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Saraya, after watching the young child depart, and Carrick follow, she slowly sat to the fire. The priestess then spoke to Rhuarc and Ayab of finding supplies so to depart accordingly to find the last guardian. All the while, all she could feel was a overwhelming feeling of fear. In her land, it was never acceptable to be weak.
Once the two comrades left the stable, there was a silence that grew quite contagious. Aria turned to her, and Saraya bowed quickly before adverting her eyes. Then... The Priestess spoke.
[I "For someone so young you have lost a great deal. Only three and twenty years… losing everything."] She cringed some, feeling a heavy burden in her words [i "Lara is younger still and will need us both to show her the way. I was always envious of women like you,”] As Aria blushed slightly and bowed her head to her, Saraya bowed lower, but kept her eyes adverted, so to keep from disrespecting her authority. Saraya was shocked that she admitted that she was envious of her, and didn't understand why. Why would someone as profound like her be envious of a stubborn Martyr that defied rule and order just to lose what she fought so passionately for? [I “Women who could marry and have children. Lead a normal life, fall in love… you’re aware that as High Priestess I cannot have such things. I am wife, mother, daughter & sister to all of Azera. I belong to the people. I belong to you, and Lara, and Rhuarc… and the final guardian when we find him."]
Saraya finally betrayed her order and looked to the Priestess. She felt a shocking sense of pity for her, but still couldn't bring herself to speak. [I " Saraya, I know you have suffered loss, you have been holding it in. It’s unhealthy, let it go, and let it out. None will judge you for the pain of your loss,” ]
Saraya 's lips parted slightly, readying herself to speak, when Aria tugged her into a hug... She gasped at this. A hug, from the High Priestess... As she did, Saraya heard the spirit whisper to her to hug her back... but Saraya was too shocked and terrified to do so.She slowly let her hands hug the fabric lightly, and felt a tingling sensation in her heart... Tears fell, but nothing came out but a shakey exhale. As tears fell onto her garments, she felt the power of the Priestess through her, and she froze. She heard her voice speak, but it wasn't her speaking. It was soft like a pleasent thought, and somewhat seductive to the drunken ear.
[I "Do... Do not cry for my loss, Priestess... I mourn my loss because it was my stubbornness that killed them."]
It was not her voice, but the voice that came out was soft, warm, and echoed. She shocked herself that her English had much improved, and by a simple touch of the Priestess.
[I "I seek revenge for my family... But, the fault was mine for not heeding warning and hiding. I feared losing him to the hands of Malik's troupes. I would not be able to live without at least attempting to save all that I fought so hard to claim."]
Her voice spoke fluently as she would in her mother tongue. She released her priestess and sought refuge in her own arms.
[I " i was once chosen to live the life of chastity because of the beauty I possessed. But, I chose to fight. Against many attacks of Malik's troupes, I fought side by side with men, defying law that women we're feeble creatures, and named a martyr for my bravery. Though, I've claimed that title, I still would not conform to the life of chastity. I had fallen in love with my General, and my general fell in love with me. We asked for marriage. It was accepted"]
She smiled to the memory.
[I "the day of the attack..."] her lips tighted. [I "... I feared letting him fight alone. I saved him, but... a cannon ball hit my steed, knocked me off. I saved my child, but Malik's troupes found me... hurt me... then to have Felliope die in my arms as I lost our son..."] tears welled up in her eyes as she relived her tragedy.
[I "it was my fault... I seek revenge for my family. To seek redemption for my stubbornness. The spirit speaks to me to say that it was not my fault. It is what keeps me going. If I find Malik, I will take my revenge, and live on as the spirit's vessel. If what he says is true, i may be able to love an guardian... I know not who... but, time will reveal"]
She sighed and looked to the priestess. [I "in these heartbreaking days of bloodshed and loss, since I have became a vessel for my protector, I have sometimes wished i had chosen the life of chastity... maybe I would not have this heaviness in my heart..."] Saraya nodded. [I but, the spirit chose me because of my pureness of heart and love I carried. So, I do not regret being who I am... Discon-ga]
Discon-ga... meaning 'Decision of Pure Heart'. Saraya then sighed as she curled up. Now, she was truly afraid. Against her better judgment, she revealed her weakness to the priestess. She only hoped that she could still be useful.. Suddenly, it felt as though two pairs of arms wrapped around her, both were familiar. One felt as warm and comforting as the day she had awakened as the guardian, the other... a soft, hypnotic and oh, too familiar strength in it's grip, but she fit into it just right.... a memory of laying in Felliope's arms came to mind. The both of them were trying to ease her from her fears.
She shut her eyes to the warmth and tears fell. [I Sron gima, Sron] I love you both... I love you
Rhuarc's patience was being tested by his longtime friend and travelling companion, clearly the issue between Ayab and the Wetlander Guardian Lara would not go away quickly, and nor should it in his view. [i Ahrak-Toh] was not some simple world view, it was at the heart of who the Jai were as a people. The Fenlyk had left others to fight and die while they cowered away. It was not honourable and it would take a great deal of time and effort for the Province to make up for their failings. Travelling with Lara would be difficult for Rhuarc and Ayab but it was necessary and perhaps it would be the beginning of the mending of that particular relationship. As Lara left the stable her staff whipped out and clipped Ayab on the heels, causing him to stumble. Rhuarc was in two minds, he admired the fight in the Fenlyk woman but her petty acts and childish behaviour did nothing to improve her standing in the Jai's view. She was still young by the standards of the other Provinces but not so with the Jai, there you grew up quick or you died, either by Malik's hand or by the harsh landscape. When Aria addressed his question he was pleasantly surprised by the answer he received, he had expected her to refuse claiming that she could not possibly learn the ways of any Province. While her answer did involve some degree of impartibility the end result was that the High Priestess would seek to learn and understand the ways of [i Ahrak-Toh]. [b "I thank you Priestess, you do more than you know. The other Provinces look down on us for being savages when they just don't understand."] Rhuarc returned the small bow of his head. [b "Having you understand the Jai will help the others to understand us in time. You honour us and perhaps help balance the world once more. You speak of our prejudice against the Fenlyk but we from the Wastelands live with far worse everyday from every Province. We are looked down upon and sneered at by almost everyone who is not Jai often openly to our faces and those who hide their sneers do so out of fear. I say this so you understand that we know more of prejudice than many others."]
[b "We shall see it done Priestess. Come Ayab."] Rhuarc took the coin gratefully from Aria before both Jai left the stable to find Carrick briefly before they could start gathering supplies properly. Carrick, Lara and the halfbreed Balden were in the smithy proper, with the boy working the forge. Rhuarc muttered a few quiet words to Ayab in their native tongue before entering to speak with Carrick, Ayab stood a few paces behind the larger Jai and stared at Lara with disdain, however, he did appear to be holding his tongue for now. Rhuarc told Carrick of his mission and recieved a list of names, some more coin and a medallion that would supposedly help them get all they would need to leave the Central City and start their journey. Rhuarc's view was naturally drawn to the flames of the forge and by extension the young boy working there. [b "How old are you boy?"] Rhuarc had managed to catch a few words of the conversation before he had entered the smithy and heard that Balden was to be trained in combat. As the boy answered his question, a wry smile broke upon the Jai's lips. The boy was fourteen and wasn't trained in combat? The notion seemed absurd to him. When a Jai child reached the age of ten they were sent off on a pilgrimage to the deep south of the Wastelands to an ancient temple to Jaihash and Ouk'nu in an act of devotion. The child had to hunt their food, find water and survive every peril that the Wastelands could throw at them in order to be proved worthy. To survive the journey honoured Jaihash and proved your strength, to be presented with a single knife of a foot of hardened, sharpened, tempered steel upon their return. Death during the journey was not seen as failure. It tok bravery and courage to attempt the journey and regardless the sacrifice was seen as an honour to Jaihash. This ancient practice was one of the reasons that the other Provinces looked at Jai as savage, they misunderstood the custom and saw it only as the ritualistic sacrifice of children. In light of this to hear that a man over the age of pilgrimage did not know how to fight or kill was slightly jarring. [b "Thank you for your aid Carrick, your devotion to the Priestess is most honourable. Forgive me but I overheard your intent to teach the young one to be your steward, to turn him into a true Holy Guard for the Priestess. If you wished I could help train the boy in the art of war. It is of course your decision, him being in your charge, I will respect your decision."]
Having gotten what he needed from the old blacksmith the Jai went into the crowded streets of the Central City to procure all that they would need for the journey ahead. True to the blacksmith's words most people that were on the list that Carrick had given them were happy to provide what was asked for once the medallion was shown, for free or only a few copper pieces. The hope that the High Priestess would help them was enough for most. [+red "I tell you Rhuarc, that Wetlander is as prickly as a Pypas plant. It was completely unreasonable for her to strike me, she was lucky I didn't retaliate..."] Ayab had been ranting about Lara and her lack of honour since they had left the smithy. It was amusing in a way, seeing Ayab so riled up was always entertaining but he had to be careful, she was still a Guardian after all, despite her Fenlyk nature she did still deserve a modicum of respect. [b "Your reactions were no better, yes her actions were unwarranted but she doesn't understand that what she says and does have concequences."] [+red "Well she should! When I was her age I had already been fighting Shade-stealer for three years. She is old enough to know better."] [b "Old enough by our standards. She is not Jai, they grow old slowly in the Wetlands."] The argument had been like that for a while, Ayab ranting and Rhuarc wearily defending the girl, but in truth Rhuarc agreed more with Ayab than his own words. She was old enough to know better, she might be barely an adult by Fenlyk standards but had any Jai her age acted in that manner they would have brought great shame to their name. You grew up quickly in the Wastelands or you did not grow up at all. [b "Silence your tongue, this shop looks promising."] The Jai had acquired all that they needed for the journey with the exception of a way to disguise Aria out of the city. This particular market stall looked to hold paints, dyes and other accessories for women. Unfortunately these dyes, powders and paints were not cheap and even with the medallion they would cost coin but if it was in order to save the Priestess any amount of coin would be worth it. Rhuarc had spent much of his life around trading caravans, he knew how to haggle and what was a fair price, the medallion gave them access to such materials but even friends to the Priestess' cause could not give such expensive materials away for free. Paints and dyes to change Aria's hair colour, powders to change complexion, a few trinkets thrown in for free to help in the deception still cost them several gold and silver pieces, far more than either Rhuarc or Ayab wished to pay but this was a necessity. With everything they needed in tow the two men walked through the city a few times, making sure that they weren't being followed and despite some looks from guards it appeared that they were in the clear. Returning to the stable with copious amounts of supplies, the Jai wasted no time in giving Aria her powders, dyes and paints so she could disguise herself and getting Carrick and Balden so the three men and the boy could load the wagon and make a quick getaway. Rhuarc idly wondered what the last Guardian would be like, soft and quiet like Saraya? Young and petulant like Lara? Perhaps battle worn and hardy like himself, Azeroth knew they could do with more soldiers, soon enough they would find out.
Rhuarc struck back with a great force in the Jai manner, it stung the skin of her cheek and it made her eyes water, but she blinked past it and grinned at him. She could taste the faint traces of blood in her mouth, but cared little for it as he promised to follow her if she was indeed the High Priestess. Oh she could assure him that she was, but there was no need for that –they either believed her or they didn’t. Rhuarc had a serious question though, and as he addressed her with the severity of his request Aria listened intently.
[b “I respect what you stand for but the Jai could only follow one who follows Ahrak-Toh. Forgive me for asking Priestess but would you be willing to learn our ways? It would be seen as a symbol of great respect for our ways if you would be willing to learn. You wouldn't need to adopt them in your everyday life but if you understood our ways it would mean a lot to us."] Aria contemplated her answer. She was not Jai, it was not within her to be like the Jai –she was first and foremost the High Priestess a servant of all the Provinces and all the people. She held neither province nor their beliefs above any of the others. She learned of them and studied their more basic beliefs, but she did not know the complexities only someone who grew up in that culture would know. Before she could speak, however, Ayab barked his anger towards Lara.
They seemed unable to get past their own issues, but Lara seemed to take the high road; remaining quiet and leaving the stables… at least it was the high road until she struck out at Ayab’s ankles with her staff and caused him to wobble on his feet.
“Let her go,” Aria suggested. “I shall speak to her later. Her attack was unnecessary, but neither were your words, neither of you have each other’s life story. Neither of you know one another –the anger is not needed or wanted at this time,” She told them.
[b "Peace, Ayab."] Rhuarc barked at his companion.
“I will go check on Lara,” Carrick said and with a gruff, tromped with his heavy feet out of the stable and back to the forge.
“Thank you Carrick,” Aria watched him leave before she looked over to Rhuarc. “I will do my best to learn your ways, I must have you understand that I have to respect every province and their culture. I cannot hold one above the other, but it would honor me if you would teach me the ways,” Aria informed him with a subtle bow of her head.
It took Aria a moment to realize it was only herself, Rhuarc and Ayab still in the stables, as Saraya had slipped away to self-comfort. Aria felt the mourning in Saraya’s heart, and her own cried out for her loss. All of them had lost a great deal because of Malik. By the Holy Wings of Azeroth, she would get them vengeance. Rhuarch’s last words caught Aria’s attention from the feeling of disquiet she was feeling from Saraya. He spoke of the last guardian, and how time was of the essence. No truer words had been spoken. Time [i was] of the essence and they had very little of it.
“You are right, my friend. We must begin our preparations to leave… and I cannot stay here. Every day I am here, is a day Malik could discover me and kill me where I stand. I will need your help gathering supplies. I cannot leave this stable. It will raise no suspicion if two Jai’s are in the city purchasing food and water and traveling gear. No one will question you, and Carrick will tell you where to go where you will not be discriminated. He had connections in this city with people of the old ways of Azeroth. Heed his advice, and be safe. I trust your judgement to ensure we will have all the supplies we will need when we leave. We will be a small troupe… and I need a disguise or I will have to be smuggled out, and I’d rather not go the way I came,” she said remembered the sludge and the filth she had to swim through just to get into the city.
Aria bid Rhuarc and Ayab luck on their mission to gather supplies and a wagon, she gave them all the coin she had and waited until they were gone before she turned around to confront Saraya. She watched the young woman for a moment and finally smiled.
“For someone so young you have lost a great deal. Only three and twenty years… losing everything. Lara is younger still and will need us both to show her the way. I was always envious of women like you,” Aria blushed slightly and bowed her head. Saraya was the closest to her age, and experienced enough to understand Aria, who at nearly 30 was considered an old maid. “Women who could marry and have children. Lead a normal life, fall in love… you’re aware that as High Priestess I cannot have such things. I am wife, mother, daughter & sister to all of Azera. I belong to the people. I belong to you, and Lara, and Rhuarc… and the final guardian when we find him. Saraya, I know you have suffered loss, you have been holding it in. It’s unhealthy, let it go, and let it out. None will judge you for the pain of your loss,” and with those words Aria pulled Saraya into her arms and held her tightly, allowing the woman to finally release all her pain and her tears.
Carrick entered his forge, Balden working the fires trying to prove his mettle. The boy was good, well trained, and had a wealth of potential. He was a faithful and loyal young man –Carrick would find a way to help the lad and find him a home, but at the current moment he wanted to check on the second youngest of the group: Lara. She was a tiny little thing, but boy was she spunky, brash and foolishly brave. It took all he had to stifle his grin and chuckle when she swatted her staff at Ayab. Yes, foolishly brave indeed. Ayab was at least three times her size and weight. She caught him looking at her, and he gave a wan smile to her and to Balden who slowed his work and looked at him curiously.
“Keep working that shoe, I will check your work soon enough, boy,” he told the lad and made his way over to Lara and sat down beside her. For a moment he was quiet and looked down at her hands clasped tightly around her staff. “You know... it is not wise to anger a Jai like that. It’s foolish… but I found it very brave of you.” He offered up a grin when she finally looked at him. “I don’t know your story, where you come from, how you got here, the things you’ve seen… but I know you’ve got pride. You’re in the Central City now, and soon you will be traveling with the equivalent of Holy Royalty. I intend to travel with you. You must learn tact, when to attack, when not to, when to speak and how to say it… Diplomacy. You are the youngest, so far of her guards, she will want to protect you most. Do not make the job more difficult by starting fights with bigger men,” he could see the anger rising in her from his inherently sexist comment, but he chuckled it off and raised a placating hand. “Once you’ve proven at least to me, that you can take down a man my size or larger –like the Jai… then I’ll know you are capable of holding your own, until then, I will guard your back just as I will guard the Priestess.”
“What about me?” Balden asked from his place.
“You boy, you’re my new steward. I will train you to be a true Guard for the Priestess... Both of you,” He said looking to them both. “I am getting old, and a man my age has limited time left in this world.” He gave Lara a pointed look. “We must learn to work together and past our differences. Do not think I will not speak with Ayab on the same things. He too will have to learn to look past his prejudice.”
“Because she’s Fenylk,” Balden said, more of a statement than a question.
“Yes,” Carrick said with a heavy sigh. “Malik’s reign has caused distrust among the people of the Four Provinces. Where once we all lived in harmony, we now hold caution with those different from us. The Volshiv have gone into hiding, the Fenlyk bowed to the tyrant, the Caledon rebel in small numbers but for the most part live in fear and stay far to the north, and the Jai wage war against Malik to this very day. There was once a time the Central City was a place of commerce and trade, of community and a symbol of unity among the four provinces. It belonged to no man and was governed by all, but was overseen by the High Priestess, the voice of Azeroth himself. When Malik came, he brought with him war, greed, sin, discord and distrust. The more you give into prejudice and anger… the more you allow Malik to win,” He warned, his tone grave.
It was then the two Jai entered the forge looking for Carrick with word of the Priestess’ orders. Find Supplies. Carrick knew of several places they could go and find all they would need for little to no coin. Those faithful would give freely for the Priestess. All Carrick would have to do would be to send them with his crest as a former member of the Holy Guard. He told them where to go, who to speak to, and gave them the crest he carried with him always. “Keep this hidden, speak only to those I have listed,” he warned them both. “Tell them I sent you on behalf of our Lady, and then show them the medallion. They will help you. I have a wagon and I have horses, we can use them for transport. Best of luck my friends,” He watched them go on their way, his eyes firmly on Ayab watching to see that he left without qualm, while keeping Lara behind him where she could not instigate his prejudice further.
After she had expressed herself Lara immediately knew she had gone too far with the snake comment, the rage had made her forget the Abdu'Jai lore. The Jai who seemed as if he were the follower of the other Jai had pulled out a knife and was about to attack her. She would have welcomed that because it would've been a good chance to show them what sort of fighter she was. Unfortunately the Jai in command of the little two man squad stopped the second Jai in his own language. After a bunch of back and forth arguing, the second Jai had angrily exclaimed, [+red "She has [i Toh]] before sheathing his knife, but Lara could still see the hand near the knife.
The next thing that happened, well it was a very fashionable way of greeting someone in Abdu'Jai. Walking up to someone and punching them and then they returning the favor happily. Lara had relaxed her stance somewhat but not fully, like the second Jai. After that the conversation became more civilized with the Jai commander trying to propose a deal basically, even though it might not seem as such to the priestess.
The other Jai just didn't know how to drop problems, unfortunately he was right and she knew he was right, but in circumstances like these forgiveness was needed. His words, [+red ""I don't care if you are a Guardian. You have [i Toh] towards us all. Do you think because your parents were killed that makes you special? You saw that and you ran. We who fight him see that everyday, and we still fight. That is the reality of the world. We fight, people we love die and we still fight. You ran. You have [i Toh]."] Internally it infuriated her but she could do nothing in face of the hard but true truth.
She had missed what had happened between the priestess and the other women because of her keeping her focus on the nomadic guy who just couldn't let things rest. The other women appeared from behind her and stood, but it was a position of neutrality. She needed a step back away from all this and calm herself down.
She walked towards the door of the stables, her staff in her left hand but showing no signs of malicious intent. Once she had walked past the Jai who had shown his rage by yelling at her she quickly, as a snake, whipped her staff at the heels to make the Jai fall back. She did not care what the Jai actually did, Lara just walked herself out of the stables and into the smithy.
There she sat down on one of the benches near the fire, put her hood back up, closed her eyes and began to think. She started humming a song, a song without words. It was always sung by two females and there were many songs praising all sorts of water. This one praised the calm and pristine lakes. The Fenlyck Guardian joined in as the second singer. It was a beautiful sounding duet inside her head, and the tattoo on her neck began to act up again. But unlike last time, this time it was a warm and pleasant feeling, one of warmth and safety and security.
Once she was done Lara noticed that Carryck had come in and was looking with what appeared to be slight concern. Lara quickly turned her head back towards the fire and knelt her head.
The young woman leaned her back against the wall, before seeing water flashed past her and out of the shock of it, her hands rose, and formed a incantation glyph that she once knew as a child. She did not know why she had done it. In all honesty, she thought she had embarrassed herself once again. But, when she opened her eyes, there was a gust of air that surrounded her form. She gasped some and sighed. [I Force field that is special...] the spirit said.
The vibrations of the air shook her. She slowly allowed the force field to subside before a pair of eyes was felt on her form. A shocked face appeared as quickly as the field dispersed, and saw that she was the Priestess. She bowed her head quickly in the knowing before raising her head, and what was seen was the young child face to face with her. [I "Malik took something very precious from you..."]
Though she wanted to jerk away, she didn't. She couldn't even bring herself to speak. The child scouted her eyes, then her form. Saraya said nothing, but allowed the child to do so, until...
As The Priestess' eyes neared her downfall, Saraya's memory of the war had resurfaced, and what she could remember was [b [i her husband's scream, his eyes wide with impenetrable fear... A cannon flying past her, and she screamed as she tried to race over to save him... An unexpecting cannon hitting her steed, then darkness... Smokey atmosphere, hearing her laboured breathing... the enemy's henchman approaching her, and worsened her condition with a simple act of step... his unforgettable laughter as his abuse worsened... then another calls for retreat... opening her eyes ever so slightly due to pain to see blood staining her once elegant white gown... then the sky... dark of the smoke that tainted the air... hearing a fighting grunt of pain... to a laboured scream into the dark atmosphere... to waking up, a puddle of blood in her gown, and her love limping to her for his final rest...]]
Tears fell when the child's gasp sounded. Saraya looked to where she was staring so shockingly to... Her belly, somewhat swollen from lack of rest and unattended care. She looked to the child in worry, but the child seemed to be fighting back tears of her own. [I "That which is most precious... that act can not be forgiven, if you can learn to work with us... you will have your vengeance and Justice will be served"]
Hearing the young Priestess mourn her loss made her feel tragicly insufficient. Her head turned away as the Priestess adverted her attention to Rhuarc. Tears freely raced down her cheeks, feeling the pain in her heart rise. The men standing around in the stable could now view her as a weakling because of her stubbornness. That was never her intention.
Quickly, she wiped away her tears, remaining silent as she cleared her sinuses silently.She stared before the young Priestess had smiled to her and Rhuarc. [I "I have been training my whole life to find you all, all that is left is the Volshiv guardian... we will not find them here. I can not force you to accept the truths I have told you all, and I can not force you to help me restore balance to Azera... but I can ask you to follow me, help me bring back the peace we knew as small children, ask you to help me restore the world our forefathers died trying to protect. I ask you to help me finish what they started... and to win our homes back."]
Win their homes back. She stared silently, the pain in her eyes and heart lingering from the thought. To be the one responsible for the return of her homeland was a prideful feeling, one she avoided too well.
Ayab, Rhuarc's partner in this voyage, seemed to have words to say to Lara, and upon speaking them, Rhuarc calmed him. Carrick stared at the quiet woman before the two, and then the young Priestess. Saraya made an effort to stand on her barefeet, and once she did, she could only walk past the group, to a wall of hay, where she hid for a time.
For the first time, she let the pain in her heart release. Tears, and cries of dispair filled the bails, trying not to cause alarm to the others. Her burden had always been her stubbornness. She hated that it costed her her family. There, she refused to release it to others, for it only shown weakness and frailty to others that were stronger. She had to be strong on this voyage, but the weakness in her wanted to be released now. So, she lain her head on one of the bails, tears flowing like the River Nine, and a spirit whispering in her ear with powerful softness.
Hearing Rhuarc speak of finding the last guardian, and Saraya sat up quickly, wiping away tears and stood. Her eyes still shown pain, but it couldn't be helped. She had held it in for over a fortnight and it was better to release now than during the voyage. She revealed herself from the bails, standing near the dim fire with Lara, but being sure not to offend anyone, she kept a respectable distance from everyone.
The atmosphere inside the stable had become more tense, that much was obvious. The Fenlyk guardian would cause Ayab and Rhuarc issues simply by being who she was, that was unavoidable. To be Jai was to follow [i Ahrak-Toh] and to have failed that system of honour and obligation was a serious transgression to the Jai. Lara defended herself and Rhuarc liked seeing that, it meant that she had passion and fight in her. She had an inner fire and Rhuarc didn't just like that, he respected it as well. There was a fine line between standing your ground, showing having an inner fire and insulting a Jai. Lara crossed that line with her comments surrounding the snakes. Serpents were sacred in the Wastelands, The Jai worshipped Jaihash and the great fire deity Ouk'nu. Her comments about sticking snakes in their arms like some sort of drug was blasphemous and just about as insulting as possible to any Jai. Both men were furious and Ayab went as far as to draw his belt knife and bare the foot of hard, tempered, sharpened steel towards the Fenlyk woman, he likely would have drawn blood if Rhuarc had not barked at him in the harsh guttural tongue of their homeland. Rhuarc was also furious at just how Lara was speaking, she had no respect and in his eyes was accumulating an even bigger debt of [i Toh] not only to the Provinces but to himself and Ayab. The discussion was quick and furious, harsh words being spoken by both Jai, but eventually Ayab sheathed his knife giving Lara a cold, hard stare of rage. [+red "She has [i Toh]"], was the only comment that Ayab made towards Lara, and while his belt knife had been sheathed his hand rested near the weapon, seemingly prepared to draw it in an instant.
[b "Apologies I meant no disrespect to you, Priestess."] Rhuarc didn't have any definitive proof that what Carrick said was true, that this really was the true High Priestess of Azeroth but she had a presence to her, her voice were weighted with authority and power. [b "You honour me, Priestess."] As she spoke Rhuarc felt warmth flood his body again, seemingly in response to her comment regarding him burning with the fire of his ancestors and of Jaihash himself. It was strange to hear the Great Serpent referred to as a pet, his people worshipped Ouk'nu but the way that Aria spoke held no disrespect. How could what she said be true, him a Guardian? It was almost too laughable to think about but it would make sense. Elder Mandarb had studied the Old Ways for his entire life, and he had sent them to this city now to find a way to defeat Shade-stealer and now they find the High Priestess of Azeroth, the one person in all the land who could put an end to Malik and now he was finding out he was supposedly a Guardian as well. It beggared belief. Not only that but it seemed like the Caledon girl that he had met outside the blacksmith's was also a Guardian as well as the Fenlyk girl, much as he disdained her.
The punch to his jaw was stronger than he would have expected from someone her size and while it wasn't the strongest that he had ever received it was a formidable effort. Rhuarc's head snapped back as Aria greeted him in the Jai custom and a smile broke upon his face, Ayab looked pleasantly surprised at the action as well. Rhuarc responded in kind, giving a hard slap across the High Priestess' face, almost as hard as he could, certainly hard enough to draw blood. This was one of the most respected figures in all of Azeroth, one that followers of the old ways should trust. He needed to show her his strength and the level of his respect for her. She was not commanding them, as was her right as High Priestess, she was asking for their trust, she was asking them to follow her. The Jai followed strength and valour and honour. If Aria could display those qualities then Rhuarc and Ayab would follow. [b "We follow [i Ahrak-Toh], we are loyal to the old ways and if you are the High Priestess we will follow. He will help you defeat Shade-stealer and restore balance to the Four Provinces."] Rhuarc thought about what he was committing to and he knew what he was in for, miles of endless travelling, well that was no issue for the Jai, he was a nomad after all. There would be risk and danger as well, fighting Malik and his forces, but he would likely have been fighting the False King back in the Wastelands as well. Travelling with the High Priestess and fighting for her seemed to be perfect for him, he was suited to the task but there was one issue that he could not get out of his mind.
[b "Priestess, there is one more thing that I wish to say. You know my people, we are proud in our ways. When others forgot, we remembered. We live our lives honourably, we live by [i Ahrak-Toh], as they should be..."] Rhuarc very obviously didn't look at Lara as he spoke [b "...I am sure you are an honourable woman. I respect what you stand for but the Jai could only follow one who follows [i Ahrak-Toh]. Forgive me for asking Priestess but would you be willing to learn our ways? It would be seen as a symbol of great respect for our ways if you would be willing to learn. You wouldn't need to adopt them in your everyday life but if you understood our ways it would mean a lot to us."] Rhuarc wasn't sure if he used the right words to convey his feelings, if the High Priestess wanted to take down Malik she would need more than just the Guardians, she would need an army. The Jai would be fierce fighters but they would only follow one who knew [iAhrak-Toh], if Aria did this she would get an army. Ayab meanwhile, was still not over Lara's disrespect [+red "I don't care if you are a Guardian. You have [i Toh] towards us all. Do you think because your parents were killed that makes you special? You saw that and you ran. We who fight him see that everyday, and we still fight. That is the reality of the world. We fight, people we love die and we still fight. You ran. You have [i Toh]."] [b "Peace, Ayab."] The larger Jai barked at his companion, he didn't like Lara but the Priestess wanted them to move on, maybe in time they could both do that. [b "If you say we still have one Guardian to find, let us find them now. We must not waste time, the longer we stay in the city, the greater the chance that Shade-stealer will find us. Let us leave and start his downfall."]
Aria sat in stony silence within the dimness of the stable. Light filtered in through small open windows, and cracks between the wooden boards that built the structure. She seemed to be watching the tiny motes of dust move through the air that sunlight streamed through, but upon closer inspection one would notice the vacant almost entranced expression on her face. Aria's mind was elsewhere. She sensed other guardians. Two more, and they were close. She felt the brands on her back like fire... they were burning and itching for her to move and find them. But a greater, stronger part within her forced her to stay still, to wait... for they would be coming to her. She searched the Knowing for names and like whispers on the wind she heard Rhuarc and Saraya. One Jai... one Caledon.
[i Patience.... patience... they near...]
The voice whispered through her mind, compelling her to stay seated and chuckling at her desire to rush out the stable and find them herself. She was forced to wait the better half of the day, and it wasn't until Carrick came to the stables doors did Aria finally blink out of her trance and looked at the doors.
"Carrick is here -he is not alone," Aria whispered to Lara. No sooner had the words left her lips did Carrick push the heavy doors open and allowed two large and intimidating men to enter the stable, along with a very small petite woman. Two Jais... one Caledon. Aria had not sensed the other Jai.
Aria rose to her feet and moved to greet them all, but the Jai who burned of Ok'nu's fire spoke, his tone condescending and clearly irritating to both Carrick and Lara who was quick to jump and defend herself. The moisture in the air seemed to vibrate as Lara called on her own strengths, but Aria could not let them fight -not here, and hopefully not ever. Lara was right to defend her own honor, but the Jai was justified in his thinking. Aria set a gentle hand to Lara's shoulder and gifted her a matronly smile.
"Peace and be still," She said looking towards the Jai, though she spoke to all. For as gentle and light as her voice was -it carried a great deal of weight a severity.
"This is no simple woman," Carrick warned Rhuarc. "This is the High Priestess of Azeroth. If anyone can help you -it's her, do not insult her again while you stand on my land," Carrick warned, but did not make any advancement of threat.
"Thank you Carrick, your devotion is admirable. What he says is true, I am the High Priestess, your chosen leader by the hand of Azeroth himself. You burn with the fire of your Jai Ancestors and that of Jaihash. I know what you're thinking: You worship Ok'nu... he was only a servant of Jaihash -a pet... you are the host of The Fire God. You are a guardian, as are you Saraya,"
Aria grinned at the way Saraya tried to hide her shock, but approached her cautiously -seeing and sensing fear and doubt among the group. "Malik took something very precious from you..." She breathed reaching out and collecting Saraya's chin in her hand. Her eyes traveled all over Saraya until it landed on her belly, still slightly swollen, but barren. Aria gasped as the knowing struck her. Her eyes welling with unshed tears. "That which is most precious... that act can not be forgiven, if you can learn to work with us... you will have your vengeance and Justice will be served." Aria's head whipped back around to look at Rhuarc and she eyed him with sternness and severity, knowing that to remain docile and gentle would get her no where with a race that glorified strength and valor. She flung out and punched him right in the jaw. She struck harder than she looked like she might, but having struck with all her might she bit back a whimper of pain in her knuckles, shaking out her hand. "I welcome you as a friend -your earlier comments are forgiven, but you must also learn to work with us. Lara is the guardian of Fenlyk, and you can not blame her for the choices of her society as a whole. Like you, she is only trying to survive in this world."
"How do you know they are Guardians?" Carrick finally asked. Aria just smiled at Saraya and Rhuarc.
"I have been training my whole life to find you all, all that is left is the Volshiv guardian... we will not find them here. I can not force you to accept the truths I have told you all, and I can not force you to help me restore balance to Azera... but I can ask you to follow me, help me bring back the peace we knew as small children, ask you to help me restore the world our forefathers died trying to protect. I ask you to help me finish what they started... and to win our homes back."
She knew the legends of Fenlyck very well for her parents had told all those stories to her as a young kid many a time, so much that she had memorized them. But because of all these events that had escalated the atmosphere Lara wasn't able to think straight, the whole thing was whish wash. She listened to Aria carefully, repeating the story in her head. She knew it but she followed along as if she had heard it the very first time.
Then Aria went off to take a shower and now was much more presentable after that. Questions were flung between her, Aria, and Baldin. But Lara soon fell asleep from the events of the evening.
As it neared the end something inside of her, not the spirit, she worried about the reason why her parents had died. Her thought and Aria's explanation lined up so perfectly Lara just felt dumb, shocked, and a mix of other indescribable emotions. One of the feelings she started feeling, two actually were revenge and hatred.
Lara awoke to the sound of someone coming in and opening the door, here was where everything came apart wasn't it? Just when everything was starting to come together, things fell apart. But there was a twist, the blacksmith, Carryck, was actually an ally. Someone who would help them during these hard times. When they had left only she and Aria were left, left completely in quiet but in front of warm light. There was no sound at all except the flickering of the light, peaceful but there was no feeling of security. They were in the city of their enemy who was actively hunting them.
Some more time passed before footsteps were heard, and it was more than just two people. The door into the stables and three people walked in, two of them were nomadic Jai and the other unknown. She didn't hear the first thing uttered by one of the Jai, but the second phrase... just went to damn far. Figuring out how everything was interconnected plus waking up thinking they were found, this Jai did not have any clue what sort of dam he had just broke.
Water can be quiet, seen, and not heard. But water has many different natures and one of them is fast, loud, seen, and merciless. Being called someone without honor by someone who had no idea what her life had been like was infuriating. [i Show the nomadic Jai, he can't get away with it perfectly free], even the Fenlyck spirit agreed the impertinent Jai had gone too far.
Lara got up and turned around to face this little prick of a bigot, and she did something she rarely ever did and that was taking the hood off her head. Her aquamarine colored hair tumbled down her back while the shadows illuminated by light shows piercing ocean blue eyes with an intent stare. There was a face as well, yes it was that of a woman. But it made up for the many years of hard toil, many years of feeling alone and constantly doing something to survive. Things were about to be escalated pretty fast.
The water dam was about to break and the water would burst forward stopping at nothing in its path. Starting out quietly, [+purple "You little nomadic Jai, you little under cooked piece of bigoted little scum."] She began to crescendo with the intention of a slow crescendo and nothing would be held back, [+purple "How dare you, categorize me based on the actions of where I'm from. You have the damnedest audacity to call me someone without honor without even asking one single damn question about my past. For the past couple of years I've been moving around like you nomads, but always by myself with no one to look after me except myself. You at least have your petty clan mates who are addicted into sticking snakes into their arms like the addicts sticking needles in themselves. But I had no one. I watched my parents burn in front of my eyes and then I ran. Yes, I admit this, I ran like a coward. But here's a question, dumbfuck, would you want me fighting you instead of trying to fucking help you in this quest to kill King Malik? Make no mistake, I'll fight till either I die or Malik is dead, I have the same dream as you. To have a land that was like before Malik put his bastardy plans and actions into it."] it had risen to a full crescendo and she had taken an aggressive step towards this bastard. [+purple "You fucking Jaistard."], followed by another aggressive step with a swing of her staff.
She wasn't aiming for the Jai, she hit the floor with the butt of her staff on purpose to push with all the ferocity of water her point. There was an eerie humming sound as the water in the water buckets for the horses started humming.
To have the blacksmith speak was surprising enough... But, to chastise her was something she hadn't accounted for. And even in her mother tongue, no less. Saraya huffed, with a face that expressed an almost angry glare. No one ever spoke to her like that. No one dared to. She was tempted to curse, but instead, bowed quickly before shrinking her presence to the entrance of the building. So... the one that stands here must be a guardian.
The spirit commented to keep calm. Saraya took heed to the voice, and exhaled silently... but, as she did, she saw a cold breath escape her, and form a flower... She flustered to it. The spirit was succeeding in calming her.
The two boys then asked something of the three of them. Another aspect of her character besides her stubbornness was her flaring temper. It came out in a number of ways. It usually exerted its way out through sarcasm, yelling, and even fighting. The most dangerous side of it, though, was when she stayed silent. But, despite the feeling of cursing, she held it down and explained her case.
[I Ascor dul brusida wil Faso...] [I ] she said as slowly as possible to make sure he was following her. [I Wantoosh... Stetiel te Saraya... yanto too te bon to delist] [I ]
She sighed as she continued on. [I zenten tot tel yedu sorilit. Malik drolt grensca iyeti to run looir gruta... turnis molta wontisan bu y wantu... tuies yelcort hami timul trii fur borto... Mart oituli lilu] [I ]
She bowed again to them, and bowed lower to the other guardian that stood to her. Afterwards, she silenced herself. The other guardian and the blacksmith exchanged words of searching for the child. When the blacksmith spoke of her location, she smiled in gratitude.
The darkness was thwarted by a dim light, a fire. She let the men enter first, before slinking her slim figure in behind them. Though she was grateful to have finally succeeded in her first task in finding the child, she still felt uneasy. She never had been viewed as insufficient to any battalion she attended. She had been an important asset to her troupes before... but, that had been before when life was easily taken with mere swords and shield.
There were two girls that sat in the warmth. One had a stare of determination, the other, uncertainty. She recognized one of the girls from the sewers. She was rubbing her neck like before... Though, she'd doubt that from the first encounter would she know of her. Besides, she was unheard, unseen, as she concluded as one of the abilities of her spirit. She tilted her head some as she observed from a distance. She didn't want to offend anyone, nor be chastised again for exposing what was already obvious. She sighed as she stayed at a distance, taking a light seat on a short stack of hay. In her mind, she had to collect herself in a whole new foundation. She felt as though she had been mourning her family's death long enough. One thing she learned was to never allow her personal feelings get in the way of the task at hand. She knew to do it, but she would find it difficult on this voyage... but, what did the spirit mean when it spoke that one of the guardians would require her love more than most?
Saraya let her thoughts subside. She stared toward the fire as her senses began to clear into a conversation long started. She sighed away her tansgressions and lent an ear to the conversation, trying not to intervene whatsoever due to her poor speaking. She needn't embarrass herself further.
The blacksmith looked over Ayab's axe and confirmed their suspicion that the axe would be an easy fix. While Rhuarc would have ideally liked the axe fixed as soon as possible, the two Jai simply didn't have enough coin to waste making the axe a priority job. The end of the week would have to do. The sound of the young halfbreed turned Rhuarc's attention to Balden and while the large man gave the young boy a hard stare, he made no further comment. It was when the conversation turned to his sword that Rhuarc truly started listening. He knew the stories of how the Gods had inhabited the land and while in the Wastelands he had heard rumours and whispers from others regarding his sword he had never paid them any heed. To carry a holy weapon, a sword from legend was preposterous, although now that he gave it some thought maybe it wasn't as absurd a first thought. As Rhuarc took back the blade to return it to the place on his back for the first time ever the blade felt warm to the touch. Previously it had felt like any other steel, often cold but the underlying warmth felt like it had been left in the sun all day. [b "A Twin? Interesting..."] If this truly was forged in the flames of Jaihash himself then he held an incredible weapon indeed and if that was the case he wanted to know all he could about it and its supposed twin. He wondered who could hold the other weapon of black steel.
A young woman entered the blacksmiths and while she seemed out of place Rhuarc prepared to pay her no heed, that was until she spoke to him directly. Guardian? He had never been addressed so before. In a way he supposed that he was, he fought against Malik's forces and guarded his homeland from the invaders, he protected the caravans when he travelled with them but somehow her words seemed to have more significance than would first seem. More to it than that was that as she spoke the word Guardian a warmth filled Rhuarc, seemingly starting from the brands on his wrists and working through his body. [b "We were sent by a respected Elder. He told us that if we kept fighting Shade-stealer like we were now that eventually we would fail. We need to find another way to defeat him. Elder Mandarb told us to trust and an act of providence would guide us on our way. "] The insinuation that Rhuarc and Ayab, or any Jai for that matter, might have abandoned the old ways was insulting. To suggest such a thing would normally start a duel and end with blood, the only thing that saved him was that the blacksmith seemed willing to held those that kept the old ways. Not many shared the same view nowadays, Malik's rule of fear was a powerful tool for the false king.
[b "What help can you offer, smith?"] The Adbhu'Jai were no strangers to persecution given how those outside the Wastelands viewed them and their customs. [b "If you can truly help those who follow the old ways then we shall listen."] Rhuarc glanced quickly at Ayab and the other Jai nodded in agreement, Ayab had far more trust in Elder Mandarb than Rhuarc did but things seemed to be lining up nicely. Mandarb had told them to wait for an act of providence and here they were speaking to two people who seemingly kept to the old ways and were willing to help Ayab and himself, when coupled with the warm feeling that filled Rhuarc now, providence certainly seemed appropriate. The blacksmith, Carrick he said his name was, led them out of the shop and round to the stables, before ushering them inside. Rhuarc and Ayab had to duck down slightly in order to enter. Rhuarc didn't know what to expect but he didn't think the help that Carrick was offering would be two small women, although most anyone was small next to the towering Jai. What made matters worse was that one of these woman was Fenlyk. Despite the necessary trade that took place between Fenlyk and the Wastelands the vast majority of Adbhu'Jai held a deep disdain for Fenlyk natives. They had bent the knee to Shade-stealer in an attempt to spare themselves and it did not sit right with the nomads that while they fought and died to try and defeat the false king, these wetlanders did nothing. In the eyes of [i Ahrak-Toh], the system of honour and obligation, the Fenlyk had failed. The Jai's believed that the Fenlyk had [i Toh] towards the rest of the Provinces. They had an obligation to the other Provinces to do their part in order to defeat Malik and it would be impossible to restore their honour until it was done. At seeing the Fenlyk woman, Ayab too seemed uneasy, pointedly neither Jai looked at the women unless absolutely necessary. [b "This is the help you offer to followers of the old ways? Two women hiding in a stable, and one of them honourless no less. I'm not sure how much help this will be."] Rhuarc's objection was not that Lara and Aria were women, in accordance with the old ways women had an honoured place in Adbhu'Jai society. Women were the only Jai who could own property, while the Jai were nomadic people there was still the matter of the nine great terracotta cities along the river Nine. Every building in those cities was owned by a women and while Elders may have influence in the cities, the final decision was always made by a woman. The roofmistress ruled the cities. It was a position of great honour. If this was indeed the providence that Elder Mandarb spoke about it had better make its meaning clear soon or Rhurac and Ayab would not be staying in the stables very long. As it stood he just didn't see how a halfbreed child and three women could help him defeat Shade-stealer and finally give his people peace.
Balden, Aria, and Lara slipped from the sewers under the cover of darkness. Following Balden’s lead he got them from the sewers to the blacksmith’s in the market part of town. Balden opened the door to the stables and hurried Aria and Lara in.
“I’ll be back with some hot water and towels so you can clean up,”
“Remember Balden, no one can know I am here,” Aria reminded. Balden gave a quick nod of his head and gently shut the door. Alone in the darkness Aria sought out a lantern and lit it. The smell of warm hay and smoke permeated the air. The horses in their stalls watched on curiously one neighing as Lara collapsed into a bale of hay. Aria looked over at her –the stress and confusion evident on her young features. A Maternal instinct fell over Aria and she moved to sit beside Lara and studied her for a moment. Lara spoke first asking how Aria could possibly know her name when they had never met, what was with the voice in her head and how it related to a fish tattoo on her neck, and Malik’s forces. Aria heaved a heavy sigh. “I know you’re name because of everything you mentioned. The tattoo, Malik’s forces, the voice inside your head…” Aria gave her a pointed and firm look under the lantern’s glow. The seriousness of her words were etched into the shadows of her face. “I tend to assume that all know their history, Fenlyk especially. Very prideful when it comes to history and tradition… much like the Jai’s. This is good, though, but just in case you don’t know, I will elaborate,”
“Eons ago, the earth was nothing more than a barren world spinning around the sun in the vastness of the heavens. Five gods traveled here to find solace. You know them, Caledon the Mighty, Fenlyk the Siren, Jaihash the Quick, and Volshiv the Tempest. They were led by their leader Azeroth. Together they formed the four provinces and in the center built a grand city from where they could watch over their creation. They created all sorts of creatures, but there were none to nurture, none to really appreciate the beauty they had created. So each God created their own race, and presided as a guardian over their land. From the Central City, Azeroth kept his eyes on them all and allowed them to their own devices. Their mortals came to revere them as the Gods they were, but as they stepped aside and allowed humanity to flourish, they saw within it a darkness they had not anticipated. So they each chose a host… A guardian to protect and to serve all of Azera. They would serve Azeroth’s holy choice –marked at birth. Always choosing a woman, for women are gentle by nature. He appointed the first High Priestess, imbuing her with his powers and his knowing…. I am the High Priestess. You are a guardian of Fenlyk, Malik killed your parents in the pursuit of destroying the guardians –for we are the only thing that can stop him.”
Balden returned moments later with a large bucket of fresh water and several cloths. He set it down before her and set down her bag with a change of clothes. Aria wasted no time in hiding within a stall to bathe herself as best she could and change into fresh clothes. When she emerged from the stall cleaned and her skin shimmering once male with pale perfection she tucked her silvery blonde hair behind a delicately pointed ear and came to sit down with Balden and Lara answer any and all of their questions well through the night. Balden eventually falling asleep on them and not waking until the dawn came and he heard the heavy footfalls of the smith coming to wake him. By dawn even Aria and Lara had fallen to sleep and when the stable doors opened the Blacksmith stood in stunned silence at what he saw.
“I can explain!” Tried Balden, moving to stand protectively infront of Aria, but there was no need. Aria smiled at the blacksmith, sensing in him relief and joy. From under his tunic he removed an amulet of fine making, that herald the old ways and claimed Fealty to the High Priestess of Azera. He was quick to close the stable doors behind him and fall to a knee.
‘My lady,” he greeted. Aria rose to her feet, and with a gentle hand pulled Balden back. “Had I know, I would have come searching for you-“
“there is no need for that… Carrick,” his head snapped up to pin her with a look of wonderment.
“It really is you?”
“Yes…there are others like you? Yes? Still devoted to the old ways?”
“Yes M’lady, we meet in secret, and have been counting the days of your return.” Aria moved to kneel before Carrick the BlackSmith and though he was nearly double her age, she gave him a warm matronly smile and forced him to meet her gaze with soft fingertips to his bushy chin.
“You once served the House of Azeroth. You were low enough in rank you were spared by Malik…” Aria continued to read him, and as she revealed secrets only Carrick would have known, the large man began to weep. He had hope. “Now you forge weapons and tact for his vast army…”
“Yes, m’lady,” He said a look of guilt on his face.
“You were spared for a reason. To help us-“
“Anything. I will hide you here during your stay and if I can help, I will get you back out. I will serve you as I once did before,” A wan smile crossed his face then. “I remember when you were but a tiny tyke…” Aria smiled back at him. “That is the way I assume most remember me as.”
“When he circulated the lie that you were dead, the whole damn city nearly went up in flames from a revolt. We feared he had killed the small child we held so much hope in.”
“I am very much alive, and very much in need of all the help I can get,” Aria assured him. Carrick nodded.
“I assure you m’lady, My life is yours.”
Carrick was stuck somewhere between reality and surrealism. The High Priestess was still alive and currently safe within his home, as was the Fenlyk guardian. He would protect them with his life. Never in all his years did he think he’d ever see the High Priestess again. To be honest, he felt guilty of beginning to believe that the Priestess would never return. He dared not think of it. It was still early morning when he spotted two large Jai’s enter his Forge.
“Morning men, can I help ye?” He asked. Balden came skidding to a halt within the smithy, catching the sight of two massive Jai’s and dropped the wood. He’d never seen men so large before –and Carrick was a large bear of a man. The clatter of wood falling, caught Carrick’s attention and he frowned at the boy. “Excuse the boy, he’s new around here. I don’t take it he’s seen much diversity, despite the fact he’s a halfbreed,” Carrick said sounding stern, but when the one Jai gave him his cracked Axe, Carrick smirked and set it back. “This is a clean fix. I will have it ready for you at the end of the week if you don’t mind the wait. Though, for extra coin I can make it a priority and get it done by the end of the day?” He suggested, but the man Ayab, was perfectly fine getting it back when Carrick finished it. The next man then showed him something far more interesting. Carrick took the blade from Rhuarc and handled it carefully. Even he could see how sharp it was. “This is a fine blade…” Carrick said, and glanced around before leaning in, and carefully handing it back toi Rhuarc. “Guard your sword well. The metal is one that cannot be found… not in these parts. I once heard a tale that this particular sort of metal was forged by Jaihash himself. He breathed fire upon the Desolate Sands, charring it solid. Only two blades are made this way. He made them with Caledon the Mighty. For once the sands were turned to metal, Caledon broke it apart and Jaihash forged two steel blades. Twins… There is legend that another like this exists. Black Steel is a myth… but my friend, you have just made it fact. This blade is a holy weapon of great power….” Suddenly Carrick shrugged. “Or so the story goes,” He chuckled light heartedly, but just before he could bid them farewell, a young woman entered. Her curious expression and her uncertainty of even being in the vicinity made Carrick warry. She bypassed him and Balden entirely and walked right up to the two Jai’s who towered over her like monoliths. Her Common Tongue was horrid. Carrick had never met a person who couldn’t speak it, this woman was the first, but he clearly made out the word Guardian –as did Balden.
“Did you just say Guardian?” Balden asked, breaking the awkward aura in the forge. Carrick glowered from his place. Balden approached Saraya and offered her a friendly smile. “You might not want to say that too loud around here,” Balden warned.
“Even mention of the old ways is grounds for beheading. Malik will hear no word of the Old Ways of Azeroth. You give yourself a death wish to ask a stranger such things,” Carrick scowled quickly chastising her again in Caledon, as he could tell from her accent that was where she was from. He turned to the two Jai’s next and gave them the same warning –knowing that the Jai’s were devout in the old ways. “Mind if I ask what it is you’re doing here in Central City? The old temples have been burned and the Sanctum has been turned into an abomination for Malik’s personal pleasure. This City is no longer safe for people of the old ways… but if you are still true to the old ways… I may be able to help you…” Carrick offered the three travelers.
Balden had decided to come with her, something went through his mind but what about she wasn't sure. It wasn't easy to walk quietly so they didn't try at all, along the way they whispered quietly about things in the world. Even though the voice inside of her head told her that Balden was trustworthy, until she knew him much better she wouldn't be telling him much about herself. She knew that he knew that she was Fenlyck because of the accent, but that was as far as it would be for now.
As they neared to somewhere, it was hard to tell in the gloomy and dirty darkness, the fish tatoo on the back of her neck started warming up again and she felt a burst of adrenaline. That was followed by splashes in the water and then some feminine voice calling out Balden's name and that caused Balden to surge forward to whoever it was. He also went in, so the person they were trying to find they had just found and her name was Aria. Lara just stood there because she really had know idea what in the Big Ocean was going on.
She was truly shocked when the woman Aria just instantly knew her name. She didn't know her but, why was everything going towards more complicated all the time? Why were seeking answers rewarded with more questions that were even harder to find the answer to? The only real answer that made any sense whatsoever was something major was afoot and she, it was frustrating.
All these thoughts happened while Baldin was leading the three of them to the stables, Lara didn't pay attention much to what the other two were saying because of her thoughts. When they reached the stable Balden went of somewhere, and that was when the voice started up again. Lara swooned and fell down on the hay, [+purple "Just speak the Fenlyck tongue, or even the English tongue."] The voice inside her head just disappeared.
Turning to Aria, [+purple "If you know my name without having met me, then could you please answer this question? How does the voice in my head relate to the tatoo of a fish on the back of my neck that I had from birth, and how does all that relate to Malik's forces raiding Fenlyck and my parents dying?"]
Satisfied with the meal and gratitude, Saraya gracefully thanked the bartender, and made her way to her lodging. The streets we're quiet now. The night sky gleamed and winked along her perfect skin. At the sight of her moon, she could remember Felliope and she running along the moon-kissed bluegrass. His laughter filled her ears, along with her joyous giggle and the memory faded with his words being spoken into the wind: [I I love you]
A tear raced down her cheek from the memory. She refused to rub it away, for it was not fear nor disdain. Her sudden tired form served to be restless after the memory. Instead of wondering to the cot for rest, she began walking through the empty streets. As she did, the spirit began to speak, as if curious of her memory.
[I Who was the voice that laughed?]
Saraya looked down, feeling her cheeks warm. The spirit chuckled within her. [I Do not be shy, love. It is your memory. I do not mind it.]
Saraya stared at the gravel silently. [I It was my late husband... Felliope. I miss him so...] she began to walk on.
The spirit was silent a moment before speaking once more. [I Do not feel bad, my love. It its not a terrible thing to miss the one you loved dearly. I share the same feeling...]
Saraya nodded slowly. [I Yes, I remember. They spoke so briefly of your wife, Contalia. That an evil had murdered her once free spirit and turned her into a statue of delicate marble. She was a beautiful soul] she bowed out of respect of the knowledge.
The spirit seemed to sigh. [I We share a common beginning of a rigorous battle between good and evil, and you share the same pureness that I possessed within me. Use your love well, but also keep in mind that there will be others that will need it... And in your future, I see that another guardian will need it.]
Saraya stared forward. Another guardian? The spirit chuckled. [I Needn't worry. You will learn. You already have some of the virtues that is required for battle. You blank out your thoughts, you use what is necessary, you think fluently on your toes, you are like predator on prey... You must evolve and hone your skills, my love.]
Understanding the message her spirit had given her, she bowed.
As she continued to wonder, she found herself near where the blacksmiths do their business. With the knowledge of it, the Mark began to warm, and quickly intensified. She saw two large customers walk into the bllacksmith's dwelling. It wasn't that the men went onto blacksmith territory, but the words spoken in the manner of authority, yet, curiosity, that caught her. She, curiosity catching the best of her, began walking towards the dwelling. In the dim light, as she peered in, she saw the men stand-in firm and proud, and asked for his Axe to be repaired.
Saraya couldn't help but wonder. She needed to get herself in a position to introduce herself. The spirit within her was silent as she decided to speak. Though she couldn't speak English well, she would try with all her might. [I Ex... cuse...] she said, ll oud enough to get their attention. [I G..Guar...dian... yes?]
Rhuarc and Ayab walked the many, twisting streets of the Central City, a look of disdain on their hard Jai faces. The City was far larger than any in the Wastelands, even bigger than An'karell or Marquet, which were the two greatest terracotta cities along the banks of the River Nine. Rhuarc was aware that this would probably have been the case, but it was one thing to know something and entirely different to see it first hand. Hawkers shouted their wares at those passing by and trying to drum up some custom and earn some coin for the day. Horses and carts were driven through the streets, as drivers shouted, often in expletives, for those in front of them to get out of the way or be knocked down. The two Adbhu'Jai hadn't spent much time in cities so to find themselves in one as large as this, surrounded by people from across all of the Four Provinces was a culture shock to the two men. Occasionally Rhuarc and Ayab saw another large Jai figure in the crowd but did not recognise any that they passed. Ayab glanced at disdain at two drunkards as they spilled out of a tavern door and continued the brawl that they had started inside, closely followed by a further look of disdain at a man purchasing the services of a whore on one street corner. [+red "Ouk'nu save these people...and they say we are savages? They have no respect, no honour. None of these people follow [i Ahrak-Toh]. How do they live?"] The Adbhu'Jai were not oblivious to the words the other Provinces spoke about them. They knew that the other Provinces looked down on them as barbarians and savages. The truth was different, the Adbhu'Jai were not savages, they followed the Old Ways, the way of [i Ahrak-Toh], of honour and obligation. The other Provinces had forgotten where they had come from, but not the Jai. To be Adbhu'Jai was to follow [i Ahrak-Toh], to follow [i Ahrak-Toh] was to be Adbhu'Jai.
Unfortunately Elder Mandarb had not given them any specifics of what they should look for which meant that the two Jai were in limbo concerning what exactly they should do while in the Central City. Luckily the two men had managed to find somewhere to stay while in the City. The small coin purse that Rhuarc carried would not be enough to find them an inn that would provide room and board for more than a few days at most so they had to be a little more creative with their solution. One innkeeper had told Rhuarc that there was a small community of Jai in the south side of the City and having nothing better to do the two men set out to find this community and hopefully find a place to stay. One of the Jai in this community, a Menin Jai by the name of Saavan, told them of a farmer who was looking for hired guards to keep poachers and bandits from his livestock. The conversation went well and in exchange for allowing them to camp on his farm, and a little bit of cain Rhuarc and Ayab would protect the mans livestock. A fair agreement. The two would have to hunt for their food but the lands here were teeming with possible kills compared with the Wastelands back home so that shouldn't be an issue for either man. Rhuarc and Ayab were just using what little coin they had to do some odd jobs mainly getting Ayab some more arrows from a fletcher and to visit a blacksmith in order to fix one of the hand axes that seemed to have a flaw in the head and blade. The only blacksmith that Rhuarc knew of in the city was the same one he passed on that first day, the one with the half-breed apprentice working the forge, so that was where they headed to.
As they approached the forge, the master was there, the half-breed nowhere to be found. [b "Greetings, sir. How much for your time. My companion has need of a good smith. It is simple work needed, but good."] Ayab brought out the axe. [b "The head is cracked and needs replaced. How much for a new one? We have little coin but will pay a fair price if we can, or pay in kind if we can not."] Rhuarc had no need of the smith's work for himself, his spears were all in fine working order and as far as he could recall the blade of heavy black metal on his black had never needed worked on, and perhaps more curiously never needed sharpened ever, the wicked serrated edge was a keen today as the first day he had found it. [b "One more moment of your time sir..."] Rhuarc hefted the greatsword from his back and held it tip down into the ground. [b "Have you ever seen a blade of this kind before? Or any other weapon made from the same kind of steel?"] Rhuarc had been curious for as long as he had carried the sword but had never found anyone who could tell him anything about the curious heavy black blade. The larger Adbhu'Jai stared into the flames of the forge his eyes mesmerised by the orange glow and the heat coming from the forge. His mind went back to the many times that he had been branded, but one moment in particular stood out. Rhuarc had just come back from fighting against Malik's raiding parties along the border of the Wastelands. He had survived the fighting when many had not been as fortunate, in thanks for surviving he had two serpents branded into the underside of his wrists, in honour of the Great Serpent itself. As Rhuarc stared at the forge now, perhaps it was just the memory, or a trick of the heat but he thought he felt a burning on his brands now, an itching and a pain he had not felt since they were first burned into his flesh. The flash of pain lasted for no more than a second but something was different in the Adbhu'Jai nomad, he couldn't place waht exactly was different but he knew, on a fundamental level that staring into that forge, seeing that fire had changed him irrevocably.
Balden was filled with a sense of hope at the woman’s words. Lara, was her name. She was clearly of Fenlyk descent as he noticed by her accent, her words were fluid and gentle like a soft river current. She spoke of a voice inside of her –a different soul that lived within her. It guided her down here the way Aria guided Balden. He watched her curiously as she rose to her feet and made her way towards the water’s edge. The crumbling stone dropped a small fragment into the water with a resounding “Plunk”. She looked confused and lost, as if she was still trying to figure out what was happening inside of her. Balden felt a sense of sympathy for her –but he knew this had to be a good thing. The voice even wanted her to enter the water.
“Are you sure you want to go in there?” he asked, regretting his words the moment he said them. Aria was swimming in it, and now Lara was knee deep in it with her staff, but something extraordinary happened. Balden watched with slackened jaw as Lara’s staff seemed to purify the water. Hells Bells! Had he just found the first guardian!? Aria would be immensely pleased if he had. Unless this girl was a witch? Nah, he didn’t think so. For starters: She was way too pretty to be a witch, and they were supposed to be nasty and evil…or so he’d been told. Then again, no witch Balden had ever heard of could purify sewage into drinking water. He still wouldn’t drink it, but upon her offer to join him, he jumped right in. Balden did not walk ahead of her, but at her side, the two of them wadding through the purifying waters and following its current towards the aqueduct that lead out of the city, one that Aria was bound to enter from
The smell of sewage burned out Aria’s ability to smell after she’d been submerged in the rancid waters avoiding the patrol of the Night’s Watch. When she rose from the water and watched as they marched away, her skin was tinted brown with filth and her butter cream hair was browned to match. Her clothes clung to her frame in sticky patches, while her hands and legs forced her upstream, against the current in the depths of the deepest parts of the stream. She knew she wasn’t even in the thick of it. There was a gate that would block her path, she would have to move or cut away. It was there to collect trash from leaving the city. However, the plus side was that it did not connect from the towering wall down to the bottom of the aqueduct. There would be just enough room for Aria to swim under and come up on the other side. Aria had spent the better part of her life in hiding learning every nook and cranny of the Central City’s fortress, just for this exact purpose: Getting in. Next she had to figure how she would be getting out WITH her guardians as well. She would find them in the Central City, but it was very certain that they could not stay.
The moment she reached the inner walls of the Fortress and reached the grate she stopped and used the iron bars to hold her up above the water as she caught her breath. The passage leading to the grate was fully submerged, she heaved for air- feeling light headed from lack of air the fumes of trash. Trash and debris clung to the grate blocking her view to the other side, but the archways above her were taller now and she could hear for voices. She heard nothing but the pitter patter of rats. There was no clanking of armor, no heavy footfalls of soldiers. Just the drip, drip, drip of water and slime. Speaking of slime, it was exactly how Aria would have described the water. It was viscous and shimmering with the oils of decayed garbage, food, and waste. She felt bile rise in her throat to know she’d have to dive under the gathered pile of garbage to reach the other side… if Malik hadn’t closed this tiny little weakness already.
She went to heave a final breath but the fumes choked the back of her throat, her eyes burning, and she couldn’t stop the cough, or how she suddenly vomited bile into the very water she was swimming in. As if things couldn’t get worse. She felt her eyes burning –in rage or with tears she wasn’t sure, but she spit the last of her sickness from her mouth and forced herself to dig deep, to take that breath and dive down beneath the water. She wouldn’t open her eyes –she didn’t dare, she used the grate to lead her blindly down almost eight feet until she felt the broken pieces of the grate, not only was it still open, but the opening had been made worse over time. It was slowly corroding away.
[i Close… a little further to go. Keep swimming… they are near…]
Aria felt it in her blood stream, as if every cell of her body was electrified and traveling through her body so fast they seemed to simply vibrate her whole being. She pushed through the opening and forced herself to go as far as she could until the water began to shallow and she could touch the bottom. She came up for breath, her hair dripping with the murky blackened water, and her face smeared with oils and muck. She spit frequently to keep the filth from entering her mouth. She knew they were close, and the way her body felt, the way her blood rushed through her veins, how the marking of a koi fish on her back seemed to writhe and tingle the skin of her back told her it must be the Fenlyk Guardian.
Up ahead she began to hear voices whispering to one another, the sloshing of water as two people walked towards her. She recognized Balden's voice first, but not the other. Aria also noticed how the water seemed to glimmer with power, and around her the water ran clear. It was enough to create a luminescent glow off the water, illuminating the darkness of the sewers.
"Balden?" Aria whispered hesitantly into the dim of the sewers. With the call came a loud splash.
"That's her!" She heard Balden's voice call. "Aria! Aria where are you?" She heard his frantic swimming and jumping through the waters to reach her.
"I am here," Aria giggled as Balden finally reached her, his shorter legs dropping him beneath the water as he was not prepared for the change in depth. Aria quickly grabbed him and helped him stay afloat.
"Aria! I'm so glad you made it! I was beginning to fear you wouldn't make it in."
"Oh ye have little faith," Aria teased and together they made their way back up to the shallows and Aria came face to face with another youngling. Aria smiled at her, and without asking the name came to her -the knowing at work. "Hello Lara."
The admission to knowing her name was startling for the poor girl, but Aria held her smile. Swimming through the sewers was suddenly worth it. She had found the first guardian and with the help of Balden to boot.
"I am Aria, I will explain further with time, first, let's leave this place and find something more suitable, and I daresay but I need a bath," Aria chuckled. Balden was grinning from ear to ear and smiled over at Lara.
"I told you I was looking for someone. We have to smuggle her inside the keep. Malik has his goons looking for her," Balden explained. "I found residence with a blacksmith, he 's letting me stay in the stables. You can stay there too," Balden suggested. Aria nodded her head in agreement, and without further pretenses they made their way out of the sewers.
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