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The deeper she went, the more in tune Lara felt with the water. It was as if with her breath, the water moved towards and away from rocky 'shore' with this comfortable hum.
She had never felt this tranquil and in-tune with something, well in forever. Lara could still feel her surroundings, but the depth of that feeling through the water was something which she had never felt before.
And the humming, it added this vibration which felt so pleasant in the bones. Lara could feel her whole body pleasantly tingle from the vibration.
But she still concentrated on finding the source of whatever was calling. It was as if whatever it was wanted to be found, but had to be thoroughly searched for.
Lara had not expected the tremor. Her own eyes popped open as she looked on in curiosity at what had happened.
She was still confused as to what had happened when Lara heard the footsteps of Aria running over. If the tone had been accusatory, Lara would have hung her head in shame in having done something wrong. But instead Aria expressed wonder and amazement, which meant that she understood what had just happened.
Lara could not believe what Aria had just said. A passage to the temple? That had to be inconceivable! But looking over to Aria, Lara saw that look which expressed complete belief.
Even though she had grown, there were still somethings which Lara did not understand. Hopefully the trip to the temple would clear somethings up.
Lara went with the moment, following Aria into the water. Swimming in these clothes was difficult, but being able to control the water helped in keeping both of them afloat as well as propelling them forward.
It took a while to swim across for the pool was bigger than it looked. But it was eventually shallow enough to walk. Walking in water wasn't easy, but it was easier than walking up stairs in the dark.
Climbing up in the dark was not easy, especially up a surface made of rocks. The more they climbed, the closer something appeared.
That something, once walked up to, revealed itself to be a locked gate. The rattling gate gave a light scare to Lara unsure of what had caused it, before seeing that Aria had gone up to the gate and had taken her arm away.
The Heart of Fenlyck? Well, there was something she felt. It was this indescribable thing, but it felt like the spirit of Fenlyck. But at the same time, it felt a bit different.
Lara got to working on the lock. Just a little light would have helped, for this bumbling in the dark made it almost hard to see the lock. But maybe water would make it easier. She could use the water to feel how the inside of the lock felt and imprint that as an image. That imprint would allow to easily figure out what to press and make the lock unlock.
The introduction of water inside the lock caused the lock to pop off in a few seconds. This further show of progress had Aria hugging Lara. Lara smiled, giving off a quiet laugh as she also rejoiced.
They began to walk through the passageways. But after travelling a few minutes, Lara stopped and pulled over Aria. In a quiet and serious tone, [+purple "I understand what is happening. The Heart of Fenlyck, I can feel it. But it feels as if it is trapped, surrounded by some vile corruption deep in the temple. The only thing preventing this temple from being restored is that heavy corruption."] Lara had felt the Heart of Fenlyck moving around, but moving around in a tight space; that tight space felt vile, dark, pure evil.
Lara kept leading, expecting to fall into some trap or some trick. But there was none. Had the corruption also prevented the temple from being to protect itself?
And then there was this slight light ahead in the tunnel. The closer they got, the more the light filled the space and the brighter it became.
Walking through the exit, for a short period of time the light was blinding.
Lara blinked a few times, her eyes adjusting to the light. What she saw, what was she even seeing? The surface was still made of rock, but it felt so smooth and delicate. The light, it was as if magic. It illuminated the entire cavern, revealing every nook and cranny in the multi-coloured rocks. As to the water, from the surface it did not even move.
This was a place of purity, no corruption at all. They had found it, they had found the Purity Pools!
Lara gave a sign for Aria to wait before approaching the water. Looking down into the water, Lara could see a perfect reflection of herself. The image was not moving, not even a single ripple warping any part of the picture.
And then Lara stepped into the water. She gasped, for the water did not ripple as her foot plunged in and settle on the bottom.
Lara waded in, and stopped until the water was up to her knees. As she closed her eyes, Lara felt out for the water with her mind.
[i [center ...
When her eyes opened, it was not Lara's eyes. Instead, the eyes had changed into a pure blue colour, the same pure blue as of the Purity Pools. Lara's head moved around, as if looking at a complete new body?
[+blue "So this is my guardian."] The head nodded, as if understanding something.
Lara turned to face Aria. As she turned to face Aria, the fish tattoo on both Lara's and Aria's neck warmed up. Lara did not notice, for she wasn't on control of what was happening.
[+blue "After all this time, it is nice to see you Priestess. I do apologize for using Lara like this, but until the temple is restored I can only communicate through a body."]
Lara'd body assumed a dignified posture. [+blue "I'm quite surprised at how much she has grown. I need to thank you for looking out for her, she would have been lost without your guidance."]
After a few seconds of silence, Lara's hand extended at Aria. [+blue "I understand you need a sword in need of cleansing."] There was a slight awkward undertone to those words, since the sword which Fenlyck spoke of was the same sword which had killed Fenlyck. [+blue "Could I take a look?"]
It turned out the sword was not on Aria's body, but on someone else's. Fenlyck sighed, which caused Lara to sigh, and then looked back up at Aria. [+blue "You must retrieve the sword. But make no mention of this place, or how you found the entrance to this place to anyone else, even to those in your group. Malik has a far reach, and it would be ill advised for all of us to let him know."]
While Aria as gone in retrieving the sword, Fenlyck shifted through Lara's memories. The memory of running away while the parents were burned and the house slaughtered pained Fenlyck, for she had never wanted Lara to live through a moment like that.
What really peaked Fenlyck's thoughts was how Lara had gone on to survive. All those days and nights of working the odd jobs, travelling from one of the world to the other, all while under the stress of being found out.
Fenlyck would have continued to sift through the memories if it had not been for the patter of footsteps. Fenlyck looked up, and saw Aria who now came back with that blade.
Fenlyck waved Aria, beckoning her to come and join her.
After wading to where Lara was standing, Fenlyck, still in control of Lara, gently took the sword. Bringing it up higher, [+blue "Time has not taken its toll on this blade. If it wasn't for.... it killing me...."] Lara's head shook, the recollections were still too painful for remembering.
Fenlyck laid the sword into the water gently, kneeling besides and muttering words. After a few seconds, the sword shined brightly and briefly before returning to its previous look.
Standing up, [+blue "The deed is done, the sword is purged and clean. And I can finally rest. And do give my regards to Volshi, if he has not suffered the same fate as I."] It felt as if the weight of the world had finally disappeared. [+blue "And remember, I beg of you, say nothing of anything that has passed down here. Malik has a far reach, and it is better for him not to know of any of this."]
And then Fenlyck left Lara's body. Lara flopped into the water. After the splash, Lara stood up weakly, using Aria for support. [+purple "What... What have I seen...?"]
Rhuarc listened with complete focus as Adimar recalled everything that he could about Vega's message to him about Aria and the Medici. To Rhuarc's dismay he couldn't figure anything new from hearing the message a second time, the same thoughts that Rhuarc had when he first heard the message applied. Luckily he had Adimar with him to help, the man was a scholar and a bloody good one at that. The Volshi Guardian rummaged around, moving books, and scrolls, tomes and various ageing pieces of text until he found what he was looking for. It seemed that Adimar had been doing some research, how he found the time to do this and all of his other duties Rhuarc would never know but he was eternally grateful that he did. What Adimar showed Rhuarc sent a chill down the normally unflappable Jai's spine, it was simply horrific. If the Fade really was this "shadow" that Admiar's texts spoke of then they needed to be even more careful than any of them could have originally thought. They knew Malik was a powerful mage in his own right, that was evident by his ability to control the Necromancer and The Mage as well as the very existence of the Fade but if The Fade was so terrible that it required the splitting of souls to even create such an abomination what else was Malik capable of. [b "I find it hard to believe that the False King is anyone's puppet, even something as terrible as The Fade. As for a conduit...it does seem likely, if I had the magical powers that that bastard did then I would find a way to spy on or corrupt my enemies. You know far more about magics than I will ever know Adimar and I trust your judgement. If you believe that there is some sort of conduit close to the Priestess then I believe you."]
The next book that Adimar showed Rhuarc was written in a script that he did not understand, likely Volshi given that both Aria and Admiar could read it and thankfully Rhuarc's fellow Guardian realised the confusion on Rhuarc's face and moved on to another concerning development. [i “Every time I’ve sensed a dark presence around Aria… one of Malik’s goons hasn’t been far away… right?”] [b "I would agree with that."] Admiar listed off his list of possible suspects for who could be the friendly face that they needed to beware and two of them were definite contenders. Rhuarc discounted Lady Stanos almost immediately, his instincts told him that she was not the traitor and he had learned to trust his instincts long ago. She was not an obvious choice, yes she had helped them since reaching Volshi but soon they would leave this Province and then her usefulness would be expended, that was wasteful and whatever else Malik was, he was not one to waste as valuable resource as trusted face willing to betray them at a moments notice. The cabin boy was an anomaly, it was unusual to see any Jai outside of the Wastelands, how he came to be on a Volshi airship was a complete mystery and if Adimar thought he felt some sort of energy coming from the boy then Rhuarc was willing to take that seriously. Being the only unconcerned face in the meeting wasn't exactly comforting either. Then there was Balden. Rhuarc wished that it wasn't but his desires meant nothing next to fact. Adimar was right, he had been denied entry to the Volshi Temple, and he had left them. Was that enough for him to be a traitor? Rhuarc was unconvinced. [b "I do not think it is Stanos but it could be the cabin boy or even Balden. I propose that we each watch one of them. You watch the cabin boy, if he truly has hidden magic then you would be the best placed to detect it. I know Balden so it seems logical that out of the two of us I would be able to spot any unusual behaviour on his part. I would not worry about Lara, she is more than capable of looking after herself."] Rhuarc didn't quite know how to answer Adimar's last question, contacting Vega was risky and Rhuarc had no true idea of how that would be achieved but if she was a possible ally...it was worth a shot. [b "Yes, she was under attack, I believe that for a certainty. As for Vega, I will defer to your judgement on matters of the arcane although I believe she could be a useful ally. I trust you Adimar and if you feel the risk of contacting her outweighs her use as an ally I shall respect that...but I think you should try."]
After asking around a bit Rhuarc was eventually able to find Balden, he was hanging around with a few of the other scouts in the sparring area, it seemed that the young man had not forgotten everything that Rhuarc had taught him all those months ago and still seemed to practice the sword, but these resistance members made poor opposition. Rhuarc had the beginnings of a plan. In combat a man showed you who he truly was, there was no hiding, so he would spar with Balden, frustrate him, if there was anything the young man was hiding, Rhuarc wanted to see it. [b "I never finished training you when you left us Balden. Do you think that you are ready for that sword you carry at your hip?"] Rhuarc unsheathed the blade of heavy black steel and took up a defensive stance across from the one time blacksmith's apprentice. [b "Show me what you have learned. Hold nothing back."]
Aria was startled by Lara’s appearance. She had snuck up on her, and again Aria was impressed by Lara’s ability with stealth. She claimed to know a place where Aria could go to calm down, or at the very least collect her thoughts. She was hesitant for a moment, wanting to simply be alone, but at the same time she trusted Lara to respect her desire for peace and quiet. She managed a simple ‘thank you’ and accepted Lara’s hand to stand.
She followed Lara down several winding passageways until they finally found themselves in a sort of underground oasis. Aria’s eyes widened at the sight of it. Glittering rock walls greeted her with bioluminescent algae and mushrooms lighting the space. Stalactites clung to the chambers ceiling in an ominous way, but their brilliant white coloring gave them an almost etherial presence. The pools of water lapped at the sandy ground in waves of a crystal blue. Lara must have sensed Aria’s awe at the natural wonder, for she helped the Priestess to sit on the ground at the waters edge. Then proceeded to walk away and take up her own residence at the other end of the large pool of water. Aria watched her in silence, appreciating the gesture and followed Lara’s example. She closed her eyes and attempted to still her mind.
A recollection of memories from her trials in Kil’heed came back to her senses. The images of hate and violence Malik had implanted in her mind in an attempt to see her plans, were similar to the horrors she faced during her trials. She shouldn’t have let his attack affect her so much, she had already lived through it in a sense. She had overcome it, now was not the time to regress in her fears. Stress was a key factor in her most recent temper, and Aria had to reconcile with the truth that she was sending people into a dangerous situation, that lives could be lost…
She wiped her palms over her knees, the fabric wicking away the moisture she felt as if it was blood on her hands. She felt her heart hammer nervously, when she suddenly felt a presence in the chamber. It wasn’t anything malicious, and it wasn’t Lara… and then again… it was. Aria felt the water curl right up to her feet, and retreat. It was a caress of power, and a call to dive deeper. Aria finally opened her eyes, but again, it was only Lara in the chamber with her. That was when she noticed the ebb and flow of the water matched Lara’s breathing, and the longer Lara focused… the more the room filled with a hum of power. Aria could feel it wrapping around her, and as she turned her gaze from Lara to the water, she watched as light moved upwards from the water and into a wide arc along the far wall surrounded by water.
Not a moment later there was a tremor in the ground and the water rippled. Aria watched, mouth agape as the arc gave way and the wall slid gracefully down beneath the water. She jumped to her feet and rushed over to Lara, her previous concerns fading to the distance for now.
[#db7093 “Lara! What have you done!”] Aria asked, but there was no ounce of an accusatory tone. Instead it was wondered and impressed. The path ahead was pitch black, and the water barely allowed a glow to illuminate the tunnel. [#db7093 “I think you’ve found the passage to the temple!”] Aria breathed, as she came to understand what this place was. How had Lara found it? She looked to Lara and grabbed her hand. Giddy and excited, Aria couldn’t wait to begin exploring this new development. [#db7093 “Come on… let’s see where this goes…”] Aria dragged Lara towards the water. They waded as the water came up to their chests, and they began to swim to the opening and into the darkness.
They didn’t have to swim for long, and if there was any concern of wandering off on their own, neither voiced it. They both wanted to know where this tunnel led, especially since it was by Lara’s own water bending that it had opened up for them. The water eventually shallowed allowing them to find their footing and began a long climb up the dark tunnel until they reached a place where they could stand upright. A hundred yards in and they were blocked by an iron gate. It was locked and Aria shook the bars hoping they might give way, but they only rattled loudly creating a loud echo to travel down the tunnel.
[#Db7093 “Damn! It won’t budge… Lara, do you think you can pick this lock? We need to get past this, I sense it… don’t you? The Heart of Fenlyk…”] She smiled as she looked past the gate, her eyes having adjusted in the darkness to make out the faint shadows of stairs leading upwards to another passageway. Stone steps indicated architecture by human hands… it gave Aria the boost she needed.
She stepped back and watched as Lara attempted to pick the lock. When she heard a resounding click of the lock giving away, Aria couldn’t resist and flung her arms around Lara. [#db7093 “You did it!”] She giggled happily hugging Lara tightly. The iron gate gave way and they were able to enter the space. However, Lara was more familiar with the tricks and traps that could be found in any Guardian’s temple, and Aria allowed her to lead the way through the passages and into what would eventually reveal itself to be the Purity Pools…
Rhys sat with the other scouts who had returned from Astoria. He hadn’t been expecting to find all of the Guardians seated at a table discussing war plans. Per Malik’s demands, Rhys turned an enchanted ring on his finger. It connected him to Malik, and with the exception of the Fade, even Egos had one. It allowed them to extend Malik’s reach of power, becoming a sort of conduit for him. If he wanted, Malik could see what Rhys saw and vice versa. It was almost instant, the feeling of cold humidity that flooded his veins and covered his skin. Rhys kept his eyes rapt on the priestess and smirked as he saw how tense she suddenly went. She wasn’t the only one… the Fade’s puppet was susceptible to Malik’s invasions of the mind. He stood just as still, a drone ready to do as commanded. If Malik really wanted he could have had the fool jump across the table and choke the Priestess to death. He could have the man poison her food, literally anything, but Malik enjoyed playing with his prey. That was something Rhys couldn’t judge the man for.
His eyes traveled the concerned faces in the room as the priestess fought off Malik’s invasion. It was a short fight though, the Priestess was mentally stronger than they anticipated, she warded Mallik away. With good time too… the fledgling mage that was the Volshi Guardian was beginning to sniff out where Malik’s power was coming from. Rhys carefully twisted the ring the opposite direction on his finger and Aria was fully released. He’d done this before, while on the ship to Fenlyk. Getting her alone was difficult, and while this move had been bold… it had the desired effect Malik would have wanted. It put the guardians on edge as to what was happening, the priestess was shaken, and from there they all abandoned the table. Lara had gone after the priestess, but Rhys felt no need to follow. Instead he looked to Balden and the other boys and engaged in their conversation, earning their trust and being an overall friendly face in the crowd.
When he left the room and split from the other boys, he started towards the camp but was blocked by a body. He looked up and saw the piercing blue eyes and blonde hair of Luther. The man was glowering down at him, his ancient aura was powerful and familiar. This was the brother of Malik, and even Rhys knew that. Now the question that needed asking was if Luther knew who Rhys was. Rhys tensed when Luther suddenly reached out for his hand and held it up.
[#00FFFF “Where did you get this?”] Luther demanded to know. Rhys looked to his enchanted ring, made from a meteorite, and feared he’d been found. [#00FFFF “Are you the one who went through my room and stole my ring?”] Rhys blanched. That was impossible… how would Luther have a ring like Rhys’?
[#8B008B “No Sir. I didn’t steal anything. This was a gift from a friend…”] The Guard looked closer at Rhys’ ring and frowned, letting him go.
[#00ffff “My apologies… I lost a ring that looks similar to this… I just-“]
[#8B008B “Assumed the cabin boy stole it?”] Rhys asked. Luther frowned, but nodded his head, and apologized again. [#8B008B “It’s alright. I get it… the lone Jai on a Volshi ship? I would be suspicious of myself too.”]
[#00ffff “Well if you see my ring it’s like yours, but its all ore, no silver. Bring it to me if you find it.”] Rhys promised he would as Aerick, but Rhys would do nothing of the sort. If he found that ring, he was going to keep it. The only other person with a solid meteorite ring was Malik. He watched Luther walk away and no longer wondered if he truly was related to Malik. They had almost the same face, but where Malik was basalt, shadowed and dark… Luther seemed like a golden beacon of light and sunshine. He supposed there really was a balance in the world. He decided to wait around until he got further information on the coming attack. He would give Malik what information he could, and if necessary lead a counter attack himself.
Adimar reached his hand out to feel at the magical presence around Aria, but his senses had him looking else where… towards the group of young men. The Scouts that had just returned, Balden as well as the Cabin Boy Aerick, who was watching the Priestess with a close eye, but seemed no less bothered by her current situation. It was quite suspicious, but before Adimar could look deeper into what he was sensing, the connection and the magic faded as Aria gasped for breath. None of them had a chance to get a word in as she suddenly snapped, her voice and expression stressed and upset. He watched with pity as she hurried from the room and Lara made to follow. Adimar gave a nod of his head, if anyone might be able to help Aria get through with her own temper, it would be Lara. Lara who had learned over the course of the past year to champion over her own temper and control it. Sure she still had her moments like just now at the war conference, but she had also improved at keeping the bulk of her more [i lashing] tendencies in check. Adimar admired how much she had grown in the short time he’d known her.
Carrick and Saraya left after, Carrick wearing a clear look of hurt that Aria would not be taking him with her into the temple, but if the docks were to be as dangerous as they feared they might, Rhuarc would need all the help he could get. Adimar just needed to make sure he got the prisoners to the ships in one piece. Aria’s plan wasn’t half bad in Adimar’s opinion. Complex and dependent on every other facet of the plan going perfectly, but still allowing room for improvisation. He watched as Balden approached the table and handed the reports off to Rhuarc as he requested, and the scouts were dismissed to a far table in the room to eat a meal. Jeremiah promised rhuarc he was begin recruiting and sending out his best spies. Adimar was anxious to depart the room as well, he wanted to return to his tent, to his books, and his notes. There had to be something there to explain what was happening to the Priestess, when a thought struck him. Perhaps he should be going through her notes, and her books… hopefully if he could see what she was researching, he could glean what was happening to her.
[b “Adimar, a word,”] he heard Rhuarc order. Adimar arched a brow, curious as to what the Jai Guardian could want from him. It all became clear once they were in the privacy of his tent. Adimar entered the space followed by Rhuarc and did his best to hurry forward and pick up some of his books and parchment, so Rhuarc wouldn’t have to step on them. Meanwhile he asked Adimar to recall his conversation with Vega. Adimar sighed, his arm full of scrolls and books, the other reached up to scratch at his scalp, dark strands of hair falling over his shoulder.
[#20b2aa “I told you everything she told me… our connection was broken before she could finish the warning…”] he closed his eyes thinking back to the words and began to utter them in verbatim of what he could remember. [#20b2aa “Vega said: Watch her closely, she will be vulnerable to attack. A force seeks to get close to her, if it’s left to dig its roots in her she will be taken by a darkness most foul. Uh… there was also a warning not to trust a friendly face… a friendly face…”] Adimar repeated as if realizing something. He dropped his scrolls and dove for a bag and pulled up a book on dark arts, his fingers turning the pages rapidly in search. [#20b2aa “So I cannot tell you more as to what Vega said to me, but I brought this book in the hopes that I might learn something about our enemies and perhaps counter their magic with my own. I remember briefly reading about something called “The Shadow”. I think this is what the Fade might be. From what I can gather, Malik would have had to split part of his soul, or sacrificed something in order to summon this demon for servitude. It’s incredibly powerful, if not more than Malik is, and as we’ve learned… Malik is a very powerful Mage. I think this is what he’s using to try and corrupt Aria, but there has to be something else… A conduit of some kind. It could be anything. A piece of jewelry, or even a person can act as a conduit. If they can see her, so can this shadow and in extension… possibly Malik.”] Adimar concluded. He frowned finding the page and opened it up to show Rhuarc the dark shadowed image, and it’s draw to a light source. The next image showed how the Shadow consumed the light and left everything a dark void. [#20b2aa “This is one of the books Aria is researching… and she has this page marked,”] He turned it to another page that showed Manipulation Magicks, and things the Shadow was capable of, as well as ways to destroy it and it’s connections to the living world. [#20b2aa “Aria thinks this, Fade isn’t a puppet of Malik, that it may have started that way, but Malik has become the puppet… Aria’s done a lot of research with me. She doesn’t always explain what she’s looking for, but I have had talks with her about her astral projections, and her connection to Azera and Malik, past life experiences as a reincarnation, and the sort… that’s in this book,”] He withdrew a second book and showed it to Rhuarc. It looked more like an old journal than it did a book, and it was… the journal of the last great Volshi Mage… Volshi himself.
Adimar suddenly frowned as he studied Rhuarc. He didn’t imagine the man could read Volshi text. [#20b2aa “Every time I’ve sensed a dark presence around Aria… one of Malik’s goons hasn’t been far away… right?”] he asked for verification, when he got the best he would be getting Adimar dared a peak outside his tent, and saw they were entirely alone. [#20b2aa “Vega’s warning about the friendly face… I think I know some possible culprits. The Cabin Boy, the small Jai? He was in the room when Aria suddenly went cold. It was strange. I sensed the power, but there was no true source, and yet I could have sworn I felt something coming from Aerick. He was watching her as if… amused by what was happening. I don’t know… maybe I’m reading too much into it. A Friendly face could also be Lady Stanos, but she’s been nothing but… a perfect hostess. I don’t see her as being the enemy. I just feel like ever since we have left Volshi… Aria’s been more tense than usual. More on edge… My last suggestion… is Balden. He wasn’t welcomed in Volshi’s temple though Carrick was, he’s been gone and abandoned the group these past six months. I don’t really care what his reasons were for leaving, or that he’s done all of this work with the resistance… I don’t know him, so I don’t trust him. I don’t even like for Lara to be with him. There’s something about those two boys that makes me… uncertain…”] Adimar wouldn’t admit most of his concern came from a sort of brotherly affection he had for Lara, an undefined protective emotion over her. The romance of Volshi and Fenlyk was one of the greatest love stories of Azeran Lore. He didn’t doubt some of his affection for Lara stemmed from his Guardian Spirit, but Adimar himself cared enough about her, he didn’t want to see her heart break from loss or betrayal. Adimar studied Rhurac closely for a moment and finally asked him; [#20b2aa “What do you think happened in there? Do you agree with me, that she was under attack? I suppose I should also ask... do you want me to attempt to make contact with Vega?”]
Rhuarc could see that not everyone in the room liked his plan, he knew that would be the case, it was not a conservative plan and people would die even if it worked perfectly. It was not that Rhuarc just wanted to fight for the sake of it, or even because he wanted to save his own kind, they were strong and used to the fight, the Jai could handle more war. He wanted to fight because he genuinely believed that in this moment that would help Fenlyk and the rest of the world best. As soon as Aria and Lara raised their objections and came up with a counter proposal Rhuarc simply nodded in acceptance, it was not his place to fight for a plan that noone else agreed in. The Priestess had made her choice and as her General it was his duty to make sure that that plan was successful. Everything seemed straightforward enough, Adimar and his men were more than capable at dealing with the armoury and even while pregnant Saraya was a capabale leader and formidable magical presence while Rhuarc would be in the fiercest fighting. He would not have it another way. It was also advantageous that Luther would be grouped with Rhuarc, the Jai wanted to keep a close watch on the Watcher, after all he still did not trust the man but he worried about Aria leaving Carrick behind. He had no doubts about Lara's ability or determination to protect Aria but Carrick was Captain of the Holy Guard, his place was with her. If Rhuarc had been in Carrick's position he would have felt dishonoured by not bringing him with her. He would raise the issue with the Priestess later. As it happened Jeremiah raised that exact same point with her and her steely gaze held a clear answer.
With a clear plan in mind, the logistics could be worked out and Rhuarc could see much of his time in the coming days and nights being consumed by military planning, but he was prepared for that, he was General after all. The meeting was interrupted by the returning of Thad and Rupert but
by the grim set to their faces Rhuarc knew the news would be bad before either of them opened their mouths. Unfortunately they proved him right; the Medici was dead...and so was Ayab. The Jai were not a sentimental people, what happened happened and once it had there was nothing that could change it. His friend would die but he had bigger problems, he had a war to fight and he knew that is exactly what Ayab would wish him to focus on, likely Ayab would want to be fighting if he was able. [b "I will take those reports Balden."] The information they detailed would dictate the timeframe of how to plan this battle, they could not wait but acting immediately would be a disaster, and likely worse for everyone if they acted too late. It was a fine line that they were treading right now. The mood in the room was tense with the recent news of the Medici's demise and Malik's actions against the women and children of Fenlyk but there was more the consternation on Aria's face than the simple actions of an abomination like the False King. [i "“I can sense powerful magic around her. It’s... not her’s...”] Adimar's words brought the memory of a conversation that Aria and Rhuarc had shared in Kil'heed...Malik must be invading her mind right now. The stress of the mental incursion was clearly taking it's toll as she snapped that they all had their orders and fled from the meeting room, quickly followed by Lara instructing them not to follow. It took all the willpower that Rhuarc had not to run after Aria, he knew what was going on but in her absence he had to take charge of planning the attack, that was his duty as General and he would do his duty above all else, even if it tore his heart apart to do so.
An unwelcome thought came into Rhuarc's mind, if Malik had gained access to Aria's mind, did he know their plan? If he did everything would fail, Fenlyk would have no chance of being free once again and many would die, possibly even a Guardian or Aria herself. Should they change the plan and not tell Aria? No. Rhuarc would trust her for now, he would need to speak with the Priestess and once he heard what had happened from her own lips then he would make that decision. [b "This meeting has run its course for now. We shall reconvene later tonight. Jeremiah I want your network of spies set up as quickly as possible."] The meeting had ended but Rharc was not done yet. [b "Adimar, a word."] Rhuarc took the Volshi Guardian back to his tent, where they could converse privately. After their last conversation about Vega Rhuarc had assumed that the evil that followed Aria would be the Fade but could it be Malik himself? [b "Tell me again what Vega the Seer told you. Think hard, I need to know exactly. It could be...important to the Priestess."] Rhuarc stopped himself from revealing that he knew Malik had a connection to Aria, that was not his secret to tell and she would reveal what she wanted to in due course. Until then he needed to know exactly what Vega had said, it might reveal a clue as to what Malik wanted or how he was able to pry into the Priestess' mind. Once Lara had hopefully calmed Aria down and came back from wherever it was that the two of them had gone, Rhuarc would have to find a moment with Aria and talk about what her connection to Malik meant.
[center [b Saraya]]
Finally stuffed, and satisfied with her baby being full, She directed her attention towards the Guardians and Rhuarc. He simply wouldn't have it if they've done it subtle. He wanted to fight, and this she understood. He didnt want to be careful, he wanted to defend his people. And that, too, was understandable. She, though, could tell that Aria's wheels were turning, and finally came up with a plan...
After the biggest rundown, Rupert and Thad ran in... And the news was far from unexpected to her. The Medici met her demise, along with a few villagers, by the hands of Malik... Saraya tensed, hearing that the troops had burned the building where she stayed. Tears rose in her eyes. Ayab... What about Ayab? She slowed down the decay... But without The Medici, that would mean grave results for him... No... She had gone too far and risked too much to watch him die... Especially after he gave her his [i Toh]. She had to find the corpse...
Without a word, her stubbornness kicked in again. She thought about the consequences, knowing that Carrick would have a heart attack if he finds her on her own... So, Corbin and perhaps Balden will have to come with her, keep her safe for his sake. It wouldn't stop her, she needed everyone to understand that she cared enough. She cared about her troup enough to risk herself... In her heart, this was her way of being family. Risk it all to save one, thats what a Guardian is about.
She slowly began to stand, and made it to the doors, when a heavy chill shivered down her spine. She felt like they were in the Winter, not the Spring. She slowly allowed herself to turn, and saw a gutteral shadow behind Aria. Her speech halted, and her face was twisted with all sorts of disgust and disquiet. Malik... She growled inaudibly, but Malik had froze to it. She couldn't hear his taunts to Aria, but she could see that he noticed that she made a third party herself, and was unapologetic about it. Malik stared her down before whispering to Aria, then disappeared.
Saraya watched as the strange aura disappeared before Aria had spilled her pent up anger onto the table surrounded by participants and hurrying past her and away. Carrick had hurried, kissing her cheek, but was also thrown back by her outburst. Saraya watched as she hurried away. She then looked to Carrick. One small thing she had to do... [i "I think i can save Ayab"] she told him.
After explaining her plan to him, Carrick immediately denied her leaving, not because she wasn't capable of achieving it, but because she was missing a key problem... She's still with child, and swelling still. Her belly was now round, and protruding from her dress, which meant she was reaching her sixth month of carrying. Not only that, it's now becoming a challenge to get up and sit down, let alone make haste. Saraya knew that he would deny it, but Saraya, as she walked on, still pressed it. [i "Carrick, i can't stand aside while Ayab still has a chance. If everyone had a task, even Lady Stanos, then i must do something to help our fallen friend."]
Carrick hugged her, but begged her to stay. He explained that it wouldn't do no good for her to go running for a corpse... That Corbin and she was needed in the attack.
She stopped when she saw the infirmary. Peaking in, she noticed that Ayab was gone. She looked about, before looking up to Carrick. [i "Carrick... I-"]
Carrick interrupted, to say that she needed to be where she could be cared for. Saraya looked up to him, before looking ahead... Her stubbornness said that she had to try... But her better judgement had grounded her where she stood... Before a small thought came in...
Carrick saw her face change a moment. [i "Did Aria say something about Caledon in there?"]
When Carrick confirmed it, Saraya had began trailing. When he asked her if she was alright, Saraya looked up to him. [I "I buried my late husband and unborn there... On the tombstone, I added my name... "]
She looked ahead, watching the sheet of the infirmary sway to the breeze. [I "I don't know if they will respond to my request... They believe that i am dead"]
Carrick smirked some. [I "Then you should send them a message that Their Guardian is here"] he said. Saraya turned away from his soft smile. She huffed. She wanted so bad to help Ayab... It's possible that she could find another way to help him.
Carrick was confused by her reaction to his attempt to sway her. She never looked away from him as though he had chastised her completely. He did get on her about her stubbornness a few times, but they were for good reason. Saraya sighed as she looked back. [I "Fine... I'll make a plan for me to get to the armory. "]
Her body turned away and began walking to the tent. There, she had gone and taken a nap. Carrick, although grateful that she listened, was still worried about her. She was beginning to go through the mood swings, and her appetite was scarce, but somehow it was healthy when food was presented to her. Mostly, he was concerned because her stubbornness had kicked in, too. Helping Ayab was a good thing, but Fenlyk needed her first. So, as upset as she was that her plan had become moot by his hand, it was only in the group's best interest...
But, still... Her needs sat just as high as Aria's. She needed him just as much as Aria did. She just never bothered to ask for him. Mainly because Aria was more important. Carrick sighed as he trailed off to find Aria... Maybe she could help find the answers on how to calm her. He will come for her by dinner.
Saraya had finished the letter she had to write to her people. She proofread it, before ever concluding that she was satisfied:
[b [I Caledon,
Dear citizens you are in grave danger! Fenlyk has been taken, and The False King is coming to take over our home! We need traveling traders to help aid our fellow people, and also to keep an eye on the horizon. I will save the last of our home, I swear it
She couldn't come up with any more to say. With a sigh, she set it down and laid down to sleep.
This time, the dream cascaded her to a setting that had her on edge. There was fog... Smoke, maybe... The wind was dry and suffocating. She could see the line between Fenlyk and Caledon, and the pillar that had sat Contalia, her great great grandmother. She forced down her fear, and charged into the fog, trying with all her might not to use her arcane powers.
There was a statue... One she hadn't found to be familiar... But, it stood bold and proud... But, something was chained to it. Or someone...
She slowly trailed to the figure, to see what would have shocked her. [I "Felliope... "] she whispered, seeing a decaying figure, but his face was untouched. The eyes slowly opened to see her figure before letting out a weak cough. [b "Ah... My once brightest star... "] he wheezed in Caledonian. Saraya stared down at this pitiful creature. [I "Why are you here?"] she responded back in her mother tongue.
[b "I don't know... But I have a feeling that it is not at all what I've imagined my afterlife to be... "] Saraya had slowly knelt until she could sit in front of him. [I "You've been dead a year and two months, Felliope... You and our unborn, by the hand of The Mage... "] she watched as the fog thickened around them. [I "The False King... He took you and our son from me... And... "]
[b "I know, [i Lletisarí] ... You have mourned your year. I will never resent you for doing what you must, though it may have been a terrible pain to do it... "]
[I "It felt as though my life had halted all meaning. But... Being the Guardian now... It made me understand that there was someone who chose me... And I was needed... I have become an immortal, plagued with the inheritance of early and unruly deaths, tragedies even before I could breathe one breath into this world... And power beyond my reckoning"] she stared at him. [I "... And I now bear a child... With an Ancient, that respects your place in my heart, but made refuge, too. I know this may upset you-"]
[b "No, Lletsarí... I AM dead, Saraya. By the hand of The False King, and he dragged my family into it... But you have escaped death, and that's what makes you the most powerful of The Guardians now. "]
Saraya looked at him as his face began to drip tears. Saraya slowly became confused. [b "My sweet star, I knew it was your destiny to become the Guardian. Your place wasn't with me... I was at least grateful you chose me for your beginning. "] Saraya stared. [b "But, now you are walking this path, you must be warned now before I fully become... "]
Saraya flinched. [I "Become... What?"] Felliope looked up, taking in some air where he could find it, and began to speak. [b "My soul has been split in two. And both I and our son are in the hands of the one who killed us... "]
Saraya stiffened [b "This was my only chance to warn you before I become reanimated... There are spies where you are, and the plan you have just summited will be thwarted. There will be an attack on the east, on water. The temple will be close by, and there will his master strikes. Our son is also closer to you than you think. You must find him and those spies before your voyage to Caledon. It will mean the end!"]
Saraya gasped, feeling dizzy of the warning. [I "The end of what?"] she asked, frightened of the answer. Felliope stared at her. [b "The end of you and your growing legacy... For he will send me and our son to kill you, and Carrick's son, and I will be no longer Felliope"]
Saraya halted her breathing... It was as she feared... The Mage had planned this as soon as he got to her with Giji. Realizing that it was as her vision had interpreted, she couldn't help but let tears fall. She'd have to kill him... Kill Felliope and their son to save them and herself... That was no pill to swallow.
[b "You'll have to... Or lose everything you've gained... I want you to kill me... Our son has a chance to live again. You have to find him, and break him out of The Mage's grip. "]
Wait... Their son was alive? And not only that, he was reanimated by The Mage? She growled, grinding her teeth as rage crept up her spine. But, she exhaled slowly and calmed. After a moment of silence, she said [I "I will find him"] and managed to stand and slowly walk away [I "... And I will give you peace"]
As he faded into the fog, she heard a whisper saying [b [I Thank you, My Brightest Star]]
Waking up, it was still night. Carrick wasn't in the tent, so she slowly managed to sit up. She, instead of attempting to move around, grabbed an journal made of the finest material and began writing. She will talk to her father and Caledon later. But, after getting a message from her dead husband, it rattled her... So bad, she couldn't sleep a wink. She stayed that way until Corbin peaked into the tent. [I [b "My Lady, everyone is gathering for dinner before the move. "]]
Saraya looked to him slowly, feeling that dead feeling inside about her news. She found leverage before slowly getting to her feet [I "Let me dress"]
After a few moments, Saraya had slowly walked out, and with a tired, worn out, yet serious look on her face, made her way to where everyone gathered. As they spoke amongst eachother, she had gravitated away from the crowd, having a seat a bit away from them, before food was given upon request of both Aria and Carrick. As she ate, she stayed silent, before Corbin had noticed her change in character. He slowly made it to her before kneeling. [I "Are you alright, my Lady?"] he asked
After she had sat down, Lara could still feel it inside her. It was still churning inside her this column of venomous anger, waiting for an appearance of just a mere crack to spew forth.
Even though it would have felt better to let it roar like a volcano, Lara had learnt that it only made the situation worse. Already a tense atmosphere had descended on all of them after her rebuke of Rhuarc's plan. It was as if everyone were afraid to speak, afraid of igniting the tense atmosphere into a raging inferno.
Lara felt a hand touching, and then resting upon her shoulder. She did not turn around, for she understood the meaning of this gesture; to aid her in calming down. Lara couldn't really feel how much it helped her calm down, but at least it felt reassuring.
And then Adimar probed Aria. A single question which seemed minuscule my itself, but the answer would define their fate. For a comparison, it's like the reverse of what happened with the answer 42, the answer to life, the universe, and everything. The answer by itself seemed minuscule when compared to the importance assigned to the question which gave said answer.
Aria did not answer at first. The only answer so far was grabbing the maps and looking around the room. It appeared that an idea had already formed, but felt as if she were building up the confidence to declare the idea.
And then Aria began to speak. Lara looked up at Aria, listening intently. Lara knew full well that she was no master at designing such grandiose schemes, but it was important to understand at least the general gist of the scheme to better understand the role that she'd be playing.
So far, Aria had brought up Saraya's part of the plan. Spreading misinformation to Malik and his forces to cause confusion among the ranks and learning the plans of Malik and his forces.
The question came up of sneaking in a Resistance spy into Malik's forces. Jeremiah had answered yes, to which Aria replied with an urge to build a network of spies. One spy was good, but a whole network of them operating as a group was even better.
And then Lara heard what part she would be playing in this grand scheme. Her part was to escort Aria to the Fenlyck Temple, just that. Lara knew how to sneak, and along the way maybe she could cause further distractions to help everyone else complete whatever part of the plan they'd be doing.
And now here was where the scheme went from somewhat crazy, to completely crazy. Blowing up the grain store to cause a distraction so the armoury could be raided while freeing prisoners and ships to send them down the River Nine and warn the Jai. Caledon would get involved as well, Saraya pressuring them for food supplies.
And now, for the details of who would be doing what and when they'd be doing it.
First and foremost, Jeremiah would send out people to plant the explosives as a prequel to the scheme. After everyone was at their assigned places, the grain store would be set ablaze by the explosion, drawing out the guards from the prison. This would allow Adimar, Max, and some of Aria's guards to raid the prison and escort those people to the docks. While all this was happening, Saraya and Corbin would raid the armoury, either stealing the weapons stored there or blowing them up so no one could have them. Now Rhuarc, after the grain explosion, along with Luther and Carrick, would raid the docks, freeing as many ships as possible.
That was what concerned everybody else's actions. Lara, she'd be coming with Aria, along with Lady Stanos to lead them through the chaotic city, to the temple and glean whatever the temple had in store.
Now that, that was a plan. Was it the best plan? Not necessarily. But was it better than nothing? Anything is better than nothing. And even though this plan had been thought through in a short amount of time, it had utilized the most current information and the people in the plan knew each other very well.
At least the Guardians and Aria knew each other closely. The Resistance, they'd just have to trust the plan.
And then footsteps, a pattering of more than one pair and at a quick pace. Into the chamber ran four people; Balden, Aerick, Thad, and Rupert.
It was a blow to learn the Medici had been killed off. And that wasn't all. The village that the body of the dead Medici had been found in, burnt to the ground. The burnt ground was littered with bodies of all the villages.
A massacre. Lara knew what it was like to be in that situation, albeit on a much smaller scale. To have people coming up to your home and torching it was bad enough. But for those same people to then kill you while you were escaping away from the fire.
Sick and twisted.
Balden also had news. Children and women being stolen away to be conscripted into an army. Either this was a sign of desperation or of how badly Malik wanted to subdue the Fenlyck province. The latter was much more likely.
Lara looked around as the conversation degraded into a pêle-mêle of arguments. She managed to snatch a secretive smile from Balden, while also catching a grin and wink from Aerick. She didn't return any of those gestures to neither.
Instead, Lara turned her attention to Aria as she was the only one not speaking. This final plan had been Aria's idea, but she was not even attempting to defend it from any of the arguments flying about.
Aria was having an internal struggle. Hands closing into tight fists and visible sweating pointed to a sign of intense struggle.
But of what??
Adimar noticed this as well, and managed to get everyone else's attention on to Aria. Everyone was confused as to what was happening to Aria.
Lara went back through her memories, where had she seen any similar signs of what she was currently seeing?
There was nothing. She had not experienced anything to what she was seeing Aria experience.
The struggle had not ended, but no one could do anything to help Aria. THe struggle was solely between Aria and whatever the magical presence was.
Lara wanted to do something. She could feel her blood coursing through her body, preparing to do something. But she knew that she could do nothing. It made her angry that the magical presence could just sneak in like that and no one else could help.
And then Aria finally snapped out of the trance. But the struggle had taken its toll, for Aria snapped when Adimar moved in to help her. She even barked at everyone, which was unexpected for Aria had never lost her temper in such a manner.
Lara gazed in shock at Aria as she left the room. Aria was kind and sweet most of the time, even under the most stressful conditions. But this, this was just something completely new.
As Lara's shock subsided, she began to think. Aria had walked off to be alone, but something told Lara, a gut instinct, that Aria would need someone to help her get through this amount of stress.
Lara stood up. Without looking at anyone, [+purple "I'll go check up on Aria. And no one follows me, is that clear?"] The last sentence she said in a stern, and as commading as possible, tone as she walked off to find Aria.
Lara found Aria laying on the ground, head buried in the arms. Lara slowed down as she approached Aria, quietly calling out her name to let Aria know who she was being approached by.
[+purple "I know a place to help you calm down"] Lara waited for Aria's answer. She waited patiently, for she knew what sort of ordeal Aria had gone through just now.
Aria agreed, and Lara found herself helping Aria walk down to the pools. No better place to help calm down and relieve stress than water surrouned by beautifully coloured rocks.
Down there it was quiet. The only sound that could be heard was the steady rhythm of a droplet of water landing in the pool of water. One drip at a time, steady, peaceful.
Lara helped Aria sit down at the edge of the water before sitting down besides her. Lara sat in silence, giving Aria all the time to calm down.
While waiting on Aria, Lara once again reached out to touch the water with her mind. But this time, she felt something different. She felt a jolt in her mind. Lara gasped, staring at the water. She had felt a connection with something under the water, but with what??
Once again she reached out to the water. At first, Lara could only feel the water, she did not feel the presence yet. But as she probed the water, this presence became incrementally stronger.
This presence did not feel cursed, it felt as if it had been a part of this place for a long time; how long, impossible to tell.
Lara herself fell into a trance, her eyes closing as she probed the water deeper and deeper, working her way closer to this magical presence.
The tabled was buzzing with intelligence information and scheming plans. Maps littered the entire table, and Aria was surrounded by her guardians and for once was in a position where she could deal a damaging blow to Malik. He’d think twice before invading her mind again, and he’d certainly think twice before trying to attack her. Saraya’s idea was to intercept the caravans, cut off the trade routes and feed Malik misinformation. Her plan was simple, but would take planning and more time than they had… but that didn’t mean Aria didn’t see merit in it. She saw it as a long-con, something that they could continue to do even after they delivered a direct attack.
Saraya suggested a sneak thief to steal the messages and intelligence coming and going to Malik, and to replace the original outgoing messages with their own fabricated messages. Aria nodded a confirmation that she approved of the idea.
[#20B2aa “Good thing we already have our own sneak. Lara would be good to intercept and replace the messages. I would also suggest Rupert, once he returns, go with Lara as well. He’s got a colored past with these sorts of things.”] Adimar suggested. Aria nodded before looking about the table.
[#db7093 “Saraya makes a good plan… I just don’t now if we have the time to spare for it…”] Aria muttered looking over the maps. Rhuarc seemed to agree, but it wasn’t limited time that concerned him, it was a fear that the intent wasn’t going to be damaging enough. In his words:
[b “We must take bold action if Fenlyk is to escape Shade-stealer's clutches.”]
Rhuarc’s plan was to create diversions on opposite ends of Astoria as a means to draw bodies away from the docks. He intended to destroy their naval fleet, raid their weapons storage, and free those imprisoned and forced into labor. Aria found the plan risky, and was mildly shocked he would suggest sending Aria in, practically unattended into a war torn city to sneak into a ruined temple. Lara had other thoughts…. In a temper she shot up and chastised the idea of burning the ships. She claimed they were a needed asset for Fenlyk’s trade and economy. Burning only the warships wasn’t enough either, and Aria found she agreed with Lara. It would be best to steal the ships and send them south on the River Nine. Even Lady Stanos and Jeremiah did not like the idea of destroying perfectly good Naval ships. There was a tense moment of silence, Adimar settling his hand on Lara’s shoulder to help her calm down, and looked to Aria.
[#20b2aa “It’s your call Aria, what would you have us do?”] Aria looked from the maps to Adimar and the rest of the expectant faces surrounding the table. They were all waiting for her to formulate the final plan. She was certainly no tactician, but she knew enough about each of their skills she had an idea of what to do.
Tentatively she reached out for the maps and looked over all the options provided to her and looked about the room.
[#db7093 “When the scouts return with shift information and numbers I’ll fill in the details with Jeremiah and Lady Stanos as they know the city best. Upon their return I want Rupert and Thad to intercept the next wave of messages and replace them with our own. We will feed Malik misinformation as Saraya suggested. It might prove to be useful in the future and if nothing more, we will have gleaned information on Malik’s movements. Is it also possible to infiltrate their ranks and send in a spy of our own?”] Jeremiah was thoughtful for a moment and finally nodded.
[b “I have a few men that might be up for the task.”]
[#db7093 “Perfect. I want to build a network of spies. So long as we are at war we need a constant stream of intelligence and information. I will need Lara to help me sneak through the city while it’s under attack and reach the temple. She has to go with me. I have a feeling that tells me she must go with me…. Our priority should be freeing the prisoners. Get them on the ships if we can and send them down the River Nine to warn the Abdhu’jai of the coming threat. Those that are able can man the ships and move them. The Prisoners and ships are our focus, but we will use the armory and grain stores as the main distraction. Jeremiah, earlier you mentioned your stores of black powder. We’ll use that to create the first distraction at their food stores, then again at the armory. Sacrifices must be made, and I will sacrifice the grain. Harvest season is still in process, so you will be able to recoup some of the loss if we are successful. Saraya reach out to Caledon to send food supplies if able, as their Guardian they should be pressed to listen to your call. Once the explosion at the grain stores has called Malik’s men away, we hit the armory. We take what we can and destroy the rest. Use the tunnels to move through the city, and Azera willing, Lara and I will open up the passage under the temple to provide a point of escape for civilians fleeing the city.
Now for the breakdown. Jeremiah’s men will infiltrate our target areas and plant the explosives prior to our attack. Once everyone is in place and the grain stores have been detonated our plan has to move, and move fast. With the grain stores so close to the prisons, guards will be moved to put out the fires, leaving the prison vulnerable. Adimar you and Max will take my Guards and a team to the prisons to oversee the rescue mission and escort to the docks. The next explosion will be to open the armory. Saraya and Corbin you will lead a team to collect as many weapons as possible... if you become out numbered retreat, and detonate the next set of charges to destroy the building. General Rhuarc, you will oversee the raid on the docks. Do not move until the Grain stores and the armory detonations have gone off. Yours is bound to be the most dangerous and you will need to take Luther and Carrick with you. Clear the docks of any soldiers you see, I don’t care how you do it. Try to save as many ships as possible, but I can bare the sacrifice of a few to draw away from the others for a safe passage south. Lara, you’re with me and the sword. I ask that you attend to me as well Lady Stanos. A Guide through the city to the temple will be most helpful in the midst of all the chaos.”]
Jeremiah looked around the table to those Aria named off, but he had a thought of his own and he vocalized it without a request to speak. [b “Are you sure you want to send your best guards to clear the docks with your General, and the remainder to rescue prisoners? I don’t think that move is wise for you. At least keep your captain with you.”] Aria looked at him with an unreadable face, but the Guardians could read it. Aria had come to decision and there would be no changing her mind. Aria knew these men, Jeremiah did not. Jeremiah, while impressed by her so far, also lacked truth faith in her ability to coordinate the plan, but so far... her’s was sounding like it just might be the blow they needed to deal. She refused to waver or back down. If the missions failed... she had no one to blame but herself, and she had already listened to all avenues and options.
[#Db7093 “Perhaps, but both Carrick and Luther have skills pertinent to special operations such as the raid on the docks. I do not need them as much as Fenlyk does. No, They will attend my General. Between the three of them I have no fears about the success at the docks. Max and Adimar have a history together and fight as an extension of the other. To free the prisoners I will forfeit my guards. I need your men to ensure a smooth transition between targets and create a path for refugees to the docks. The prep work for our attack will take us the entirety of the day and well through the midnight hour-“]
The meeting was interrupted by the collection of hurried footsteps entering the space. Balden and Aerick, the cabin boy, were in attendance -doing their part. Behind the group of teenager scouts was the familiar faces of Thad and Rupert. Aria frowned, she did not see a healer with them. Adimar saw them as well and stood up to speak to them as the group approached the table.
[#20b2aa “Rupert, Thad, you’ve returned. Did you find the Medici?”] He asked hurriedly.
Thad pushed a hand through his dirty blonde hair and frowned, before dipping into a respectable bow, as did Rupert.
[b “Prince Adimar, High Priestess, General, we regret to inform you... The Medici is dead. We arrived to the coastal village she was rumored to be in, but we happened upon it burnt to ashes. They were still smoldering and the stench of death was prevalent. We came upon a mass grave of bodies, and among them we found the Medici... as well as women, children and elderly. It was a massacre, Your Holiness,”] Thad informed with deep regret and sorrow, his head bowed shamefully. Aria had to bow her head and hide her own reaction. Her fingers tapping against the map. Ayab would never heal without the Medici. It left a frightening feeling in the pit of her stomach, but she couldn’t dwell on it. She swallowed her emotions down and returned her cold and unyielding expression towards Thad and Rupert. Adimar sat in stunned silence. Lady Stanos had gasped and covered her mouth at the news. Shocked to have lost such an accomplished healer. Even Jeremiah looked a little pale at the news.
Aria let a small shaky breath leave her with her next words to Adimar’s men. [#db7093 “Well... I suppose what’s done is done. We can’t bring back the dead... I have a new mission for you both as it were. Adimar will give you your orders when this meeting has concluded. Until then please go and get rest, food, and anything else you need before you depart again.”] Both Thad and Rupert put a fist to their chest and bowed before they turned and left. Next the scouts stepped up to report.
[#800080 “Balden, do you have anything to report?”] Lady Stanos asked, directing the scouts to speak. Balden had led this scouting mission and from what Aria and Adimar could see managed to get Aerick to help. They didn’t think to question it. The Cabin boy had been most helpful since they left Volshi, and neither of them were too surprised that he was working closely with Balden now.
[#A52a2a “I have the troop report, and shift rotations,”] he stepped forward and handed Lady Stanos and Jeremiah the papers with their notes. [#a52a2a “We also have news from our people inside the city, the Commander of the legion in Astoria has begun taking women. By Malik’s decree any woman of age can and will be conscripted to service the Soldiers of Malik’s ‘Righteous’ Army. Children are now also to attend ‘schooling’ in Central City. It’s bedlam in Astoria right now. If you’re planning an attack it needs to be done soon.”] Balden suggested. With his news out on the table he glanced over and spotted Lara, who he offered a secret smile. He wasn’t the only one looking at her though. Aerick had also caught her eye and had offered a grin and a wink.
[#800080 “He’s kidnapping the women and children now?”] Lady Stanos bemoaned with horror. Aria remained in her seat, eyes narrowed in a glare. Her mind was moving faster than she could sort out her thoughts-
[i “I sense someone is very upset...”]
Aria felt his words on the back of her neck as if he was there. Around her at the table everyone argued about amendments to the plan, how to stop Malik from transporting a city’s worth of youth for indoctrination, and to save the women from a fate worse than death. Aria realized with his voice, she couldn’t hear the others. She could feel him reaching into her mind, and it was taking all the concentration she had not to let him see their plan. The last time he had struggled to get inside her head and learn anything, but that seemed to be changing, he was trying to get in.
[i Not speaking with me? You’re not busy are you? Did I catch you at a bad time?”]
He was mocking her, and at her seat, Aria began to tremble, her hands fisting tightly over the maps on the desk and the light sheen of sweat began to decorate her forehead.
Adimar sensed a shift in the atmosphere of the room and looked to see Aria was silently struggling with something and called for the table to go silent. When they turned to question him, he pointed towards Aria who had seemingly zoned out from the conversation.
[#800080 “What’s happening to her? Priestess? Priestess?”] Lady Stanos asked, moving to reach for the young woman, but it was Carrick’s hand that reached out to stop her and Adimar who moved to kneel at her side.
[#20b2aa “Aria? Can you hear me?”] he asked gently. He received no response, but could see the frustrated emotions playing on her face. He placed his hand over her tightly clenched fist, but received no reaction from her. Concern decorated his face for his kin and he looked to Saraya to see if she might know what was happening, but she looked just as confused and concerned as the rest of them did. [#20b2aa “I can sense powerful magic around her. It’s... not her’s...”]
[b “Then who the fuck is it?”] Jeremiah demanded wheeling his chair around to get a better look. [b “She looks like she’s going to be sick.”]
[i “It’s cute you thought you would be safe from me underground... with the resistance...”] Aria tensed in her seat. [i “Oh yes, I know where you are. I have spies everywhere. I’m sure by now you’ve heard of my new plans! I’ve found useful employment for women all over Fenlyk, and I intend to have every child educated in Central City. I really do think I’ve outdone myself this time. Don’t you think so my love? Still nothing? Tsk, you must really be upset with me. Tell me what I can do to make it better...”] She felt the shadow of a touch curl up from behind her and settle over her shoulders. She had to close her eyes tightly in an effort to shake away the images he put in her mind. Vile depictions of what he wanted to do to her left Aria shaken and violated. Her hands curled so tightly around the quill she held it suddenly snapped in half. [i “Ahh, more silence... very well. Be upset if you must, we will be together soon enough.”]
[#db7093 “Yes... and when we are... it will mean the end.”] She warned Malik, but the table heard her words as well and looked on in confusion. Aria could hear Malik chuckle with something comparable to twisted adoration.
[i “I look forward to it...”] he whispered against her ear, and he vanished. She no longer sensed him... for now.
Aria suddenly inhaled, waking up from her focused trance. She couldn’t respond to Malik, she couldn’t open her mind up for fear he might see into it and in turn her plan against his occupying regime. She had felt him trying to invade her mind, trying to find her thoughts. That was something she simply could not allow to happen. She blinked away the haze and looked around the room to see the concerned faces. She looked over at Balden who had brought the news, and seemed impassive to what he’d relayed.
Adimar reached out for her, but she jerked away from him. [#20b2aa “Aria, what-“]
[#db7093 “You all have your orders!”] She nearly barked, and stopped herself realizing she had taken her stress out on the table. With a shaky breath she collected herself, but dared not look up to meet anyone’s face. [#db9073 “I need a moment, excuse me... ”] she managed and stood up to leave the room. The rest of the table stood up with her, and watched as she abruptly left the meeting. Carrick immediately stood up to follow Aria out of the meeting, planting a kiss to Saraya’s cheek in passing, but before he could reach Aria she snapped that she needed to be alone, and so Carrick reluctantly stepped back. His own gaze turning towards the table to gauge what the others were feeling or thinking.
Lady Stanos frowned from her seat and looked to Adimar who looked unsure. [#800080 “What was that? Will she be alright, Master Volshi?”] Adimar looked away from Aria’s path, to Lady Stanos and frowned.
[#20b2aa “I honestly have no idea what just happened, but I have a feeling this is not the first time...”] He gaze slowly turned towards the others for a suggestion, later in private they might discuss it together, but for now the finalized Aria’s plan and began preparations to implement it within the next twenty-four hours.
Down a tunnel and in a seculded area, Aria finally collapsed and buried her head in her hands. She attempted to breath through he nausea and horror of having sense Malik so close. It was almost as if he was standing right there, she practically felt his hands on her. It left her trembling and with her stomach in knots, but made her feel rage for the first time. She wasn’t going to let him use the women, and she wasn’t going to let him take those children. He wasn’t going to have her, and he wasn’t going to win. Now if only she could calm her heart and level her stress to something she could handle.
After answering Lady Stanos' question, Lara continued to eat for some time. The food was delicious, and she was feeling somewhat ravenous.
Meanwhile, Lara listened to the conversation that Aria was having with others at the table. The conversation mostly consisted of Aria asking questions about Malik and the state of Fenlyck, and various people answering the questions.
The answers that Aria recieved led Aria to the conclusion that Malik would invade Caledon and the River Nine. This was a bad piece of news, for with this move Malik was looking to end the uprising once and for all.
And then someone else spoke up. This other was an old looking guy, everyone higher ranked in the resistance was old, and he was sitting in a wheelchair. That commanded a lot of respect, the guy not letting his useless legs stop him from his quest of freeing Fenlyck from Malik's grasp.
And then there was a short banter between him and Adimar. Adimar had warned the guy that the Volshi cities were hard to find, but the guy remarked back about how would Adimar would know.
Lara turned all of her attention on the evolving conversation. She could feel that this conversation was merely a buildup to some decision that would be made. First starting with Aria's questions, then the answers which led to Aria's conclusion, which had then led to the old guy speaking up, Adimar bursting in before being parried by the old guy, and what was next.
It was as if the water pressure was building up against a dam, and at some point there would be enough pressure for the damn to burst.
The first cracks in the dam appeared with Adimar's suggestion of testing out Malik's strenght. The first cracks expanded and new cracks began to form once Aria asked her question. Then the cracks began to interconnect with each other, the water beginning to slowly beat the dam.
And then the dam burst open with Aria's words of, [+pink "That we're coming for him..."] Lara noticed the slowly creeping smile on Aria's face. Now here was something to be proud of. They were not thinking defensively, they were now thinking offensively.
There was a flurry of activity as maps were brought and spread out, conversations started here and there, and Aria sent Carrick to retrieve Saraya.
Lara sat quiet, not offering a single word. She understood the general gist of what was being planned, but she had no idea how to help because thinking about such grand schemes was not one of her strenghts. Once all the schemes had been laid out into a final plan, then she'd be able to evaluate which part of the plan she would be able to do.
But until then, Lara would observe closely.
After Saraya had come, Saraya had also stayed silent. At first it had been to be caught up what had been discussed in her absence, but afterwards it was because Saraya was thinking. Lara noticed the glance that passed between Saraya and Rhuarc, but did not know what to make of it.
Saraya began to talk, and Lara's interest lapsed again. Once again it was about theoretical courses of action that could be used to disprupt Malik.
But then Saraya began to talk about something which perked Lara's interest very fast. Sneaking, stealing, disguising, and pick pocketing. Lara knew how to do the first three very well, and she felt confident enough to know how to pick pocket.
Saraya stepped by sitting down and eating, allowing anyone to comment on her plan.
The first person to comment was Rhuarc. He was of the opinion that Saraya's plan had merit, but it wasn't as strong a message as Rhuarc wanted to send to Malik.
Rhuarcs idea of a stronger message was two-fold.
First part would consist of an arsenal raid, taking away the weapons Malik was storing by either taking them for the Resistance or destroying them in the case it was ipossible to bring the captured weapons back to the Resistance. This part of the plan was extremely acceptable.
But what Lara heard next, she liked not a single thing about the next part. Part two of Rhuarc's plan was burning the ships in the harbor. This part of the plan Lara condoned to the watery depths. Fenlyck's livelihood depended on ships, and Rhuarc wanted to rip that livelihood out from under the Fenlyck's feet.
As soon as Rhuarc had finishes talking with a confident statement, Lara shot up. [+purple "Burn the ships, burn the ships you say? You say this as if you were strolling through a city and enjoying the views."] Lara had said this with complete venom, pouring all her built up hatred into these words.
Then for a few seconds Lara was silent, eyes closed as she tuned her angerness down several notches.
Opening her eyes, she looked at Rhuarc and did not take her eyes off him. [+purple "Fenlyck's livelihood depends on ships. Ships cannot simply be rebuilt, it takes time to build up a fleet of ships.What you propose is to screw this country, my country over by wrecking its economy."]
Then turning slightly away from Rhuarc, [+purple "And even if you did only plan on burning the warships, that is also unacceptable."]
Lara turned to face Rhuarc once more, looking him up and down before staring him into the eyes again. [+purple "For one, what ships will protect all our merchant shipping? Our merchant fleet will be left wide open to be ravaged by all sorts of things. Secondly, we can utilize the fleet against Malik. Think about it, we would have ships patrolling the River Nine, which will limit what Malik can do. Not only that, it enables fast communication between Fenlyck, Caledon, and the Jai, meaning we can quickly get information over fast enough to act on it."]
Lara sat down, letting out a huff. [+purple "THAT, is what I have to say concerning this plan of yours."]
Ayab was confused at what Saraya was doing, she took a vial that she called "The Sea's tears" and then let a single drop fall into the horrible, mutilated, rotting wound before it was quickly followed by a drop of Saraya's own blood. Pain flared in Ayab's leg, burning, glorious pain that felt as if his leg was on fire. It was a searing pain as if the sun itself was searing the wound in his leg, purging the dark rot from the limb and then it was all over in an instant. Ayab's breathing was heavy even though no time had passed the searing pain felt like it had going on for hours but thankfully it had passed. Ayab looked down at his leg an while he could tell that some of the corruption had been removed it was still there. Just seeing the corruption lessened seemed like a miracle to the simple Jai but he could see that whatever Saraya had done was merely a temporary measure. Even now the corruption was once again starting to spread through his leg, trying to reclaim the flesh that it had just been expelled from, although the process had slowed considerably it had not been stopped. Whatever Saraya had done had bought him time, he might now weeks, perhaps even months left to live instead of the days or hours that he thought was likely to survive at the start of the day. He had received a temporary stay of execution and he would not waste it. The headsman had his axe raised in the air above him instead of already being partway through his neck. It was a rare gift that he had been given. [+red "Saraya, thank you for this. I will not forget it. I have [i Toh] to you."] As Carrick arrived Ayab assured Carrick that he had everything here that he needed and that he and Saraya should got to the Priestess. Father Penzone gave him some food and water before helping Ayab with the request that he made next. With the aid of the staff that he had brought with him to Fenlyck and his bow and a quiver slung over his back Father Penzone took him to where the few proper military personnel the resistance had slept and trained. Ayab would spend his new energy teaching and training them how to be better soldiers and efficient killers. He might not be able to fight against Malik in the time to come but he would be sure that at least some small part of him was represented and if it was only his training to these men then that would be enough.
The planning for how to reclaim Fenlyk had begun and as they were joined by Lady Stanos' second, Jeremiah, they could truly begin. Aria remarked that Malik would likely use the River Nine to invade the Jai Lands and wipe Caledon out before moving on to Volshi. It was an obvious tactic but that did not mean that it was any less effective. Adimar's remark about Malik having to find the hidden cities first was not exactly true. Jeremiah raised a valid point; the False King was an Ancient he may already know where those hidden cities were located but to Rhuarc an even more obvious problem could be seen. [b "Adimar you underestimate Shade-stealer's cruelty. He won't care if you hide in your cities. He will invade your country burn your land and then salt the earth so that no crop can grow and no game can survive. Sooner or later the food in your cities will run out and all of Volshi will starve while Malik watches. The man with a noose around his neck may die slower than the man with a sword in his gut but they are both dead men. Whether you hide or not is irrelevant if Volshi stands alone."] The Jai was relieved to hear Adimar and Aria agree that they needed to send a message, to make a stand and finally stop being passive in this conflict. The world needed to know that the Priestess and the Guardians were ready to make a stand.
[b "I appreciate the thought you have given your plan Saraya, although I fear it is too small a measure. Disrupting trade and supplying misinformation will not be enough to win this war. We must take bold action if Fenlyk is to escape Shade-stealer's clutches."] The maps that the Resistance had already were detailed and relatively up to date, the information that Balden and the scouts brought back would enhance their knowledge but what they had now was more than enough to start planning an assault. The Jai in his homeland had fought successful battles against Malik with far less information at their disposal. [b "I agree with Adimar, we must send a message and it must be one that makes him take note. I believe that there is little point in hiding that it was us that was behind these attacks by replacing messages. We want to inspire the people, not hide in the shadows."] Rhuarc studied the maps quickly again, he had a plan in mind and if it was pulled off, it would be a devestating blow against the False King. Military matters were Rhuarc's greatest strength, he had lived war all his life and it was he who Aria had named General precisely because of that. He pointed to a large cluster of buildings on the map. [b "If these maps are to be believed then these warehouses here are where the False King is storing the weapons for the bulk of his army in Fenlyk, I suggest we attack it, seize the weapons for the resistance if we can, destroy them if we cannot. While at the same time..."] Rhuarc moved his finger to another area on the other side of the city, [b "...A second group moves here against the slaves that Shade-stealer's army in Fenlyk has taken. Free the slaves, depriving of men to use in his army, and labour to build up fortifications. Both of these on their own would be admiral endeavours and while they would weaken him greatly they are merely diversions from our true goal."]
Rhuarc moved his hand one last time and pointed to the docksin Astoria, where Malik's fleet was anchored and which would normally be far too heavily guarded to even consider attacking. [b "We move against his ships. By causing two distraction on opposite ends of the city we draw out his forces from the docks and split them into smaller groups seeking to retrieve what we are taking. That leaves a skeleton guard upon the docks which we can wipe out and burn as many ships as we can, depriving him not only of a quick way to move his forces around the Land but also stopping his planned invasion of the River Nine and forcing him to rethink his entire strategy for conquering the remaining Provinces. There is also one more advantage to this plan. If everything goes well and the three attacks on the targets go well the city will be in chaos, Malik's forces will be scrambling around confused which will provide the Priestess with a perfect opportunity to sneak into the Fenlyk temple and to the purity pools unhindered."] Rhuarc knew that this was a bold plan, it was dangerous and would require perfect timing and coordination to pull off effectively but if it worked Malik would be struck a crushing blow. Seeing the False King deprived of weapons, slaves and his ships at the hands of the Priestess, Guardians and the resistance of Fenlyk might be enough to cause the people to rise up and claim Fenlyk for themselves. Rhuarc firmly believed that the Guardians, but more importantly the Priestess, needed to inspire the people. He respected Saraya and her plan had many strengths to it but it was not inspiring, it would not do what needed to be done. The truth of the matter was that Fenlyk was full of enemies and they simply didn't have time to play the long game, Aria needed to get to the Fenlyk temple quickly, after that she still had the temples in Caledon and Adbhu'Jai to reach.
[b "I say we begin this war in earnest. It's time to fight back."]
[center [b Saraya]]
When she felt a hand touch her, she knew instantly who is was. She turned her head to greet Carrick, but concern had riddled his face. She sighed. [I "I've done no serious harm, love. I just needed to help... "]
Carrick looked past her to the shaken Midwife, and sighed before chastising her. Saraya sighed. [I "I did... Just Ayab needed some help... "] after a moment, Carrick had let it go before requesting that she joined everyone for a meeting. As soon as she heard those words, her determination peaked before Carrick and she made haste, but not before he asked if Ayab would be alright.
Once she and Carrick had gotten there, everyone paused to greet her. She smiled before Aria asked if she was feeling better. [I "Yes. "] was all she could say before the meeting presumed.
Aria caught her up, but the method they were leaning towards was to attack the trading routes of the enemies. Saraya then further understood that the enemy's plan would be to attack the Jai territories before settling in Caledonia, as a way to thwart them before they could get to their destinations. Rhuarc and Saraya shared a glance a moment, and for a second... Saraya could've sworn she saw a glint of fear in his eyes... His people were still unattended, and Ayab is laying prostrate and helpless in his company. They would fight a glorious battle till the last Jai was defeated. Saraya also thought of Caledon. She knew her White Marble City was in ruins, but the people still lived there, attempting to pick up the pieces ever since that fateful day. They would be easy pickings if he grows that powerful.
Saraya looked to Aria. [I "Intercept the caravans would be a good idea... But, we also have to think like him, unfortunately... And I think I know a few ways to get Intel on him. "]
As she felt the Caledonian confidence blanket her, she felt an all too familiar feeling... Her Warrior side began to kick in. She looked at the map. She remembered seeing the same map before, and it was marked on which location the enemies were most likely inhabiting. The trading road for them was east of where they hid, and there was another line. [I "Any of you can tell me what this other line is for?"]
That line was a messenger path, and that made her plan even more complicated.
[I "To cut them off in the trading market holds two options: Either eliminate the Trader, and sabotage from the inside, or eliminate the trade altogether and watch them eliminate themselves. It's an easy task for anyone that got timing and discretion on their list of skills. We can either buy them off or subdue them in the night with our first option, the other, early evening with detouring the trader to our hideout without ever being seen. Either way, both had exceptions of discretion. "] she looked to everyone had conversed and weighed their opinions into the mix. After an understanding was made, Aria allowed her to continue.
[I "Now, that's the easy part... The harder part is through the messenger. "] she pointed to the discreet line, before sitting up and walking in a circle, a habit she picked up from voyages and battle. [I "The messenger will always create new routes if they find that the current one isn't safe, so I'm thinking an expert thief should follow specific rules. They only steal the papers, and replace them with falsified ones so not to raise alarm. We do this for incoming, and outgoing messages. If there are bird messengers, we will need the likeness, which would mean, each time they release the fowl, we capture them, and replace they're messages again with falsified ones. So, we will need experts in all departments. "]
She stopped again, and everyone had began conversing once more. This time, everyone was astonished that Saraya thought of possibilities immediately and with so much detail.
She turned to everyone and nodded. [I "So, what's the verdict? Are we scouting for an expert?"]
Aria and Adimar spokr amongst each other as Lady Stanos asked a question about her first option. Saraya looked to her and nodded. [I "We need a master of disguise, a thief, not a pickpocket. He should be capable of getting close without being detected, can get messages and locations and even eliminate them off this land without causing a battle. That way, we can put our guards up there, and can easily intercept messages because they would be delivering them to us on a silver platter, not knowing its us"] Rhuarc had spoken about it a moment, and Carrick even expressed his concerns about it.
From this, the only thing she could say was [I "I have understood that this is risky business. We all did the day we took on this mission. It's up to Aria"]
Saraya found a chair and sat, and idle conversations began when a young child delivered food for Saraya to eat. As the boy ran away, Saraya looked to everyone as she ate.
Breakfast was filled with lively conversation and eventually the people began to mill out to their daily tasks. Lady Stanos was smitten with Adimar’s flirtations, Rhuarc’s devotion to his culture and honor, and Lara’s candid nature. She also had an idea of where Lara might have come from, but she kept that to herself. She had yet to meet Saraya, but she hoped to remedy that by the end of the day. Aria commanded the bulk of the conversation with Lady Stanos’ people, all of them leaders of the resistance and answering all of her questions about Malik’s current movements, intelligence, and Fenlyk’s current occupied state, and resources. Aria was not a strategist, but her studies with Adimar had helped her learn a bit.
She had learned that Malik’s forces occupied the three major cities of Fenlyk. There was of course the port city of Astoria, which was the home of Fenlyk’s Temple and capital. It was also where the largest collection of Malik’s men were kept, as well as supplies, armaments, ships and slaves. They also had occupied two smaller cities, both further inland and closer to Central City. They had men patrolling all the major roads and trade routes, with several bastions located on the borders; and they were constantly in motion, flexing their power upon small villages, raiding, pillaging and kidnapping people for servitude. It was just as bad as Aria feared it was. Clearly they had been spending the past decade preparing, and now it seemed they were ready to move.
[#DB7093 “He plans to invade both Caledon and The River Nine.... He wants to put an end to the uprising once and for all.”] Aria muttered as the mess hall had cleared out leaving only Aria with her guardians, Lady Stanos, and the resistance leaders. Aria would have liked to simply converse about happier things, but she knew time was of the essence and she needed to know everything that was going on if she wanted to restore balance in Azeroth.
At her comment the Resistance Commander nodded his head. He was an aged man like Lady Stanos. He was pushing his sixties. His hair was all grey, and as Aria learned, also constrained to a wheel chair. His name was Jeremiah, Lady Stanos’ right hand.
“You picked that up quickly,” he commented and looked about the table. “That’s what we think he plans to do. Use the ships to invade the Jai Cities on the River Nine, and march his armies north into Caledon. All that would be left for him to dispose of would be the Volshi.”
[#20b2aa “He’d have to find our cities first…”] Adimar warned darkly from his seat. He’d joined in on the conversation some time ago. Jeremiah just smirked back, rather smug and asked:
“How do you know he doesn’t already know where they are? The man is an Ancient. Legend has it, Azera only managed to lock him in a void at the expense of her own life. I believe he’s more powerful now than he was before, and ten years is a long time for a man to build an army. He’s ready to move…. Because you are on the move.” He warned pointing a finger right at Aria. She steadied her breathing, to mask the heavy weight that felt was added to her by Jeremiah’s comment. “He’s been preparing for this for a long time now,” Jeremiah warned. Aria did her best to mask her true emotions, but truth was… the information frightened her. Would she have the power to dismantle Malik? He’d had years to prepare… Aria was just scrambling to gather followers.
Adimar could sense Aria’s stress and could see it on her features. The others might have seen masked indifference, but Adimar saw the flicker of her eyes when Jeremiah pointed to her just then.
[#20b2aa “Then let’s test him,”] Adimar suggested looking to Aria. She looked over towards him and attempted to read his expression. Cool and coy, with a rouge grin. She was frowning at him.
[#DB7093 “What are you suggesting?”] she asked, clearly unknowing of what Adimar was thinking.
[#20b2aa “We see how prepared he really is. In doing so we’ll be sending him a message-“]
[#DB7093 “That we’re coming for him...”] Aria whispered a slow grin gracing her face. She suddenly sat a little taller and suddenly the table became a congress of battle strategy. Maps were brought to them by kids that were used to run messages and errands through the tunnels all day, but before they went too far, Aria sent Carrick to bring Saraya to the table. She felt Saraya should be present as a Guardian and a member of their team.
Carrick had been in agreement with Aria’s thoughts on including Saraya. He wasn’t worried about leaving Aria behind, she was with Adimar, Lara, and Rhuarc, as well as the Resistance leaders and several other guards. He expected to find Saraya laying down in the infirmary, Corbin keeping a close eye on her. Alas, he was confronted by the very man informing him that Saraya was on a war path, and something to do with tears of the sea. Carrick frowned, but hurried towards the infirmary where Corbin said he last saw her going. Carrick was more concerned than anything else. He worried she might be hurt.
What he found was not at all what he thought he might find. Saraya was over Ayab’s wound and dropping just a single ruby droplet of blood. Carrick watched curiously from the doorway with Corbin and entered to hear her telling Ayab that the decay of his wound should slow down. Saraya had bought them time, but how she knew to do it… not even she knew. He reached for her shoulder, and held her steady, a look of love and concern painted his features. He looked past her towards the Midwife who was hesitant to approach Saraya again.
[#000080 “Did you even let the poor woman tend to you?”] Carrick chastised and looked down at Ayab, placing a hand to his shoulder and eyed the wound. [#000080 “You slowed down the decay… The Priestess will want to know about this. We can’t stay here, she requests you join her and the others in the Main Hall with the Resistance leaders. I think they’re planning an attack on Malik’s forces. She wants all the Guardian’s present. Ayab, friend let me know if there is anything we can bring you to make you more comfortable.”] Carrick told him, but at his comment Father Penzone walked forward holding a tray of food for Ayab, and assured them that Ayab was in good hands. Carrick had no doubt about that, but at Saraya’s understanding, he escorted her from the infirmary and back to the main hall to join the others.
The table continued to discuss Malik’s movements and what he had stationed where. Aria made a call to send scouts out to begin reconnaissance when Carrick and Saraya arrived with Corbin trailing behind and taking up his place with the other Guardsmen at the entrance of the main hall.
[#DB7093 “I want to know how many men he has in Astoria, their watch schedule, I want to know when they eat, when they sleep, when they train, what they say and what they do in their free time. I want everything. I want to know what they have stored here and plan to move or receive. I want intercepted messages. I want it all.”] Aria said firmly. Jeremiah, had a small hidden grin on his face, nodding his head to Aria’s commands.
“We have scouts out in Astoria today, your friend Balden is with them. They should be back by the evening.” Lady Stanos informed them. “Master Volshi and Master Jai’hash mentioned you would need to visit the temple, they are scouting to find the best and safest way to smuggle you and Master Fenlyk into the city.”
“We’ll send in another wave to collect the information you want, and coordinate an attack. For now, there’s plenty of trade routes we could sabotage to cut his supplies off to Central City.” Jeremiah suggested. Aria nodded, and glanced back to the chair moving beside her. Carrick had brought Saraya finally. She smiled and reached over to take her hand.
“Oh This must be Lady Saraya, Master Caledon. What an honor to meet you, Lady,” Lady Stanos greeted warmly. Aria looked to Saraya with a look of concern, but certainty that Saraya was strong enough to tackle anything.
[#DB7093 “Felling better? Good, We’re about to begin planning a series of attacks on Malik’s supply routes. I wanted all of the Guardians here to help. It’s time to start liberating the people of Fenlyk, it will also show the other provinces the time to fight back is coming. Failure in these missions is not an option. If we can’t win here… I don’t see how we can win anywhere.”]
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Corbin was assigned to guard Saraya while she rested in the infirmary... Corbin... He was getting used to the name. Though, he knew what his true name was... But, the only way that he could remember was at night. For what it was worth, Corbin was elated that he could protect Saraya... Because all he could think about since his mysterious beginning merely a few months back before The Guardians had decided to venture to Fenlyk, was a woman that basked in love, but also in tragedy... In his mind, he called himself... Felliope.
There was an odd feeling every time he was around her... He wanted her all to himself, but not for the reasons one would believe... He wanted to snatch her away, for some reason... He wanted to take her, claim her, control her... Feelings so profound that in his mind it became an obsession. He had only seen her a few times on the ship, and only twice in Kil'heed, but he felt an urge to take her from the Captain. Despite him being merely human, he sought the desire to ravage her, and make her forget him... He was human... Right?
Corbin always kept his face hidden from the nose down, to prevent anyone from recognizing him, even her. He will continue that. For now, he'll just bask in the thought that he was hers...
Saraya looked to Ayab, feeling the saxness and hearing the revelation that he may not even make it. It broke her heart. She looked to him before looking to the decay of his leg, and slowly began to sit up. [I "Don't say that, Ayab... Please... "] she begged as she turned, so to push herself to her knees. Ayab began to protest against her stubbornness, but she wouldn't hear it. [I "Don't you dare give in, Ayab... You are Jai. You are brothers to all of us. I may be important, but that doesn't mean your not"] she struggled to stand, but managed to plant her feet. She slowly walked to him and grabbed his hand. [I "Don't give in, Ayab. You have a purpose, just like the rest of us... I'll see to it that you find it"] she gripped his hand, and closed her eyes. [I Father... What is the source of this decay?] She asked him. Sayan was silent a moment, but came with [b His life hangs in the balance between Lara's victory and defeat. Her enemy gave him this decay... Only his demise will save him before the Medici can get to him]
Saraya opened her eyes and looked to Ayab. [I "You'll make it... I'm sure of it... I'll make sure of it... "] she said, the midwife walking in to see her standing.
She rushed to her, pleading to her to lay, and Saraya shrugged he from her hands. [I "Away from me"] she whispered, looking back to Ayab. The midwife demanded that she lay down, and Saraya turned and shoved her away, a bit harder than she thought she did. [I "I said away from me, Midwife. I need not your services"]
The midwife still persisted. Saraya growled, looking ahead with dilated eyes before turning to her. [I "Away from me!] This time, wind picked up and carried the midwife through the sheets of the infirmary to outside. Saraya gasped before looking over to Ayab. [I "I will return... "]
With that, as the nurses tended to the midwife, Saraya hurried through the sheets and to their tent. She rummaged through the trunk until she found a vial, before turning to find Corbin towering her. [B "My lady, Saraya... "] She stood before walking past. [I "I am up to no good, Corbin"] she insisted as she hurried away. Corbin hurried to find Carrick as she went back to the tent.
When asked what it was, she looked up to him. [I "The sea's tears... This should help slow the process down some"] she said before letting one drop splash onto his wound. It hurt, just a little, but after a few moments, his expression of agoby had slowly faded, and she sighed as she nicked her finger and let a drop of her blood drop into the wound, too. Another expression of agony, but the decay had stopped. She stared up to him. [I "This should slow it down"]
When asked how she had known to do it, Saraya shook her head. [I "I didn't. "]
If Rhuarc had said no, then it would not have been a surprise at all. But the length of silence began to feel awkward and a nit unbearable as it continued to drag on. At least to Lara it had felt as if each second of time had slowed down immensely to a slow crawl.
She kept looing up at Rhuarc, waiting for him to say at least something.
Lara was not surprised nor did she feel angriness at his answer, instead she accepted it calmly. Even though she had wanted to hear a yes, realistically she knew it would not be so.
But Rhuarc had some something curious, something about that he could not personally forgive the "Toh" of her people. This was some concept of the Jai culture which she knew she had no ken of, as with many other aspects of the Jai culture, and Rhuarc had been brought up in the Jai culture while she had not.
Lara sighed as Rhuarc looked around, it looked like he wasn't finished. This kneeling pose was getting to be a bit uncomfortable, and she hoped that whatever Rhuarc had to say would not be too long lest her leg fall asleep.
Lara smiled as Rhuarc spoke once more. At least the actions he had seen of her people had given him hope that her people could fight against Malik. And even though he had not forgiven her people, this had gone better than expected.
After managing to sit down with the rest, Lara could finally eat. The food tasted delicious, and it also felt as if some part of her remembered eating this food before. But Lara focused on the here and the now, for that was what mattered.
A short while later, Aria walked in. She appeared magnificent, and with Luther, Carrick, and a third guard made her appear even more magnificent. And as soon as Aria had entered, many of the people had begun to crowd around her, either asking a question or tried to touch her; Luther, Adimar, and the third guard had their work cut off for them as they tried to keep Aria from being overrun en masse. Aria meant something to the people, Aria meant the big pillar of hope upon which everyone's hopes, wishes, and dreams rested on. In a way, Aria was a vessel for all the wishes, dreams, and hopes, converting those into actions which freed the land of Malik's rule bit by bit.
Lady Stanos was the one who had managed to clear the way for Aria, by asking everyone to let Aria through. And just like that, there was a path for Aria and the others to walk to where everyone else sat.
After that, it quieted down to a question-and-answer session between Lady Stanos and Aria, Aria being the one who asked and Lady Stanos the one answering.
Now here was something of interest. Lady Stanos had wanted to fight Malik's forces from day one, but the rulers of Fenlyck had overruled her opinion just like that. It troubled Lara that the rulers of her land had simply let go of their country without a fight, especially since Malik was not one for keeping promises.
Lara kind of went into her own head after hearing that. It just felt wrong and awful that the rulers of her country had meekly submitted to someone who was not going to keep their promise. Only to understand this so many years after it happened, it just made her stomach twist into all sorts of knots.
[i [+purple How could they have done such a thing?]]
[i [+blue The answer to that question is not so straightforward.]]
[i [+purple What do you mean?"]]
[i [+blue As you heard Lady Stanos say, our people are not fighters. Well, at least not on land. Fighting on the sea would have been no problem. But the land is no sea, and Fenlyck never really needed an army. They could have called upon either the Caledons or the Jai, but they also felt afraid of the people. They really hoped they could escape the destruction and ravage of war by meekly bowing down by surrendering. But there was no such escape, for the ravage of war still swept through the land of Fenlyck. Rape, burning, plundering, torturing, and so many other horrible acts.]]
Lara sat in silence. On one hand, fighting Malik would have prevented him from ruling Fenlyck. On the other hand, a hope that the people would not have to suffer war and its effects. Or had there been something else affecting the decisions of the rulers?
And then she heard Lany Stanos speaking, asking her a few questions. Lara turned to face Lady Stanos, looking up and meeting eye-to-eye.
[+purple "I do not remember from what village I am."] Sighing, she continued, [+purple I met Aria in the sewers of the Central City after a voice, which revealed itself to be Fenlyck much later on, told me to go down to the sewers. And I've spoken with Fenlyck a few times after years of silence."]
The arrival of Lara changed the whole dynamic of the hall, meals stopped, conversations ended and eyes shifted until they rested on the Fenlyk Guardian. It was a natural reaction, the people were desperate to see the embodiment of their nation, the one person of their kind who could truly stand against Malik. It was a position of immense responsibility and Rhuarc wondered how one as young as Lara would bear such a burden and soon enough he got an insight into how her mind worked. She strode up to him and took a knee, Rhuarc raised an eyebrow curiously before he heard Lara's request. As she asked for his forgiveness for his people Rhuarc fought to keep his face unreadable, he remembered what Lara had been like when they had first met in Central City, her request showed wisdom beyond her years but her request was more complicated than she realised and as much as he wanted to, Rhuarc could not do as Lara asked. [b "Lara what you ask is not within my power. The dishonour of Fenlyk was not against me as a person, so I can not remove the [i Toh] of Fenlyk. I am sorry Lara, I know that is not what you wanted to hear."] Rhuarc paused for a moment and looked around the room, taking in the faces of the Fenlyk natives, all looking at Lara and himself. [b "Lara, I look around these caverns and I see people who are willing to risk everything to help our cause, who give shelter and supplies to us, who are doing what they should to stand against the False King. That is honourable. When we make our move for the Temple and the people finally rise up and strike against Shade-stealer then they will have paid the debt that they owe. I believe that they can do it."] Rhuarc could not force the people of Fenlyk to do the right thing and regain their honour, that was for them and them alone to do but Rhuarc had changed his opinion of them since meeting the resistance. He had always thought of the wetlanders of Fenlyk as weak and subservient for how they bowed to Malik while the other Provinces fought against his rule. The resistance showed him that not all of the people of this land were like that. There were some people that still knew what was right and were prepared to do what they must in order to change how their land governed.
Once Rhuarc had finished his conversation with Lara the room was once again subjected to another figure of great interest, in this case the High Priestess. She was flanked by her guards and it was a good job that she was as Aria was swarmed by refugees mostly wanting to get a word with the Holy figure or gain some sort of blessing. Aria was never in any real danger here, these people were friendly and her guards were more than capable in protecting her and moving the crowd along after a few words here and there. All the people really wanted was hope and that was exactly what Aria's presence gave them. Eventually once she had worked her way through most of the crowd Aria finally gained a chance to have some food and talk with Lady Stanos, the conversation ranged from the refugees and how Fenlyk fell to the temple and purity pools. While the Temple was sealed off at least the pools were intact, so that at least gave them a chance to achieve their goals. Lady Stanos was an excellent host taking an interest in all of the Guardians and speaking to each of them. [i "Master Jai’hash, it is so rare to see Jai North of the River Nine. What inspired you to leave your home? Fate must have determined you were to cross paths with her Holiness."] It was a simple answer really and one the Jai had no difficulty in answering. [b "Honour. I left the Wastelands because if we kept fighting the False King the way we were then we would fail. It is simple, our people bleed and die fighting against his armies but eventually we will fail. A respected Elder convinced Ayab and me to leave for Central City. It was there we found the Priestess. It was not fate that made me leave and it was not fate that made me follow the High Priestess. It was Honour."]
The cool air of the infirmary felt good against Ayab's skin, so often now he felt like he was burning up, he likely had a fever but it had probably broken since arriving in Fenlyk...even so he felt terribly weak. [+red "I am glad to hear that you are feeling better. I fear I am not so lucky."] Saraya's confidence in his strength was pleasant to hear even if Ayab himself did not believe it, maybe once he was strong enough to hold on and fight this disease until he could receive healing but not now. [+red "I don not think that I can. This injury will be the death of it, I can feel it in my bones, in my very soul. The Medici can not save me...not from this."] The Medici would be better served working on Saraya and easing her pregnancy, she was more valuable than him.
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