barely a word spoken between them, for what seemed like the entire afternoon, and Balden wondered where they might find a place to hide. There were next to no trees, just wide open spaces showing the low valley before the high peaks of Volshi, which loomed ominously in the distance shrouded by mist and fog. Without warning, Lara turned the horse towards a northern path, as if being led by an invisible force. Coming up over a hill the saw that the elevation was climbing higher and the little hills were now becoming rolling hills, growing higher and higher. Not to mention, they saw a forest. Lara stopped the horse only once to eye the treeline. Her expression was unreadable to him, but he saw something flash in her eyes, and he too looked towards the looming forest with curiosity. It was then she rode right for it, as if reading his thoughts to go check it out. What they found had Balden’s eyes bulging wide. It was a hundred yards in, but the trees thinned out enough they’d be able to lead wagons in and shelter the whole caravan at the wide pond.
[i "I think we've found the place Aria was seeking. "] Lara murmured. Balden dismounted first and then Lara, both of them looking around the space. Balden took the horse’s reins in his hand and led it towards the waterline allowing the creature to get some water. His eyes roamed over the space. He’d say they found it alright. This was great news! Aria would be so pleased to know they had a place to bunker down for the night, but how had Lara known to go North instead of continuing East? Perhaps her guardian had led her the way. That was when he spotted her sitting down on the edge of the water, playing with the fish. Upon closer inspection, he saw that she was crying.
Crying? Lara crying? Whatever for?! He hesitated approaching her, nervous and unsure about how to address those tears. He knew seeing them made him uncomfortable, and that finally being alone with her had his heart pounding and his palms sweaty. His last attempt to ‘woo a lady’ had ended in his public humiliation at the girl’s hand, and those of her courter. He’d learned that day that some girls could be just as nasty and mean as they were pretty. Lara was none of that. She was all pretty and all good. He was confident that even if she did spurn any advance he might make, if he was brave enough, that at least Lara wouldn’t humiliate and belittle him. He was pretty confident he could handle that sort of rejection, but for now that wasn’t what he was worried about. Lara needed a friend, and he knew he could do that.
He walked over to her and without a word sat down beside her, one hand reaching out with a crooked finger to collect a tear from her cheek. For a moment he said nothing, just met her gaze and knew then what sort of pain she was feeling.
“My family is gone too,” He told her solemnly. Perhaps knowing she wasn’t the only one who had felt that sort of pain would help her. “I could tell you were thinking about them. I’ve worn that face a time or two before. I don’t really know my father, and my mother died when I was young. I was taken in by a blacksmith and his family that knew my mother. I was training to forge weapons the way he did, and Carrick too. Then The Mage attacked the village and I only had the time to abandon them all to warn Elder Rigby and Aria.” Balden shrugged, but he knew that Lara probably wouldn’t open up unless he did. “I like to imagine what life would be like for me if my father never left, or if my mom never got sick… sometimes I liked to imagine I was actually the son of the Blacksmith who took me in… he always treated me well, but made it very clear that I was not part of his family,” Balden said giving Lara a sideways glance. “I’m starting to think Family can mean more than blood though. We’ve got a nice little family I think, don’t you?” Balden said looking back out at the water. “For me, Carrick and Rhuarc are the closest thing to big brothers I’ve ever had. I like Ayab a lot too, he’s a lot funnier than you would think,” he chuckled at Lara’s scoff and grinned at her. “It’s true, you two just got off on the wrong foot. He’s warming up to you though, I can tell,” Balden assured her. “Ayab and Rhuarc took a little getting used to for me too. Completely different culture, but once you get to know them –they’re just as normal as the rest of us. They just hit harder and yell louder. I like Saraya, she’s kinda bossy, but in a good way. Ya know? If wasn’t the good way I don’t think Carrick would be so wrapped around her finger,” He chuckled “And really? Who saw that one coming?” he was being sarcastic, it had been so obvious of Carrick’s attentions to Saraya and her own towards him. Their kiss that afternoon simply confirmed it. “I don’t know about Adimar though. I think he’s keeping information from us… and he seems particularly interested in you…” Balden’s words trailed off then as his laughter died and he began to fidget with the grass between his legs. “Can’t blame the guy… what’s not to be interested in?” He murmured softly, nervously, but he’d said it at least. In not so many words and with a crimson blush to his cheeks, so much his ears turned red, he had informed Lara he was interested. He didn’t want to hide his infatuation, but he didn’t want it so blatantly obvious either.
Attempting to find someone when you didn't know where they are? Eventually you'd run into the person you were seeking, but Lara didn't have all the time in the world; eventually it dawned on her that maybe she could go and ask one of the guards where Adimar was, they'd likely know where he was. Luckily for her, the guard she had asked had told her where Adimar was located at the current moment, hopefully Adimar would still be there when she got there.
Some more luck for her, he was still there when she arrived at the place which the guard had told her to go two times lucky, perhaps a third time for the charm of it? She began to approach Adimar, slowly but deliberately. Despite that she had cut and dyed her hair he still recognized her, probably it was the black cloak she was wearing, as if it were her trademark so to speak.
She hadn't walked up to him when he asked a question, but she wasn't going to answer him from afar. Once she had walked up to him, [+purple "Is there somewhere where we can talk privately?"] He led her off somewhere, away from everything that was happening in the yard, and inside a room. Once he had focused back on her, she told him about the vision that she had had.
And then a long period of Q&A happened, Adimar asking her questions and she answering them as best as she could. This went on, and on, and on, until someone else came looking for Adimar; appeared to be very urgent. She had politely excused herself from the start of this new conversation, and walked off.
Another caravan journey, it felt similar to the journey to this city with the only difference being that they were now leaving this city with many citizens of the city as well. If she had been forced to be in one of the wagons, she didn't know what she would have done, she preferred sitting on the back of the horse than on the back of a wagon; an old habit three years in the making. The caravan was moving slowly, but when take many people from a city as well then it wasn't even a surprise, even though they were trying to make it to wherever they were going with all speed possible. Running away from danger, a bitter taste in her mouth. She knew what running away was all too well, for she had started running away three years ago, when her parents had been killed and the house set ablaze, and for all practical purposes hadn't stopped since then.
At first she had stayed near the wagon, the hooves of the horse slowly and steadily plodding alongside the wagon. But for some reason, she herself didn't even know why, she had slowly led the horse away from the wagon, and where there was much more space, and away from everyone else. Being in the midst of a great mass of people made her feel, but why she didn't know at all. It wasn't the only thing she was feeling confused about, there were many a other thing she felt confused about. Take for example, the behavior of her guardian. It felt like Saraya had become one with hers, and Rhuarc was learning about his each passing day. But her guardian, stayed silent and offered zero clues whatsoever.
Someone yelling her name brought her out of her reverie, it was Balden who had been yelling her name; it didn't sound like he wanted to just have a chat, but legitimately wanted to say something to her. An assignment from the priestess, find a place for everyone to rest the night over. Sounded simple enough, but given the fact that danger still pursued them, not the time to think about negative.
Letting the horse walk up close to Balden, she looked down at him. [+purple "Come on then, up you go."] Reaching a hand down towards Balden, she helped him up on the horse behind her. Guiding the horse to the outside of the caravan, she told Balden to hand in before giving a [+purple "Hyah"] to the horse, and off the two of them galloped away from the caravan.
Nor this felt fun, the wind streaming past her and feeling the powerful legs of the horse thudding against the ground and tearing up chunks of soil; this was exhilarating. She didn't mind Balden holding on, it wasn't the first time she had to ride with someone holding on to her from behind, or even vice versa a few times. Although even if she didn't see where Balden was looking, it sometimes felt as if he was looking at her, and it felt weird inside of her. She felt confused at first, which showed on her face, she refocused back on the original task of finding shelter for the night. But, there was still that feeling deep inside her, and she felt somewhat troubled by it.
All this time, the horse kept going on and on with the two of them on the back of the horse. At some point, she began to feel something else, something quite familiar. She guided the horse towards the direction of her gut feeling. At some point, there appeared to be a forest looming up on the horizon, but that was where the familiar feeling was coming from. The two of them got closer, and closer, and closer, and closer, but she did not change the course of the horse.
Coming up on the edge of the forest, it didn't appear as if it was that deep, and there was something flickering on the inside. Leading the horse into the forest, a short while later there was a clearing, and further away from the clearing there was a lake. It was a small lake, but it sparkled from the glancing light of the sun. [+purple "I think we've found the place Aria was seeking. "] She dismounted and walked to the shore of the lake.
She sat down on the shore of the lake near the water's edge, legs tucked so she was only visible from the knees up from the front. She gazed at the water, herself pure and clear, no sign of filth or corruption. It started to bring a smile to her face, a face which hadn't worn a true smile for three long years, which at first would almost be invisible but the smile slowly grew. A fish appeared near the shore, but then disappeared back into the depths of the small lake. It wasn't the only fish to do so, this was repeated many times with many a different fish. Lara began to remember all the happy memories with her parents that she had spent: from the chats at dinner time, to the time spent together at the beaches, and many other fun and exciting things that she had done while her parents had still been alive. Her eyes began to water, and very slowly a tear travelled down from her left eye down her left cheek, carving a warm line down her cheek. That single tear was followed by another tear from the left eye before tears began to fall from the right eye; these weren't tears of sadness, these were different tears.
Aria was not well. Carrick had learned that much. To be honest, he was beginning to wonder if something were wrong with him. When he looked in the mirror during the morning he looked… different. Younger. He felt strong, and he felt an extra heart beat within his chest, one that echoed his own… or was his the echo of another? All Carrick knew, was he had started to change since the night he and Saraya shared their first kiss. It was so strange to him to see how he was growing stronger, and Aria was seeming to wither away. He knew he had nothing to do with whatever was happening to Aria, for Carrick was certain his newfound strength and appearance had something to do with Saraya. He was connected to her in a way. He sensed her and knew her needs without having to be near her. He sensed the care she felt for Aria, and the friendship that was solidifying between them. How it helped Saraya, and he only hoped it was helping Aria as well.
He did not ride with Saraya, but he did keep his eyes on her. Since they had found Aria, dressed her, and mounted her on a horse, Saraya had not left her side. Carrick however, had resigned himself to steering a heavy wagon led by large oxen with their downy white fur, and black stripes, their black horns curled forward in a menacing way… but he had found them to be gentle and docile creatures. They had rode for the better part of the day in relative peace, despite the need to hurry that hung in the air. Tanaka had been left with nearly five hundred men, and with them they carried two hundred of Adimar’s finest soldiers. Carrick had a theory as to why Adimar was as high ranking as he was, and he had a feeling it had nothing to do with his military career. He was too familiar with Aria as well. He had done as Saraya had asked before leaving and requested Adimar take Aria, he decided instead to set Max and Thad just behind her, to allow her her own space. That was not to say that Adimar did not stay close, he led his horse on Aria’s right hand side, conversing casually with Rhuarc. From Carrick’s place he could see plenty. At one time he caught Saraya glancing back at him. He simply grinned at her and winked, keeping their PDA to a minimum. The rest of the group had been yet to be informed, but with his changing appearance he was certain the others would realize something had changed, or that something was going on. He was even able to overhear the conversation between Rhuarc and Adimar.
[b "Adimar, friend, I know little of your culture, your people. What significance does Kil'heed have. What makes this place so special? What lies there Adimar?"]
“Kil’heed is the ancient city of Volshiv. We believe it is the origin of all Volshi, and that Volshiv himself was born there. His bones are sanctified within the catacombs of Kil’heed. It is a holy ruin, and none live there except the Silent Ones. Warriors who have taken a vow of silence and serve to protect the ruins, and even they do not live in the city. None can gain access to it… the only one who may open the gates…” his gaze turned towards Aria, who continued to ride in silence with a blank expression on her face, staring into nothing. “Priestess?” Only then did she look up and meet Adimar’s gaze, but it flickered past him towards Rhuarc and then away to the horizon. “You will have to summon the power of Azera to open those gates, or we won’t find sanctuary, and the Silent Ones will not shelter us,” Aria still said nothing, withdrawing inside herself and continued to ride.
Carrick had overheard all, and had seen the exchange, and knew for certain that Aria was not well, but knew there was nothing to be done. Nothing he could do at least. He was taken from his own concerning thoughts when he suddenly heard Rhuarc and Ayab growling at one another heatedly in their native tongue. It even gave Adimar pause, but before the two could tackle the other, Rupert came charging up from the back of the caravan with three other soldiers, one of them carrying Adimar’s Hawk.
[i "My lord, we have seen some sort of movement behind us. It is too small to be the army that the Lady Saraya spoke of but it could be some sort of advanced force. Scouts probably. They are less than a days travel behind us and moving quickly. If I had to guess, they will catch us up by nightfall." ]
Carrick sat up taller in his seat and watched as Adimar took his hawk and removed the cap from it’s head and lifted it up into the air. The Hawk took off, and circled around them before zipping back towards Tanaka. Rupert was there to take Adimar’s reigns and lead his horse, as Adimar’s eyes turned milky white and unfocused. Not once did they stop their trek, but Carrick knew Adimar wanted to see for himself this advanced force. Carrick wondered what they might do, traveling with the caravan meant they would have to stop to make camp, but a platoon of soldiers could march through the night. Carrick knew then… there was going to be a skirmish at least.
They said nothing of the advancing group until Admiar sucked in a breath, blinking as his eyes returned to normal. Looking around he thanked Rupert and took his reigns back.
“It’s a scouting regiment, fifty men strong,” Carrick heard Adimar mutter.
“We can’t let them report back,” one of the scouts warned.
“No,” Adimar agreed. “Compile a group of men, we ride out to take care of this,” Carrick could stay quiet no longer.
“Adimar… I volunteer,” Carrick’s voice caught Adimar off guard and the man turned in his saddle to look over at Carrick.
“Good. WE could use you, Ayab, Rhuarc? Join us?”
“Me too!” Balden suddenly said, leaning forward from where he sat beside Carrick.
“No.” Carrick told him. “You are not skilled enough… not yet, lad. One Day you will fight with us, but today is not that day. Stay and help guard the caravan.” Balden frowned, and crossed his arms feeling sour over being left out. “Here, take the reins,” carrick instructed and jumped down from the moving wagon.
“Carrick,” Aria finally spoke, but her voice was strained, as if she’d been crying. He stopped and watched as she dismounted her horse. Carrick hurried over to help her down. “Take my horse, ride with them. I shall keep Balden company in your absence,”
“My thanks, Priestess,” Carrick said bowing his head in respect and mounted the steed. Balden slowed the wagon enough for Aria to grab the side and helped her up into the seat.
“Men,” Adimar addressed Max, Thad and Rupert. “Stay and guard her Holiness,” Adimar commanded, and though they looked upset that they would not be at his side, they all bowed their heads. Carrick saddled his horse up beside Saraya and glanced back at Aria and then to her. Collecting her hand in his own he placed a tender kiss to her knuckles.
“Stay safe, my love… I will be back… keep an eye on our priestess,” Then he did something he had yet to do in front of the others, and it would surely give away what they were now. He leaned in, and kissed her cheek, then turned with those that were riding out to confront and destroy the advancing regiment.
From his place on the wagon, Balden watched the men ride out to battle, and sighed. He wanted to go too! He could fight! He was a man wasn’t he?
“Where is Lara?” Aria asked, and Balden blinked. He always knew where she was, and last he’d checked she was riding alongside the wagon, keeping to herself. When he looked back, Lara was not where she had been. He frowned. Had she snuck off again?
“Uhhh…” he murmured looking around frantically for a shock of blue hair, but seeing none.
“I have a job for her, for both of you… go… find her, please?” Aria asked, and took the reins from Balden. He hesitated for only a moment, but was resolved in the truth that Aria was who he had pledged himself to, not anyone else, and it was her order he followed.
“What do you want us to do?” He asked curiously.
“Lara is very good at sneaking around and figuring out ways to not be found, so I want you both to take a horse and ride ahead of us to find a safe and secluded place to make camp for the night. Can you do this?”
“Yes ma’am!” He saluted. He jumped down and ran along the caravan shouting. “LARA! Lara where are you! Aria has a job for us!” He cursed though as civilians milled past him, and for a moment a dark thought filtered into his mind. If it wasn’t for all these people, they could travel twice as fast and reach Kil’heed quicker to fortify it and protect the priestess. They weren’t Aria’s family. They might have been her people, the culture from which she came, but Balden didn’t understand how Saraya saw it the way she did. Sure Aria had a family, somewhere, but he was pretty certain these people, while loyal to the Priestess and Azera… were not her family. They’d be better off left in Tanaka. Maybe having to march over their corpses would slow down Malik’s army…
He had to shake his head from that dark and evil thought, feeling cold because that was not how he normally was. He’d never had those sorts of thoughts before. Never had he been so cynical or cruel. He frowned and wondered if something might be wrong with him. He shook it off however, when he spotted a familiar cloak, but with red hair shimmering like the ocean during sunset. “Lara?” He asked, and smiled to see he had finally found her… and he found his chest tightening at the sight of her… he really liked the red hair on her. Something about it made her eyes stand out in a mesmerizing way. “Aria sent me to find you. She wants us to scout ahead and find a place to camp. Said you’d be the best person to find us a hiding spot, and I have to agree. We should get moving though, the others went to fight an advancing regiment, but she wants to send us ahead to find a safe and secluded place.”
Rhuarc couldn't help but shake his head and mutter under his breath as Saraya continued to load wagons filled the the old and the women and children he supposed it would not be moral to let all of these people die but that didn't mean he had to admit that aloud. The only saving grace was that the words Adimar spoke were true most men able to fight stayed behind to defend their home and to buy precious time for the Guardians and the High Priestess to escape. Rhuarc even saw many of the old men staying, swords in hand ready to defend the place the had lived all their days, it was a most honourable sight. It reminded him of Elder Mandarb, who had sent him to the Central City all those months ago, the old man was formidable and still a very capable warrior, he would back that one armed Elder over any one of Malik's men...The Fade and Mage included. In what seemed like no time at all the caravan was ready to depart and they were simply waiting for the Priestess to join them and depart. Being on the road with a caravan would be comfortable, it was all Rhuarc had known growing up, his blood was that of a nomad and he doubted that he would ever lose that way of life. The Jai saw Ayab talking with Balden and Carrick before one of Adimar's men, Max, spoke some hushed words with the blacksmith and caused him to leave to other business. Rhuarc was growing impatient and wanted to be off, if they were to leave Tanaka so be it, but do it now. [b "If The Priestess takes any longer I'll..."] Rhuarc never got to finish his exasperated mutters as just at that moment Aria and Saraya appeared and mounted their steeds before Adimar gave a command and the caravan finally started it's departure from Tanaka to the city of Kil'heed.
Ayab rode ahead of the caravan scouting with several of Admiar's trusted men. They rode maybe ten or twenty miles ahead of the caravan while the rest travelled slowly behind, Rupert led the scouts, a quiet man but obviously the best at what he did. There was no part of the land that he did not know. Rhuarc rode his stallion out of necessity not choice. While he rode the Jai Guardian attempted to practice his arcane abilities. He reached out with his mind trying to find any serpents but for once he found nothing as he tried to make contact. That alone was unusual. He nudged his horse close towards the Volshiv Guardian ignoring Saraya and Aria riding on Adimar's other side, he tried to not even look at the High Priestess but he caught a glimpse of her as he moved in his saddle and for the time she was in his eye line his eyes were cold, hard fury. [b "Adimar, friend, I know little of your culture, your people. What significance does Kil'heed have. What makes this place so special? What lies there Adimar?"] Curiosity sat deep in Rhuarc's mind he never liked not knowing what he was getting himself into, that was how people died and while he may be angry at the Priestess he would still do all in his power to keep her safe. The world depended on it.
Ayab galloped around the side of the caravan trail returning to report to Rhuarc that he could see no immediate danger ahead of them, no doubt Rupert would report a similar story to Adimar in due course, but while Ayab was here he would take this chance to speak to his longtime friend about the subject that no other would. [+red "Rhuarc I know this is difficult but she has suffered enough."] The larger Jai turned his head with a look of such fury that even Ayab considered that this might have been a mistake but he had started it now, no point in backing out. [b "Hold your tongue. It is no business of yours."] [+red "Her transgression was small, and she has remorse. She has paid penance, see sense Rhuarc."] [b "Small! She could have doomed us all and delivered Azera to Shade-stealer."] [+red "Be reasonable, in a city surrounded by guards it was unlikely. Saraya was caught unawares but you know it was not likely to happen again. The fault lies with me, I failed in my duty to watch her..."][b "You paid your [i Toh] Ayab."] [+red "Then let me take her [i Toh] for myself. She is not Jai, she knows not our ways or how she should be. It is not her fault that the other Provinces forgot the Old Ways. She has acted with honour for as long as we have known her. One transgression does not warrant this. You shame yourself Rhuarc!"] The exchange between the two men grew more heated and at one point they both slipped into the harsh, guttural mother tongue of the Jai causing several people next to them to turn and look at the heated exchange. Rhuarc was shocked at Ayab's words and without realising it the guardian had his hand around the belt knife he wore, ready to draw it need be.
At that moment one of the Scouts riding behind the caravan trail sped towards Adimar, before giving a quick bow. [+green "My lord, we have seen some sort of movement behind us. It is too small to b the army that the Lady Saraya spoke of but it could be some sort of advanced force. Scouts probably. They are less than a days travel behind us and moving quickly. If I had to guess, they will catch us up by nightfall."]
Saraya's stubbornness had the better of her. Knights, soldiers, men had ran left and right packing wagons on her call. She was out, wounds and all, helping the elderly into a wagon being pulled by bulls. She made sure the children had been in another wagon with their mothers, and the fathers all offered to walk behind the wagons to allow support. Despite Rhuarc's protest, her mind was made up. Aria's family WAS this city... Why let them sacrifice themselves when all lives are precious to her ailing priestess? She dared not voice leaving her people behind. They WERE her family, and it was reason enough to do this.
One of the knights was hot on her tail, protesting as she picked up weapons, and helped women with their newborns. [b "...this is not a good idea, Mi' Lady. The Fade will be here soon, and if you insist in bringing the city, it will slow us down, and put us in his hands-"] Saraya turned to him abruptly, staring at him hard. [I " I do not doubt your logic... But think of this... Rhuarc's people, alone in a desert, and The Fade was after him. Suppose this. Knowing the traditions of The J'ai, they would fight and die in order to keep him safe, am I right? "] she pointed out, leaving the knight no chance in answering out loud. [I "These are not decoys, Max. These are not The J'ai. These people are Aria's people, her family. Because of us, we set them all in danger... And they still stood beside us because of her…"]
Max huffed and shook his head. [b "It is still dangerous, Mi' Lady. We cannot save them all"]
[I "Maybe not, Max, but we should at least try. We are not Guardians for one narrow purpose... We are Guardians because all of human life needs us. And Aria should not have to mourn her city if we choose to just take her to safety. I cannot bear that guilt of not trying to save her people. She is my sister as well as someone you must protect... Do not think yourself above her in all else. She is the reason you are here... At least try to show how much you appreciate her without being so narrow minded ..."]
The embarrassed knight watched as she winced, trying to pick up a barrel. She became winded, but sighed as she tried to hide the pain she felt from her side. She covered her side, slowly advancing towards the tower. Max noticed and advanced to her, placing a hand on her shoulder. [b "You are still wounded, Mi' Lady. You must tend-"]
Saraya shook her head and raised a hand in protest. [I "Leave me, Max.... "] she said as she slowly began to advance. Rhuarc stared before trying to help once more to ease her of the pain. [b "Saraya-"]
Saraya raised her hand and this time, gently shoved his arm away from her. [I "Please... Max, leave me be"] her eyes sought reason, but because she was so stubborn, it was hard for Max to respond to her sudden need of solitude. The quiet beauty suddenly began to come alive, showing that though her human life was way behind, the warrior in her still stood firm, and it beckoned her to do what was right.
Max, being the man he was, couldn't let her harm herself any more than she had. He knew she might have hurt herself moving so much against the nurse's wishes and this insane notion of getting the city to Kil'heed in one piece while in this condition would be too much stress for her to bear. Saraya needed reason. And her reason was worth the risk... But, not to him.
Max had went into bedding chambers, searching for the only one that could reason with her. He found him cleaning up Saraya's bed and huffed to get his attention.
[center [size30 (~_~メ)]]
Carrick had turned his head slightly to notice his broad shoulders and sighed. [b "Is everything alright, knight? "] he asked as he turned to him. Max looked at Carrick, noticing an aura he hadn't felt before. Carrick even began to de- age, to almost her age. He began to show a more solid man, a mirror image of the opposite sex. He almost stuttered his words for a moment, but recollected himself. [b [I "It is your woman. She will not listen to reason. She still believes that there is a chance to escape The Fade... "]]
Carrick looked at Max with a puzzled look. So, she wasn't staying down any longer. What she had seen, may have been so horrible to her, that she feels the urge to take the road to Kil'heed... But, despite it, she feels the need to protect those that also need it... Or die trying... And he just couldn't let her do this... Not alone if he could help it. He hurried past Max and downstairs to look for her. Everyone, left and right, already beating the road to Kil'heed. It was only an hour that she had tried to speak to them. Everyone, even himself, had to questioned her logic of vacating the city. There was still something she hadn't told everyone. He could tell by how Max was so bewildered. If she had made reason to go through with this...
It was remarkable that she had assembled and hurried them so quickly and so soon. Usually, it would take until nightfall. He started looking around, seeing the fair people of the city hurry to wagons and keep in tune as the rest of the children and mothers climb aboard, then hy'ahh the bulls and fall in line to leave the city... Within moments, the city had been empty except for the priestess and the Guardians, accompanied with a good number of knights that chose to stay behind. The question still remained, though... Where was Saraya?
He began asking the knights, and the knights each knew not where she was... Except one. He told her she had went into the tower, and Carrick made haste. Running into the tower, he looked around the dim atmosphere for Saraya... And found her. She was standing in the shadow, using some of her power to heal her, while making an herbal remedy to put on it. She winced when she did, and began to wrap herself up, still applying her magic until she had snugly wrapped her side. With some relief, she turned and dressed herself again and turned to see Carrick watching her.
[b "Are you alright? "] he asked. Saraya nodded slowly. [I "Was it Max who summoned you to me? "] Carrick nodded before advancing. She thought a moment. Max was really against her intention. Just like him to follow his commander. She sighed to herself as she successfully redressed before looking over her shoulder. [I "If you are here to stop me..."]
Carrick shook his head slightly before looking to her. [b "I do not want you fighting alone... No matter what your intentions are. I have just gave you my heart, and you to me... I do not want to lose you"]
Saraya couldn't argue. He was only concerned with her, and it was comforting to know he wasn't afraid to ride out with her. She turned to him, closing the gap between them and kissed his lips. She felt safe, stronger... She felt that there was hope in her plan yet. She then looked up to him. [I "Then, let us gather the horses"]
Before Carrick could agree, Saraya heard [b "STOP!! "] coming from up the stairs. She looked to him, then up the stairs again. [I Aria...]
She hurried up the steps and to towards the room. A nurse had made it before them, but after the nurse left, Saraya and Carrick went to her. [I "Aria... Priestess... "] As she rubbed her forehead, she noticed she was pale... Shivering... As if Ill. Saraya looked around smelling around for a moment until she caught an odd scent... It smelled of age, malice, hatred, pleasure in torture... Eons of blood stung her nose. She growled some, before looking to Aria. [I "Aria... Aria, look to me... Relax... Think of nothing... Cling to the one thing that brings you happiness... Do it now... "]
The mortified priestess procrastinated a moment before finally complying. Saraya then focused, developing a seal within her form, and created a barrier on her person. She hugged Aria as it took form, shielding anything of her person until Aria began to calm down. She seemed weakened, and Saraya had to go to the next step. She turned to Carrick. [I "She needs a disguise. We must let her lead her people"]
[b "What about The Fade? "]
[I "Need not worry of The Fade... For he is already here... "]
Carrick stiffened when she spoke those words. [i Get a steed. Find armor. And find Adimar. He will escort her to Kil'heed and if he protests, make him reconsider. Use any force necessary"]
Caarrick nodded and ran. Saraya helped Aria and and helped her sit on the bed. She had to help her... And as she picked out clothes, she looked to her and knelt. [I "I know... I wanted to speak with you alone. Adimar and Rhuarc annoy me at times... I could not speak freely."] She set the clothes aside. [I "I do not want you to mourn any longer, Aria. I do not want you to fear. I want you to look Malik in his face and defeat him... Watch as his evil cloud dissipates into the distance of memory. I know you feel a bit out of place... But, I do this for you... Only you... "] she watched as Aria finally looked to her and Saraya saw fear. She hugged Aria, hearing her gasp. [I "Aria... You are my family... And I will not have you cry because your home had been destroyed with everyone in it. I will teach you a woman's way of fighting back... If you would but just follow my instructions."]
She nodded to her before Carrick came back with armor. [b "The steed waits"] he said. Saraya nodded before looking to her. [I "Now, get up, priestess... We have you to save"]
Aria had been more than shocked to see Lara standing up at the side of her bed, and quickly rushed to help her stand. At that time the fates seemed to send them Carrick who informed them that Saraya had seen a vision and had to speak with them. Aria nodded helping Lara to Saraya’s room where the rest of their team gathered. Even Adimar’s men stood outside the room listening. Aria remained close to Lara listening to Saraya’s words, and to the words of Rhuarc and Adimar. She wanted to vacate the city as well, as did Balden, but Adimar silenced that idea quickly. “You can ask the people to follow you, but I can tell you right now, they will not leave their homes, they will stay and fight back. They will make sure you have the time to escape.” People were going to die, and Aria hated that she didn’t think of that beforehand, but as Saraya had said, if they did nothing the death toll would be much worse. Lara didn’t seem to care much for what was being said either as she suddenly stormed out. Carrick left with Saraya to inform the guards of the plan. Adimar sighed heavily, and cursed shouting orders. They would not forsake Tanaka, or desert it to let it be overrun by Malik’s men. Balden chased out the room after Lara, calling for her, and Aria remained in the hallway suddenly very alone as everyone had rushed off to make preparations. She hadn’t gotten a single word in… but she had a haunting feeling.
She was being watched…
[i “Malik is coming with an army of hundreds to claim you...]
Those words echoed in Aria’s mind long after they left Saraya’s room. Kil’heed was thought to be a myth, but Saraya had given it life with her words. That didn’t take away from the bone chilling fear Aria had felt when Saraya divulged her visions with the rest of the group. None of them had asked for her input, or her opinion. She wondered if all of them despised her –aside from Saraya, for having wandered off the other day. Could it have been true? Was Malik trying to tear her apart from the inside out? She almost believed it. Since leaving Central City she had gone from leading the caravan to being a liability in their group. Did no one want to know what she wanted? What she thought might be best? It seemed not. She knew they could not take the entire city with them, and she knew that while some might travel with them… most would stay behind and fight for their home, not surrender it to the enemy. She hadn’t had a choice when she was a child, she was forced to flee, but she was sure if given the option, she would have stayed and fought Malik head on… even if it meant her demise. She still planned to meet Malik head on, knowing it could mean the end of her natural life. A part of her wanted to learn how to fight, so she could battle side by side with her companions to take back the Four Provinces, but a larger part of her knew she did not possess the sort of wrath, or mental ability it took to take a life.
[i “of course not… you are pathetic that way…’] Malik’s voice whispered into her mind. Aria felt her mouth go dry and she spun around in the empty hall looking around with wide frightened eyes. She’d felt a near presence behind her, she almost could have sworn Malik was standing right behind her, but when she look there was nothing, but dark shadows cast down the hall from the setting sun, and as she looked she swore she could see them writhing and moving about as they grew closer. Her heart pounded in her chest, but Malik’s words continued to invade her mind. [i “You honestly believe you can run away from me? Oh no…”] he chuckled darkly and it made the hair on the nape of her neck stand on end. She tried to cup her hands over her ears, backing away until her back hit the wall behind her and she dropped to the floor, knees at her chest and her eyes shut tight.
“Leave me alone!” She pleaded her voice wavering with terror.
[i “Pretty little Priestess… you cannot run from me. I have you in my sights… I’m not going to lose you now. Your precious guardian is right… I AM sending an army, but not just hundreds my dear… oh no… Thousands, and when I have you I will make you watch as I slowly torture and murder everyone single one of your precious Guardians.”]
[b “STOP!”] Aria shrieked, her eyes wild and sweat beading on her forehead. She felt sick, like she was about to vomit, but Malik’s laughter continued and it continued to grow until Aria felt she truly would vomit.
[i “I don’t intend to stop anytime soon, little Dove. Soon you will be mine, and fear not… I intend to keep you alive… though, you might wish you were dead,”] he chuckled. Aria shut her eyes tight, refusing to break on a sob that welled in her chest threatening to escape, along with the scream that remained lodged in the back of her throat. Instead, she collapsed forward and vomited onto the floor in tears. She felt ice cold and that her body and mind had been violated in a dark and cruel way. She felt dirty, worthless and embarrassed. How was Malik able to reach her?
Shaking in a cold sweat, Aria fell back against the cold stone wall, still seated on the floor and looked up and down the hall. She was alone once more, but the shadows had withdrawn and everything seemed normal. Was she cracking? Losing her mind? Was this really happening to her? She was growing more paranoid with every passing hour. Thank goodness for the one maid who came upon her, and shocked by the sight quickly helped Aria clean up her mess. They cleaned it up for the most part in silence, Aria muttering a pitiful apology, while the maid tried to assure it was fine, just nerves. Aria let her believe it, it wasn’t just nerves though, it was more. It was darker, sinister and more twisted then she wanted to admit to. She was still struggling with herself to discredit the voice of Malik in her head, but more and more she knew deep down that he was closer to her than she wanted. She locked herself in her room after that, and sat in the center of the bed given to her, her back to the headboard and her eyes glued to the door, terrified of anything and everything. Gods… what was he managing to do to her? She finally broke on a tiny pitiful sob, and hugged a pillow to her chest as she attempted to stem her torrent of emotions and fear.
“My Lord, the caravan is preparing to leave,” Adimar looked out as a long line of wagons began to move out of the city towards other cities in Volshiv. He was still fuming over how an outsider knew about Kil’heed in the first place. It was their most Holy of places, thought to be the very home of Volshi himself, and where his bones were buried. It was a well-kept secret among his people… Saraya said she saw it in a vision, but still…. Not a soul had lived in Kil’heed in centuries. It was an old Stronghold, and nothing but ruins now, but that was where they would go. Perhaps there was a reason they were going there.
“Very good, I’ll inform the Captain. The regiments will remain and defend this city and its people. There are those who have chosen to stay behind and fight… I would stay-“
“You must defend the Priestess,” The soldier told him. Adimar nodded.
“Yes, I have my own destiny to claim… where…. Where is the Priestess?” Adimar dared to ask and looked around. The solider looked around as well, and while most of the group could be seen each doing their part, the Priestess was nowhere in sight.
“I am not sure my lord. I have not seen her out while preparations were being made. Adimar cursed.
“She’s probably with… nope…” He stopped as he saw Ayab walk by with Balden and Carrick. He knew she wouldn’t be with Rhuarc because they were apparently not on speaking terms at the moment, Saraya was busy with her own preparations of a wagon, and he spotted Lara coming right for him. “Damn… see if you can’t ask around and find out where she is,” he commanded the soldier, who nodded and hurried off to ask around… but none had seen her since she left temple that morning. Adimar waited for Lara to approach and greeted her. “Miss. Lara, I’m glad to see you up on your feet. You make it seem like the poison never affected you,” he told her with a warm grin. “How can I help you?”
She suddenly awoke, it was quiet and no one was walking around. There was the feeling of awakening from some very deep sleep, it felt as if the heady was filled with a heavy fog which did not at all want to budge and the rest of the body felt as if it were anchored my heavy metal to the bed. But on the other hand, she felt much better, fully rested and no confusion around her. But then, how long had she been out, completely oblivious to the outside world? It wasn't the first time either. And just as the first time, the spirit of Fenlyck did not offer one single clue to anything. That was a really great tool to have, a spirit which only showed up when things were going bad and then not bothering to explain anything the rest of the time, it was so 'great'.
Anyways, the fog had decided to trickle away, and the feeling of being clamped down by metal sheets faded as well. Swinging her legs over the side, she paused for a few seconds. She first thought about standing up, thinking through the steps, before grabbing on the bedpost and lifting herself upwards. She managed to stand, but the stance was not good as she needed to lean against the bedpost to help herself keep upright. It wasn't the best start, but at least it was some sort of start in the general right direction of things.
Just as she was about to attempt walking without leaning herself on something, the door opened and the priestess walked in. All she understood from the priestess, was that Saraya was rounding up everyone to have a chat about something. Was it merely a courtesy that they were including her, or did everyone actually need to know what Saraya needed to say? For if it were the latter, hat meant something was afoot, as over the short journey together Saraya had became quite a serious person, minus the part where Saraya had wandered off alone into a city full of unknown strangers.
With the help of Aria, she managed to limp alongside Aria, using the priestess just as she had used the bedpost, to help balance herself. The walk there was quite uneventful as she wasn't in the mood to engage in a conversation; it felt weird to be back on one's own pair of legs, and she was mostly concentrating on doing that. There was progress, it was getting easier over time for walking to feel like a normal activity once more, but she still felt unsure about it. Walking up to the door which would open the door to the room where everyone else presumably already had arrived, she remembered something off the top of her head. It was Adimar's voice, and he was saying what he had said before she had rolled off the bed. In a low and grumbling tone as the door slowly opened, [+purple "Little Mouse... I wonder how he'd like having a poisoned knife stuck in his leg..."] before she and Aria entered the room filled with everyone else.
Honestly, she felt like she could've skipped that 'meeting', practically everyone had ignored her as everyone discussed this fade that was suddenly starting to be a pain, it wasn't as if she hadn't been left out of a previous discussion either. She had been the first one to leave the room, a more precise term would be stormed out, and went off to a spot where she could be alone without anyone attempting to barge in and think quietly while being alone. Along the way, she had grabbed a pair of scissors, dyes, and a small bowl of water, before locking herself in one of the random rooms.
In all honesty she had no idea what she was going to do, but she had an idea and was going to act upon it. First, the hood was flipped backwards so her head was fully uncovered, followed by grabbing the pair of scissors. Going from down to up along the long, light blue colored hair, measuring where to make the cut. Finally deciding upon 6/10 of the length from down to up, she opened the scissors and placed the hair in between the two edges. The two edges met and one long length of hair fell down, the same was repeated for the other length of hair. Next, the dyes, black and red dye colors. She did not know how to use dyes at all, but there was always a first time for everything.
She didn't know how long it had taken, but she was finally finished with dying her hair. Looking into the small bowl of water, the water forming a mirror in a way, she approved of the result.
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Casting the hood over her head once more, she stood up and walked out the room after unlocking the door. She had unfinished business with Adimar, she had wanted to talk to him but with everything that had happened there had been no opportunity to talk to him. The sooner he knew about it, the easier it would be for him later on.
Rhuarc stormed through the governor's house in the days following his confrontation with Aria, the large Jai brought a scowl and a stern word for any that even thought about mentioning what had happened between himself and the High Priestess the other night. It was made even worse if he actually saw the woman herself. All in all he was not a particularly pleasant person to be around lately. Rhuarc spent most of his time either on the proving grounds keeping up his training with his weapons or learning to tap into his arcane powers with Adimar, he was making progress and although the Volshiv Guardian said he was a quick study the progress was slower than the Jai himself would have liked. He had been told about Aria's trips to the temple and although she was unfailing accompanied by a number of guards, including Ayab, Rhuarc never went with her, e made it a point to avoid Aria as much as possible. On this morning Rhuarc was predictably once again down in the proving grounds training to keep himself sharp for when Shade-stealer once again decided to strike at the group. Rhuarc's heavy black blade lay sticking out of the ground as the Adbhu'Jai guardian fought with his spears instead, it was a different fighting style, focussing more on the speed of his reflexes instead of the strength that he possessed. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Adimar approach but he didn't let his focus waver, if he got distracted in a real fight and let down his guard for even a moment then he, or any other guardian could end up dead and Malik would win. That could not be allowed to happen.
Spinning the weapon around Rhuarc knocked his opponent off their feet and levelled the head of the spear to their throat indicating a killing blow. The Volshiv guard he was sparring with, Theo, dropped his own weapon in submission before Rhuarc helped him back onto his feet and clapped arms with him. The Jai took a long drink from the waterskin with him as he rehydrated after the exertions before listening to what Adimar had to say. Rhuarc listened as Adimar told him of finding the third conspirator, and how they had to kill him but in the process had recovered the journal. [b "I'm sure your men did what was necessary, but this is a good victory. That journal is sure to have useful information, and anything that can help us evade or learn of Shade-stealers plans is to be celebrated. Take it to watever scholars you trust and they can decipher what secrets it holds. High noon you say? I'll be there."] Rhuarc clapped arms with his fellow Guardian and smiled at the force put into the clap, he remembered when he had first told Adimar of this tradition and watched the look of surprise when Ayab had punched him on his jaw firmly. It was a most humorous sight, something that was sorely lacking with Rhuarc lately. Rhuarc retired from his training and returned to his rooms at the governor's house intending to mediate and hopefully strengthen his power in the arcane arts until it was time to see this scum's body hang where all who would threaten the Guardians would see it...at least that was his intention before he was summoned by Saraya.
Ayab was gathered along with all those of import at Saraya's urging, he was incidentally standing beside The High Priestess instead of his fellow Jai and it was obvious what Rhuarc thought of that. The Jai guardian didn't so much as look at the priestess, in fact he seemed to be doing all he could not to look in her direction, he was in quiet conversation with Balden before Saraya spoke. Rhuarc listened to what Saraya had to say and Rhuarc had to admit that she did make some very good points. If the False King really was sending the fade with an army then perhaps it really was best for all of them to leave Tanaka but there were issues that Rhuarc could not stay silent over. [b "Saraya, none of us doubt your power, as you say, you are Prya. That much is beyond contestation, however I fear you may not realise fully what you have suggested. I too believe that we should head towards this other city…Kil'heed was it? We should move the High Priestess but leave the people. They will slow us down on our journey, there will be no way to possibly hide our movement from Shade-stealer’s scouts or any of his forces. Most importantly, we know there are traitors amongst the people. The governor warned us when we first came to Tanaka and it was reinforced when assassins came after you Saraya. Leave the people, let them aid the Priestess by staying where they are.”] Ayab listened to his long time friend speak about the course of action they should all take, and Ayab found himself nodding in agreement. Both guardians made sense but what Rhuarc said was true, taking a whole city of people with them to Kil’heed was a huge gamble. Maybe it would pay off but in Ayab’s mind the risk to everyone was just too great. What if more assassins that they hadn’t found were on the trail to Kil’heed with them. Any of the Guardians could end up with their throat cut.
The next few hours were a flurry of activity as horses were gathered, bags packed and supplies procured for what was sure to be an important journey to this other city. As nomads Ayab and Rhuarc were ready quickly, having been used a lifetime of moving across the land, coupled with the fact that as Jai they would have no real need of horses, yet the Tanakans insisted on providing the two men with horses, if nothing else as an insurance policy and to carry their packs. Ayab at least had no issues with this as it would allow him to scout without the extra burden of his pack but Rhuarc muttered under his breath if not openly against their hosts. Rhuarc's outbursts at Aria had clearly also effected the Jai more than others suspected, Ayab would need to address this issue before it caused them all more problems, but for now he would let the issue lie and hopefully it would resolve itself. It had only been a few days after all.
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From the shadows the Fade watched as the High Priestess walked through the streets with her retinue of guards in tow, she had no idea that she was being watched, and had been watched her entire stay in the city. The shadows were the Fade's domain and here he was invisible to the eye if it so wished, unless one knew what to look for. The Fade had even ventured into the city, walking among the people with it's hooded cloak drawn closely around itself and they hadn't even noticed. These people were such fools. Malik may use the Mage when he needed a brutish approach but the Fade's skills were altogether different. Stealth, deceit, descent, fear, these were the Fade's weapons and arguably there was nothing in creation that did them better. The brutish Jai Guradian did get a quick look at him once, but he never truly suspected what he was staring at, with the hood of his cloak up the Fade disappeared out into the night streets without a trace. If that barbarian thought he knew fear, let him look upon the fade's face and then he would understand what real terror was. Men had gone mad looking at the face of the Fade. The Fade had received word form both his Master, King Malik and the Mage that he wanted the Priestess alive and it was perfectly clear that he didn't care how it was accomplished. The Fade had been so close to the High Priestess at times if he reached out a hand he would have touched her and she never even knew it. The Fade licked its cracked, black stained lips, thinking of her eventual demise. When Malik had created these abominations he had poured malice and cruelty into the Fade, at its very core that was what this evil creature was. The next time the Priestess was vulnerable the Fade would strike and Malik would claim his prize. With a mere thought the Fade willed himself to move and as quick as the thought entered his head the Fade was in another shadow in the city, that was possibly the greatest strength of the Fade, as long as there was darkness the Fade had a way to strike.
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Carrick... Saraya's heart was filled with joy when he accepted. She was face to face with him. She saw the marking that was placed over her heart had appeared over his, and he couldn't help but to let it go. He kissed her, just as suddenly as she could breathe. Her heart thumped hard into her rib cage, there, body felt warm, light. She could be content at last with a simple, yet potent victory. Her heart was protected once more.
He lifted her up, making sure she wasn't showing any discomfort than she already had been feeling. Having the emotional connections that had been long overdue gave her a expected boost. She could feel the tension swelling, though. The longer she stayed in bed, the more agitating the feeling got. And, as she dreamed, she would not have dreams, but visions. Carrick, her sweet Carrick, had visited quite frequently since that night. He was happy, more determined than ever. And with the power now in him, he had a certain aura about him, one that threatened action if trifled with. Despite this, Saraya could tell what her vision was. She saw clear as day the threat that was upon them. Malik's bewitched Felliope was showing her his plan, and she was determined to stop him now.
This morning, she heard a voice, and felt a light kiss on her temple. She stirred, and opened her eyes to see his smiling face. She smiled and stole a kiss as he helped her sit up and handed her lunch to her. [I "Thank you, Carrick"] she said as she got comfy and began eating. After a few bites, though, Saraya looked to Carrick. [I "I must tell you... I have been seeing something..."] She began as she set down her utensil. [I "... I think it is visions, visions from a vessel that had been bred by Malik. The bewitched Felliope has shown me that we should not exhale just yet... "]
Malik? [I "Carrick, we have waited long enough, love... "] Carrick looked to her with confusion, and she looked back with eyes he had long seen when he first met her. [I "Call upon our people... There is a threat among us... And it is targeted at Aria"]
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Saraya was surrounded by Aria, and Rhuarc, Adimar had been called before his departure along with Balden. Ayab, Max, and trusted knights were surrounding her, and all were perplexed as to why they were called to her room. Carrick sat next to her as she looked to everyone. This was a matter that needed to be spoken.
[I "There had been tension throughout this kingdom, and conspiracy. The attack that had involved me had halted all attempt in malice, but it does not stop our enemy. It has bought him time to steal away your Seer, and plot to take away your priestess."] She scouted everyone before looking to Aria. [I "I do not blame you for being with your people"] she said. [I "As priestess, you should be able to give your people a need of hope, and in that, I am not upset as Rhuarc is. But, Malik is coming with an army of hundreds to claim you... And if he succeeds, it would mean a fate worse than death. I will not allow this. And the Guardians shall not scold our priestess either. "] her eyes darted to Rhuarc and Adimar. [I "Malik is counting on her to be doubtful and in pain. He is counting on us to turn against each other. This I will not allow"]
[b "How do you know this, Saraya? You cannot tell us there is threat afoot when you have been bedridden for days"] spoke Adimar. Saraya looked to him as Carrick stood in her defence. [I "Do not question me, Guardian. You, of all people, should understand the risk is high, and I do not lie. "] Carrick refused to sit, but Saraya carried on.
[I "I have heard his plans... The Seer made certain to upset him... She made good of telling us where to keep her safe... The ancient city of Kil’heed is still standing, and possess great promise in rebelling against him... We must leave or else have her taken by the False king... By the Fade... "]
Rhuarc was shocked of this. [b "The Fade? "] Saraya nodded before going on. [I "We must have everyone vacate. If you, Adimar, can do this, then the rest of us can lead them there. We must reach the wall, and we must train. We will not win against him now, he is striking while we are weak. If you make it, we stand a chance against him, and may well save our land from him. "]
Adimar looked suspiciously at her. She speed him and looking at his face, he was to upset her further. [b "You tell me this with no proof, Saraya. As Guardian-"]
She let it a show chuckle. [I As Guardian...]
She slowly swung her legs over the side, holding her side as she slowly stood, Carrick grabbing onto her quickly in case she lost balance. She stood tall, and watched her public. [I "I am Prya. I am the vessel to my spirit. I do not lie of this I have seen with my own eyes. You question what you fail to realise, Adimar. These walls are firm, but they are weak. They will not hold against The Fade. If you wish to give Aria up, that is your choice... "] she slowly walked to the door, opening it as everyone watched her. Carrick was surprised of her strength. She had become a warrior once more, and there was no fault in her intention. She looked to Aria, then Carrick, Rhuarc, Ayab, Balden... She let a tear fall as she looked back to Adimar. [I "...But, I refuse to give up my family for borrowed time... This I swear. "]
With that, Saraya had slowly limped away, down the stairs, out to the bright light of day, and shrouded her eyes. She looked to the guards who bowed to her and nodded. [I "Call your men... Gather the people... We are moving the priestess and her people to Kil'heed"]
Two Days! How hard could it be to capture one man just on the border? Adimar paced his study while Thad watched on from the door looking nervous. Rupert couldn’t be bothered to look up from the dagger he sharpened, and Max scowled sporting a black eye to match Ayab’s. Adimar had not been particularly happy to learn that Max had lost sight of Aria during her little stint out in the city. Rhuarc hadn’t been too pleased with Ayab either. Neither of them were pleased with The Priestess. Adimar hadn’t wanted to be so upset with her when he found her crying on the front steps, but one look at her lovely face marred with tears was enough to stem his temper. She cried over the guilt she carried knowing she had caused those who cared about her to worry. Adimar hadn’t seen her since, he had heard from the young man who traveled with them, Balden, that The Priestess would not leave her room for fear of causing her companions to worry about her again. She wasn’t taking visitors either, and had instead resigned herself to intensive meditation, prayer and reflection. If she wasn’t in her room, she was in the city’s temple surrounded by the small clergy who maintained the building. Outside of her room she was never alone. Guards had been doubled since the attack inside the Governors House and in the city. They wouldn’t risk what happened to Saraya or Lara happening to Aria.
A Knock came on Adimar’s door and in entered a young soldier. “My Lord, Team six has returned with the conspirator,”
“They found him?” Adimar demanded rushing the young man.
“Yes… but…” The soldier shuffled his feet nervously and Adimar glared. “He is dead. He left our men no choice,” the young soldier confessed. Adimar cursed, he’d have to inform Rhuarc of this. “We have the body so you can string it up with the other two. We confiscated the horses and gear. He did have this in his possession.” The Soldier handed Adimar a leather bound book, and he opened it up to see it was a journal. It was stuffed with lose paper, letters and missives mostly, and they all came with the seal of King Malik –a raven’s skull over two cross bones. The Journal held many entries and plans and it was a gold mine that Adimar counted his blessings to have. He would give this to the Priestess. He left from his study, with his men close on his heels and marched right over to the Governor’s house to learn that Aria had left in the early hours of morning to visit the temple. Adimar knew she’d be there all day, and instead sought out the others. He stopped first at Carrick’s room and knocked on the door. The man opened it looking well rested and happy.
“Good Morrow, Lord Aethon,” Carrick greeted as he stepped out.
“Good Morrow, I come with word. The third conspirator was captured and killed. I have a personal effect of his that I’d like to give to the Priestess-“
“At temple, I know,” Adimar said. “I also wanted to know how the girls were recovering.” Carrick informed him that the Physician had managed to find an antidote to Lara’s poison and that she was back in her room healing up. Saraya was also on bed rest but much improved, and Carrick was on his way to collect meals and bring them back to the women so they could eat in their beds. His only hope was that Lara would wake up soon. The poison had been hell on her young body and while they were glad to be out of the dark, it would be up to Lara to wake up. Adimar waited as Carrick called on Balden and the two of them descended the steps towards the kitchens. Adimar already knew where to find Rhuarc and Ayab, and headed to the Proving Grounds.
Since their last conversation, Adimar had gone further in depth about the Arcane arts, and the Jai had proved to be a quick learner. Already the man could create his own fire and maintain it. Adimar wanted to help him get to the point he could create a mass of fire and hurl it towards an enemy not just once or twice, but consecutively. He crossed the grounds and edge of the city towards the barracks and proving grounds where he knew he could find the two Jai. Calling his attention, Adimar waited for the man to finish his round of training. Once available Adimar greeted him like an old friend, but after a small round of talk he got to the point of his visit.
“I’ll get to the point, the third conspirator was captured last night, and unfortunately my men had to kill him. Something tells me he did not come peacefully. I have this though,” he held up the journal to show Rhuarc. “It was found on his person. It’s filled with letters from Malik’s court. Some are in code, others in a language I can’t read. I’m on my way to the Temple to deliver it to her Holiness, but I wanted to inform you of the news since you’ve been waiting and wanting to hear about the third man. I intend to travel to the border this afternoon and set the bodies as a warning, you’re invited,” Adimar told him with a wicked grin. “If you want to come meet me at the gates at high noon,” Adimar told him, leaving with a friendly clap of his hand to the Jai, but Adimar made certain to hit a bit harder than he normally would have out of respect to the Jai Traditions. Adimar would ask him later if he had confronted the Priestess since the other night. Adimar didn’t know what was said, but whatever it was had struck Aria deeply.
He found her in the temple’s empty sanctuary. The only other body was an elder who was replacing dying candles with new fresh sticks. He eyed Adimar out of caution, but seeing who it was, the Elder bowed respectfully and left the room. There was a quiet calm in the room, isles of benches marked the room, and Aria was at the front Alter before an ornate stained glass window that depicted a dragon wound in a circle biting his own tail and at the four corners were the animals of the Guardians. Centered inside the Dragon was an anatomically correct Heart of Azeroth. Adimar stopped just short of where the Priestess meditated, intending to wait, but her voice cut through the silence of the room.
“You bring me something,” she said, stopping her prayers and turned to look up at him. Adimar gave a solemn nod and handed her the book. She took it with furrowed brows and opened it.
“The Gods have anything interesting to say?” He asked, attempting at some light hearted conversation. Aria looked up from the journal to him with an unreadable face.
“Not today,” She sighed and held a hand out. Adimar was there to help her stand and escort her from the temple. “They are quiet. I am meant to reflect on my own actions it seems.”
“Are you still beating yourself up over that?” Adimar asked humorously. Aria did not find it as humorous.
“Shouldn’t I? Rhuarc was right… as usual…” She sighed with a minor roll of her eyes. “I should not have stayed out alone. The moment I was able I should have returned to the house where it was safest.” Adimar scratched the back of his head, feeling awkward. He liked Rhuarc, but the man wasn’t Aria’s father, her guardian, or her man. Adimar understood though, the desire to keep her safe, but she was a woman wasn’t she? She had needs, dreams and desires just like the rest of them… didn’t she?
“Yeah… I suppose. You are safe here-“
“Tell that to Saraya,” She snapped back. Adimar wanted to sigh and shake it off, but he couldn’t do that either. Damn. All he could do was shrug and admit defeat in that.
“Fair. I don’t think you are at risk as much as the others though… Malik should know he can’t kill you.” Aria stopped short of the main city street and gave him a strange look. It gave Adimar pause and he turned to find her staring at him with a wealth of confusion.
“I am just as Mortal as any other,”
“That’s not what I meant. He’d make a Martyr out of you, it wouldn’t matter if you were here or not, or if the guardians were… the people would rebel. The only reason he didn’t have a full on rebellion when he first invaded and took Central City was because you got away. People have been hoping for your return for twenty years. So they’ve been buying their time.” He ushered her to keep moving through the city and back towards the Governor’s home with a hand to her back. ‘We all have,” he told her and saw her to the front steps. Aria still acted distant and quiet. He could see a sadness and pain in her eyes, a stark difference from the smiles she had worn the first day she’d been there, but he supposed with the attack and her confrontation with Rhuarc she’d lost a little bit of her fire. He believed with time it would come back and he bid her farewell to prepare for his trip to the borderlands with his men.
[i “I love you…”]
Had three words ever sounded so sweet? Carrick didn’t think so. Injured and bleeding from her wound, Saraya had come to him in the dead of night two nights ago to confess her feelings. When he’d returned them, he’d felt a spark of power deep within him at her touch. Knowing that he did not have to hide his feelings any longer Carrick was free to shower Saraya with time and attention. He made frequent trips to her room and Lara’s as he took on the role of nursemaid for them both. He sat long hours in Saraya’s room, reading to her, or speaking with her, to playing card games to help her pass the time until her wound closed up and she was good enough to start moving around again. Carrick didn’t ask her about what she meant making him her sword. He didn’t quite understand it, and he was currently too obscured by bliss to think much on the other things she had said. All his one track mind heard was “I love you,” from a woman he realized he didn’t only like, but he loved too.
Carrick would be a liar if he said he wasn’t worried. He was. Lara had yet to wake up, Saraya’s wound was healing, but they feared infection, and Aria had become aloof and quiet and no one seemed to really know what had caused it. Carrick felt slightly guilty he hadn’t spoken with her, but he’d taken it upon himself to look after Lara and Saraya. He could feel a change happening within him, and if he really thought about it, he’d felt the change taking place within for some time now. When Aria had showed up with Balden at his forge by chance, Carrick had been tempted to do as originally instructed. Kill whoever tried to protect her and drag her kicking and screaming to Malik. He’d partially lied to the group, by withholding information, but with time he eventually told them what he did now… just not that he’d ever actually worked for Malik. For now he kept that to himself, and he knew that some of their team already wondered if Carrick had ties to Malik, but they never spoke of us. Carrick was with the Guardians now –where he belonged. Carrick had found what he was looking for, and Malik could suck his di-
“CARRICK!” Balden shouted catching site of him and hurried forward. “I was told by Adimar that he and the other men are going to the Border to string up the assassins. I want to go, Adimar told me to find someone to ask. Can I please go?” Balden begged. Carrick nodded, but chuckled.
“I’m not your father boy, and you’re almost sixteen. Man enough to make your own choices. I trust Adimar enough, you may go,” Balden’s face lit up with joy and he brought his fists down towards his side.
“YES!” He hissed excitedly. “Is Lara awake? I wanted to see her before we leave.”
“She’s still asleep. I’m on my way to bring them food, go Lad, and have fun. She might be awake when you return,” Carrick told him and watched as the young teen nodded his head and turned to leave. Was it just him, or had Balden grown over night? The boy was looking larger, more angled, more like a man and less like a boy. Carrick wondered when that happened. Shrugging with no real answer he continued his task of collecting food for the women.
He passed Aria on his way back up the stairs towards the rooms. She was just ahead of him on the steps when he called to her.
“Priestess? You’re back from Temple,” Aria stopped on the stairs and looked back at him, offering to take a tray from him and together they started back up the steps.
“Yes, I was praying, but Adimar gave me a surprise visit. He brought me a journal. It belonged to one of the men in the group that tried to kill Saraya. He said he was leaving for the night, and so I assume Rhuarc will go with him, they seem to have befriended one another quite easily. So, I figured it would be best if I let him bring me back… for my own good,” She said, but nothing about what she said sounded like she was ‘fine’ with it. Carrick frowned at her.
“What did Rhuarc say to you?” He dared to ask. Aria’s face remained placid, but her eyes dimmed.
“Nothing… just the truth… I heard about you and Saraya,” She said attempting to sound cheerful and change the subject. “I think it’s lovely, and I’m happy for you both. If you want, go to her, and I will sit at Lara’s side,” She offered, but left Carrick little chance of speaking again as she moved quickly and hid away in Lara’s room. Carrick sighed. What would he do about Aria and Rhuarc? Rhuarc had become Aria’s voice of reason and next to Saraya, her closest friend. She went to him with most of her questions or concerns. Whatever he’d done or said hadn’t made her angry, but it had intimidated her from upsetting him again. She respected him and admired him, but she was sadder than usual, and he knew she wasn’t sleeping –that much he could hear with her pacing her room at night. Carrick knew better than to get into the middle of it, and instead focused on helping Saraya. He walked into her room with a smile and carried to tray to her and sat down on the edge of the bed. He watched her for a moment, her hair strewn over the pillow and her breaths even and shallow as she slept peacefully. Long thick lashes curled back from her rosy cheeks, and from where he was she looked like an angel.
“Wake up,” He whispered to her, leaning over and kissing her temple. “I brought you lunch.”
Malik laughed with full laughter at the image displayed before him. He laughed with such gusto he had to hold his gut. “Oh this is wonderful!” He bellowed. Before him was a large saucer filled with a silvery liquid that emitted a vapor and spilled over the edges of the bowl. Holding it was a young woman of Fenlyk heritage with bruises on her arms. Her dark hair had been shaved, and around her neck hung a heavy iron that held up the tattered rags that managed to cover the parts that needed covering. She was dirty and held lifeless eyes, but there was a set of red ones that glittered with malice. The Mage watched on with pleasure and off to the side was a frail old woman, hunched over… the old woman from Tanaka. “You did wonderful Vega!” The woman looked away with sour bitterness. “The seed of Doubt is growing within her!” He chuckled further as he watched the scene of Aria’s arrival to the Governor’s Home. She didn’t even make it past the front door when one of Aria’s favored Guardians confronted her. He reveled in the pain that crossed her face, the humiliation and guilt the Jai brute managed to instill in her. Malik had never been so pleased. He finally had her in his sites. Her Guardians were no match for him -well The Volshiv one could be a problem, but the others were so ignorant to the power they possessed it would be easy to destroy them. Now was the time to do it, now before they had the chance to learn and grow. Aria had to be destroyed no matter what, so long as she lived -with or without the Guardians, she could reclaim the Septum and it’s temples. The people would follow her, rally behind her. Malik knew he couldn’t outright kill her either -or risk creating a Martyr. Aria would have to destroy herself… and from the looks of the Jai’s words… it was working perfectly. The Jai left Aria on the steps, both Jai did, and Malik’s smile furthered as Aria fell to the steps and hid her face in her hands. He wanted to speak to her again, to see the fear course through her face, but he didn’t want to over do it. Now that he had the power to whisper into her mind, no thanks to his Mage, he could terrorizer her whenever he wanted. He’d drag her down within her own mind and let her drown.
Malik was an older man, if one could call him such a thing. His skin was sallow and pale with greasy black and grey hair, and nails as long as knives. He resembled a corpse more than he did a man, the only lively thing about him was his eyes. They were beady black things, like a spider’s, and they danced with pure evil, and like a black hole absorbed anything good and light around it.
“Egos, you are certain we can not… sway Carrick back into his place?” Malik asked and looked over towards The Mage.
“He has not returned any summons I’ve tried to set on him. Something blocks me.”
“Love.” Vega said from her place against the wall, beside the Mage. She gave him a foul, dirty look and eyed the False King. “A Woman’s Love… and that woman is the Guardian for Caledon. His love for her shrouds and protects him from your dark ways. Caledon has chosen, or he would not have encouraged his small host to foster her own emotions.” Vega informed, and the image in the saucer morphed in clouds of ink to show Carrick hunched over Saraya in his doorway. Malik observed the scene and watched the young guard he had spared, caress the Caledon Guardian with tenderness and reverence. It made his stomach curl with disgust. Carrick lifted Saraya up into his arms, kissing her lips and carried her back to where she had come from. “Carrick now shares the power with Saraya. He will act as her sword and her shield, and if they manage to breech these walls and face you-“
“ENOUGH!” Malik shouted. He would not hear of a potential future where that fool takes him down, and he certainly didn’t want to hear about a small woman doing it either. “Tell me something helpful, hag!” He seethed. Vega pursed her lips with distaste, not wanting to help Malik one bit, but knowing she had no other choice. She was more helpful to the Guardians here at Malik’s side, than dead.
[pic http://cdn.obsidianportal.com/assets/226976/FaeryElder.jpg ]
She let the current future come, letting it play out before her. It had changed again since the last time she had looked. The Future was ever changing, sensitive to suggestion, some events were set and would come to pass, but in between and the final result? That was what constantly changed. Her eyes had turned milky, and her voice distorted, power oozing off of her in palpable waves. “The guardians are at the weakest they will be for a long time. They are a completed force and will soon begin to grow stronger. Tensions are high, and emotions threaten to crack their shaky foundation. If you wish to cement your hold on the throne now is the time to act, and you must do so before they learn the true extent of their powers. If you do not act in time…” Vega warned, her tone grave, “The Priestess and the Guardians will travel deeper into Volshiv, they will reach the ancient city of Kil’heed, and the Priestess will learn where she comes from. She will amass an army with her Guardians and for the next year she will be out of your reach, they all will. Now is your time to strike and deliver a deadly blow to her Guardians. If you don’t act, you will most certainly lose.” Vega inhaled as her eyes returned to their usual shade of white blue and stared a pensive looking Malik. He grit his teeth. His most recent assassination attempt had failed -no thanks to another guardian. His three men had yet to report… and Vega had assured some level of success. If that was true then why the hell was the Caledonian guardian still alive? Out of the traditional Guardians Caledon and Jai’hash were the most powerful and most dangerous. Together with Earth and Fire they had forged the mountains the terrain and the Earth. Fenlyk filled the oceans and lakes, and Volshi gave it air to breathe and wind for Azeroth to sail on. Malik snarled in displeasure. Those Guardians were the ones he had to worry about. The Fenlyk had proven she should not be underestimated though with her victory over his man, but The Priestess was just as elusive as ever.
“Egos!” The Mage snapped to attention and Malik’s eyes narrowed.
“Yes, My Lord?”
“Send The Fade to head the next attack. I don’t care if they burn that entire city to the fucking ground, but I want the Priestess [i alive].” Ego’s left quickly snapping for his slave to follow. The young Fenlyk woman hurrying behind him with the jangle of her chains. That left Vegas and Malik alone. He was silent, his mind an ever turning tide of if he should kill her or let her live. So far she had remained useful, and her little charm with The Mage had been gold. For once Malik was able to see the Priestess alone, he could observe her, learn about her. The better he knew his enemy the better he could destroy them. She should have been so easy to catch and break, but she hadn’t. hen he’d had her in his sights all those years ago, she’d been nothing but a small child then. The terror and fear in those lavender eyes of hers had struck a deranged cord inside his heart. Even now he recalled on it with great joy. It was one of his better memories, and even now he felt the same desire to posses her.
“Tell me now, Vega. Despite what the final result will be, if I maintain this throne or not… do I at least destroy her?” Vega stared back at him and her brow furrowed.
“It has not changed in the times I have searched the future… she will be delivered to you whole and pure… if she will leave you that way has yet to be seen, if she leaves you at all.” Malik’s lips curled with sadistic glee, his hands tightened over the edge of his armrests, and he marched down the steps of the Dias and gripped Vega’s frail shoulders in his knife like hands. “I will make the whore kneel at my feet and decide! A life of servitude to me in exchange for the lives of her pitiful guardians, or death for all of them! [b BRING HER TO ME!]” he roared, his voice echoing off the rafters and shaking dust, as he bellowed to each and every one of his advisors, soldiers, and consorts. They scrambled away like roaches to complete their master’s bidding, and Malik? Malik stormed down the hallway, grabbing a maid in passing, and despite her pleas and protests, threw her into his room and did as he pleased until he felt stated, leaving behind a broken, naked, and bloody corpse in the wake of his rage. He would have the Priestess, he would have Azera, he would get his heir, and he would make certain that the Guardians were erased from History completely.
Ayab trailed behind Aria with Max at his side, eyes scanning for any potential threats to the High Priestess of Azeroth within the corridors of the governors house, despite the unlikely nature of this place as an ambush point...still Ayab's hand hovered frequently neat the twin hand axes he wore at his belt and when they strayed away from those weapons they usually rested on the hilt of his belt knife. Their first stop was to the infirmary, to Saraya and Lara, a quick nod to Carrick upon entering was all the greeting that Ayab gave to anyone else in the room. His dark eyes settled on the Fenlyk Guardian. She had acted as one should and acted well. Lara defended her fellow guardian to the best of her abilities and had put herself in harms way to do so, that was honourable. In Ayab's eyes she was finally starting to repay the [i Toh] that her people had incurred. There was hope for Lara, and Fenlyk, yet. Carrick looked exhausted and while Adimar was also there he seemed much more lively than the former blacksmith, the man was ready to keel over. Ayab followed in the High Priestess' footsteps as she stepped out into the city of Tanaka properly. It wasn't long before the large Jai, Volshiv soldier and legendary High Priestess started attracting attention and soon enough the crowd of people trying to gain a glimpse of Aria or receive her blessing forced her apart from her diligent guards. At first the Jai tried to force his way back to Aria but despite being larger and stronger than practically everyone in the crowd he was no match for the sheer number of folk that kept him away from the High Priestess. Soon enough the force of the crowd and the surge of people wanting this chance to tell their children and grandchildren that they had actually seen the High Priestess of Azeroth was too much for either Ayab or Max to withstand, as the crowd carried fought past the Jai and caused Aria to disappear around a street corner and out of her protector's sight. [+red "Rhuarc is going to have my hide for this..."]
Rhuarc was out in one of the courtyards attached to the governor's house running through as many sword forms as he possibly could; Kissing the Adder, Leaf on the Breeze, Leopard in High Grass, Twisting the Wind, Folding the Air, The Moon Rises Over Water, Oak Shakes Its Branches, Parting the Silk over and over he moved until the heavy blade of black steel was a blur of movement in his hands. Rhuarc's eyes were closed as he felt the blade in his hands move as he directed it, his muscles slowly screaming in protest at the strain he was putting them under. Rhuarc finished his sword forms with a mighty downward swing, The Serpent Strikes, as he opened his eyes to see a one or two of the Volshiv guards looking on impressed at the display that the imposing Jai swordsman had just shown. Judging by the ease at which he had moved the huge weapon of black steel through the technical and extremely advanced set of manoeuvres it was apparent that Rhuarc was a tremendous swordsman, but Rhuarc's training was not complete just yet as the words Adimar spoke ran through his mind.
Adimar claimed that his arcane abilities were powerful because he worked them, trained the Arcane Muscles and Rhuarc was going to do the same, he needed to be at his best if he was to take down Shade-stealer. Thrusting the blade of his sword into the ground Rhuarc closed his eyes and began to meditate. He thought of a flame and nothing else, as he focused on that fire he focused with an iron will, all concerns - emotions, thoughts, even the concerns of life and death - were fed into the flame. He stretched out a palm and focussed, causing a small flame to appear in his palm, with his will he caused it to grow and shrink but always maintained the spark of magic that lived inside him. It was a relatively simple exercise but even that was hard work given that he had only recently discovered that he had the ability for such arcane arts. Rhuarc slowly stopped his exercise with the flame in his palm and opened up his mind in an attempt to stretch some different arcane muscles, ones he was only beginning to realise existed. In the back of his mind he felt several small presences, all over the city of Tanaka and one beyond it's walls before his awareness faded into a haze of mental and magical weakness. He was searching for the serpents. It was no real surprise that Rhuarc had an affinity with snakes, it was the symbol of his god and he had the animals branded on his body as a sign of respect but only now was he realising what that affinity could give him. It was a most surreal experience, attempting to communicate with the serpents they spoke not in words but images and emotions, a language far more primal than any spoken today. They had their own concerns and the petty squabbles of the walkers meant nothing to them but they watched and they saw and much of that was useful to the Jai...
As Aria walked through the doors of the governor's home well after night had crept up on the city Rhuarc's eyes had a quick flash of relief but his stern expression never shifted. Ayab was standing on his left, a few steps back, sporting a new black eye and if Aria looked carefully enough a recently broken nose and the residue of some blood on one of Rhuarc's fists. The Jai Guardian's voice was never raised but it held a cold fury and...profound disappointment. [b "Do you care so little for us? Do you think that this is a game that we are playing? Lives are at stake, yours, mine everyones here. I would gladly lay down my life to keep you safe, as would Ayab or Carrick or Balden. Carrick told me of Father Rigby, you insult his memory tonight. He died to give you time to flee and you would throw that away by walking unprotected at night when you know there to be danger. That is a poor way to repay such a gift. We spoke Aria, you know that you were not to be alone, you saw the need for protection after what happened to Saraya, you gave me your word. You spit on me and my honour. You have [i Toh] Aria of House Volshiv."] Rhuarc gave one last hard look at Aria not quite sure if his anger or his disappointment was greater before turning away and walking to his rooms unable to even look at the High Priestess any longer.
The city of Tanaka was more quaint and lovely in daylight and down on the ground then it ever was at night and locked in her room. Max and Ayab kept their distance allowing her room to breathe, but they were close enough they could react at a moment’s notice. She had gone to see to Saraya and Lara, Carrick’s diligent presence leaving her to calm, but her worry spiked at seeing his exhaustion and she had asked him to seek rest as soon as possible. She could only hope he listened. Balden had taken Rhuarch’s words seriously and was training with the Volshiv Guards. Aria? Well Aria was becoming acquainted with Tanaka’s people and the city. She was currently walking the main strip of the city, the cobblestone streets filled with vendors hawking their wares. Shop windows held all sorts of finery and trinkets. There were two butcher shops, several flower stands, Produce, general goods, armories and smithies. There was even a bookstore, a candle maker and so much more, Aria knew she’d never get to see it all in one day. It was fair to say this was her first time out and about among real people, and in a city to boot. She took in the smells from the bakery, the sounds from the children who rushed through the streets chasing one another, the laughter of young couples in love as they courted on this lovely afternoon, the sounds of men laughing inside the pubs, and the sights of people who looked like her. They were all as pale as porcelain, all with silvery white hair, or hair black as pitch… but they all possessed lightly colored eyes. Some had pale green, some a pale blue like Adimar’s, honey, or a light lavender like her own.
At first no one seemed to recognize her, they passed by her as if she were another like them, but it did not last long as people quickly noticed Ayab, and even quicker noticed Adimar’s man Max with her as well. They put the puzzle pieces together and very soon Aria found herself quite suddenly surrounded by a mass of people.
“It’s true! The Priestess is here!” a man asked in the crowd, murmurs all around
“The Priestess?” another shouted
“Where? I want to see her!” the voice of a child. Aria was walled off from all sides including Max and Ayab who were now trapped within the crowd. Aria felt her heart quicken no used to being so surrounded by so many people, or having this much attention. She habitually looked around her and into the crowd for Rhuarc or Carrick, but saw neither, even Ayab and Max had vanished from her sight. She had meant to observe, not be confronted by the people, but it seemed she was now known among them and she looked back at the mass of people who looked back expectantly. What were they expecting of her? Elder Rigby had never told her how a Priestess should interact with the public. He probably thought she’d be dead by now and so had never bothered to instruct her.
An elderly woman approached, leaning dependently on her cane and the crowd let her pass. Aria stood stone still, her heart racing with uncertainty, but she hoped it didn’t show. The old woman smiled and her face crinkled in the corners showing she had spent a life filled with smiles.
“You have returned to your people Aria of the House Tolshiv,” The hushed murmurs continued around her, indiscernible whispers that Aria couldn’t make out, but the woman held a hand out for her and Aria hesitantly reached forward and rest her hand on the aged one before her. The old woman, moved quicker than Aria expected forcing a gasp from her lips when the elder whipped Aria’s hand over and began to study it.
“What do you see, Vega?” a man asked from the sea of faces. The woman, Vega, seemed almost perplexed, stunned, worried, and excited all at once.
“I see greatness, sacrifice, uncertainty… You will rise to meet your destiny, but you have many dark days ahead of you, and you will be tempted by things not meant for you. If you can learn to defeat yourself you will rise victorious. If you cannot defeat yourself… we are all doomed.” The old woman let her go as if she no longer wished to touch her and gazed up into Aria’s face. She felt a sense of dread at those words. Defeat herself? What did that mean? “You must overcome yourself, an ancient soul cries out for freedom and it waits for you to liberate it. If you fail to act in time, they will die… all of them. Those you come to know and care for, those you love, and all that you see… will be reduced to ash.”
“Do… do you believe I will overcome all?” Aria dared to ask, her voice causing the crowd to go silent as they watched on curiously, but for the moment it was only Aria and Vega.
“Do you?” she challenged back with a mischievous grin.
“No,” Aria confessed honestly, her eyes glassing over with tears of fear and self-loathing that she dared not shed. “Though I am determined to make things right. To take back what is mine.”
“And what is it that you think belongs to you, when you belong to all of us?” Aria looked out at all the faces, still unable to find Ayab or Max. Everyone stared back, the same expectant curious expression on their faces. Some held pity, others worry, some fascination, others indifferent curiosity. She finally looked back to the old woman with a fierce glint in her eyes that wasn’t there before.
“The High Septum is my home, and the people of Azera mine to protect. I could not do so as a child, so I will as a woman, but I know I cannot do it alone. I am not a warrior, I am a simple woman-“
“There is nothing simple about you, child,” Vega warned with a snapping tone. Aria swallowed past the lump in her throat, but continued on.
“A Simple woman, with a great burden,” Aria corrected, staring the old woman back. “I may call myself the Priestess, but until I reclaim the septum… I shall be what I must to destroy Malik. I will learn to be a warrior, if I must. I will learn to be a temptress, if I must. I will learn to be a killer if I must. I will sacrifice myself… if I must…” An almost wicked smile crossed the woman’s face and she nodded.
“I believe you will overcome much, how much… is yet to be seen. Your future is clouded and contradictory, so many outcomes are possible for you… most of them dark, but a few shine with hope. COME!” The woman called to the crowd. “Come and greet Her Holiness!”
Aria was swarmed by the masses, clamoring for blessings or words of wisdom, and some just wanted to touch her hair or bestow blessings and prayers themselves over her. Aria looked over the heads of people and into the crowd searching for the old woman, but found she had vanished on the wind. Aria was carried down the street with the crowd, as if swept in a current of wind and sea. She was given flowers by men, women and children that by the time she reached the edge of the city near the front gates she had a bouquet that filled her arms. A Gaggle of young girls were all that were left tailing her when the crowd died down and returned to their own business, but they all kept a close eye on her. Aria felt strange by the reception, and yet she felt embolden… believed in. Ayab and Max were far from her vision and she could only wonder where they were or who they were harassing to find her. Aria actually smirked as she sat on the edge of a large stone and copper water fountain in the city square, enjoying her day of freedom. The group of young girls kept her company, and they spent the afternoon braiding the flowers she had received into crowns. They constructed a beautiful wreath of wildflowers and greenery that Aria wore for the rest of the day, as the girls wore their own feeling as if they were Aria’s own consort, that they were special to have her company. Aria felt humbled, flattered and the overwhelming nausea that was plaguing her had slowly disappeared into an afterthought.
She kissed babies and blessed them, she blessed newlyweds, and preformed acts of holy writ that she would have done in Central City… if Malik had never invaded. For the first time she felt invigorated by her position, not burdened by it. She delighted in seeing the people smile, some of them confessing their renewed hope in the defeat of Malik. She was offered many gifts, and politely refused them all knowing she’d be unable to take them with her when she left. With the sunset children had retired home to supper, people began to close up their shops and Aria had successfully walked the main city streets. Now she found herself very much alone under the gas lamps that illuminated the streets as the sun continued its decline beneath the edge of the earth. One moon had already risen and the next was not far behind. Wanting to watch the Sunset and enjoy a few more moments of solitude, Aria ignored the voices of Carrick and Rhuarc in her head yelling at her to return to the group where she would be safe, and climbed an empty watch post.
It was high above the city on the Western wall. It was quiet and before her laid the path towards the Volshiv Mountains, even now the clouds that shrouded the top half of the mountains burned with gold fire with the dying embers of the sun. Her mind wandered to the future, the words of the wise woman, and Rhuarc’s teachings of Ahrak-Toh. Honor and Obligation… Rhuarc had warned her not to question another if she possessed such a thing. What if she questioned herself? Was this what the old woman spoke of? Aria knew she’d incur the wrath of them all for being gone so long, but she could not will herself to climb down from the tower until she had a better grasp of the teachings she had learned so far. The Wise Woman’s words had stirred an introspective audit unlike anything before. What surprised her most by that interaction was the level at which it brought Rhuarc’s teachings to the forefront of her mind… Did she possess Toh? Did she honestly believe she could restore Azera? She certainly didn’t feel like it, despite knowing she wanted to do all she could to save Azera and its provinces.
[i “I see you…”] a wicked voice sang to her. It danced on the wind and turned Aria cold. Her stomach felt hollowed out, and her hair stood on end. She felt sick… she knew that voice. She had never heard it, but she knew who it belonged to… Malik. [i “You can’t hide from me little dove… I will find you, I will have you, and I will destroy all that makes you, you…”] he warned her, his voice dark and cold… he was enjoying himself –that much was obvious by his tone.
“Not if I destroy you first.” She hissed under her breath. She knew then she could not linger in the moonlight any longer.
[i “I can’t wait to see you try little dove… I’m going to enjoy your destruction…”] his voice faded and his words had left Aria feeling sick and violated. She didn’t want to show fear, but she felt it in the pit of her stomach, and hurried down the streets back to the Governor’s Mansion; preparing herself for a potential lecture from any of her companions for not only missing supper, but for being out alone –especially after what had happened to Saraya and Lara. Aria knew she was in for some level of chiding.
Carrick... She felt his frustration and fear. She felt something else, a long lost feeling she hadn't felt since she had became Caledon. Her lips parted, but nothing had came out. He looked tired , as well as hungry. He took her hand in his, and said the most earth changing thing to her... [I "I see Rhuarc and Ayab as brothers in arms… but you… You I see differently, you are… more. To me"]
He kissed her hand... It made her heart warm. She blushed when he had turned to leave. As he left the room, she reached out to the distant doors and slowly, her voice restored slowly... [I Carrick...] She let out a raspy voice [I Tell me... Tell me that you...]
In the wee hours of the night, Saraya couldn't sleep. Carrick was in her thoughts, much more frequently than Felliope. The spirit had been silent within her , still brooding on the hatred he felt. Saraya, on the other hand, felt that she couldn't be the Spirit of her homeland without being true to herself. The nurse had came in to care for her wounds. The nurse had noticed that she was not speaking, but had something on her mind.
[b Tell me, guardian, whom do you long for?]
Saraya's gaze traveled to the nurse, who had a whimsical smile. [I "A man that is afraid to... Because of what I am...]
The woman had nodded before looking to her. [b Go to him... And express to him your true feelings]
Saraya looked to the woman. Saraya saw that the woman had a glint of a fire in her eyes. The very air she breathed, she felt life as a gift. [I "...And why should I, nurse? If my heart is the reason of my wounds, then it is my heart that will deem much worse... If I put him in danger...] She hugged herself as if a chill came across the room only she could feel. [i ... I would not be any better than Malik and his tricks...]
[b "Do you love him? "]
Saraya looked to her with those icy eyes. As if surprised, the woman turned away quickly to hide her fluster. The nurse smiled. [b "You do... Because, otherwise... You would not be thinking of his emotions, his touch, nor his eyes if you were really ready to believe it. He wants you as much as you want him, if not more. He stayed by your side since he saw you laying out, near dead. He hovered over you and cared for you... Even ran off Adimar from his intentions. He loves you"]
Saraya stared as the nurse smiled and disappeared after dressing her wounds, leaving her to think. She was right. She must tell him. Carrick meant more to her than bearing alone wishing she could have said it to him... And it was too late... Like Felliope. No... She will not make that mistake again.
She struggled to move to the side of the bed letting her feet touch the ground. She slowly stood, feeling a bit dizzy, but managed, and slowly began to walk out of the room and slowly worked her way up the stairs. She was slightly surprised she didn't see any guards, but remembered that all were at guard outside the castle. As she slowly moved up to the stairs, she had one thought in mind... Carrick. She remembered where Carrick's room was. So, she slowly and patiently walked up the stairs, and down the hall until she found his door. She grunted, gritted her teeth to the pain she felt from moving too much. She still egged on. She had to tell Carrick... She had to. He was worth it. He deserved to know.
The door was finally in view. She knew that he would be sleeping. She grunted as she made it to the door. She felt a stretch and looked to her side. She had re-opened her wound... It wasn't terrible, but it was bad. Ignoring the pain that was escalating, she reached to knock on the door... But she froze. No... She would not disturb him. She had already put him through enough for one sitting. She, full of disdain, forced herself back down into the infirmary, where she stopped, mere feet from her bed... The sting was intensified five fold.
With her trying to make quick work of getting to her bed, she felt a sharp pain and slid down against the wall instead, panting from lost energy, and trying not to wake the others though she wanted to scream, the pain hurt terribly. There, she stayed, the stitches ripped open, and she steadily bled into the dawn... She was pale again. She was weaker than anything in the world... But, she stayed strong. Carrick was coming soon... She wanted to tell him still... She chuckled to herself. My, my... Have I became a foolish girl for love once more...
As she tried to get up from the wall to her bed, the door creaked open, and Carrick leaned out, looking right, then left to see her against the stone, bleeding from her fresh wraps.
Relief! She panted hard, wanting so bad to get up, but could not. Before he could even speak, she panted it out, loud enough for him to hear... [I "Please... Tell me"]
[b "Saraya! "] he knelt to her and was going to lift her when she touched his shoulder, making him halt. [b "You've opened your wound again... "]
[I "Tell me ... Please..."]
[b "... Saraya... "]
The grip on his shoulder slowly moved to his cheek , and she leaned forward some. [I "I want to know... Because I love you]
The mark over her heart took on a light hue, glowing magnificently as she let her eyes lock on his.
[I "... I love you, Carrick... And it does not weaken me or you for us to be in love... You did not fail me... You did not fail Lara... You did not fail the priestess..."]
Those words slid past her lips as a tear fell. She felt her heart flutter as she made an effort to assure him she speaks the truth.
[I You say that you are not my father, nor my brother... But I want you as my man... And if you accept, the spirit will have you become my sword]
She looked ahead to his chest and placed her hand there. [I As you said... I am woman, and the spirit allowed me to use his power freely, but I cannot body all of his power within me. I need another, and he spoke to me to say I can have you bear my power as well... But, you have to truly love me in order for the transfer to be a success...]
Saraya stared at him, hoping he understood what she had said. She was too weak to say it again. [I "..So, Carrick... Tell me the truth...] He hand warmed on his chest. She hoped she was not feeling false. All she could do is wait on him to answer
Adimar had seemingly been put in his place, and Carrick watched him make his way over to Lara. His eyes were flinty and dangerous, Adimar might have been a guardian, but he had yet to prove he was trustworthy to Carrick. He had his chance though, when quite suddenly, Lara convulsed on the table and they were made privy to the red handle of a dagger in her body. Adimar, was there at her side, so he reacted first. He lunged forward to catch her and place her back in the comfort of the linens. Carrick hurried over to help, and once they had Lara back in her bed Carrick removed the blade from her. The noise had alerted the physician who made his way back in to make quick work of Lara’s wound.
“Poison!” He exclaimed with mild shock as he ran a finger along the viscous oily coating that still lingered on the blade. “I need to make a poultice for her wound, and she will have to stay here to sweat out the poison until I can find an antidote or make one,” he told both men, and with a bow of his head left the room to hide away in his private office where he could mix tinctures and concoctions of all sorts to help Lara. Carrick sighed heavily, knowing of at least one person who would be deeply disturbed by this news: Balden. Lara never woke up, even after smacking her head on the floor, but Adimar had acted like a gentleman, lifting her up and gently laying her back down, calling for the Physician, and once she was settled again and asleep, Adimar took his leave, seeing that Carrick was not as welcoming as the others had been.
“I’ll inform my men about the knife, if someone mentions missing a red handled blade… we’ll have a lead,” was Adimar said and the left the room.
Carrick remained, as he had done all night and well into the day. He remained past lunch and into the afternoon before Saraya ever stirred. In that time, Aria had come to visit with Ayab and Max following behind her like two terrifying shadows. Carrick had watched quietly as Aria laid a soft blessing over each girl, a look of guilt and sadness etched in her delicate features. She thanked Carrick for his diligence in watching over them, and turned to leave the infirmary as well. There were a few short solitary moments of silence before Saraya came alive. She came awake with a gasp, and her eyes wide with some crazed emotion of vengeance, maybe fear. Carrick was on his feet in an instant and at her side. He was quick to grasp her hand and placed a hand to her shoulder to keep her against the bedding incase she tried to move. He didn’t want her to open up her stitching. “Calm Saraya, can you hear me? Saraya, can you speak?” he asked her. Her glazed over eyes eventually found his and the expression she gave him stole his heart further. Tears spilled from her eyes and she managed one shaky hand up to cup his scruffy cheek. He felt her fingers through the beard on his face and stilled himself from reacting, no matter how desperately he wanted to. He had to restrain himself, Saraya was not well and he’d be damned if he allowed his infatuation to give him liberties because she looked at him as she did. For all he knew, she was hallucinating and saw Felliope… so when she whispered his name he almost thought he was the one hallucinating and not Saraya.
The moment was gone as soon as it had come and Saraya became alert with realization and returned memories. She wanted up and she wanted out, but Carrick was having none of it and forced her with gentle hands to remain against the bed. “Moving would be unwise, you will tear open your stitches, and it will take you longer to heal!” He had pleaded with her. “Please, Saraya. Please stay calm, I know you are upset and angry. I know you are in pain, you are safe now…” His words seemed to do the trick and for the next few hours she stayed quiet, staring out at space and allowing her rage to fester.
In the midst of her silence, Carrick watched her, only disturbed by the quiet entrance of Balden who came fresh from training with Rhuarc and some of Adimar’s men to see to Lara before supper. With Lara currently out and the Physician spending the day trying to figure out what poison was used and how to treat it, Balden left to bathe for supper. Carrick had officially been awake for two days straight and he was at the edge of his awakened state. He knew he’d have to retire soon and eat something and get some rest. Aria had mentioned he needed rest, and the last thing he needed was for Rhuarc to slay him with Warrior Logic. He knew he needed the rest, but part of him was still so furious. Saraya would not speak to him, and so he decided before he left the room as well, he would speak his peace.
“You could have been killed…” He finally told her. “What would ever compel you to wander a strange city alone at night?” he asked her as calmly as he could. He knew it came off harsher, his voice was hoarse from lack of sleep adding the general gruff of it. His words did their work, as Saraya finally looked to him and apologized. So the Priestess had asked something of her.
“So you would go alone and not ask for help?” He demanded, and flinched knowing he’d let his frustration and exhaustion come off too harshly. With Tears in her eyes, she struggled to sit up and Carrick moved to help her, but she wouldn’t look at him, it was as if she was ashamed. After her explanation of what the Priestess had asked, and what Saraya had sensed, he felt even further frustration, but more than that he felt the need to comfort Saraya. He sensed her own frustration, pain, and exhaustion… personally he was just glad she was up and talking and on the road to recovery.
He held her, his arms enveloping her into the safe fold of his arms, where he struggled to maintain the words trapped in the back of his throat.
[i "Speak to me, Carrick... Why do you tremble so? "]
Carrick raised his head and looked at her, his brow furrowed in thought, and his jaw locked tight. His eyes moved over her face however, and lingered over her lips and gazed deeply into her eyes. “Just as the Priestess asked you to go out and learn, she tasked me to protect all of you. In that I have failed her, and I have failed you. My whole life, I have lived with the dream to become a Holy Guard of the High Septum. To do as I do now. Protect the Priestess and the Guardians… and so far? I am failing. Look,” He gestured to Lara’s bed and sighed, dropping his head into his hands before showing his meaty fingers through his auburn hair. “I couldn’t protect either you, and you were both attacked while I was with the Priestess. I know I cannot be at all places at once, but it was my job to guard the group, and I failed,” He glared at nothing in particular as he fumed with himself and his rolling emotions. “You are a woman, Saraya… I am not your father, your brother, or… your man… so I cannot tell you that you cannot go on your own, but hopefully as your friend I can encourage you to always be on alert and carry a weapon on you. If not for Lara sneaking out and finding you… you might be dead. She managed to take down your attacker. Adimar and Rhuarc made quick work of his partner. You’ll have to ask them for the details… I…” a minor flush filled his cheeks and he looked away. “I have not left this room since you were attacked. I have not left your side,” he admitted and hesitantly reached out for Saraya’s hand and took it into one of his own larger ones and let his thumb sweep over her knuckles. His lack of words were able to say enough. He cared for her, but saying out loud made it real, and right now… he was afraid they could not allow themselves to be too emotionally involved with one another. Which was rather ironic since Aria had insisted they all be like a family and care for one another. To love one another, and to protect one another. Oh Carrick knew he cared for Saraya, he just feared admitting his care, because to do so might allow it to grow into something more. “I am not angry with you, or with Lara. I am relieved you are both relatively well. I have come to care for Lara as if she were my niece, the same for Balden. I see Rhuarc and Ayab as brothers in arms… but you… You I see differently, you are… more. To me,” he stopped himself from saying another word, and instead lifted her hand, still in his to his lips and kissed her knuckles reverently. “Get some rest,” he rasped, and moved away from Saraya, feeling like a fool, but maybe that was the sleep deprivation. “I will return to check on you both,” he muttered and hurried from the room…
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