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The path to Kil’heed was dangerous. The olde road cut through two mountains, with steep inclines, rises and falls, narrow bridges arching over vast gorges. Carved centuries ago all from stone, it would be a wonder if the bridges were still intact, even more impressive if they held… Adimar did not like having the city of Tanaka pilgrimaging with them… enough people died trying to make the pass, how was he going to get an entire caravan of people through it? At the end of the pass though, was what they called the Golden Sea. A Valley of golden thistle as far as the eye could see. It would take them all day to get there, and if they made good time… they might make it by sunset, but only if they left now. From there it would take another day to reach the gates, but once they stepped foot in the Valley they would be trapped on all sides by the two mountains they’d just cut through, and the mountain ahead of them which Kil’heed was built into. Adimar had never seen it in person, only in illustrations and paintings done by Aero City Scholars.
It took the group three long days to trek through the mountain pass. In the process they had lost a wagon, two horses, and one man. Considering it could have been a lot worse, Adimar though they’d done well. They reached the Golden Sea on the fourth day, and began their descent down the jarring path to the valley. Adimar lingered atop the cliff as the caravan slowly made its way down. His eyes scanned the open valley of golden thistle for any signs of camps, and he saw none, but far enough away he could see the definite outlines of the ancient gates of Kil’heed. His blood tingled with anticipation. The very birthplace of Volshi and where his remains were kept… The most holy place for all Volshi. Adimar stared in awe of it, but his quite reverie was silenced when Aria and her horse stopped beside his.
“Is that Kil’heed?” She asked curiously, even with a voice laden with exhaustion. She still hadn’t been sleeping or eating properly. Adimar gave a confirming head nod and looked back out over the landscape. “What is that lonely tower?” she asked pointing her finger to the single tower just ahead of the gates.
Adimar frowned. “That would be the Tower of Volshi, and inside dwells the Watch. They guard Kil’heed from all friend or foe. If you cannot convince them to allow us passage we will have come all this way for nothing.” He looked over and saw a frown pinch Aria’s face as she looked out at the Tower and the Gates behind it.
“I will convince them,” Aria said firmly. “I bear the mark of Azeroth.” Adimar studied her closer and wondered where on her such a mark resided. She looked over to see him staring at her and she answered him as if reading his very mind, and Adimar had a feeling she had. “It is on my back. The totem of all the Guardians, and Azeroth paint the entirety of my back.”
“So you truly are the Priestess… and of the House Tolshiv…” Adimar murmured. Aria shrugged.
“I know I’m the priestess, as for the House of Tolshiv… I’m not sure.” Adimar smirked at her then.
“Well… if you were certain of the later… that would mean we truly are family.” Aria’s eyes grew wide at his words and she leaned over towards him.
“Family? What do you mean?”
Adimar smiled at her, and said, “I mean, that if you truly are born of the House of Tolshiv, then that makes us cousins. My family and the Toshiv family married three generations ago.” Adimar had to laugh at the look of shock on Aria’s face. “What?”
“Why… why didn’t you tell me this sooner? I didn’t think I had any family at all…” Aria confessed. Adimar shrugged.
“It didn’t seem pertinent the past week to bring it up to you, besides… we had more important things to worry about.”
Aria reached out for his arm then and stayed him from moving. “Do you believe we are cousins?” Adimar smiled softly at her and placed his hand on her shoulder.
“I do,” he confessed truthfully, and he watched as something like hope and happiness filtered into Aria’s face. “I believe it now, whereas when you first entered Tanaka –I did not… but watching you since then, has confirmed to me that you are my cousin, and we are family, and I will follow you with my last breath…. Cousin,” he promised her with a smile. Aria finally smiled, as Adimar pulled away from her to follow the Caravan down. “Now don’t fall too far behind… the other’s will have my neck if you were to get lost now!” he teased. He left Aria up on the top of the path to let her take in the scene a little while longer, and allow her a moment’s peace.
Family… Aria had family… biological family, and according to Adimar there was a lot of them still alive. She wondered what they were like, and hoped they were half as funny as Adimar was. She also didn’t think she’d get to meet them anytime soon or at all if she failed. Still, it was a nice thought, and she carried that thought with her down the rest of the pass and into the Golden field of thistles. They had one final day to trek towards the Gates, but for now the sun was setting and a storm was moving in, so they camped close to the base of the mountain for some semblance of cover. There were no more torches, or large fires, only small ones to maintain low light and cook food over.
For the past few days, nearly everyone had kept to themselves. Rhuarc would still not speak with Aria, though she had grown closer to Ayab and found out of all those that guarded and watched her, she enjoyed Ayab’s company the most. He had also changed the most in her opinion, whereas he was originally callous and cold, closed off from the others; he was opening up to her in a way that Aria saw his loyalty was truly with Rhuarc, but he didn’t mind watching her in the least. Or at least that was what Aria had picked up. He was teaching her the ways of the Jai in place of Rhuarc, and thanks to Ayab’s help Aria found her powers expanding to where she learned if she placed her hand in the fire… she did not burn. If anything it felt cool and tickled her skin. Adimar had been working with her too, and her control over her mind was improving, just the other night Aria had managed to make the small ball they used to float in the air. She was getting better at entering and leaving the Spirit world, and projecting her Astral self in other places. The first place she went? The farm house her and Elder Rigby had lived.
With nightfall came a torrential rain storm, thunder rumbled above the mountains, and lightning shattered across the pitch sky. It left camp quiet as most people had taken to bunkering down inside their covered wagons. Carrick and Saraya shared a wagon. Balden had taken to bunking with Ayab and Rhuarc. Adimar with his men, and Lara kept to herself sleeping in one of the few tents that had been erected. Aria had her own tent as well, smack dab between Adimar’s, his men, Rhuarc & Ayab. She was well guarded, and felt safe walking out of her tent that night once the rain let up into a soft drizzle. Still unable to sleep properly, Aria had tossed and turned all night feeling on edge, like a darkness was looming over them. They were so close to the gates, and yet everything was still so far away. Outside it was chilly and damp, causing Aria to wrap a wool blanket around her shoulders. She walked from camp to its edge and from where she stood she saw the faint glimmer of light coming from the windows of the Watch Tower. She walked closer towards it, knowing even if she left now, she wouldn’t reach it until after sunrise. Still her feet carried her closer to the Tower and further away from camp. All of the Guardians would burst a vessel if they knew she was out here by herself… but it was quiet, and for a while she finally felt alone. She felt she could breathe, and so she did; sighing deeply and tipping her head back towards the sky as rain drops landed on her face. She felt as peace… at least for a little while. That peace was disturbed by a chilling sensation that suddenly wracked her spine. The hair on her neck stood up, but when she spun around to see if the presence she felt was there… she saw nothing, and realized how far from camp she had wandered. They sky was turning grey with predawn light, and Aria knew it was probably best to head back, or incur the wrath of the others. It wasn’t like she didn’t have enough “Toh” as it was...
She couldn’t shake the dark feeling though, as if someone or something was watching her. Yet Malik remained silent in her head. Something was off, and realizing her precarious position, no matter how isolated they were, Aria knew she should head back. Danger lurked everywhere and since the hairs on her neck hadn’t gone down, Aria wrapped her blanket tighter around her shoulders and looked out around her… wondering if they truly were alone out here, or if dangers lurked in the Golden Sea they didn’t know about…
Carrick woke up to the jarring movement of the figure beside him. Last night had been… interesting. He’d never felt anything like that before. He felt he had grown drunk, his mind foggy and his desire compounding with every inhalation of her scent he caught. He had fallen asleep stated and in bliss, too bad he couldn’t wake up that way. No, instead he woke up to Saraya holding her sword up at the throat of someone he didn’t know, but someone she seemed to recognize. This person, this Giji, simply glared at him and tossed his trousers to him. Carrick had to arch a brow as the stranger stomped off. He shared a confused look with Saraya before she dressed herself and left to gather everyone else. Adimar’s shouts were already heard across the camp, as it became alive with people rushing to clean up and prepare to keep moving. After all, the most dangerous part of the trek was nearing…
Carrick donned his gear, the leather jerkin fitting snuggly over his wide chest, and his bracers laced up to his elbows. After a quick tug of his boots to make sure they were on all the way, he rolled up their sleeping mats and blankets and stowed them in the back of their wagon. Balden was already up and dressing the horses, when Carrick dropped his gear into the wagon with a heavy thud.
“Good morrow, Master Carrick,” Balden greeted, eager to continue the journey.
“Balden,” Carrick returned, and moved to help him when he spotted that Balden had left the rigging to the wagon loose. “Hold on a minute,” Carrick instructed and moved over to show and guide Balden to doing it the correct way. “When you’re rigging the horses to the cart, make sure the straps under their bellies are nice and tight. You want it tight enough the straps don’t slide around on them, but you don’t want it too tight it cuts into them either,” Balden nodded his head at Carrick’s instruction and went about making his corrections.
“Thank you. Carrick? Do you think there might be a forge in Kil’heed?” Balden asked. Carrick frowned, not entirely sure.
“I don’t know, why would you ask?”
“I want to forge a weapon,” Balden confessed. Carrick turned to look at him with full attention and curiosity.
“What kind of weapon?” Goodness! How long had it been since he talked shop?
“Well… weapons, and armor.” Carrick had to smirk at the boy, he wanted an outlet to help… perhaps this was just the thing. “Lara’s bow staff, for example. It’s make of wood, one true blade strikes that and it will break. She has no armor, nor does The Priestess. I could make fine armor! Weapons too!” Carrick stroked his beard in thought, enjoying the boy’s idea.
Carrick had to admit, Balden was right. They were sorely equipped to take on Malik.
“Perhaps…” Carrick began, looking to Balden’s eager face. “When we reach Kil’heed we will take stock of what is available, if anything… other wise… smithing will have to wait until we reach the next populated town or city, and then… I’ll help you forge some weapons fitting for our Guardians.” Balden smiled at the idea and nodded his head, eager to be helpful. Carrick chuckled to himself and turned around to view the camp as it quickly put out fires and cleaned up the area. From across the way, he spied Saraya walking towards him with the Priestess in tow. She looked like she hadn’t slept in days, which she hadn’t, and Carrick steeled himself from showing his displeasure at such a sight. Sure Carrick and the others could protect and fight for the priestess from her enemies… but how could they protect her from herself?
He said nothing to the Priestess, but he did offer a wan smile to her. When Saraya came close enough he stole from her a quick kiss, and helped both women into the wagon.
“Easy does it ladies,” He said with a wink. He garnered a smile from Saraya, but Aria was zoned out into another world, her mind was elsewhere as evident by the slight furrow of her brow. He handed them a blanket. Not that they would truly need it, it was already proving that it would be a warm day, and that made him all the more thankful for the chilly breeze that came down from the mountains that towered above them in the near distance.
“It’s going to be a lovely day,” he commented as he leaned in towards Saraya, handing off the blanket and whispered in her ear, “Try and get her to go to sleep.” He glanced one last time to the Priestess and moved to the front of the wagon, where he took up his seat. Balden climbed up beside him. He let Balden take the reins and lead the wagon around towards the front of the caravan, but behind the scouts. Adimar was mounted on his black ride at the very front of the line, speaking quietly and seriously with his men. Their whispers put Carrick on edge. He still hadn’t decided if he trusted Adimar or not. He withheld too much information, and seemed too familiar with the Priestess. Carrick felt, Adimar conveniently knew everything that needed to be known. Rhuarc seemed trusting of him though, and so Carrick had made no mention of his uncertainty. Then again, Carrick was already dispositioned to not like Adimar after the comments he’d made about Saraya in the infirmary. He was arrogant, and Carrick didn’t like that. Arrogance could be dangerous.
There was a shout to move out, and with a great lurch, the caravan moved forward towards the base of the mountains to follow the dangerous path to the valley and ancient city of Kil’heed…
Despite her ability to look unaffected by the fact that two of her guardians plus Carrick were away fighting, Aria was a mass of anxious nerves. It was so intense that she was ill to her stomach the rest of the day. Balden and Lara had done so well in finding the entire caravan a location to camp for the night. It was picturesque in a way once the torches were lit. The area was illuminated and with all the decorated wagons and trinkets that hung from them, they seemed like a caravan of gypsy entertainers. Everyone worked and everyone ate. Guards walked the perimeter, while Thad, Rupert and Max lingered close to her and always in her peripherals. Aria had grown up a practical recluse… now she was constantly surrounded and it was beginning to feel suffocating. Soon she would need a moment fully alone and away from everyone. She felt as if her thoughts were slipping away from her, and her energy drained. It didn’t help she’d been too frightened to sleep. She was too afraid of what might happen should Malik reach her mind again. He knew who she was now. He was able to find her… it made her want to reach Kil’heed all the more sooner.
Aria was kept busy, helping to serve supper and seeing to the well-being of the Volshi. She was exhausted from the forced smiles, the gentle voice she used, when all she wanted was to do as either Lara or Saraya were doing. Going for a quiet walk to clear one’s mind, or to simply sit in peace and silence. Just a moment… that was all she asked, but it would have to wait until Malik was defeated, or they reached Kil’heed. It certainly wasn’t happening tonight, so it was much to her relief when Adimar, Carrick, Ayab and Rhuarc returned from the fight. She had jumped to her feet, so happy to see them returned. They all sported minor injuries. Aria watched as Rhuarch and Ayab wandered away to lick their own wounds, and Carrick rushed right past her to swoop Saraya off her feet. She smiled at that, they were quite adorable, and she was happy to see that despite all the darkness and challenges they all faced, Saraya had found happiness once again, and Carrick had found purpose.
Adimar marched directly to her and stopped just short of her, bending to kneel before her. Aria glanced one last time in the direction Rhuarc and Ayab had gone, and finally turned her attention for Adimar.
“You were successful I see,” Aria said her voice relieved to see them returned, and yet she managed a tone of authority. “Your wounds look minor,” Adimar nodded, rising back to his feet and full height.
“We dispatched of them quickly enough. They will not be able to report back to The False King,”
“This is good news. Rest for now, I will find someone to come and see to your men and their wounds. I will want to speak with you all on the morrow. It is far too late to be dealing reports. I shall hear from you all at dawn.”
“Of Course, Priestess,” Adimar bowed and turned leaving the center fire for his own tents, but stopped turning to call on her one last time. “Priestess?” Aria stopped herself from resuming her seat, and instead rose back up to face him, folding her hands at her waist.
“Yes, Lord Adimar?”
“May I speak freely?” He asked. Aria pursed her lips, she wasn’t sure she was prepared to hear whatever he had to say.
“Doesn’t everyone here?” She countered, her piercing eyes boring into him. Adimar arched his brows, and realized that they had all taken liberties to voice opinions and make statements. He looked contrite, but decided to take the moment to speak.
“I am not suggesting you apologize, you Holiness, far from it… but the rift between yourself and Master Rhuarc-“ She silenced him with a wave of her hand and gave him a look that could kill. Her next words were cold, authoritarian, and the words of a ruler, and she closed the space between them so she could hiss a cold whisper at him.
“I will not apologize for enjoying a moment of freedom,” She growled at him. Her voice quiet so their conversation did not leave from their privy. “I have already apologized for not returning to Ayab or Max when I lost them, and that is all I will apologize for. Am I not the Holy Priestess of all Azeroth?” she demanded, but her question was more of a statement then a question and Adimar was made aware that under all her insecurity there was a leader within her.
“You are,” Adimar responded softly. Conceding to her demand.
“Then I will not hear any more on this subject. It is none of your concern, and when I am ready to approach Rhuarc and settle our differences I shall, but until he is willing to listen I am not going to speak!” She snapped.
“And if he is never willing to listen?” Adimar dared to ask, and for a moment Aria looked crestfallen. She had clearly not thought of that. Oh dear… what would she do then? If that was the case, then they would no longer be friends… had she really managed to destroy one of her first friendships over something so innocent? It had been a mistake, an emotional moment for her, a moment of freedom… and she had been guilted for it.
“Then….” A look of pain crossed her face, but she masked it quickly and looked back up at him, resolute. She had to stop showing weakness, and she could not allow herself to get too attached to any of the guardians. “I shall never speak to him again as a friend, only as his priestess,” She said, though the hurt in her voice to confront such a possibility, was clear as day.
“My apologies,” Aria nodded her head as Adimar bowed to her. “You are right, it is not my place, and you are the Priestess, and you are our leader,” Aria raised her chin a little higher, doing her best to look intimidating and confident; when all she was, was a frightened woman doing her best to be brave and decisive in the face of insurmountable odds.
“You’re forgiven, and I appreciate your concern. I am glad you all returned safely, if that is all… I suggest you go find rest.” Adimar simply bowed a final time and she turned away from him leaving the area.
She wanted to get away, but with no luck. Rupert and Max remained close and watchful, even as Thad wandered off to catch up with Adimar. Aria would take what little moment she had, until she heard a set of footsteps cautiously making their way towards her. She turned to see who it was, and was slightly stunned to see it was Lara.
“Lara,” She greeted, and even though their youngest guardian tensed and looked ready to run, Aria smiled genuinely to her and reached a hand out. “I can sense something is on your mind. Come, sit with me a while,” Aria welcomed and took up a seat beside the warmth of a large fire. Lara sat down beside Aria and for a moment looked pensively into the fire. Aria waited patiently for Lara to gather her words and her thoughts, and once she did, listened intently to what the girl had to say.
[i “Is there something I don't know about my own guardian, or is just me?"]
Aria smiled sympathetically, and reached out to take Lara’s hands into her own. Sensing the girl’s insecurity and uncertainty. Aria gave her a matronly touch, and gave her a pointed but tender look.
“The Guardians are mysterious. Some are more straightforward and blunt. Others speak in riddles, and some may not speak at all. Water is a powerful force, but also tepid and gentle. It can be calm and quite or it can rage and roar. It can wipe out entire forests, and when it is blocked, carve a new path. I suspect you fear that you are not enough…” She tsked, sweetly and sighed, as if amused by that. “But, oh my dear, you [i are] enough. More than that! You are everything the Fenlyk Guardian needs in its host. You still have much to learn… we all do, and that is nothing to be ashamed of,” Aria told her with a gentle smile and reached out to lift her chin. She wanted to make sure Lara saw the seriousness in her eyes, the confidence she had in her, and hopefully see the potential in her that Aria saw.
“You will master your powers one day, but first you must master your own mind. Do not look at the others as examples of how you should be. Caledon speaks to Saraya because we are always surrounded by Nature, and she is Prya. When she is away from it, I’m sure his voice is not so prominent. It may be the same with Adimar and Rhuarc. Rhuarc was raised a warrior, he has an intellectual understanding of Jai’hash simply from the culture he was raised in. Adimar is different, Adimar was raised in a way he grew up knowing who and what he was. Out of us all he has the most control, and potentially the strongest bond with his spirit. He might be able to help you clear your mind and find ways of speaking with Fenlyk… however, I do have an idea for you,” Aria smirked then, folding her hands in her lap but for the first time that night looking relaxed. “Fish cannot breathe above water… so how can you hear its voice? Perhaps you need to [i dive deeper]…” She said and looked towards the lake.
Suddenly Aria was standing up with her hand held out for her. Taking Lara’s hands she helped the girl stand. “Perhaps try not to force it. When your mind is clear and uncluttered, maybe then you will hear it speak to you,” Aria said this as she looped an arm over Lara’s tiny shoulders and led her from the fire back towards the lake. “Perhaps a nice swim in the lake will help clear your mind?” She asked as they stopped right at the bank, letting the water lap lazily near their feet and the black dirt beneath them. “I have the upmost faith in you Lara, and I see great potential. Do not doubt yourself, and if Fenlyk so decides to remain silent, you must accept that, and focus on the here and now. When it is ready to speak to you, it will,” Aria assured, and scanned the lake one last time before she stepped away from Lara with a warm and confident smile. “I am here if ever you need me. My path is to guide you, guide you all to your potential. I am here for you all, as much as you are all here for me,” Aria finished with a smile, and then without another word left Lara to contemplate all she had said.
Aria walked away hoping Lara had gleaned at least something from their conversation. All around her people were hunkering down for the night. Even Balden was drawing a blanket up to his shoulders from where he slept in the back of the wagon he helped Carrick steer. Once far enough away Aria glanced back out towards the lake, praying Lara could find the start of her path, or even just the whisper of her guardian, and if not that… at least allow her to sense its presence. As she wandered back through camp, her mind drifted back to Adimar’s words and making peace with Rhuarc. Perhaps apologizing wasn’t what Adimar had meant, but to rather make peace with Rhuarc so that they could all continue to work as a unified group. Still… there was a petulant and prideful part within her that did not want to make peace until he made the first move. She had apologized, had tried to make amends by taking extra steps and precautions that it would not happen again. All he’d done was yell at her, and then ignored her when he wasn’t glaring at her. It had left Aria feeling nervous, if he didn’t trust her, didn’t approve of her… would he continue to follow her, help her reclaim the Temple, or might he find her Toh too great and abandon them all?
She shivered at the thought, fear rampant in her blood. She couldn’t afford to lose any of her guardians. Not now, and certainly not ever. She needed sleep though…. But with a heavy sigh as she looked around… she knew there’d be none for her. The fire was bright but the shadows were darker. It was quiet, and for the first time there was no one in sight, except for the perimeter guards, and Adimar and his men who sat near a fire, relaxing while still managing to keep an eye on her. With nothing else to do, Aria found a space near the fire where Adimar and his men sat. They all silenced their jokes and laughter when she approached, and she knew she had stopped their jovial conversation. Why did that make her feel so guilty? So dejected, and outcasted? She never bothered to sit down as they stared at her uncertainly. Feeling foolish, she turned away from them and instead found a spot under a willow tree, close to the lake and looked out at the camp. She had a hollow feeling in the pit of her stomach, like she didn’t really belong anywhere, and she realized it was loneliness. Her guardians all had someone to speak to, someone to laugh with… everyone in the camp had at least someone they could confide in. Aria lowered her gaze to the grass she sat on, and the gnarled bark of the roots that cradled her. She didn’t have that luxury, she could not be perceived as weak, or vulnerable, she had none to confide her secrets and fears in… and the one person that had been her voice of reason had spurned her, would possibly never forgive her. She couldn’t manage to keep a single friend… how did she expect herself to keep an entire country? She scoffed… lecturing Lara about believing in herself, and quieting her mind, and here Aria sat unable to do so herself.
Aria never did find sleep that night, and instead watched the moon traverse across the water's surface. She watched the beginning hues of dawn rise above the horizon and she allowed her mind to wander to everything and nothing at all. It was prominently on the plan, but it wasn't much of a plan. She wasn't sure what to expect once they reached Kil'heed. Which according to Adimar was only two more days of travel. Except the next two days meant a dangerous trek up a crumbling mountain pass to reach the juncture of three separate mountains where the Ancient City was shrouded and protected. It wasn't until Saraya approached her, and claimed her attention did Aria cease her anxious thoughts... even though the tension and fear remained.
"Saraya..." Aria greeted, forcing yet another smile, and listened as Saraya told her they would be taking a wagon, and invited her to join. For a moment Aria thought of declining Saraya's offer, and riding a horse. That idea was dashed away though when she went to stand up and stumbled almost drunkenly back into the tree, from sleep deprivation. She knew then, that she best take up the offer and nodded her head. "Yes, thank you. A Wagon sounds like a good idea. I do not think I am in any condition to ride today," She said softly and took Saraya's arm to lead her towards the wagon. From there she saw Balden rigging up the horses. Carrick was saddling his horse, and Adimar was already dressed and leading the caravan to move out. Aria? Well Aria took one seat in the back of the wagon, and within minutes of them moving out, fell asleep with her head falling against Saraya's shoulder. Sleeping for the first time since they left Tanaka.
Her silent demeanor quickly dissipated when Adimar had appeared from the shadows. She sat up, noticing Rhuarc and Ayab, then a familiar face peered through the trees. She sighed in relief. Carrick had made it safely to her.
Saraya smiled as Carrick sought her approaching frame. He embraced her, burying his head into her neck. She hugged him in return, feeling as though a weight had been lifted from her shoulders. In the distance, though, she saw a certain glare from Adimar, who was mere feet from her and Carrick. There was envy in his gleaming eyes. Saraya felt the atmosphere thicken with his jealousy. At that moment, Saraya knew that this knight just might pose as an slight relief to the caravan.
Still, Saraya was happy that Carrick was back and barely a scratch on him.
While Rhuarc was asleep, Aria and Lara were speaking about a matter amongst themselves. Adimar took over control of the night watch with Ayab, so it left Balden, who sat along the bank, admiring Lara from a distance, and the two lovers to tend to each other. Saraya got to work with cleaning his armour, and bandaging minor cuts.
Though she wanted so bad to speak, she kept her peace as she dressed his wounds. After which, she got right to work on cleaning his clothing. Though opportunity for curiosity took place, she gave Carrick his space. It didn't stop her from satisfying her curiosity, and saw the moon beam light onto his bare skin, and she blushed before turning away. His scars, though his body began deaging, still decorated his back. She preferred it that way. His scars were one of his captivating features. He still bore the time he had on this land. He will be wise with immortal gifts.
Carrick began speaking about the battle then, and the information was alarming. [I "It just seemed too... Easy"] was all that could com from her lips... But, as a person with full knowledge
But, when she tried to break free from her only spell she knew he had over her, the Fade, the decoys, they all evaporated as quickly as she solved it. As if struck with a drugging dart, she felt a sensation she hadn't felt before. Carrick was sliding on a pair of pants he packed for the travel. She noticed he had paused too. The tree that hid them from the caravan swayed softly, and with it, her eyes narrowed to a growing desire. But... It was not the Spirit's doing... What was happening?
Carrick turned to her, and she began to hear his even breaths get heavy. His expression became lustful, and as he inched closer to her, she could see that it was a dark seduction, one of The Fade's limited tricks. Saraya gasped when Carrick pinned her against their swaying tree and closed the gap between them. They were far too gone to figure out their escape.
[center The Carrick she loved was there... But, in the back of her mind, The Fade placed her first ever fear... The Fade... He will harm them with selfish desire... With pain of losing each other... The Fade found her only weakness]
[center [size25 ﾟﾟू⁽ƈ]]
Adimar, making his rounds, was thinking of the obvious... He still believed it was foolish of Saraya to vacate the city... But, as Rhuarc stated early on... It all just seemed too easy. The attack was unorganized, and far too weak... It had to have been an diversion.
Still, as he looked to one of his Knights, one that seemed to know Lady Saraya from her homeland... Giji, was that not his name? When he noticed Giji, he noticed that his attention was elsewhere. As Giji's mind began brooding, his jealousy got the better of his attention. Lady Saraya had popped up in his mind on more than one occasion, and it had always happened when he would stare at Carrick. He envied him. He had Felliope's woman to fight for, to come home to... He then looked to Lara and Aria, before counting the people. Everyone was accounted for... Except two.
As the other knights drank of their rum, and laughed to their easy victory, Giji had slowly advanced towards the trees where he had saw them last. [I "Lady Saraya... Sir Carrick, we must return to the caravan. Dawn will approach soon"]
He finally found Carrick's drying clothes hanging from a nearby tree. Where these were, so would be the guardians he sought. He ventured further, searching the banks for her and Carrick. Her scent of roses caught his nose, and there was an ominous glow not far from the clothes hanging from the trees. As he neared it, he saw an orb, and within it, two bodies... Both of their lower torsos were covered with her kimono, her hair was free, covering her womanhood in her drunken slumber. Carrick had buried his sense of smell in her hair, a hand wrapped around her waist, as if claiming his mate no matter who saw. Giji instantly envied him, it was so much to bear. He had always... But, Saraya was swept away again... Though he was silently yelling in his head, he pulled himself together and cleared his throat to wake them. When it didn't work, he resorted to trying to shake up Carrick... Before he could even approach, a sudden reaction he had gotten startled even him. A sword of Saraya's was aimed at his jugular, and and the holder was vacant in the eyes, yet ready for war. Carrick was crouched, and Saraya was in suit, hiding behind him. Giji couldn't have a few moments of breath before Carrick recovered from his drunken stature. [I "Giji? "] Saraya asked, Carrick's hand protecting her from sight as his vision cleared. Giji, jealousy owning his mind, tossed him his trousers he pulled from the tree. [b [I "Get dressed, Guardian. Dawn approaches"]]
[center [size20 (・∀・)]]
Saraya, though surprised that Giji had found them, was not at all embarrassed about her exposed figure. She, instead, was more concerned with what just happened. She and Carrick... She was overthrown by a desire to satisfy and to be satisfied... A dark thought she had always kept under control... The Fade... It had to be it's doing. She looked to Carrick as he slid on a shirt after pulling up his trousers. She slid the dress on, throwing the kimono onto her shoulders. Carrick, though he was silent, his expression shown no sign of regret. In fact, after he righted his clothing, he hugged her to him, and kissed her slowly, despite Giji's protests to make haste. Saraya nodded to their personal word of getting the people to Kil'heed, and took her hand, taking off to the caravan, waking everyone softly and gradually readied them before waking Rhuarc. [I "Wake, warrior. It is time. "] she said. She rubbed his shoulder, a sisterly way she hadn't recognized. Instantly, she had became big sister to the Fellowship... Though she felt she hadn't done her part in the matter, she still felt that they needed one, and accepted with grace. After Rhuarc had awakened, she smiled to him before moving to Lara, doing the same sisterly maneuver, and she had awakened the same.
Ayab had awakened, a bit shockingly that she would be so kind, but all the same, Saraya had gave him the sister he needed as well... Balden was awakened by Carrick as she made it towards Aria... For her, she felt the biggest obligation. But, as she looked, Aria was not at the cot, but at the bank. Something troubled her greatly... And with mere hours, it seemed that her fear of Malik's plans... They may come to pass, and the Guardians would be no more... Saraya looked to Carrick, who shown the same concern on his face. She went to her, and snapped her out of her trance with what she knew she would respond to...
[center [I "My Lady... We take a wagon... Would you ride with us? "]]
For each tear that fell down and warmed the cold cheeks, an image flashed in her mind which warmed her cold feelings. The images were of those times which she had spent with her parents doing fun things; being a family: a stroll along the beach as the waves calmly swept towards and away, cooking together, out on the ocean on a boat, strolling through the city, so many still life images and so many tears of joy. Some would say that there is no use crying about the past, but the memories most joyful are heart lifting in times of darkness. They gave hope, something of huge importance because as long as hope never died, darkness could not rule.
One last tear, and one last image before she had opened up her eyes back up to the real world. She hadn't even opened them fully when she felt a finger on her cheek, it did cause her to startle a little bit. The finger belonged to Balden, looking at him she could see he was trying to care for her. And then he started to talk, and she listened carefully.
His voice, 'twas a solemn one as he began about his own past. In many ways the two of them were different from each other. Her father and mother hadn't left and/or died when she had been young, instead she had been with them for 16 years before an unexpected and painful separation. In a way, she hadn't abandoned an entire village as the only target was herself those three years ago, but in a way she had abandoned the place where she had lived. Despite the differences, there were similarities which brought the two of them closer.
But the way he then tacked on the conversation. Lara supposed in a way that he was right about their whole group being one large family, but a very divisive one at the moment. She did scoff when Balden talked about the Jais, particularly Ayab. Ayab seemed to resent her openly, and it did not appear as if he were ever going to change his mind about that. Something are probably just not meant to be. Sad, but there's nothing to do except to go along with it.
Although she really wasn't sure why Balden had mentioned the part about Saraya pairing up with Carrick. She had noticed it, but it wasn't something she had seen out of the blue for the first time. If the two of them decided to have a close relationship, then let them have it. As long as it didn't end up getting the rest of them killed; now this she would have a definite problem with, but hopefully it never came. Although with the recent luck raining down on the group, it was likely that something quite irregular would be happening.
And then he suddenly switched to talking about Adimar. What he said was true, Adimar did seem to be quite secretive about some information. Even though it was annoying in a way to be kept in the dark as to where his intentions were concerned, thinking about the enemy that all of them were dealing with, not too hard to see why Adimar would be withholding information.
But when Balden said, "and he seems particularly interested in you ", she was confused for a second. She didn't really know what that was supposed to mean, no inkling whatsoever. At the same time she saw Balden blushing, fidgeting, and quieting down all of a sudden. She turned her head away as she realized the true meaning of his words, with her face turning into confusion as she tried... Balden, he had said... That would mean he was jealous of Adimar loving her, and he himself was also in love with her... Adimar had never said anything or done anything which suggested what Balden was suggesting... All this, all this was too confusing. She didn't know what to say at all...
With difficulty she straightened her face back and stood up. [+purple "Let's get back to the others and lead them to this spot."] She tried to keep any nervousness and fear out of her voice when she spoke those words, but she feared that some of the nervousness and fearfulness had been imparted into those words.
The ride back had been silent, she didn't talk and didn't pay attention except to the road and her thoughts. Just thinking about what had just happened, it just caused her back to shiver from just thinking about it. On the other hand, it did explain some of Balden's earlier behaviors around her, but maybe Adimar was much more skilled at hiding those behaviors from people. Just a mind boggling, confusing muddle in an unknown foggy marsh.
The journey back was without incident, and so was the journey when she had led the caravan to the spot she and Balden had found before. As night descended, campfires began to burn; Lara snuck off into the dark to the shore of the lake and to think alone.
After deciding she couldn't make heads or tails out of anything that had happened with Balden, Lara decided to have a chat with her guardian. Sitting by the shore of the lake, she closed her eyes and began mentally attempting to start a conversation. No answer. She tried different words, different phrasings, she even used her native tongue, and still nothing. Opening her eyes, she did want to ask the priestess something.
Standing up and shaking off the dirt, she walked towards the campfires. She walked around each one until she found the one where the priestess was. The priestess looked at her when she heard the footsteps, but it didn't appear as if this was a good time because of the tired expression on the priestess' face. Lara was about to walk away and let Aria rest, but it looked like Aria saw something troubling her and motioned for her. Lara sat down near Aria, and looked into the fire for a few silent seconds. Then, she looked up at Aria. [+purple "There is something troubling me, it has to do with the Fenlyck guardian."] Lara paused, [+purple "Everyone else seems like their own good terms with their own guardian. Me, my guardian won't even talk to to me. I just tried talking to it by the shore of the lake, all I got was silence. Is there something I don't know about my own guardian, or is just me?"] Saying the last part, Lara had looked down on her hands and had opened them so they were facing palms up towards her eyes.
With his men on his heels, the Jai at his side, and the disavowed Templar with him, Adimar felt a rush of adrenaline. He was riding into battle. It had been so long since the last time he faced one of Malik’s Malcontents. He could feel a smile tug at the corner of his lips as they galloped down the dirt road and within the hour they saw the hoard of 50 men riding towards them. Their armor gleamed with Malik’s crest, and the infuriating colors of violet and black. He, however, smirked. There was fifteen of them and fifty of Malik’s men. They were vastly outnumbered, but their skill was enough to make this a fair fight. Rhuarc shouted a bit of good advice to the group of fifteen that rode with him and Adimar nodded in agreement, and withdrew his bow.
“No survivors,” he murmured darkly. He was an Archer by trade and so between himself and Ayab they sent the first volley of arrows. Rupert and Thad, and a few more archers in the group sent their own arrows towards the Malcontents. Their arrows rained down killing several men, and still they volleyed arrow after arrowed towards the scouting party until they were so close they all abandoned their bows for steel. By then their arrows had thinned the group out. Adimar rushed into the fray his sword raised high and brought it down on a man wanting to send a spear into his horse. He killed the man, but the man killed his horse, and sent Adimar tumbling towards the ground. He rolled expertly and jumped back to his feet. Swinging his blade to parry an attack, before spinning and cutting a man’s arm clean off. He kicked his leg high and with a powerful shout, he sent a powerful wave of air kicking up dust and gleaming with arcane magic towards those that surrounded him. They flew back, frosted and temporarily immobile. Beside him Thad had dismounted and was on the ground with him covering his back, while it seemed Max and Carrick were making quick and dirty work of their enemy.
Instinct took over in Adimar, and his already blue eyes gleamed electric and with a shout he jumped into the air with a gush of wind and vaulted over the heads of some of the fighters. As he jumped he spotted below, Rhuarc surrounded. He was a fearsome figure on the battlefield, but behind him stood a dangerous threat. With sword raised high, he brought it down on a man about to fell Rhuarc. He landed with his sword in the man’s chest. It landed with a sickening thwack to the ground and Adimar ripped his blade up, flinging blood with the motion. The two men locked eyes briefly, before resuming their fight. Rhuarc with his blade of fire and Adimar with freezing gale force winds that pushed back enemies from swarming them. Rupert made his way through the group still on horseback and swinging his flail about, killing men left and right. Just as Rhuarc’s flame died, Adimar’s wind died eventually too. He was breathless and sweating from the exertion of mana used to fuel his arcane gifts. He knew he had just enough left to summon a storm, but their situation was not so dire it required such a thing. So instead he conserved what he had and used the wind to propel him quickly through the battlefield. By the end of the battle, there were only a few men who dropped their weapons and turned running, but Adimar and Ayab’s arrows made quick work of them, dropping them dead in the middle of the road.
By the time the battle was over, the sun had set, and his blade dripped with the blood of malcontents. Just as it should. Heaving for breath, his face dirty and covered in sweat, he turned from the massacre and saw Carrick breathing just as heavily and wielding a heavy Battle Axe. They were all covered in the blood of the enemy, and their own. All of them sporting wounds, but with minimal loss. Adimar only lost three men. Considering there was only 15 of them against 50? He thought he’d had an acceptable loss. Adimar was the only one without a single scratch on him, the blood he wore was the blood of Malik’s men. Carrick on the other hand, was sporting a bleeding nose, now crooked and split over the bridge from where he was punched in the face with a shield. Thad had a good goose egg on his head, Max had a few cuts on his arms and legs, and Rupert was sporting a busted lip and black eye. Despite all that, each and every one of them stood tall and proud.
[b "These men were indeed scouts but something doesn't feel right about them.”]
Adimar frowned looking towards Rhuarc who looked, dare he say it, nervous. He watched as the massive Jai bent down and surveyed a fallen body. “Search the bodies for clues, quickly before the last of dusk leaves.” Adimar commanded. His men hurried, searching bodies, but all came back empty handed. Instead Adimar ordered they steal the armor and gear that was the least damaged for it might come in handy later. Adimar did not feel defeated though, and turned towards where his most loyal men stood with Carrick and the two Jai. “We’ve done good work on this day, and your powers grow stronger,” Adimar commented of Rhuarc, but the Jai seemed restless and eager to return to their group.
[b "We should return to the others now, even at this rate it shall be well into night before we return."]
“Agreed,” Adimar murmured and looked out at the field of death they had made.
“The priestess is without two of her guardians,” Carrick said, cleaning his blade and looking between
Adimar and Rhuarc. “While I do not lack faith in that of Lara or Sarya…we can’t leave her unprotected for too long,” Adimar studied the Blacksmith and agreed. With all of them in agreement they quickly took to their horses and galloped back towards camp.
They were greeted by a sentry half a mile from camp, not that it mattered, even from here he could see the fires and he shared an irritated look with Rhuarc, and both of them seemed to decide to hold their tongues for the time being. As soon as they entered camp and began to dismount their horses, the camp came alive with chatter. Everyone eager to see if the group returned whole and unscathed.
[i ‘Danger lurks among you…’] Adimar tensed where he stood removing his weapons from his horse’s saddle and looked around. The voice of Volshiv whispered in his mind. [i ‘It moves unseen, even I cannot see it, but I sense its darkness. Be wary, Guardian… trust no one.’] Adimar’s brows furrowed, his eyes scanning those that milled about within the camp, but he decided to keep it to himself for now and instead marched further into camp with Rhuarc and the others towards the center bonfire. Aria who was sitting there immediately jumped to her feet a look of shock and relief clear on her fair features. She was not looking at him though, but to the man on his right, Rhuarc. Who, much to Adimar’s shock, turned abruptly and left for his own tent. As if just knowing she was still unscathed was enough verification for him that they had arrived quickly enough, but he dared not linger. Adimar said nothing and continued his approach towards the Priestess.
Carrick rushed ahead of him to collect Saraya up into his arms. Exhilarated from battle, men usually wanted one of two things: A Hard drink or to lay with a fine woman… he wouldn’t be surprised if Carrick was a man who did both. That was not to say he didn’t have men in his ranks who laid with other men, Adimar did not care, so long as he did not have to see it. He did however warn him men not to lay with a comrade. He was not about to have that sort of dilemma on his hand of scornful lovers within his ranks. He watched Carrick for a moment, envious that the man had a woman to find solace and peace in. What Adimar wouldn’t give for a wench to fool around with for the night…
[+red "Aye, we shall aid you in defeating this threat."] It should be a fairly tsraight forward endeavour dispatching the small number of scouts, in addition to two guardians and all the abilities that entailed they had a number of hardened veteran warriors with them, this was likely going to be a short battle. With a kick to his steed's flanks Ayab and Rhuarc wheeled their mounts around and followed Adimar, Carrick and a number of the soldiers that were guarding the caravan and headed towards the threat. With the report that their own scout had given detailing how quickly the enemy was approaching coupled with the haste that their own group was making in confronting them in only took an hour or two before a number of riders could be seen in the distance, a trail of dust being left in their wake. [b "Ready yourselves, leave no man alive if even one escapes and brings word of our position to the False King then all is lost."] Rhuarc eased a spear from the case at his hip and adjusted his grip on the weapon, as soon as he was in range then he would loose his weapon. A glance over towards Ayab showed the other Jai readying his bow in a similar fashion, neither of the men were particularly accustomed to horseback travel or combat but the weeks travelling had at least got them used to riding the beasts, fighting may prove interesting.
As they rode closer to the inevitable battle Rhuarc heard a bowstring loose as several of the Volshiv guards, along with Ayab, Sent a hail of arrows towards their foe with several hitting their mark. A grin broke out on the Jai's face as the thrill of battle spread through his body, it had been too long since he had fought. The grin only intensified as he had to manoeuvre his horse to avoid the arrows that Malik's forces responded with, a mighty heave from his arm released the spear which missed the mark he had intended for it but making adjustments in his head the next spear he threw found its target and impaled one of the scouts in the chest as he fell off his mound to lie dead on the ground. Ayab loosed arrow after arrow, many hitting their intended target before the gaps closed significantly and the pitched battle became more melee orientated, forgoeing the spears that had served him well enough up to them Rhuarc drew the heavy black steel blade and set the blade aflame.Between furiously parrying blows of steel from the enemy and cutting down any he could see Rhuarc glanced around occasionally saw Ayab cut down a man with his hand axes, or Adimar using both his Arcane skills and his skill with the blade to dispatch any number of foes.
As the sun started to fall in the sky the battle came to an end, it was a simple affair and truth be told the result of the battle was never in doubt. Rhuarc nudged his horse towards his countryman, Ayab was sporting a deep gash along his chest, it was not life threatening but looked painful, it would make a fine scar once it had healed, a most honourable mark. Rhuarc took stock of his own injuries, he had a few minor cuts and gashes, along with a heavy bruise across his jaw where one of the scouts had swung out and struck him with a cudgel, his jaw was tender but he didn't think it was broken. The most serious of his injuries was where the two arrows had hit him in his left shoulder, he had taken the shafts out and wrapped a strip of cloth taken off one of the scouts as a bandage. Hopefully it would take little more tending and heal nicely on its own. [b "These men were indeed scouts but something doesn't feel right about them."] The Jai searched the bodies of the scouts sent against them, they were lightly armoured and armed, as would be expected, their pockets held no scraps of parchment or any other orders and their armour all bore Malik's seal, not uncommon for his soldiers. Everything seemed perfectly plausible but something nagged at Rhuarc, he had fought many battles over his life and his instincts told him something was wrong, he couldn't put his finger on it but it nagged at the back of his mind. Hopefully in time it would reveal itself. [b "We should return to the others now, even at this rate it shall be well into night before we return."]
The sun had set hours ago by the time Rhuarc had the camp in sight and he was astonished at what he saw, eight large fires encircled the entire camp and shed light for a good distance all around...it was madness. Any experienced soldier would have known that lighting even one fire was a terrible idea. Whoever had lit those fires had made a grave error. They knew an army was coming for them and here was a beacon that would point them out for miles, avoiding detection would be impossible, not to mention any sentries or watchmen would be near worthless, fires ruined night vision. Rhuarc would hold his tongue for tonight but going forward he would make sure that fires were lit only if necessary. As the battered group entered the camp with only a few losses and injuries Rhuarc saw Aria very briefly as she sat by one of the fires, he tensed his jaw in irritation and a shot of pain shot through his body, ignoring the High Priestess. The night was too late for Balden's sword training and he was too tired after the skirmish anyway. Rhuarc needed rest to recover from the battle. As Rhuarc drifted to sleep the battle went through his head and he suddenly knew what was wrong...the battle was too easy.
The Fade watched surveyed the camp the caravan trail made, sentries patrolling, the fires being made and even the movements of the Guardians. He was here for the High priestess, Malik would reward him greatly for her, maybe he would even allow the Fade part of her torture. That would be delicious. The great fires surrounding the camp had aided him to no end, while they illuminated the surrounding land, it had cast flickering shadows on the interior of the camp, bright light cast deep shadows and that was his weapon. Being able to travel through that darkness made everything so much easier, as had his ploy to remove many of the fighting men. The Volshiv and Jai Guardians, along with the other pet Jai, the blacksmith and a number of soldiers had been drawn into his distraction of that little scouting party. The Fade had commanded them to die and they had done just that, he needed the threat of those men removed for the time being and now he was ready to make his move. One man had already discovered who this seemingly poor man in the cloak was when he glanced the Fade's face, one quick movement of the whip held at it's hip was enough to silence the man forever, no one could discover his secret before he needed it revealed. The corpse had become swollen, bloated and stained black as soon as the Fade's weapon broke the skin and drew blood, naturally the body had to be hidden so no one could discover that there was an enemy amongst them.
Tonight the Priestess should be his. It would be easy to kill her now but Malik wanted her to himself, he was a cruel man a feeling the Fade could not only understand but was one of two emotions he could truly feel. Cruelty and Hate, that was what the Fade was. His mere presence within this caravan would slowly start to infect others with cruel thoughts and reveal malice in their hearts, if the fools knew what signs to look for then they would know that he was here already but all of these fools were powerless. Once infected with his malice it was no easy thing to remove such darkness. If not dealt with in due time, they too would come to be a Fade. The Fade could already feel his cruelty take seed in the blacksmith's apprentice, that was merely an added bonus. The Fade blended in with the other caravan followers, no one should suspect who he was, stealth and intrusion were part of the reason he had been created, to get where no one else could. One sentry that was patrolling the camp turned a corner and passed by the Fade being none the wiser that such a dangerous foe lay mere feet away from them, this was his moment to strike, this was the time to take the Priestess to Malik. Just as the Fade was about to head towards the centre fire where the High Priestess lay, the Caledon Guardian showed themselves by her side, that made his task more complicated but not impossible, until the others returned from the scouting party distraction. The return of two more guardians, and the other soldiers, was a problem, especially the blacksmith, he had changed since the Fade had first observed him in Tanaka, he had somehow bonded with a Guardian. No, maybe his attack should wait until a more amenable opportunity presented itself. Until then the Fade would continue to wait a viper among the caravan, unseen, invisible and incredibly deadly.
[right [pic http://i64.tinypic.com/s6kvnm.jpg]]
Saraya's senses were acute as she pulled out a pipe before riding, and began smoking. It was her habit. The smell of danger was afoot, and she needed to be as calm as humanly possible and more. She rode like the villager of The Jch'Bas, the most mysterious and most enlightening colony on the east of her beloved homeland. Her hands hadn't touched the reigns, and one hand was tucked in her kimono, as if an samurai sitting on the empire he himself built, and must honor it. She felt no pain in her side, and it was good. The Fade was following. It was good Aria was amongst her people, riding in between. Some archers were on the wagon as we'll, to provide light anywhere needed. Torches were burning proudly, a defense on her part. She used some of her power to burn slowly, and it helped in their hastily get away to Kil'heed.
She slowly began to lag behind, sensing that was it was nearing. Saraya was no fool, she could tell that Rhuarc was utterly upset. Of what, she did not know. To some degree, she couldn't blame him either. It was a dastardly task she asked of them... But this will teach them a lot on honoring their oaths, truly understanding their positions in this fight. They were the only ones capable to taking on the False King. This will wake everyone up on her understanding. If he gets ANYONE in the village, it would have easily manifest AND developed an army of her own kin to kill her and her comrades and take his prize and surely be the doom to all of their homes. The Fade will corrupt, poison the mind and rob it of yourself. Then, how can you fight an army of your own people, not to mention whatever was coming?
She glanced back at Carrick. She saw changes in him. He was more stubborn about being away from her unless it was necessary. He gave her a wink, and a flattered smile formed. She felt his heart thomp in an echo of hers. It felt as though they were...
Ayab and Rhuarc's heated argument caught her attention. It had to be concerning Aria. Saraya stayed near the priestess, for the works of Malik still held effect to her, despite her successfully creating a barrier in her mind. Not before that, Adimar's steed halted abruptly. Some of his soldiers had came from the city, bearing news of scouts. Saraya had halted her steed some, hearing that he was going to turn back, taking Rhuarc, Ayab... And her precious Carrick, for he volunteered.
Her heart ached for a moment, but knew that he would return... Aria had offered her steed and demounted, and he swapped spaces with her from his wagon. She braved herself for his departure, only to hear him trot slowly towards her. Her eyed glittered with worry and hope for him to return. He reached forward and took her hand in his. His lips touched her knuckles, flattering the beauty as his eyes stayed on hers.
[b "Stay safe, my love... "]
Saraya looked at him with a sadness he had seen only once. In the barn, surrounding fresh blood and fresh in sight had she seen him show a face of sadness when the priestess recalled her becoming. She made sure she didn't show signs, so she nodded slowly. [I "Please... Return to me, my love"] she spoke softly to him. He nodded to her and gave her a warm smile. [b "I will be back. Keep an eye on our priestess "] he said, as if a pact between only them. She nodded in confirmation before his smile broadened. Hr then leaned forward and kissed her cheek. She closed her eyes to the pleasure of it, before he turned and trekked away with Adimar. She looked back, then sighed as she knew that they couldn't stay there. Not for long. [I "Let's move out... "]
The caravan started moving, her keeping near the rear to keep her eyes on the group. Balden had already found Lara, and according to the priestess, they needed a guide to someplace without sight. Saraya was silent, but the atmosphere was thick, and Saraya only knew that they needed to be safe.
Lara and Balden found a spot to camp for the night. Saraya was grateful, ready to put her plan into action. [I "We will need eight fires in a circle. Be sure to leave room for one in the center. There will The priestess rest"]
Soldiers complied and did their jobs, the villagers helping in any way they could. All the while, Saraya set up a barrier about them, shrouding their scent and making sure the light prevented those unseen. It stretched a good length from the bank out to surrounding elements, and she was ready to perform her duty.
Night blanketed the leaves of the forest. Saraya was against a tree, near the villagers and her priestess. Lara and Balden went to the banks, so she was to watch. The fires brightened up around her, and the shield had proven successful, for there wasn't a predator in sight. Still, she kept her eyes open, her head clear. She hadn't heard from The Sprit since the attack. It had been obvious that he was waiting. But, waiting for what?
[I Spirit, you have been silent, long enough. I am in need of company this night...]
A moment she waited before she had gotten a response.
... And, the response was a long, slow, and disheartening. Saraya had to take this with no mercy. The spirit was hiding more than he would speak, and after his rambling... [b ... This sort of journey will put you both in harm's way...]
[I Me and Carrick will be alright, kind spirit]
[b I do not speak of Carrick... I speak of...]
Saraya was confused. If it wasn't Carrick he was speaking of... Then...
[b Everything that was taken from you by The False King, I shall return to you. I shall speak no more of this...]
Saraya was perplexed of his sudden silence. There was still something he wasn't telling her... What did he mean by 'everything that was taken by the false king, he shall return to her? '
Night bustled on, and Saraya couldn't sleep. She watched as the villagers slept, and only few among them sat awake. To them, she gave bread, and went to the banks of the waters. The spirit has been very upset lately... Not at his host, but the evil. She than began trying to decipher what the spirit meant. She lost Felliope to the evil's forces... And their son... It ached a little less than usual to think of what she lost... There, she realized what the spirit meant. But... She believed herself barren after that attack, after losing a innocent life in her womb. She thought... The spirit had been hiding so much from her. Why tell her this now?
She sat at the bank, her hand lazily went across her stomach, remembering the proud soundness of it, the pride she had that the child would be big and healthy. She shut her eyes and nodded. She wanted to have her family again. She sniffled once, a wave of emotions washing over her. The spirit... She was so unworthy of his gifts... But, thankful nevertheless. And, for the first time... She began to smile through her ocean of tears.
She then looked up to the moonlit sky, thinking of Carrick, hoping to the Gods that he would return to her. She then looked to the priestess and stood. As she walked towards her, she could feel a bit of a cool breeze, like a sigh of relief. [I "Aria... Come with me... "] she said, waiting on the priestess to stand.
But, Aria was not really speaking with her, either... This puzzled Saraya. Instead, Aria had walked past her to seek audience with Lara... Saraya sighed. It was better to keep to herself for now... Besides, it was her mission... But, why was everyone so distant from her?
Out of that knowledge, Saraya had sat back at her tree, and continued her duty. If she was not to speak until Carrick returned, that is fine. She had been isolated before... Was it safe to say she could stay that way, too? Saraya could feel awkward emotions left and right. Maybe, it was best that she stayed to herself for now... The mission was most important, and the Priestess will eventually come.
Balden had to hold on for dear life as Lara took off the moment his backside hit the supple leather of the saddle. He watched as they rushed past people and wagons upon wagons filled with people and supplies. The soldiers they rushed past paid them no mind, too busy taking up a defensive positions around the caravan while Adimar and the others rode out to stop the advancing regiment. They rushed past Aria at the front of the caravan, and Balden twisted in the saddle, one arm firmly wrapped at Lara’s waist and waved to Aria. For once smiling at them as they took off. It wasn’t long before the caravan was gone from their vision and long behind them. Balden assumed Lara enjoyed finally having a task, and while they didn’t speak, the silence between them was one of content. They were both busy looking about as they charged down the road. They needed a safe place to camp, a place they could hide out until Adimar’s group returned… he hoped they returned. Adimar seemed, to Balden, the most competent Guardian out of them all. He had training where the others did not, and he knew what he was, what he was capable of… and the others as well. From what he’d heard though, Lara was apparently a natural with the Arcane, summoning a water spirit out of thin air. Adimar had told him only an advanced Mage could have pulled the water from the air. If that were possible, Balden knew that Lara must be very powerful… they just hadn’t tapped into that power yet.
They rode nonstop with barely a word spoken between them, for what seemed like the entire afternoon, and Balden wondered where they might find a place to hide. There were next to no trees, just wide open spaces showing the low valley before the high peaks of Volshi, which loomed ominously in the distance shrouded by mist and fog. Without warning, Lara turned the horse towards a northern path, as if being led by an invisible force. Coming up over a hill the saw that the elevation was climbing higher and the little hills were now becoming rolling hills, growing higher and higher. Not to mention, they saw a forest. Lara stopped the horse only once to eye the treeline. Her expression was unreadable to him, but he saw something flash in her eyes, and he too looked towards the looming forest with curiosity. It was then she rode right for it, as if reading his thoughts to go check it out. What they found had Balden’s eyes bulging wide. It was a hundred yards in, but the trees thinned out enough they’d be able to lead wagons in and shelter the whole caravan at the wide pond.
[i "I think we've found the place Aria was seeking. "] Lara murmured. Balden dismounted first and then Lara, both of them looking around the space. Balden took the horse’s reins in his hand and led it towards the waterline allowing the creature to get some water. His eyes roamed over the space. He’d say they found it alright. This was great news! Aria would be so pleased to know they had a place to bunker down for the night, but how had Lara known to go North instead of continuing East? Perhaps her guardian had led her the way. That was when he spotted her sitting down on the edge of the water, playing with the fish. Upon closer inspection, he saw that she was crying.
Crying? Lara crying? Whatever for?! He hesitated approaching her, nervous and unsure about how to address those tears. He knew seeing them made him uncomfortable, and that finally being alone with her had his heart pounding and his palms sweaty. His last attempt to ‘woo a lady’ had ended in his public humiliation at the girl’s hand, and those of her courter. He’d learned that day that some girls could be just as nasty and mean as they were pretty. Lara was none of that. She was all pretty and all good. He was confident that even if she did spurn any advance he might make, if he was brave enough, that at least Lara wouldn’t humiliate and belittle him. He was pretty confident he could handle that sort of rejection, but for now that wasn’t what he was worried about. Lara needed a friend, and he knew he could do that.
He walked over to her and without a word sat down beside her, one hand reaching out with a crooked finger to collect a tear from her cheek. For a moment he said nothing, just met her gaze and knew then what sort of pain she was feeling.
“My family is gone too,” He told her solemnly. Perhaps knowing she wasn’t the only one who had felt that sort of pain would help her. “I could tell you were thinking about them. I’ve worn that face a time or two before. I don’t really know my father, and my mother died when I was young. I was taken in by a blacksmith and his family that knew my mother. I was training to forge weapons the way he did, and Carrick too. Then The Mage attacked the village and I only had the time to abandon them all to warn Elder Rigby and Aria.” Balden shrugged, but he knew that Lara probably wouldn’t open up unless he did. “I like to imagine what life would be like for me if my father never left, or if my mom never got sick… sometimes I liked to imagine I was actually the son of the Blacksmith who took me in… he always treated me well, but made it very clear that I was not part of his family,” Balden said giving Lara a sideways glance. “I’m starting to think Family can mean more than blood though. We’ve got a nice little family I think, don’t you?” Balden said looking back out at the water. “For me, Carrick and Rhuarc are the closest thing to big brothers I’ve ever had. I like Ayab a lot too, he’s a lot funnier than you would think,” he chuckled at Lara’s scoff and grinned at her. “It’s true, you two just got off on the wrong foot. He’s warming up to you though, I can tell,” Balden assured her. “Ayab and Rhuarc took a little getting used to for me too. Completely different culture, but once you get to know them –they’re just as normal as the rest of us. They just hit harder and yell louder. I like Saraya, she’s kinda bossy, but in a good way. Ya know? If wasn’t the good way I don’t think Carrick would be so wrapped around her finger,” He chuckled “And really? Who saw that one coming?” he was being sarcastic, it had been so obvious of Carrick’s attentions to Saraya and her own towards him. Their kiss that afternoon simply confirmed it. “I don’t know about Adimar though. I think he’s keeping information from us… and he seems particularly interested in you…” Balden’s words trailed off then as his laughter died and he began to fidget with the grass between his legs. “Can’t blame the guy… what’s not to be interested in?” He murmured softly, nervously, but he’d said it at least. In not so many words and with a crimson blush to his cheeks, so much his ears turned red, he had informed Lara he was interested. He didn’t want to hide his infatuation, but he didn’t want it so blatantly obvious either.
Attempting to find someone when you didn't know where they are? Eventually you'd run into the person you were seeking, but Lara didn't have all the time in the world; eventually it dawned on her that maybe she could go and ask one of the guards where Adimar was, they'd likely know where he was. Luckily for her, the guard she had asked had told her where Adimar was located at the current moment, hopefully Adimar would still be there when she got there.
Some more luck for her, he was still there when she arrived at the place which the guard had told her to go two times lucky, perhaps a third time for the charm of it? She began to approach Adimar, slowly but deliberately. Despite that she had cut and dyed her hair he still recognized her, probably it was the black cloak she was wearing, as if it were her trademark so to speak.
She hadn't walked up to him when he asked a question, but she wasn't going to answer him from afar. Once she had walked up to him, [+purple "Is there somewhere where we can talk privately?"] He led her off somewhere, away from everything that was happening in the yard, and inside a room. Once he had focused back on her, she told him about the vision that she had had.
And then a long period of Q&A happened, Adimar asking her questions and she answering them as best as she could. This went on, and on, and on, until someone else came looking for Adimar; appeared to be very urgent. She had politely excused herself from the start of this new conversation, and walked off.
Another caravan journey, it felt similar to the journey to this city with the only difference being that they were now leaving this city with many citizens of the city as well. If she had been forced to be in one of the wagons, she didn't know what she would have done, she preferred sitting on the back of the horse than on the back of a wagon; an old habit three years in the making. The caravan was moving slowly, but when take many people from a city as well then it wasn't even a surprise, even though they were trying to make it to wherever they were going with all speed possible. Running away from danger, a bitter taste in her mouth. She knew what running away was all too well, for she had started running away three years ago, when her parents had been killed and the house set ablaze, and for all practical purposes hadn't stopped since then.
At first she had stayed near the wagon, the hooves of the horse slowly and steadily plodding alongside the wagon. But for some reason, she herself didn't even know why, she had slowly led the horse away from the wagon, and where there was much more space, and away from everyone else. Being in the midst of a great mass of people made her feel, but why she didn't know at all. It wasn't the only thing she was feeling confused about, there were many a other thing she felt confused about. Take for example, the behavior of her guardian. It felt like Saraya had become one with hers, and Rhuarc was learning about his each passing day. But her guardian, stayed silent and offered zero clues whatsoever.
Someone yelling her name brought her out of her reverie, it was Balden who had been yelling her name; it didn't sound like he wanted to just have a chat, but legitimately wanted to say something to her. An assignment from the priestess, find a place for everyone to rest the night over. Sounded simple enough, but given the fact that danger still pursued them, not the time to think about negative.
Letting the horse walk up close to Balden, she looked down at him. [+purple "Come on then, up you go."] Reaching a hand down towards Balden, she helped him up on the horse behind her. Guiding the horse to the outside of the caravan, she told Balden to hand in before giving a [+purple "Hyah"] to the horse, and off the two of them galloped away from the caravan.
Nor this felt fun, the wind streaming past her and feeling the powerful legs of the horse thudding against the ground and tearing up chunks of soil; this was exhilarating. She didn't mind Balden holding on, it wasn't the first time she had to ride with someone holding on to her from behind, or even vice versa a few times. Although even if she didn't see where Balden was looking, it sometimes felt as if he was looking at her, and it felt weird inside of her. She felt confused at first, which showed on her face, she refocused back on the original task of finding shelter for the night. But, there was still that feeling deep inside her, and she felt somewhat troubled by it.
All this time, the horse kept going on and on with the two of them on the back of the horse. At some point, she began to feel something else, something quite familiar. She guided the horse towards the direction of her gut feeling. At some point, there appeared to be a forest looming up on the horizon, but that was where the familiar feeling was coming from. The two of them got closer, and closer, and closer, and closer, but she did not change the course of the horse.
Coming up on the edge of the forest, it didn't appear as if it was that deep, and there was something flickering on the inside. Leading the horse into the forest, a short while later there was a clearing, and further away from the clearing there was a lake. It was a small lake, but it sparkled from the glancing light of the sun. [+purple "I think we've found the place Aria was seeking. "] She dismounted and walked to the shore of the lake.
She sat down on the shore of the lake near the water's edge, legs tucked so she was only visible from the knees up from the front. She gazed at the water, herself pure and clear, no sign of filth or corruption. It started to bring a smile to her face, a face which hadn't worn a true smile for three long years, which at first would almost be invisible but the smile slowly grew. A fish appeared near the shore, but then disappeared back into the depths of the small lake. It wasn't the only fish to do so, this was repeated many times with many a different fish. Lara began to remember all the happy memories with her parents that she had spent: from the chats at dinner time, to the time spent together at the beaches, and many other fun and exciting things that she had done while her parents had still been alive. Her eyes began to water, and very slowly a tear travelled down from her left eye down her left cheek, carving a warm line down her cheek. That single tear was followed by another tear from the left eye before tears began to fall from the right eye; these weren't tears of sadness, these were different tears.
Aria was not well. Carrick had learned that much. To be honest, he was beginning to wonder if something were wrong with him. When he looked in the mirror during the morning he looked… different. Younger. He felt strong, and he felt an extra heart beat within his chest, one that echoed his own… or was his the echo of another? All Carrick knew, was he had started to change since the night he and Saraya shared their first kiss. It was so strange to him to see how he was growing stronger, and Aria was seeming to wither away. He knew he had nothing to do with whatever was happening to Aria, for Carrick was certain his newfound strength and appearance had something to do with Saraya. He was connected to her in a way. He sensed her and knew her needs without having to be near her. He sensed the care she felt for Aria, and the friendship that was solidifying between them. How it helped Saraya, and he only hoped it was helping Aria as well.
He did not ride with Saraya, but he did keep his eyes on her. Since they had found Aria, dressed her, and mounted her on a horse, Saraya had not left her side. Carrick however, had resigned himself to steering a heavy wagon led by large oxen with their downy white fur, and black stripes, their black horns curled forward in a menacing way… but he had found them to be gentle and docile creatures. They had rode for the better part of the day in relative peace, despite the need to hurry that hung in the air. Tanaka had been left with nearly five hundred men, and with them they carried two hundred of Adimar’s finest soldiers. Carrick had a theory as to why Adimar was as high ranking as he was, and he had a feeling it had nothing to do with his military career. He was too familiar with Aria as well. He had done as Saraya had asked before leaving and requested Adimar take Aria, he decided instead to set Max and Thad just behind her, to allow her her own space. That was not to say that Adimar did not stay close, he led his horse on Aria’s right hand side, conversing casually with Rhuarc. From Carrick’s place he could see plenty. At one time he caught Saraya glancing back at him. He simply grinned at her and winked, keeping their PDA to a minimum. The rest of the group had been yet to be informed, but with his changing appearance he was certain the others would realize something had changed, or that something was going on. He was even able to overhear the conversation between Rhuarc and Adimar.
[b "Adimar, friend, I know little of your culture, your people. What significance does Kil'heed have. What makes this place so special? What lies there Adimar?"]
“Kil’heed is the ancient city of Volshiv. We believe it is the origin of all Volshi, and that Volshiv himself was born there. His bones are sanctified within the catacombs of Kil’heed. It is a holy ruin, and none live there except the Silent Ones. Warriors who have taken a vow of silence and serve to protect the ruins, and even they do not live in the city. None can gain access to it… the only one who may open the gates…” his gaze turned towards Aria, who continued to ride in silence with a blank expression on her face, staring into nothing. “Priestess?” Only then did she look up and meet Adimar’s gaze, but it flickered past him towards Rhuarc and then away to the horizon. “You will have to summon the power of Azera to open those gates, or we won’t find sanctuary, and the Silent Ones will not shelter us,” Aria still said nothing, withdrawing inside herself and continued to ride.
Carrick had overheard all, and had seen the exchange, and knew for certain that Aria was not well, but knew there was nothing to be done. Nothing he could do at least. He was taken from his own concerning thoughts when he suddenly heard Rhuarc and Ayab growling at one another heatedly in their native tongue. It even gave Adimar pause, but before the two could tackle the other, Rupert came charging up from the back of the caravan with three other soldiers, one of them carrying Adimar’s Hawk.
[i "My lord, we have seen some sort of movement behind us. It is too small to be the army that the Lady Saraya spoke of but it could be some sort of advanced force. Scouts probably. They are less than a days travel behind us and moving quickly. If I had to guess, they will catch us up by nightfall." ]
Carrick sat up taller in his seat and watched as Adimar took his hawk and removed the cap from it’s head and lifted it up into the air. The Hawk took off, and circled around them before zipping back towards Tanaka. Rupert was there to take Adimar’s reigns and lead his horse, as Adimar’s eyes turned milky white and unfocused. Not once did they stop their trek, but Carrick knew Adimar wanted to see for himself this advanced force. Carrick wondered what they might do, traveling with the caravan meant they would have to stop to make camp, but a platoon of soldiers could march through the night. Carrick knew then… there was going to be a skirmish at least.
They said nothing of the advancing group until Admiar sucked in a breath, blinking as his eyes returned to normal. Looking around he thanked Rupert and took his reigns back.
“It’s a scouting regiment, fifty men strong,” Carrick heard Adimar mutter.
“We can’t let them report back,” one of the scouts warned.
“No,” Adimar agreed. “Compile a group of men, we ride out to take care of this,” Carrick could stay quiet no longer.
“Adimar… I volunteer,” Carrick’s voice caught Adimar off guard and the man turned in his saddle to look over at Carrick.
“Good. WE could use you, Ayab, Rhuarc? Join us?”
“Me too!” Balden suddenly said, leaning forward from where he sat beside Carrick.
“No.” Carrick told him. “You are not skilled enough… not yet, lad. One Day you will fight with us, but today is not that day. Stay and help guard the caravan.” Balden frowned, and crossed his arms feeling sour over being left out. “Here, take the reins,” carrick instructed and jumped down from the moving wagon.
“Carrick,” Aria finally spoke, but her voice was strained, as if she’d been crying. He stopped and watched as she dismounted her horse. Carrick hurried over to help her down. “Take my horse, ride with them. I shall keep Balden company in your absence,”
“My thanks, Priestess,” Carrick said bowing his head in respect and mounted the steed. Balden slowed the wagon enough for Aria to grab the side and helped her up into the seat.
“Men,” Adimar addressed Max, Thad and Rupert. “Stay and guard her Holiness,” Adimar commanded, and though they looked upset that they would not be at his side, they all bowed their heads. Carrick saddled his horse up beside Saraya and glanced back at Aria and then to her. Collecting her hand in his own he placed a tender kiss to her knuckles.
“Stay safe, my love… I will be back… keep an eye on our priestess,” Then he did something he had yet to do in front of the others, and it would surely give away what they were now. He leaned in, and kissed her cheek, then turned with those that were riding out to confront and destroy the advancing regiment.
From his place on the wagon, Balden watched the men ride out to battle, and sighed. He wanted to go too! He could fight! He was a man wasn’t he?
“Where is Lara?” Aria asked, and Balden blinked. He always knew where she was, and last he’d checked she was riding alongside the wagon, keeping to herself. When he looked back, Lara was not where she had been. He frowned. Had she snuck off again?
“Uhhh…” he murmured looking around frantically for a shock of blue hair, but seeing none.
“I have a job for her, for both of you… go… find her, please?” Aria asked, and took the reins from Balden. He hesitated for only a moment, but was resolved in the truth that Aria was who he had pledged himself to, not anyone else, and it was her order he followed.
“What do you want us to do?” He asked curiously.
“Lara is very good at sneaking around and figuring out ways to not be found, so I want you both to take a horse and ride ahead of us to find a safe and secluded place to make camp for the night. Can you do this?”
“Yes ma’am!” He saluted. He jumped down and ran along the caravan shouting. “LARA! Lara where are you! Aria has a job for us!” He cursed though as civilians milled past him, and for a moment a dark thought filtered into his mind. If it wasn’t for all these people, they could travel twice as fast and reach Kil’heed quicker to fortify it and protect the priestess. They weren’t Aria’s family. They might have been her people, the culture from which she came, but Balden didn’t understand how Saraya saw it the way she did. Sure Aria had a family, somewhere, but he was pretty certain these people, while loyal to the Priestess and Azera… were not her family. They’d be better off left in Tanaka. Maybe having to march over their corpses would slow down Malik’s army…
He had to shake his head from that dark and evil thought, feeling cold because that was not how he normally was. He’d never had those sorts of thoughts before. Never had he been so cynical or cruel. He frowned and wondered if something might be wrong with him. He shook it off however, when he spotted a familiar cloak, but with red hair shimmering like the ocean during sunset. “Lara?” He asked, and smiled to see he had finally found her… and he found his chest tightening at the sight of her… he really liked the red hair on her. Something about it made her eyes stand out in a mesmerizing way. “Aria sent me to find you. She wants us to scout ahead and find a place to camp. Said you’d be the best person to find us a hiding spot, and I have to agree. We should get moving though, the others went to fight an advancing regiment, but she wants to send us ahead to find a safe and secluded place.”
Rhuarc couldn't help but shake his head and mutter under his breath as Saraya continued to load wagons filled the the old and the women and children he supposed it would not be moral to let all of these people die but that didn't mean he had to admit that aloud. The only saving grace was that the words Adimar spoke were true most men able to fight stayed behind to defend their home and to buy precious time for the Guardians and the High Priestess to escape. Rhuarc even saw many of the old men staying, swords in hand ready to defend the place the had lived all their days, it was a most honourable sight. It reminded him of Elder Mandarb, who had sent him to the Central City all those months ago, the old man was formidable and still a very capable warrior, he would back that one armed Elder over any one of Malik's men...The Fade and Mage included. In what seemed like no time at all the caravan was ready to depart and they were simply waiting for the Priestess to join them and depart. Being on the road with a caravan would be comfortable, it was all Rhuarc had known growing up, his blood was that of a nomad and he doubted that he would ever lose that way of life. The Jai saw Ayab talking with Balden and Carrick before one of Adimar's men, Max, spoke some hushed words with the blacksmith and caused him to leave to other business. Rhuarc was growing impatient and wanted to be off, if they were to leave Tanaka so be it, but do it now. [b "If The Priestess takes any longer I'll..."] Rhuarc never got to finish his exasperated mutters as just at that moment Aria and Saraya appeared and mounted their steeds before Adimar gave a command and the caravan finally started it's departure from Tanaka to the city of Kil'heed.
Ayab rode ahead of the caravan scouting with several of Admiar's trusted men. They rode maybe ten or twenty miles ahead of the caravan while the rest travelled slowly behind, Rupert led the scouts, a quiet man but obviously the best at what he did. There was no part of the land that he did not know. Rhuarc rode his stallion out of necessity not choice. While he rode the Jai Guardian attempted to practice his arcane abilities. He reached out with his mind trying to find any serpents but for once he found nothing as he tried to make contact. That alone was unusual. He nudged his horse close towards the Volshiv Guardian ignoring Saraya and Aria riding on Adimar's other side, he tried to not even look at the High Priestess but he caught a glimpse of her as he moved in his saddle and for the time she was in his eye line his eyes were cold, hard fury. [b "Adimar, friend, I know little of your culture, your people. What significance does Kil'heed have. What makes this place so special? What lies there Adimar?"] Curiosity sat deep in Rhuarc's mind he never liked not knowing what he was getting himself into, that was how people died and while he may be angry at the Priestess he would still do all in his power to keep her safe. The world depended on it.
Ayab galloped around the side of the caravan trail returning to report to Rhuarc that he could see no immediate danger ahead of them, no doubt Rupert would report a similar story to Adimar in due course, but while Ayab was here he would take this chance to speak to his longtime friend about the subject that no other would. [+red "Rhuarc I know this is difficult but she has suffered enough."] The larger Jai turned his head with a look of such fury that even Ayab considered that this might have been a mistake but he had started it now, no point in backing out. [b "Hold your tongue. It is no business of yours."] [+red "Her transgression was small, and she has remorse. She has paid penance, see sense Rhuarc."] [b "Small! She could have doomed us all and delivered Azera to Shade-stealer."] [+red "Be reasonable, in a city surrounded by guards it was unlikely. Saraya was caught unawares but you know it was not likely to happen again. The fault lies with me, I failed in my duty to watch her..."][b "You paid your [i Toh] Ayab."] [+red "Then let me take her [i Toh] for myself. She is not Jai, she knows not our ways or how she should be. It is not her fault that the other Provinces forgot the Old Ways. She has acted with honour for as long as we have known her. One transgression does not warrant this. You shame yourself Rhuarc!"] The exchange between the two men grew more heated and at one point they both slipped into the harsh, guttural mother tongue of the Jai causing several people next to them to turn and look at the heated exchange. Rhuarc was shocked at Ayab's words and without realising it the guardian had his hand around the belt knife he wore, ready to draw it need be.
At that moment one of the Scouts riding behind the caravan trail sped towards Adimar, before giving a quick bow. [+green "My lord, we have seen some sort of movement behind us. It is too small to b the army that the Lady Saraya spoke of but it could be some sort of advanced force. Scouts probably. They are less than a days travel behind us and moving quickly. If I had to guess, they will catch us up by nightfall."]
Saraya's stubbornness had the better of her. Knights, soldiers, men had ran left and right packing wagons on her call. She was out, wounds and all, helping the elderly into a wagon being pulled by bulls. She made sure the children had been in another wagon with their mothers, and the fathers all offered to walk behind the wagons to allow support. Despite Rhuarc's protest, her mind was made up. Aria's family WAS this city... Why let them sacrifice themselves when all lives are precious to her ailing priestess? She dared not voice leaving her people behind. They WERE her family, and it was reason enough to do this.
One of the knights was hot on her tail, protesting as she picked up weapons, and helped women with their newborns. [b "...this is not a good idea, Mi' Lady. The Fade will be here soon, and if you insist in bringing the city, it will slow us down, and put us in his hands-"] Saraya turned to him abruptly, staring at him hard. [I " I do not doubt your logic... But think of this... Rhuarc's people, alone in a desert, and The Fade was after him. Suppose this. Knowing the traditions of The J'ai, they would fight and die in order to keep him safe, am I right? "] she pointed out, leaving the knight no chance in answering out loud. [I "These are not decoys, Max. These are not The J'ai. These people are Aria's people, her family. Because of us, we set them all in danger... And they still stood beside us because of her…"]
Max huffed and shook his head. [b "It is still dangerous, Mi' Lady. We cannot save them all"]
[I "Maybe not, Max, but we should at least try. We are not Guardians for one narrow purpose... We are Guardians because all of human life needs us. And Aria should not have to mourn her city if we choose to just take her to safety. I cannot bear that guilt of not trying to save her people. She is my sister as well as someone you must protect... Do not think yourself above her in all else. She is the reason you are here... At least try to show how much you appreciate her without being so narrow minded ..."]
The embarrassed knight watched as she winced, trying to pick up a barrel. She became winded, but sighed as she tried to hide the pain she felt from her side. She covered her side, slowly advancing towards the tower. Max noticed and advanced to her, placing a hand on her shoulder. [b "You are still wounded, Mi' Lady. You must tend-"]
Saraya shook her head and raised a hand in protest. [I "Leave me, Max.... "] she said as she slowly began to advance. Rhuarc stared before trying to help once more to ease her of the pain. [b "Saraya-"]
Saraya raised her hand and this time, gently shoved his arm away from her. [I "Please... Max, leave me be"] her eyes sought reason, but because she was so stubborn, it was hard for Max to respond to her sudden need of solitude. The quiet beauty suddenly began to come alive, showing that though her human life was way behind, the warrior in her still stood firm, and it beckoned her to do what was right.
Max, being the man he was, couldn't let her harm herself any more than she had. He knew she might have hurt herself moving so much against the nurse's wishes and this insane notion of getting the city to Kil'heed in one piece while in this condition would be too much stress for her to bear. Saraya needed reason. And her reason was worth the risk... But, not to him.
Max had went into bedding chambers, searching for the only one that could reason with her. He found him cleaning up Saraya's bed and huffed to get his attention.
[center [size30 (~_~メ)]]
Carrick had turned his head slightly to notice his broad shoulders and sighed. [b "Is everything alright, knight? "] he asked as he turned to him. Max looked at Carrick, noticing an aura he hadn't felt before. Carrick even began to de- age, to almost her age. He began to show a more solid man, a mirror image of the opposite sex. He almost stuttered his words for a moment, but recollected himself. [b [I "It is your woman. She will not listen to reason. She still believes that there is a chance to escape The Fade... "]]
Carrick looked at Max with a puzzled look. So, she wasn't staying down any longer. What she had seen, may have been so horrible to her, that she feels the urge to take the road to Kil'heed... But, despite it, she feels the need to protect those that also need it... Or die trying... And he just couldn't let her do this... Not alone if he could help it. He hurried past Max and downstairs to look for her. Everyone, left and right, already beating the road to Kil'heed. It was only an hour that she had tried to speak to them. Everyone, even himself, had to questioned her logic of vacating the city. There was still something she hadn't told everyone. He could tell by how Max was so bewildered. If she had made reason to go through with this...
It was remarkable that she had assembled and hurried them so quickly and so soon. Usually, it would take until nightfall. He started looking around, seeing the fair people of the city hurry to wagons and keep in tune as the rest of the children and mothers climb aboard, then hy'ahh the bulls and fall in line to leave the city... Within moments, the city had been empty except for the priestess and the Guardians, accompanied with a good number of knights that chose to stay behind. The question still remained, though... Where was Saraya?
He began asking the knights, and the knights each knew not where she was... Except one. He told her she had went into the tower, and Carrick made haste. Running into the tower, he looked around the dim atmosphere for Saraya... And found her. She was standing in the shadow, using some of her power to heal her, while making an herbal remedy to put on it. She winced when she did, and began to wrap herself up, still applying her magic until she had snugly wrapped her side. With some relief, she turned and dressed herself again and turned to see Carrick watching her.
[b "Are you alright? "] he asked. Saraya nodded slowly. [I "Was it Max who summoned you to me? "] Carrick nodded before advancing. She thought a moment. Max was really against her intention. Just like him to follow his commander. She sighed to herself as she successfully redressed before looking over her shoulder. [I "If you are here to stop me..."]
Carrick shook his head slightly before looking to her. [b "I do not want you fighting alone... No matter what your intentions are. I have just gave you my heart, and you to me... I do not want to lose you"]
Saraya couldn't argue. He was only concerned with her, and it was comforting to know he wasn't afraid to ride out with her. She turned to him, closing the gap between them and kissed his lips. She felt safe, stronger... She felt that there was hope in her plan yet. She then looked up to him. [I "Then, let us gather the horses"]
Before Carrick could agree, Saraya heard [b "STOP!! "] coming from up the stairs. She looked to him, then up the stairs again. [I Aria...]
She hurried up the steps and to towards the room. A nurse had made it before them, but after the nurse left, Saraya and Carrick went to her. [I "Aria... Priestess... "] As she rubbed her forehead, she noticed she was pale... Shivering... As if Ill. Saraya looked around smelling around for a moment until she caught an odd scent... It smelled of age, malice, hatred, pleasure in torture... Eons of blood stung her nose. She growled some, before looking to Aria. [I "Aria... Aria, look to me... Relax... Think of nothing... Cling to the one thing that brings you happiness... Do it now... "]
The mortified priestess procrastinated a moment before finally complying. Saraya then focused, developing a seal within her form, and created a barrier on her person. She hugged Aria as it took form, shielding anything of her person until Aria began to calm down. She seemed weakened, and Saraya had to go to the next step. She turned to Carrick. [I "She needs a disguise. We must let her lead her people"]
[b "What about The Fade? "]
[I "Need not worry of The Fade... For he is already here... "]
Carrick stiffened when she spoke those words. [i Get a steed. Find armor. And find Adimar. He will escort her to Kil'heed and if he protests, make him reconsider. Use any force necessary"]
Caarrick nodded and ran. Saraya helped Aria and and helped her sit on the bed. She had to help her... And as she picked out clothes, she looked to her and knelt. [I "I know... I wanted to speak with you alone. Adimar and Rhuarc annoy me at times... I could not speak freely."] She set the clothes aside. [I "I do not want you to mourn any longer, Aria. I do not want you to fear. I want you to look Malik in his face and defeat him... Watch as his evil cloud dissipates into the distance of memory. I know you feel a bit out of place... But, I do this for you... Only you... "] she watched as Aria finally looked to her and Saraya saw fear. She hugged Aria, hearing her gasp. [I "Aria... You are my family... And I will not have you cry because your home had been destroyed with everyone in it. I will teach you a woman's way of fighting back... If you would but just follow my instructions."]
She nodded to her before Carrick came back with armor. [b "The steed waits"] he said. Saraya nodded before looking to her. [I "Now, get up, priestess... We have you to save"]
Aria had been more than shocked to see Lara standing up at the side of her bed, and quickly rushed to help her stand. At that time the fates seemed to send them Carrick who informed them that Saraya had seen a vision and had to speak with them. Aria nodded helping Lara to Saraya’s room where the rest of their team gathered. Even Adimar’s men stood outside the room listening. Aria remained close to Lara listening to Saraya’s words, and to the words of Rhuarc and Adimar. She wanted to vacate the city as well, as did Balden, but Adimar silenced that idea quickly. “You can ask the people to follow you, but I can tell you right now, they will not leave their homes, they will stay and fight back. They will make sure you have the time to escape.” People were going to die, and Aria hated that she didn’t think of that beforehand, but as Saraya had said, if they did nothing the death toll would be much worse. Lara didn’t seem to care much for what was being said either as she suddenly stormed out. Carrick left with Saraya to inform the guards of the plan. Adimar sighed heavily, and cursed shouting orders. They would not forsake Tanaka, or desert it to let it be overrun by Malik’s men. Balden chased out the room after Lara, calling for her, and Aria remained in the hallway suddenly very alone as everyone had rushed off to make preparations. She hadn’t gotten a single word in… but she had a haunting feeling.
She was being watched…
[i “Malik is coming with an army of hundreds to claim you...]
Those words echoed in Aria’s mind long after they left Saraya’s room. Kil’heed was thought to be a myth, but Saraya had given it life with her words. That didn’t take away from the bone chilling fear Aria had felt when Saraya divulged her visions with the rest of the group. None of them had asked for her input, or her opinion. She wondered if all of them despised her –aside from Saraya, for having wandered off the other day. Could it have been true? Was Malik trying to tear her apart from the inside out? She almost believed it. Since leaving Central City she had gone from leading the caravan to being a liability in their group. Did no one want to know what she wanted? What she thought might be best? It seemed not. She knew they could not take the entire city with them, and she knew that while some might travel with them… most would stay behind and fight for their home, not surrender it to the enemy. She hadn’t had a choice when she was a child, she was forced to flee, but she was sure if given the option, she would have stayed and fought Malik head on… even if it meant her demise. She still planned to meet Malik head on, knowing it could mean the end of her natural life. A part of her wanted to learn how to fight, so she could battle side by side with her companions to take back the Four Provinces, but a larger part of her knew she did not possess the sort of wrath, or mental ability it took to take a life.
[i “of course not… you are pathetic that way…’] Malik’s voice whispered into her mind. Aria felt her mouth go dry and she spun around in the empty hall looking around with wide frightened eyes. She’d felt a near presence behind her, she almost could have sworn Malik was standing right behind her, but when she look there was nothing, but dark shadows cast down the hall from the setting sun, and as she looked she swore she could see them writhing and moving about as they grew closer. Her heart pounded in her chest, but Malik’s words continued to invade her mind. [i “You honestly believe you can run away from me? Oh no…”] he chuckled darkly and it made the hair on the nape of her neck stand on end. She tried to cup her hands over her ears, backing away until her back hit the wall behind her and she dropped to the floor, knees at her chest and her eyes shut tight.
“Leave me alone!” She pleaded her voice wavering with terror.
[i “Pretty little Priestess… you cannot run from me. I have you in my sights… I’m not going to lose you now. Your precious guardian is right… I AM sending an army, but not just hundreds my dear… oh no… Thousands, and when I have you I will make you watch as I slowly torture and murder everyone single one of your precious Guardians.”]
[b “STOP!”] Aria shrieked, her eyes wild and sweat beading on her forehead. She felt sick, like she was about to vomit, but Malik’s laughter continued and it continued to grow until Aria felt she truly would vomit.
[i “I don’t intend to stop anytime soon, little Dove. Soon you will be mine, and fear not… I intend to keep you alive… though, you might wish you were dead,”] he chuckled. Aria shut her eyes tight, refusing to break on a sob that welled in her chest threatening to escape, along with the scream that remained lodged in the back of her throat. Instead, she collapsed forward and vomited onto the floor in tears. She felt ice cold and that her body and mind had been violated in a dark and cruel way. She felt dirty, worthless and embarrassed. How was Malik able to reach her?
Shaking in a cold sweat, Aria fell back against the cold stone wall, still seated on the floor and looked up and down the hall. She was alone once more, but the shadows had withdrawn and everything seemed normal. Was she cracking? Losing her mind? Was this really happening to her? She was growing more paranoid with every passing hour. Thank goodness for the one maid who came upon her, and shocked by the sight quickly helped Aria clean up her mess. They cleaned it up for the most part in silence, Aria muttering a pitiful apology, while the maid tried to assure it was fine, just nerves. Aria let her believe it, it wasn’t just nerves though, it was more. It was darker, sinister and more twisted then she wanted to admit to. She was still struggling with herself to discredit the voice of Malik in her head, but more and more she knew deep down that he was closer to her than she wanted. She locked herself in her room after that, and sat in the center of the bed given to her, her back to the headboard and her eyes glued to the door, terrified of anything and everything. Gods… what was he managing to do to her? She finally broke on a tiny pitiful sob, and hugged a pillow to her chest as she attempted to stem her torrent of emotions and fear.
“My Lord, the caravan is preparing to leave,” Adimar looked out as a long line of wagons began to move out of the city towards other cities in Volshiv. He was still fuming over how an outsider knew about Kil’heed in the first place. It was their most Holy of places, thought to be the very home of Volshi himself, and where his bones were buried. It was a well-kept secret among his people… Saraya said she saw it in a vision, but still…. Not a soul had lived in Kil’heed in centuries. It was an old Stronghold, and nothing but ruins now, but that was where they would go. Perhaps there was a reason they were going there.
“Very good, I’ll inform the Captain. The regiments will remain and defend this city and its people. There are those who have chosen to stay behind and fight… I would stay-“
“You must defend the Priestess,” The soldier told him. Adimar nodded.
“Yes, I have my own destiny to claim… where…. Where is the Priestess?” Adimar dared to ask and looked around. The solider looked around as well, and while most of the group could be seen each doing their part, the Priestess was nowhere in sight.
“I am not sure my lord. I have not seen her out while preparations were being made. Adimar cursed.
“She’s probably with… nope…” He stopped as he saw Ayab walk by with Balden and Carrick. He knew she wouldn’t be with Rhuarc because they were apparently not on speaking terms at the moment, Saraya was busy with her own preparations of a wagon, and he spotted Lara coming right for him. “Damn… see if you can’t ask around and find out where she is,” he commanded the soldier, who nodded and hurried off to ask around… but none had seen her since she left temple that morning. Adimar waited for Lara to approach and greeted her. “Miss. Lara, I’m glad to see you up on your feet. You make it seem like the poison never affected you,” he told her with a warm grin. “How can I help you?”
She suddenly awoke, it was quiet and no one was walking around. There was the feeling of awakening from some very deep sleep, it felt as if the heady was filled with a heavy fog which did not at all want to budge and the rest of the body felt as if it were anchored my heavy metal to the bed. But on the other hand, she felt much better, fully rested and no confusion around her. But then, how long had she been out, completely oblivious to the outside world? It wasn't the first time either. And just as the first time, the spirit of Fenlyck did not offer one single clue to anything. That was a really great tool to have, a spirit which only showed up when things were going bad and then not bothering to explain anything the rest of the time, it was so 'great'.
Anyways, the fog had decided to trickle away, and the feeling of being clamped down by metal sheets faded as well. Swinging her legs over the side, she paused for a few seconds. She first thought about standing up, thinking through the steps, before grabbing on the bedpost and lifting herself upwards. She managed to stand, but the stance was not good as she needed to lean against the bedpost to help herself keep upright. It wasn't the best start, but at least it was some sort of start in the general right direction of things.
Just as she was about to attempt walking without leaning herself on something, the door opened and the priestess walked in. All she understood from the priestess, was that Saraya was rounding up everyone to have a chat about something. Was it merely a courtesy that they were including her, or did everyone actually need to know what Saraya needed to say? For if it were the latter, hat meant something was afoot, as over the short journey together Saraya had became quite a serious person, minus the part where Saraya had wandered off alone into a city full of unknown strangers.
With the help of Aria, she managed to limp alongside Aria, using the priestess just as she had used the bedpost, to help balance herself. The walk there was quite uneventful as she wasn't in the mood to engage in a conversation; it felt weird to be back on one's own pair of legs, and she was mostly concentrating on doing that. There was progress, it was getting easier over time for walking to feel like a normal activity once more, but she still felt unsure about it. Walking up to the door which would open the door to the room where everyone else presumably already had arrived, she remembered something off the top of her head. It was Adimar's voice, and he was saying what he had said before she had rolled off the bed. In a low and grumbling tone as the door slowly opened, [+purple "Little Mouse... I wonder how he'd like having a poisoned knife stuck in his leg..."] before she and Aria entered the room filled with everyone else.
Honestly, she felt like she could've skipped that 'meeting', practically everyone had ignored her as everyone discussed this fade that was suddenly starting to be a pain, it wasn't as if she hadn't been left out of a previous discussion either. She had been the first one to leave the room, a more precise term would be stormed out, and went off to a spot where she could be alone without anyone attempting to barge in and think quietly while being alone. Along the way, she had grabbed a pair of scissors, dyes, and a small bowl of water, before locking herself in one of the random rooms.
In all honesty she had no idea what she was going to do, but she had an idea and was going to act upon it. First, the hood was flipped backwards so her head was fully uncovered, followed by grabbing the pair of scissors. Going from down to up along the long, light blue colored hair, measuring where to make the cut. Finally deciding upon 6/10 of the length from down to up, she opened the scissors and placed the hair in between the two edges. The two edges met and one long length of hair fell down, the same was repeated for the other length of hair. Next, the dyes, black and red dye colors. She did not know how to use dyes at all, but there was always a first time for everything.
She didn't know how long it had taken, but she was finally finished with dying her hair. Looking into the small bowl of water, the water forming a mirror in a way, she approved of the result.
[center [pic http://i68.tinypic.com/219nwr5.jpg]]
Casting the hood over her head once more, she stood up and walked out the room after unlocking the door. She had unfinished business with Adimar, she had wanted to talk to him but with everything that had happened there had been no opportunity to talk to him. The sooner he knew about it, the easier it would be for him later on.
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