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Adimar had never been a light sleeper, more often than naught he was up into the wee hours of morning before he’d steal maybe four hours of sleep, wake up and begin a new day. So when Thad knocked on his door that night, Adimar’s eyes shot open and not a moment later Thad entered the room with Rupert and Max. Their armor and weaponry clinking a little too loudly for his liking. Of course he’d make it to bed at a decent hour for once, only to be woken up for Gods only knew what.
“It better be good…” Adimar groaned from where he laid in his bed.
“My Lord,” Rupert stated as he too entered the room. “One of the Guardians has been attacked.” Adimar was up and out of his bed in the blink of an eye shoving his feet into boots. He wore naught but his trews and boots, grabbing his sword and started down the halls with his men tailing him.
The halls were alive with activity as security was amped up, and soldiers went rushing to lock down the city to ward any enemies from escaping the city. Adimar did not go down to the courtyard where they said the attack happened. Instead he made his way down the hallway where the Guardians and the Priestess were staying. He spotted Ayab with both axes drawn at the Priestess door. She stood within the doorframe, seeming to plead with the Jai to let her go and see to whoever was hurt.
“Priestess,” Adimar called catching her attention. She turned to look at him and his improper appearance and glared at him.
“Tell me what is happening,” she demanded.
“A Guardian has been attacked, do as Sir Ayab instructs you. The safest place is your room for now. Sir Ayab seems of good stock, he will protect you.” When Ayab confirmed it. Adimar nodded approvingly and clapped the man’s arm in passing. “You’re a good man, Ayab. Keep our Priestess safe!” He called as he continued on down the hall. “Max stay behind and help,”
“Aye m’Lord,” Max grumbled and turned to stand on the other side of the door with Ayab.
Only Rupert and Thad continued to follow Adimar down to the courtyard where the scene was. He saw Rhuarc kneeling over a fallen Saraya, and the little Fenlyk Guardian was down too. He watched as a group of five soldiers escorted a prisoner.
“Report!” He commanded. The nearest lieutenant turned and saluted Adimar before relaying the events that had transpired. Saraya had been attacked. “There are bound to be more spies in the city. Hunt them down and bring them to the jail for interrogations. I want to know who is behind all of this. GO!” He barked. The soldiers went running as orders were dished out to the officers to patrol the city and lock her down. “Master Rhuarc!” Adimar called making his way over as the massive Jai lifted the waifish woman up into his arms. “My men listen to you,” he smirked, impressed. “What more assistance can we give you?”
[b "Adimar I am grateful for the assistance your men have given us. I will interrogate Saraya's attacker myself, you are welcome to be there with me if you wish."]
“I’d like nothing better Master Rhuarc,” Adimar intoned and snapped a finger towards Lara. Thad was there to lift her up from the ground and carried her over.
“What the…” Carrick had come to join them and looked stunned between Saraya and Lara. “Rhuarc?” he asked confused, and bleary eyed. He’d only just fallen asleep to be woken right back up.
[b "It is good to see you friend, it seems that Shade-stealer attempted to dispose of a Guardian while he could. Luckily Lara was able to intervene in time.”]
“Saraya is wounded!” Carrick barked angrily.
[b “I have dealt with her wounds for now but we must monitor her for any other injuries that may present themselves.”]
“Agreed,” Adimar intoned. “Thad will show you the way to the Infirmary. Our Healers will look after them.”
[b “I want Guard at the doors of all the Guardians and at Balden at Carrick as well.”]
“Consider it done,” Adimar agreed.
[b “Ayab is Guarding the High Priestess' door as we speak. I do not think we can be too careful.”] Adimar nodded in agreement, liking this Rhuarc more and more.
“My thoughts exactly, I have one of my men standing watch with yours. She was demanding we allow her to leave so she could come here.”
“No,” Carrick growled. “This is the last place she needs to be right now.”
[b “Let her rest for now, there is nothing she can do. I'll let her see Saraya in the morning, they both need their rest, Lara as well."] Adimar and Carrick both agreed with Rhuarc’s words, and Thad carrying Lara offered to show the way to the Infirmary.
“I will take Saraya, Rhuarc, search the city with Adimar.” From there Carrick took Saraya from Rhuarc’s arms and stood there as both Adimar and Rhuarc took off taking a platoon of twenty men with them.
Adimar was ready to turn the city inside out to find the culprit of the attacks. They had one man in custody, but he was sure they’d find more rats lurking in the dark corners of Tanaka. They searched every pub, and inn, every brothel with nothing to show for it, it wasn’t until Adimar was showing Rhuarc to one of their watch towers that Adimar was called upon. A Second suspect had been caught trying to scale the walls of the city to make an escape. Adimar jumped at the chance.
“What wall was the trying to leave from?” he demanded the soldier.
“The southern wall, Lord Captain.” Adimar’s gaze narrowed.
“Fetch me my Hawk.”
“Aye Lord Captain!” He scurried off and Adimar watched the sky waiting for his Hawk to be released from its pen and out into the sky.
“Let’s find out where our man was running to…” Adimar murmured. The second the hawk cawed into the night sky, Adimar exhaled slowly and his eyes clouded over to a silver white. The hawk dove off towards the south and Adimar stood stone still.
“We call this his Eagle Eye…” Rupert told Rhuarc as they waited for Adimar to finish his searching. “He can possess the eyes of any bird and see through them. Generally he uses his own Hawk,” Rupert whispered, his eyes focused on Adimar.
“There is a third. Waiting for his brethren. Take a handful of men south towards the River wood. He is waiting with horses.”
“Aye,” Rupert turned abruptly and started off shouting a series of names, for men to follow him. Adimar blinked and his steely blue grey eyes turned clear once more and he looked back at Rhuarc.
“I say it’s never too early for an interrogation, shall we?” He asked as if he’d done nothing short of amazing and led the way to the holding cells.
Rhuarc was sleeping uneasily the feeling of the hooded figure's gaze left him feeling restless and sleep was hard to come by. Eventually Ayab shook him awake gently claiming it was time for them to relieve Carrick on Aria's door. The Jai suspected that Tanaka was a safe city, specially with all the Guardians inside an practically an army to defend them...that was until Rhuarc had glanced at the hooded figure. He berated himself silently, he was being foolish, jumping at shadows. It was unlikely that one of Malik's abominations was hiding in Volshiv but he would remain alert nonetheless and keep Aria safe. She was the High Priestess after all. [+red "Greetings Carrick, how goes the watch?"] Ayab engaged the grizzled blacksmith in smalltalk briefly before wishing the blacksmith a good night. Rhuarc was still in his own thoughts and barely said a word to Carrick, it was almost as if Rhuarc and Ayab's usual demeanours had been reversed. The large Jai didn't expect any trouble but they were alert all the same. Ayab made a few comments about home,wondering what was happening in the Wastelands and about Elder Mandarb and what the respected man was doing.
The expected quiet was shattered by the cacophany of running guards' footfalls as they darted past, Rhuarc grabbed one by the arm, [b "What is going on?"] The guard was surprised to be face to face with a man so large but an answer was given, "There is some kind of commotion outside, someone has been hurt, maybe a Guardian. That's all i know, sir." [b "Stay with the Priestess."] were the only words that Rhuarc had for Ayab and without a word of complaint the other Jai took out his two hand axes, and took up a defensive stance in front of the door. It would be a foolish man to trifle with Ayab tonight. Rhuarc sped off with the guards following them as they knew where they were going. It didn't take long to see hwt the commotion was about when the group of guards accompanied by Rhuarc arrived outside. Saraya was lying bloodied in a heap on the floor while a man standing over her with a blade was being confronted by Lara and what appeared to be...a serpent made from water? That was unexpected. It seemed that Lara was calling upon her power as a Guardian. The summoning of the serpent and the subsequent attack neutralised the threat to Saraya but in turn caused Lara to fall unconscious with exhaustion. [b "Get Adimar and Carrick. Do it now!"] Rhuarc's voice left no room for hesitation as several Volshiv guards left to follow his commands. Rhuarc bent over Saraya and examined the wound, he was no expert by any means but he had been fighting for most of his life and he knew how to deal with several injuries, luckily while the wound was bloody it didn't seem to be fatal, but it was serious, the wound in her belly needed closing and they didn't have time to wait for a doctor. Rhuarc pulled out his belt knife and calling upon his power as a Guardian started heating the metal of the blade until it was hot enough for his purposes. [b "I am sorry Saraya, this will be painful."] Rhuarc began the painful process of cauterising the stab wound in Saraya's belly, as soon as the heated metal touched her flesh the Caledon Guardian let out a shriek of pain that chilled the blood as pain wracked her body. Rhuarc needed to be careful not to hurt Saraya more badly than he had to, he had seen men do more harm than good trying to cauterise a wound before. In short bursts Rhuarc carefully and successfully cauterised the wound, it would be painful for a while and would leave a nasty scar but Saraya would live.
The remaining guards had clapped the assailant in irons and were dragging him to the closest dungeon where he would be imprisoned until further notice. Adimar arrived shortly after Rhuarc had finished dealing with Saraya's wound and began giving his other men orders to search the city for any other would be assassins. Rhuarc's mind automatically went to the hooded figure with the uneasy gaze that he had spotted earlier in the day but he kept that to himself. [b "Adimar I am grateful for the assistance your men have given us. I will interrogate Saraya's attacker myself, you are welcome to be there with me if you wish."] Adimar was a guardian and an attack on Saraya should be considered an attack on his life as well, they were all in this together. Carrick also joined the small group now, just as Rhuarc scooped up Saraya in his arms, [b "It is good to see you friend, it seems that Shade-stealer attempted to dispose of a Guardian while he could. Luckily Lara was able to intervene in time. I have dealt with her wounds for now but we must monitor her for any other injuries that may present themselves. I want Guard at the doors of all the Guardians and at Balden at Carrick as well. Ayab is Guarding the High Priestess' door as we speak. I do not think we can be too careful. Let her rest for now, there is nothing she can do. I'll let her see Saraya in the morning, they both need their rest, Lara as well."] Rhuarc knew that sleep would not come again to him that night so he did what he could practically, he helped search the city with the other Tanaka Guards, he patrolled the hallways where the Guardians had rooms, he spoke with Adimar and Ayab and consulted on the safety of all those he had travelled with over the past few weeks, he checked on both Lara and Saraya, both of whom had not woken up yet and of course his thoughts were consumed by the fear inducing gaze of the hooded figure.
Being punched in this manner for the first time in her life, she had no idea how being punched in the stomach felt, and since it was unexpected she couldn't prepare herself for it. She learned what it felt like the hard way, and that's the only way to learn what a punch to the stomach felt like. Not that these effects were side effects, but in a way they were; pain, having the air in the lungs punched out, collapsing to the ground, and losing focus of the immediate happenings of the outside. The events that unfolded after she had been punched in the stomach was not known to her at all; not out of not appreciating what the others were doing, but more from trying not to completely lose herself to getting punched in the stomach. All the commotion that had begun to happen after her short tussle with the guards; Saraya shooting her accurate arrows, and Rhuarc threatening Adimar with a sword. She did feel, hear, and see Saraya helping her back up and saying something, but those words were lost to a mind still reeling. Even after mostly everything had quieted down, Adimar first questioned and then disciplined the guardsmen, and even that prolonged the noisy chaos by just a tad bit.
But then it all sort of just calmed down and the chaos ebbed away, a sudden retreat which felt somewhat awkward in a way but at the same time needed. All of them needed rest from the long journey, and from what had just happened; chaos didn't help to do that, it did the very opposite.
They were all led to individual rooms; spacious, big beds with comfortable mattresses, and other furniture which currently wouldn't be needed for the time being. But before resting, there was going to be dinner. There was a choice to skip it, but on the other hand she was hungry; nothing like a good dinner to disappear the hungriness. She ate alright, but let everyone else do the talking. No one sent questions her way, or tried bringing her into the conversation, so so always a silent and something in the background. And after he dinner was finished, she swiped the knife she had been using so at least she had some weapon, until she could find a better one.
And after that came time to go to sleep, but sleep eluded her so she went quietly walking about as she was want to do; although this time not being caught by anyone like last time. Something was bothering her very much. Consider this, out of all four guardians and the countries they came from, only three of them were up in arms against the evil king. The country which wasn't up in arms was Fenlyck, and she was from there. But then taking into consideration what the spirit of Fenlyck had shown her, made for a confusing puzzle. At least for her.
All of a sudden, a cry pierced the now peaceful atmosphere, and there was a sound of many feet running to one particular spot. She paused, and heard a pair of feet running her way and away from wherever everyone was running to. Suspicion and then paranoia overcame her, she stepped into he shadows of the wall and waited. A cloaked figure, cloaked in a similar cloak with hoodie as her, was running down this hallway. Just as he was about to pass she tripped the cloaked figure, making whoever it was come crashing down to the ground. She drew out the dining knife she had stolen, go ahead and laugh, and leapt at the figure to stab him with it. But the figure was faster and knocked her aside into the wall, the dining knife slipping from her fingers. Recovering from that, what she saw next out fear into her bones.
And the random thought, [i Water].
The figure was a male, and he was holding a knife in his right hand, and he was looking in her direction with that look which suggested what he was about to do was not simply walk off and not kill the person who had just tripped him. [b Oh my, another one of you. I just put a sword in your friend's gut, but what to do? Perhaps a knife through the heart?] That put fear even deeper than her bones, but te thought about water kept coming up and around. It was like she could sense where the water was, a bit behind where Saraya had been run through with a sword, and there was a huge chunk of it in one place.
As she began concentrating on the water, the mark on her neck began to warm up, as if to help her with the water; she could begin to feel the power of the spirit begin to course through her, the mark warming up even more. The water began to churn and rise, at first slowly but slowly speeding up.
And then all the water formed into the form of a sea serpent, which began to move as if alive; slithering through the air as if it were the medium of water, floating behind but slowly moving forward where the group around Saraya had grouped up.
But the figure began to move closer, and the closer he moved to her, the more the sea serpent began to hiss and coil; as soon as the figure began to raise the knife, the sea serpent shot off as if fired from a bow.
As the hand grasping the knife reached its highest point, the hand stopped in midair and so did the knife with it. It went up even more, but before the figure could send the knife into the plunge most fatal, the sea serpent bashed into the figure with its mouth wide open to plunge its fangs into the arms of the figure, before beginning to coil itself around. Fenlyck sea serpents weren't deadly with their bite, they merely paralyzed the motor movements of the victims. But the long length enabled them to compress their prey into death.
But instead of killing the figure, merely knocked into a deep sleep. She herself felt tired and drained, and started to fall asleep right there and then.
The night had wore on, and Saraya had ate her fill. She sighed as Aria and the others had partook in the meal. Rhuarc... Perhaps she could ask him for aid. She looked left and right for any suspicious being. The stench, however, had not been detected. There wasn't a eye that could not peer at her, either. The porcelain doll had changed... Quite drastically in fact. She still looked like a porcelain doll, however, her stare was pure ice. No man sought to approach her... Except one
"Mi' Lady? I seek audience with you "
Saraya stared as he departed to the stairs. Hesitantly, she followed, her guard up and ready whenever there was an attack. As soon as they reached her room, she was appalled by his sudden looseness. "Mi' Lady, I am Felliope's trusted friend. He has sent me here to wait for you... "
Felliope? Saraya growled and grabbed him by the throat. "Do not taunt me with evil remarks! Felliope died as well as my son. He could not have possibly-"
"But he has, Mi' Lady. He had sent me here before the attack with the enemy. He had spoken that it was imperative that I seek out allies, in case our home lay in ruin"
"Caledon lays in ruin. You have done well, on Felliope's behalf" she said, releasing him. She turned to her door. "Now, leave me"
"Mi' lady, you must protect the priestess. Evil hides in the shadows... "
Saraya looked to him. "Evil? "
"The enemy's spies lurk here. Word had spread of her arrival. You must keep the priestess safe"
"I have smelled the foul stench of the enemy... I knew it was no flaw... " she turned, her body shifting into the shadow. "Do you know who is the general of the traitors? "
"Yes, mi' lady. He bears a scar on his right eye. He collects coin from his followers each week. The very same ones"
Saraya looked out of her window, and turned to him. "Thank you. Resume your duty and inform the priestess that I will be out... Do not alarm her of what I am doing. "
With that, she opened her door and hurried down the stairs. She heard the voice of Carrick not far from her trail, and the J'ai. She knew she had to keep them safe. She hurried to where none could catch a glimpse, and made haste into the dark streets, where she caught, identified, and followed the foul stench... Until it was a pub before her. She stared before looking about, seeing nothing of great purpose, until a seemingly homeless man sitting from there caught her eye. She slowly approached with caution , just to hear a eerie laughter from him. "Caledon Guardian... It is a pleasure to grace us with your beauty"
She stared at the homeless man before a few more men came through shadow with evil smiles and even more evil intent. The homeless man stood and unveiled his form, revealing a face... Her eyes widened in shock, she backed up as if she saw a demon. Her heart sunk. This could not be... "No... No... You can not be... "
"Why not give me a scream from that pretty throat of yours? "
She backed away at the same time, trying to gather herself, but the enemy grabbed her, and immediately after, a sharp pain and tearing flesh sounded before her scream came. "Now, now... Can you be joyous to see this face again? "
She couldn't speak. The man had already dug a sword into her gut. She couldn't breathe. She had to get back to the guardians. She had to protect the priestess... She heard him laugh, as tears fell. She was dropped and as she tried to get away, they all disappeared. She wheezed in air as she waited for them the stench to leave, and made an effort to make it back to the guards...
She dragged herself slowly, not caring of the pain. Her face kept the expression of shock as she did and she slowly made it to the guards, who finally spotted her and ran to her aid. "Guardian!! " one yelled. She tried to speak, and the guards alerted the others, making even the guardians run out to see what was wrong.
She was still trying to move, the sword still plunged in her gut, and she attempted to stand. "Saraya! " Felliope's friend yelled. She successfully stood after tryina few times, blood dripping down her legs and gown . She looked to the guardians as she grabbed the sword. "... I ...saw... Him... " she said, pulling at the sword. She chanted it as she pulled, eyes wide as if seen a demon, and when she finally got the sword from her, she collapsed to her knee, using the sword to keep her at least erect. "I... " her breaths were getting harder to take... She looked to her troupe, tears falling from those eyes. "I... I saw... I saw... "
Aria was thankful for Saraya’s loyalty and willingness to be her eyes and ears... perhaps soon, Aria would grant Saraya the honor of being her voice. This would mean that anyone who wished to speak with Aria would first have to speak with Saraya, or settle for speaking with Saraya if Aria could not be available, in some cases it would mean Saraya’s word was as good as Aria’s. It was not an honor Aria would give freely, but if Saraya or any of the others earned the role, she would bestow it on them. Traditionally a Septum Elder would speak for Aria, but there were no septum elders, and so Aria would have to build her own cabinet of advisors, and who better than those Azeroth surrounded her with? Aria gave a soft thank you to Saraya, hoping she might gleam how much Aria appreciated all she did for her, but they were approached by the final guardian. She would have liked to ask him questions, but the air was rent with the sound of a scuffle and before Aria had a moment to even react, the others had.
“Oh Lara….” She sighed already knowing exactly what had caused this: Lara’s persistent curiosity. Rhuarc yelled at Adimar to make his men stand down, but even Aria noticed that those who wore she same insignia as Adimar had moved in to simply disarm and not hurt. Adimar answered Rhuarc’s demand with a shrill whistle.
[b “HALT!”] His voice boomed. The men stopped instantly. “What is the meaning of this, soldier?” Adimar demanded approaching the soldier who hit Lara. The soldier eyed Saraya warily as he gingerly checked his wrist where Saraya’s arrow had nicked him.
“We found her snooping around the Governor’s office, she looked ready to steal one of the paintings,” Adimar arched a brow at Lara. She didn’t deny sneaking in but made it clear she wasn’t there to steal anything, and Adimar had to hide a smirk.
“So, you mean to tell me that a little girl managed to sneak past Tanaka guards unseen, into the barracks, and was only caught while admiring the artwork?”
“Y-yes sir.” The soldier answered.
“I should have you demoted for your negligence and stupidity. Get out of my sight,” Adimar snapped at the two guards. They bowed quickly and left, while the Governor and Commander ushered the guardians inside to show them to guest quarters in the Governor’s mansion. Adimar watched them leave to their rooms and his men flocked to stand behind him.
“Time for a new adventure,” Thad observed with a grin.
“Sure to be a good time,” added Rupert.
“Always wanted to see the rest of Azera…” piped in Max. Adimar glanced over his shoulder to his most trusted men and smirked.
“Adventure and good times we shall have men. You pledged yourself to me, which means you have pledged yourself to every guardian, and most importantly the High Priestess. You may not return home,” Adimar warned.
“So what are you trying to say? You don’t want us?” Thad teased. Adimar reached out and gripped his man’s shoulder.
“I would be honored if you all followed me,”
“Your will is done,” Thad stated and the three men saluted Adimar in unison. It filled Adimar with humility and pride. Humble that his men were so loyal, and prideful his men were bold and brave to venture with him.
Dinner had been a light affair with promises of a grand banquet the next night in their honor, but the hour had grown late and Aria knew her people wished to rest. Now if only she could find sleep herself. Her room was lovely, and the bed looked comfortable, but Aria found herself restless. She was back in her homeland… shouldn’t it feel like home? It didn’t though, and Aria could sit still no more. She donned a night robe to stay warm and opened the door to her room prepared to take a walk through the mansion and find a nice view of the landscape when a figure stopped her. He stood just outside her door well-armed and gave her a curious look as to why she was out of bed.
“Carrick? What are you doing outside my door?” Aria asked curiously to see the man standing there.
“What does it look like I’m doing?” He teased, causing Aria to smile bashfully. “Is there anything I can get for you Priestess?” He asked.
“No. I just… I can’t sleep,” Aria whispered, her eyes traveling down the dark hallway as if she might find something.
“Strange place?” Aria nodded her head.
“Yes,” she began as they both started walking down the hallway. “I’m afraid I’ve grown accustomed to sleeping beside someone I trust since I left Elder Rigby’s supervision.”
“Why not take up a bedmate?” he suggested “Saraya or Lara I’m certain would be more than willing to share a pillow with you.” Again Aria smiled.
“Yes I know, they’re both very kind, but I do not wish to impose on them with such a childish thing,”
“It is not childish when you are literally being hunted down,” Carrick warned. “Rhuarch, Ayab and myself argued for nearly half an hour as to who would be taking watch at your door tonight.”
“I think you may be the only man I know of who would tell a Jai what to do,” Aria teased. Carrick shrugged. He supposed she was right.
“It’s for their own protection too. Adimar offered his own men… but… as you can see…” Carrick motioned to himself, causing Aria to smile at him.
“Sir Carrick… Guardian of the Guardians,” She dubbed him. He scratched at his beard with a smirk, his eyes twinkling playfully in the dark.
“Mmm… Guardian of the Guardians… has a nice ring to it. Think we can make that official?” Aria did laugh then. It was the first time she had laughed around him, and he felt it might have been the first laugh for her in a very long time. It died with a sigh, but her smile remained. It was a truly beautiful sound and sight, and Carrick felt a sort of pride to know he’d done such a thing for her.
“Yes, my dear Carrick… I think we can.”
They walked in silence for a little while, Carrick walking along her side, allowing her to think her thoughts, and walk in safety. They came upon a breezeway between buildings. It was a crisp cold night and Aria stopped to take in the fresh breeze and looked out at the sleepy city.
“I know your secret Carrick,” Aria said, catching Carrick off guard. He tensed as he stood away from her like the sentinel he was.
“I have a lot of them… which one are you talking about?”
“Your feelings… your emotions. You’re very good at hiding them. Incredibly good at it,” Aria turned to face him then and stared him down. Carrick stared back. “I like to imagine… that if the Holy Temple had never been taken over, that you would still have been a close friend. Perhaps my personal guard.” Carrick bowed his head in humility.
“It would have been an honor,”
“It is an honor you have, Carrick,” Aria informed him with no room for argument. Carrick stared at her, slightly shocked. He had no idea she thought so highly of him. “You helped us without question, sacrificed your home and the life you had made and left all of it behind to help us.”
“I did it for Azera,” Carrick whispered softly. Aria smiled at him.
“I know you did, it is because your heart is so open and willing I can read it so easily… I’ve seen the way you look at her. When you think no one is looking,” She smirked and turned to begin walking along the breezeway in a lazy manner.
“It’s hard not to notice her….” Carrick breathed following behind, not bothering to deny it. Aria nodded again in understanding. Their group had spent close to two months of traveling to reach Tanaka and had grown close in the time. He saw Lara as a spirited little sister. Her antics prone to getting her in trouble, which made him protective of her, but he also realized Lara could handle herself. Balden was similar, he had formed a bond with the boy, much in the way he knew Rhuarc had. Speaking of Rhuarc, Carrick never would have believed in a million years he’d be calling a Jai one of his best friends. He trusted the man like a brother, and enjoyed their sparring sessions together. Ayab had become a fast friend too, prone to dry humor, and insightful comments. As for Saraya…. Words couldn’t properly express what she had done to him without her ever knowing. Her mere presence caused peace and disquiet all at once. He kept his distance with her to a point he was almost certain she thought he hated her, or at least didn’t care either way if she was or wasn’t around.
“I know. She is lovely-“
“And tenacious, smart, brave, graceful, kind and caring. If you know my emotions then you know why I keep them quiet. She’s been through enough, and we are at the brink of war. I won’t cloud her mind with my emotions.” Carrick was firm in his words, such a typical man, but at least he was a stalwart man.
“Your emotions are no less valid than any other. I don’t bring this up so you’ll speak with her. I bring this up because I don’t want it to cloud you from the objective… whether any of you want to believe it or not… I am not as important as you all think I am.” Carrick frowned. He wasn’t following. The High Priestess was the most important Holy Figure in all of Azera! “Azera needs her guardians –not her priestess. If something happens, you save the Guardians Carrick, let me make my own sacrifices. Yes?” She asked.
“No my lady-“ he tried, but she turned on him with a sharp look.
“Yes,” she snapped giving him a dark and serious look. “My task is completed. I have brought them together. I have set them on their path. I have no cosmic power, no ability to fight, nothing to truly contribute-“
“No, Priestess, that-“
“Is the truth.” She cut him off again and moved to approach him. “I appreciate your loyalty Carrick, but if you find yourself stuck between choosing my safety or that of one of the Guardians. You will pick the guardian and you will save the guardian. Am I clear?” Carrick grit his teeth, but slowly lowered to a knee before Aria and placed a fist over his heart. He didn’t like it, but he had taken a vow in his youth to uphold the will of the Priestess and the Holy Temple.
“As you wish, Priestess,” He murmured with a furrowed brow.
“Rise, you are my friend, you need not bow to me. All I needed was your assurance. I am prepared for what may very well be my fate.” Carrick studied Aria’s face as he rose to his feet and saw a sort of sad solemn acceptance on her features as she looked out at the city. There was a wistfulness in her eyes and he found himself pitying her and her lonely existence. He remained quietly standing off to the side while Aria took in the view of the city below. The night sky was alive with thousands of stars, and the occasional meteor flashing by, but it didn’t hold his attention. He glanced back the way they had come towards the guests rooms. He wanted Aria back in her room, but he could see Aria was wide awake and something else was pressing on her mind and it had nothing to do with the object of his desires, upholding her command of him, or what they would do now that they had all the Guardians. Carrick knew she was doubting herself, and that a part of her was lost. She was the Priestess, but who was she as a woman. He might be tempted to blame Rhuarc for that, his teachings to Aria had left her to spend hours pondering her existence, and to soul search. He could see her asking herself who she truly was, or was she only the Priestess. Was there a woman under the holy veil? A soul? An individual wishing to live their own life? Did she see herself as a person, or as someone owned by the people? She lived a life… but it could never be a life of her choosing. One of the first things Carrick had noticed of Aria was she had asked the Guardians to follow her. She didn’t throw their fate, or destiny around as a reason to why they should follow her… she simply asked them to choose, and had promised not to hold it against them if they refused. Trapped… it became very clear to Carrick that Aria did not want her Guardians to feel trapped by the chains of Fate. He knew what it was she was accepting too… the very real possibility she would be killed ensuring the Guardians were successful. Carrick knew then, he would do the same. If it came down to it, he would sacrifice himself for all of them.
“I think I’m ready to return to bed now…” Aria murmured softly. Carrick could only nod his head and escort her back to bed. He stared at her door after she had shut it and he turned to pace the hall. He passed by all of their doors but stopped when he saw the one at the end open up. Was it really 2 am? Was the watch already changing over? After his conversation with Aria, Carrick realized he would be hard pressed to sleep himself, and instead reached over to shake the Jai’s hand that came to take the second watch.
“I hope you don’t mind if I sit a while with you. My mind races, and I know sleep will elude me for some time.” When asked why Carrick sighed. “Our Priestess is troubled. I can see the doubt in her face… something wars within her, and she worries for her guardians the way a mother worries over her children.” Carrick turned to face his company then and continued to whisper. “I have a feeling we are going to be in Tanaka for at least the week… best to keep our eyes open for any of Malik’s men…”
The journey to the Volshiv border was an uneventful one and for that Rhuarc was grateful. During the days they would ride hard and fast for the border with little reason to stop and at night Rhuarc and Carrick would train Balden in the way of the blade. The boy continued to improve with the intense training but most curiously was the other connections with his God that Rhuarc experienced. Snakes were sacred in the Wastelands and as he grew used to being Jaihash's guardian host he realised that he had other abilities. At night before the large Jai went to sleep he could often feel that there were serpents nearby and as he expanded his mind he realised that he could communicate with them as well. This was incredibly useful for travelling around as these serpents often warned of any errant patrols from the False King's troops that were nearby. Soon enough The ragtag group of guardians and allies finally reached the Volshiv border and the city of Tanka.
Immediately Rhuarc realised that this city didn't see a lot of travelors, it was painfully obvious that this place was for Volshiv only as their group, and in particular Rhuarc and Ayab drew several concerned and fascinated stares from the locals. As Carrick talked with the local officials, as usual, Ayab and Rhuarc studied the men, their weapons and the best way to combat them, that was their duty with the group they were warriors first and they would protect those they could. The Priestess was taken away with Saraya and Rhuarc was tense. [b "I don't like this Carrick. One of us should be with her, she is too important. Everything rests on her."] The Adbhu'Jai Guardian was worried about Aria, this might be her homeland but by her own admission she knew very little about it. Any foreign land was dangerous and one as secretive as Volshiv should be treated with caution. His borderline paranoia wasn't helped when a well armoured individual started approaching them, Ayab's fingers momentarily moved toward the hand axes he carried at his belt. A wry smile cracked Rhuarc's lips. The individual introduced himself as Adimar and to the surprise of all claimed to be the last guardian, the one they had all be searching for, the last piece of the puzzle they needed before they could truly start their crusade to bring down the False King and earn their freedom.
[b "That waif is plenty mighty in her own right, you would be a fool to believe otherwise."] The Jai spoke plainly and true. Almost as quickly as he came into the scene he left again, in the same direction that Aria and Saraya had gone. [+red "I hope he is the last guardian, I like him."] The sentiment from Ayab surprised Rhuarc, Ayab was slow to trust and to have one over the quick tempered companion was no mean feat. Ayab was usually a pretty good judge of character and what was more, Rhuarc agreed.
Lara attempted to slip away unnoticed towarss the building that Aria, Saraya the Volshiv officials and most recently Adimar had ventured into, Rhuarc was pleased to see this, he wanted as many Guardians as possible with the High Priestess and in his mind it was a safe judgement to make. Lara may be young but she was more than capable. Rhuarc made the conscious decision to let her go. Waiting for the others return, Rhuarc instead turned his attention to those in the surrounding streets, the officials had brought them into a more secluded area but it still had a fine view of the ordinary citizens going about their regular business, blissfully unaware that the High Priestess and quite possibly all of the Guardians were in their city. One figure in particular caught his eye, a short figure, with a jet black cloak and hood raised to obscure the features hidden beneath. Rhuarc couldn't see the face but he was sure that the man was staring at him and that made him feel...scared. Rhuarc had faced battle and the threat of death for almost his whiole life, when he set off with Aria he had made his peace with the fact he might not survive but this gaze was different. It made him want to run, to drop his weapons and cower away. As the large Jai took a step forward and blinked as he opened his eyes once more the figure was nowhere in sight and relief flooded Rhuarc while at the same time trepidation entered his mind. No mortal should be able to disappear or move that fast. Rhuarc suddenly wasn't so sure about the supposed security of Volshiv.
That was when everything charged, guards came out with Lara in their grasp and and gave her a mighty blow. Rhuarc and Ayab swung into action as Saraya loosed an arrow from her blow that hit one guard in the shoulder, Ayab also had his bow out, arrow nocked and trained on the guard Saraya had not hit while Rhuarc had drawn the large, heavy blade of black steel. As he held that ancient, holy relic of power and pain he called on Jaihash's power within him and the blade already deadly as it was burst into flames as the God of Fire's power was called on by Rhuarc. No one would harm a guardian while he was here, no one. [b "Call off your men Adimar or the wrath of the gods shall be thrust upon you."] In the end the situation diffused as quickly as it had begun with both Adimar and Aria smoothing over the issues, Rhuarc honestly hadn't meant to act so forcefully but the image of that small figure in the black hood still played on his mind. Adimar and the other officials of Tanaka led them to rooms where they could rest for the night, these rooms were splendid and grand, fitting of their station as Guardians...and far more than Rhuarc or Ayab had ever been subjected to. The Jai had spent most of their lives out in the world, wandering and sleeping under the stars only seeking simple lodgings in a city when called for. The affluence of show made the Jai men slightly nervous. Before Rhuarc was able to go to sleep he was once again visited bythe unsettling visage of that figure in the black hood, one thing was sure Rhuarc would turn this city upside down if he had to in order to find this figure if he had to.
Saraya, after Aria had given the plan and location, she nodded in respect. "As you wish, Priestess" They stepped forward, walking on with her steeds.
The city of Tanaka. This city had been thought of as legend, but woe and behold it is, the righteous city. Saraya stared at a distance before regaining her composure. It seemed that these guards were doubled in security
The guard ordered the Priestess to show herself, and Saraya felt that it was disrespectful, but a hand had calmed her just enough. When they knew it was she, they all doubled over in embarrassment. Rhuarc had a chuckling look on his face as Saraya smirked. Walking in, the people had a face of surprise that outsiders came in... Then, the guard ordered Aria to meet the head of the guards alone... When she denied and asked for one other to follow, she turned to Saraya. Saraya was momentarily surprised, but it rubbed off quickly as she squeezed through. Lustful grunts and peering eyes looked upon her, but she forced herself to calm as she followed Aria
The guards we're following Aria and Saraya, both because she claimed to be The Priestess, the other, a woman far too beautiful to ignore was walking alongside her. The aura about them was already that of Central City. She sighed to herself as she walked into the office, and the guard there was skeptical... Until Aria asked Saraya to unbutton the dress. She did so, revealing the markings that took up her back and then, was ordered to close it again. Saraya stared at him, smelling nothing but the foulness that lingered about the building. No, he wasn't one of them, but it did raise suspicion. If she smelled spies before coming in, was it plausible that there was some of Malik's informers were still here, waiting for her to arrive?
Saraya hurried her down the stairs, but not before Aria stopped her... Apparently, she had the same objections to the situation as she. After Aria's suspicion coming to light, Saraya nodded and said "As you wish"
Going back to the group, there was a guard that seemed to stare at Aria and she with deep thought. The guard stared at her excessively... Perhaps, he had never thought that she would be a guardian. Her eyes peirced his being, and he could tell she was no mere woman. Carrick was right... She was not to be trifled with.
Suddenly, a commotion had grabbed her attention, and before any of the other guardians could move, and saw that Lara was getting herself into quite a tussle. It was impressive, using a heavy weapon as a propeller, but when the shielded guard hit her in the stomach, she took her bow and arrow out while advancing, letting loose an arrow to disengage his hand from his weapon. The attention then directed to her, her loading up another arrow and aimed it to another who sought to subdue her. The guard was hit in the shoulder as she slowly advanced to Lara, using her body as a shield and arrow ready. Adimar, the baffled guard watched as the guards absentmindedly attacked, and she let the arrow off, trapping one guard where he stood. She then revealed her sword, blocking a slow blow from a long sword. She used a pulse of her power to knock him back, then looked to Aria, who seemed to be just as baffled. Saraya thought it was enough, and halted all guards with a shield, and looked to Lara. "You must not cause trouble, guardian... "She began as she helped her up "... I understand curiosity, but this will not be good as first encounters"
After Adimar grabbed ahold of his guards, they were escorted to rooms to rest for the night. She sighed as she did her duty of cleaning and such... But a voice froze her. [I My love...]
She turned from where she stood to be in darkness and saw the spirit stand in stance as if to dance. Saraya bowed to him as he stared and smiled upon her. [I I have a gift for you... A well earned gift that will be sure to aid you with your suspicion...]
His hands had opened before him, and there, two jewels as red as the blood of Malik were within them. [I This will help you control your power...even aid you in the matter of appearance if you seek necessary camoflauge. It will also aid you when it comes to darkness and no wind. They will be of great use for a guardian such as you...]
The jewels found their way to her right arm, levitating at first before finding a place on her skin, and there, a transformation had become light. Her hair darkened except for the tips of her hair, her blue eyes shifted to an icy white, and markings appeared on her right side, coming from the very jewels given as a gift. Once the transformation was completed, the last large jewel had connected to her temple. At that point, she arched with the complete transformation. She felt a great power surge and combine within her being.
The Jewels of Ro-Tec An... The jewels once thought that never existed. They were forged by the demon of Secru and given power by the Elder Witches of the Mountain. The jewels were The Caledon's prized jewels, which he kept on his sword. After his disappearance, they sword they had found had no jewels on them. Now, they were on her right arm, displayed proudly on her flawless skin. She then looked into the mirror. She saw a warrior stand and stare back at her. A call to dinner had sounded outside of her room and she nodded to herself. [I A just and promising gift, My lord] she thought as she picked up the kimono she wore and headed down to the mess hall to meet the others.
And the next day she had waken up, somewhat sore shoulder and a feeling of something on it. After getting through all the drowsiness and afterthoughts on what the Fenlyck spirit showed her, there was indeed something on her shoulder and running down her arm. It seemed someone had put cleaned out the wound and covered it with a bandage when she had been seeing the visions shown by the spirit. She didn't take it off as the bandage still had a job to do, as long as he wound didn't become infected under the bandage then everything would be ok.
Other than that, it was back to traveling. Another mundane day of traveling, followed by another mundane day of traveling. Their caravan was making to some city within the Volshiv borders, to what city she didn't know, but as long as it was a safe place to rest she wouldn't mind. Both of these days the group had been pushing to the city as fast as possible, especially after the mage's attack on them. Within Volshiv they'd be much more safe than outside the borders, and the last guardian was a Volshiv. What better way than find the last guardian than by searching within Volshiv? There was no other way except that way, and the rest of the group did also want the safety offered by staying within a Volshiv city.
The day was bright as no clouds blocked the sun from shining in its beauty, and it was warm. But there was the winds which carried a bone deep chilling, as if it were some sort of foreboding omen which would actually happen in the future. And as usual she was sitting on her horse as they plodded forward and sat within her own mind, thinking about what she had seen, past and present and somewhat of the future. One question kept returning, around and around and around, who was the mysterious fellow who seemed to be leading this underground movement? Whoever it was, he had known her parents pretty well, but even the Fenlyck spirit knew not who he was, nor did it come back from the depths it had sunk back to after showing her those sights. The Fenlyck spirit acted weird, always surfacing and talking before sinking back into the depths, only to rise and sink again. It was somewhat frustrated, but then again not everything worked out right away.
And it happened towards the evening, actually nearing the city. Of course having to go the long trek upwards was tiresome for everybody, no one really liked going uphill for extended periods of times. But if that's what they had to do, then that would what they would do to accomplish the goal of getting to the city. But at least there was a view to distract from the long trek uphill, and it was beautiful. She had never seen a sight such as this, in truth she hadn't seen many a sight while on the run, either because she hadn't run into sights or had been paying attention on surviving out in the world. It was big, really big, and really open as well. It stretched out really far, except where the mountains were. But those sights were lost as they entered the city.
The sun had set by the time that had happened, but the city was lit up despite that there was no sun to light the city. They had proceeded some distance before being stopped by a duo of guards, evidently they thought that there was something off and odd about their group. Considering that all of them were from different places in one place together, and in a place which was militarized, not a surprise. Carrick began to talk to the guards while the priestess hid herself on the cart, and the rest of the group hung back as well. But that didn't help as the other guard ordered the priestess to remove her hood, and after the priestess had done that, the guards turned awfully quiet. And after the priestess has asked to talk to their superiors, the guards came to a decision and now they had to follow that duo of guards.
And they followed them until coming to some sort of building, a closer relook revealed it were holding cells for criminals. The torch light glinted off the metal bars, but it was steadily getting colder and colder. The duo guards had left, leaving their little group out in the cold. The two guards soon returned with three others; one was dressed up in an elaborate fine dress, the other two were dressed up in fine looking armor. The fine dressed man asked a question directed towards Carrick but the priestess stepped forward and began answering the fine dressed man's questions. And then the fine dressed man asked her to come in, while at the same time preventing the rest of them from coming in, very suspicious. The priestess took Saraya and the rest of them were now left to stand out here partially surrounded by guards.
She wanted to give everyone a slip and go and see what the two were up to with the fine dressed man, but with the guards and their attention on them, it wasn't going to be easy. But then someone else came out, and the focus of everyone slightly switched, and once this other began talking everyone else's focus shifted entirely. She took this opportune chance and gave everyone there the slip, sticking to the shadows where the torchlight did not reach, and went towards the inside of the building. All the doors were guarded, but the windows were not guarded, but none of the windows seemed right.
In the shadows she walked around some more, listening and watching very carefully, much better than standing out in the cold and doing nothing. Approaching one of the windows she heard voices, and one of them sounded very familiar. The window was somewhat above the ground, but it was easy for her to climb that distance. The room was lit, and se could see the backs of the priestess and Saraya, before Saraya opened the clothes on the back of the priestess. What she saw was awe-inspiring; a dragon with glinting eyes, something with antlers, some sort of fish, a hawk, and a serpent. Even though tattoos they were, their appearance was very realistic. And after that show, everyone in the room left.
Some curiosity had crept into her head, and she decided to take a look around the room. She carefully clambered over the window ledge, and quietly slid into the room. It looked big, and it looked like whoever owned it had some but f wealth to spend. The desk was some fancy design, as well as the rest of the furniture. There were paintings hanging on the wall, but one of them which was partially obscured by the shadows. Even up close it was hard to discern what it was, and because she was so focused on the painting she didn't hear the two pairs of footsteps behind her which then stopped right behind her. [b "A sneak in the"], hearing that much she began to flee but a hand covered in metal grabbed her and stopped her. [b "We'll see what the governor has to say to this."]
The two guards marched her, one in front and the other one close behind, a sandwich. Both of them were equipped with an wooden staff on which one of the ends was one big piece of sharpened metal. If only she could somehow get ahold of it, she could somewhat use it as a staff, but it was currently impossible to do that in between these two guards. Thy eventually came out, and in front of them were everyone else, although their little trio was still unnoticed. Some commotion was going on out there, and the two guards surrounding here were waiting till it had completely quoted down.
Once it had completely quieted down, the guards began moving, but then the guard behind her was falling as she had quickly darted aside and had tripped him. While the guard was falling down she relieved him of his weapon, it was heavy, especially where the metal was. She stuck the metal part into the ground, and swung the rest of the staff at the guard in front of her. But he parried that with practiced ease while yelling of a very loud expletive of some sort. The guard withdrew his own weapon to prepare his own attack, but she followed up with another attack which the guard again easily parried again. She was going to go for another attack when a mailed fist swiftly punched her in the stomach, all the air went out and she doubled over face first into the ground.
The House of Aethon was one of the thirteen Nobel Houses in Volshiv, all governed by the High Lord of Volshiv. Adimar was of the House of Aethon. It was a home nestled on a floating land mass high up in the clouds, where a sprawling city surrounded it. Of the bluffs of their island were docks for the many Air ships that traveled between the Sky Lands. It was a well kept secret, the way they lived, their magic and their technology. Adimar was not at home on their floating island, surrounded by the city and the many familiar faces he had grown up with. These days he was a Captain in the Volshiv Army. He commanded his own platoon of soldiers. They had patrolled their boarders, fighting several times with pitiful attempts on Mailk's part to breech the Volshiv Boarder. At 32 Adimar had fought and killed on and off a battlefield, had bedded many a beautiful woman, and had earned himself the respect and ear of the Political. He was also the Guardian for Volshi. This was no secret, those who knew him knew who and what he was, and those who had heard rumors, could only believe in those things.
He was currently holed up in the city of Tanaka awaiting orders for their next boarder patrol. He and his five men liked to spend their evening on the barracks drinking, smoking cigars and playing cards around a fire. They laughed easily, brutally teased on another, and on occasion a fist would be thrown but within moments things would be settled. Adimar was seated outside enjoying the crisp nighttime air, and the warmth of a nearby fire when one of his men seemed preoccupied by something.
"What is it you see Rupert?" Adimar questioned.
"Those pretty little fillies,"
"Pretty?" Adimar asked with a quirk of his brow and turned in his seat to see a small caravan being led towards the Main Hall by two city guards. "Very pretty..." Adimar grinned seeing the three women in the group. One of them was noticeably young, just a teenager as she rode a horse beside an equally young man. Two Jai traveled with them, and an older man with flaming red hair and beard. There was also the woman who sat on the wagon beside him -clearly Volshiv, and finally an exotic Caldonian. "Out of towners..." Adimar murmured.
His steel blue eyes were calculating on the group as the City Governor came out followed by their commander and lef-tenant. Adimar wished he was closer, so he could hear what was being said. Whatever it was, had the Governor and the two men behind him tense with shock, and murmurs began to make their way to Adimar. Thad, another of his men leaned over. "They say that is [i The] Aria Tolshiv. It's who she's claiming to be..." Adimar tensed and watched the young woman step down from the wagon with the red haired man's help and started towards the Governor to speak with them, even turning to call over the Caldonian to follow her.
"You jest... Malik killed her during the Raids of Central city..."
"That was only rumor. No body was ever found." Another of Adimar's men whispered throwing a card at Rupert.
"Hush you idiots," Adimar demanded, he was busy watching the remainder of the group. How they interacted. He noticed right off the bat that the large red head walked straight to the younger two of their group and had them dismount their horses, and they congregated at their wagon. One Jai stood alone... Adimar was just impressed to see one Jai, let alone two. Were they the cause for his restlessness?He knew his calling was coming, his own tattoo had begun to write just an hour ago. It was slightly uncomfortable as he couldn't reach it under his thick leather jerkin to scratch at it, but he knew those who had just arrived had something to do with it. If she was in fact Aria Tolshiv, that meant she was the High Priestess of Azeroth...
He stood up suddenly, his steel grey eyes hard on the group, and he began to advance. His pitch black hair, swished subtly against his back, it was long and he kept it pulled back with a silver cuff. He noticed that his approach had set the one Jai on edge. Adimar smirked, seeing how he wished to draw his blade, but Adimar stopped far enough away that it helped better the tension and caught the eye of the red haired man.
"Ayab.. peace, my friend..." He advised and walked over to join him, along with the other Jai. The Red head placed a heavy but comforting hand to the Jai, Ayab's shoulder and stared Adimar down. They weren't too much different in age. Adimar would have guessed he was just a couple years younger than the man. The three of them stood protectively like a barrier between Adimar and the two teens. "I am Carrick, these are my friends. Is there something we can do for you?"
"Ah, Carrick. I am Adimar of the House Aethon. A pleasure to meet you all," he said, his voice smooth but hard to read. All of him was hard to read, but there was a dark glint in his eyes. It was always there. Adimar was always find trouble, or making it for himself. "Tell me, is what I'm hearing my men whisper true? Do you walk with the Priestess of Azeroth?" Adimar smirked then. "Peace," he called, slightly amused by how they reacted to his question. "The Priestess is safest here, in this country, and in this city. If she is what she claims to be, every man and woman here would lay down their life for her. Including myself."
"How kind of you," Carrick stated, crossing his arms.
"You see, I've been waiting for her to return since she was taken from her family. I have been training for the day she calls me to arms."
"You think she will call on you? Why you?" Carrick asked. Adimar smirked once more.
"Why I am like you my friend, a guardian-" Carrick burst into laughter at that. Adimar was stunned, no one had ever laughed at him like that. "Are you not the Caledonian Guardian?"
"No, boy. Caledon may be where my family hails, but I am Central City born and bred... no, the Caledonian Guardian is with the Priestess,"
"You mean that tiny little waif of a creature is the Guardian for Caledon the Mighty?!" Adimar demanded to know. Carrick crossed his arms, it was the trio's turn to look smug at the arrogant Volshiv.
"That would be correct. Now I'll believe you're the Volshiv Guardian when the priestess returns and confirms it."Adimar growled, not caring for the man Carrick or his attitude.
"I will wait here for her return."
"No, she will seek you out. You don't trust outsiders... neither do we," Carrick warned. Adimar had to relent, in the man's position he'd be just as hyper protective of the priestess as well.
He didn't have to wait long as not to shortly after, the Governor emerged with the Commander and Lef-tenant with the Priestess and her Guardian in tow. They walked closely together, whispering softly and Adimar turned his eyes on them, causing Aria to stop short, and her eyes widen at him. Without word he bowed his head and fell to a knee before her. His hand fisted over his heart. His action caused the others present in the barracks to do the same.
ARia stood beside Saraya, holding her hand tightly as nervous tremors ran through her. She didn't understand why they all bowed to her, or how they all knew her name. It was disconcerting, but with Saraya's strength Aria was able to make her way towards the group and stared Adimar down.
"You... you found us. We've been looking for you," Adimar lifted his head and peered up at Aria, and gave her a handsome smile.
"My lady, I have prepared my whole life for this."
The sun was warm and bright, but the winds carried a chill. Aria hadn’t been able to answer Rhuarc’s question about the Volshi. She explained to him that shortly after she was born she was taken from her mother’s breast and placed into the care of the Septum Elders and from there she was raised within the halls of the Holy Temple. The very building Malik had taken and twisted into his own personal palace. After his invasion of the Central City, she was raised on the Caledon and Fenlyk boarder by Elder Rigby. She felt strange, returning to the land of her forefathers and yet she knew nothing of their culture. All she knew was she looked like a typical Volshi, pale features, willowy and lithe, blue grey eyes and blonde hair so pale it was almost white. No one knew anything about the Volshi –they were an incredibly reclusive race. One did hear rumors though, and it was rumored they lived predominantly on floating masses of earth that hovered above the cliffs of Volshiv, hidden in the clouds, and the only way to travel between them was with flying ships. Of course that was silly, no such thing existed, but Aria was curious to know if it was in fact true.
They were a day’s ride out of Tanaka a thriving city just inside the Volshiv boarder. When they had crossed the boarder there was no check point –nothing. All that stood to mark the change of countries was a stone formation weathered and disfigured, covered in moss and aged from time. It towered high above them, the structure having a twin on the opposite side of the road, like two large sentinels. Balden had been in awe of them, and for Aria, the moment they crossed she had felt a sense of knowing. The final guardian wasn’t far, it was a man, and he was on a path set to cross theirs. Carrick and Rhuarc had seemed to grow closer, and had created a sort of comradery between them. They spoke often, and for this Aria was grateful –they were her two most trusted advisors, and to know that they were creating their own friendship had helped ease her mind. Carrick had spoken with Rhuarc on the threats Malik possessed aside from his Mage. Of course they were nothing more than rumor. Carrick had more interaction with the Mage then he did with the king, but Carrick had lived under the reign of King Malik and knew more than the rest of them. It was supposedly rumored he kept a menagerie of creatures, that he also had a Necromancer on his payroll with a legion of undead Dragur, and a Dark Elf from across the Red Sea. With such creatures in his pocket it was no wonder he had overtaken the Central City and had forced the surrounding Provinces to bow to him. The only thing Carrick knew for certain was of an old Seer who Malik had captured and forced the old woman to foresee events so he could plan accordingly for the best possible outcome for himself. No wonder Malik always seemed to be one step ahead of them. She must not be able to see everything or Malik would have known to look, or maybe she wasn’t always truthful with him. Who knew, all Aria knew was that Carrick said the worst of it was, was the rumor of a dragon he kept under the Septum, chained and tortured with the hopes it would attack with blind rage on anyone it saw. The poor creature.
Rumor and speculation were all they had to go off of, and Aria felt bad she did not have more to offer to her Guardians. Defending themselves against a legion of undead, dark elves and dragons? Those creatures did not live here... they came from over the Red Sea... did Malik come from there as well? Had the creatures of magic and myth finally come back only to destroy humans? Aria couldn't be sure, but the one thing she did know was that everyone was eager to reach Tanaka so they could find an inn, rest and eat home cooked food. Aria didn't blame them, she was looking forward to it as well. She knew they would find the last Guardian in Tanaka, they just had to make it there.
Tanaka came in their sights near the evening, the uphill trek was tiresome for all of them and the horses, but the scenery had been lovely, if not a bit vast. It was wide open spaces as far as the eye could see, until they crested the first hill and saw the fog of the towering narrow mountains that rose up into the clouds and disappeared. The glittering lights of Tanaka greeted them, and guided them along the plateau. It was picturesque with it's wood and whitewashed cottages cobblestone paths, and the myriad of colorful prayer flags that criss-crossed the streets like stitching. Lanterns dotted the sidewalks illuminating the streets. Shop windows were still open, proving that Tanaka was a thriving metropolis that was up and moving at all hours of the day and night.
It was already sundown when they entered the town, but the first thing Aria noticed were all the faces. Everyone was fair featured, tall, and sporting either pale blonde hair or pitch black. Volshi Soldiers marched the streets, making it very clear, very quickly that not only was Tanaka a city, but it was a Militia base. Seeing them enter the city, two City Guards stopped them and held out their hands. Their faces obscured by their helmet visors, but their uniforms made of sturdy black leather, and elegantly etched steel armor. They each carried sturdy looking pikes, their black robes billowing in the gentle wind that seemed to breeze through the lands at a constant. Everyone here was Volshi... and their group was clearly not all of the same race. This the guards noticed right off the bat and for that alone, stopped them. Some might call it racism... others caution. It couldn't be held against them, these were clearly the men who protected the front lines and boarder of Volshiv. Aria dipped her head to hide her face, while beside her on the wagon Carrick did the talking -as usual.
"Evening Officers," Carrick greeted.
"Not everyday we see travelers here, especially those who come from so far away.." One of the men said and glanced to them all, from Rhuarc and Ayab, to Sarya and Lara.
"We have business in Tanaka," Carrick began.
"What sort of business?" they demanded, one of the guards walked over towards the wagon on the side where Aria sat beside Carrick.
"I'm afraid I can't divulge that," Carrick informed them looking contrite.
"You, remove your hood," The second guard ordered. Aria frowned, but knew she had no choice but to obey and slowly lowered her hood.
The two guards tensed, and shared a look with one another at the sight of Aria. After their weeks of traveling, the dyes that Saraya had put into her hair to get her out of the city, had faded out leaving her hair that buttery blonde once more.
"I am the reason for their business... please, is there a place more private and secure we may speak?" She asked "I'd like to talk to your superior," Aria requested. The guards, were not stupid... they were piecing together what they could with what they observed. She traveled with a diverse group, raging in gender, age and ethnicity.
"Follow us," The first grunted and the group was led through the city towards a barracks and smithing structure just on the outskirts of the city to the north.
Black smoke plumed from the forge, while the grounds were generally quiet. City guards patrolled the area, while soldiers sat around open fires laughing and drinking or playing cards. They were initially taken to what looked like a holding area for criminals. The ground was packed and dark, turned over and the grass killed by foot traffic, wagons and horses. They were instructed to wait outside the building as the torch lights glowed, and the air grew colder, now that the sun was gone. Looking around Aria spotted the iron cell doors, and was shocked to find them empty. Crime must not have been much of an issue in the city. Believable, as the entire city was mostly a Militia installation. Carrick brought the attention to Aria and Rhuarc as they waited, that the soldiers had gone quiet and were watching them. He hoped it was a simple curiosity, and not hostility as it was very apparent the Volshi did not accommodate guests very often.
They didn't have time to ponder, as the two guards returned flanking three other men. The man who walked in the center was not dressed in armor, but an expensive robe, with a crest hanging from his neck. The two other's were trussed up in finer armor and gear than the city Guards or the Soldiers. The introduced themselves, Tanaka's Governor, A Volshiv Commander and left-tenant.
"Visitors," The Governor began. "We do not see your kind often. The Guards say you were wanting to speak to us?" The Governor looked at Carrick as if expecting him to be the leader of the group, but he stepped back and looked to Aria. Aria stepped forward and nodded her head.
"That is correct. My name is Aria Tolshiv," A hushed murmur fell over the soldiers and the guards, the Mayor looked stunned as did the Commander and Left-tenant.
"You mean, you're [i The] Aria Tolshiv?" The Commander asked.
"Yes?" Aria answered nervously.
"Quickly, child... come inside," Aria made to move, but the guards stopped anyone else from following her. Nervous, to see guards and soldiers blocking her from her group Aria reached towards the Commander.
"No, please. They travel with me. These are my companions."
"I am sorry, but they cannot follow."
"Not even one?" The Commander looked reluctant but gave a nod of his head and allowed Aria to chose one to follow her.
"Saraya," Aria called. The Volshi watched the lovely Caldonian cross through their body wall and towards Aria. "Carrick, Rhuarc you know what to do," She told them. Carrick gave a nod of his head and turned around towards the rest of the group, telling them to sit tight while they waited. Carrick and Rhuarc fully aware they would protect Lara and Balden along with their goods.
Aria and Saraya were led inside the fort and right into a large Mess hall, which they passed through towards a set of doors that led to a hallway full of doors. Aria had chosen to bring along Saraya from a tactical point. With Saraya appearances were deceiving, and for as beautiful as she was, they had learned she was just as lethal. Her appearance alone was far less intimidating than Carrick or Rhuarc, and certainly less than Ayab's. Saraya also had a way with words that Aria felt might be useful if she needed help negotiating with the City Officials as to who they were and what they were doing in Volshiv. They were led into an officer's office, where they were asked to take a seat. The commander sat across from them at his desk and eyeballed both of them suspiciously.
"You travel with an odd group," he observed.
"I travel with those Azeroth has placed in my path," Aria returned confidently. "You seem to know who I am, this makes me curious, and cautious."
"Every Man, woman and child in Volshiv knows the name Aria of the House of Tolshiv." Well that was unsettling. "Chosen at birth to be the High Priestess. Are you truly her?" He asked. Aria glanced over at Saraya who seemed to assure her that what they both knew had to be done... be done.
"Have others tried to deceive you?" Aria asked, and it was the left-tenant who answered.
"Yes, hoping to travel past Tanaka and into Volshiv territories. If they are a mere explorer, we send them back. When we discover they are a spy, we kill them." Aria didn't doubt that for a second, and with a sigh stood up and turned her back on the men.
"Saraya, if you'd please," She asked, and allowed the woman to unbutton the back of her dress and show the men in the room the markings on her back. Saraya would be the only one in their group privy to what the mark actually looked like. It was a totem at the base of her neck and down her spine. The head of a black dragon crested her nape, it's fearsome Magenta eyes seeming to glow even on her skin, beneath it and within the dragon was the large antlers and face of a caribou for Caledon, a swirling Koi for Fenlyk, a Hawk for Volshiv, and finally a coiled serpent for Abhu'Jai. Rune text rained down along the sides of the totem. The mark was not simply a mark, but a work of art that had grown with Aria for all her days, the colors vibrant and pure, and covering the whole of her back. The men were in awe as Saraya closed the buttons back up for Aria.
"It really is you..." The governor breathed in awe. Aria did not respond, just stared the commander down.
"So those you travel with..." the commander began, but Aria cut in.
"Are The Guardians of Azera. We have come to Volshiv in hopes of refuge and to find our final Guardian."
"Refuge you may have!" The Governor exclaimed with great joy. "I shall allow you rooms in my own homestead, Priestess," he bowed.
"Your hospitality is a reprieve. Thank you," aria said and looked towards the other two men. "Is there anything else I can do for you?"
"Yes," The Commander interjected. "You can maintain your low profile. We are harsh on spies, but they are everywhere, and while we are confident there are none in the city, I can not promise it either. You are of the House of Tolshiv, and you are our Priestess. You honor us with your trust, and we hope to serve you well."
"Thank you..." Aria muttered and turned with Saraya as they were escorted back outside to their group. Walking the halls together Aria looked over sideways at Saraya. "Do you think they can be trusted?" she asked, even if it was a little late to be asking such a question. "I want you to be my eyes and ears of the city. The Governor was right," She continued to whisper. "I must remain hidden, low profile. I rely on Carrick and Rhuarc for matters of battle and tactics, but you I will rely on to find answers. I want to gleam a feel for this city and its people, you are good with socializing, and speak easily with others. Do this for me, let me know if they are loyal to the old ways... and why the House of Tolshiv seems to be so significant. Can you do this for me, Saraya?"
To the outside world she was completely out of tune to. She didn't feel Aria cleaning out and then covering the wound on her arm while Balden ran around and obeyed Aria's commands. No disrespect meant to either one of them, just being completely focused in on the spirit plane made one lost to te real world plane. The only thing she could do was just lay there obviously to the outside world, and wait for the spirit to show her what it wanted to show her. It was just a bit frustrating as the spirit did take its time to begin showing what it wanted to show her. Maybe the spirit did have a personal reason for that, maybe it didn't, but whatever the reason it was forgotten as the spirit began showing what it wanted to show her.
It all began with a scene of after she had been born into, and the most detailed aspect of it was the fish tattoo on the back of the neck of the baby, the baby who was her those many years ago. But there weren't just her mom and dad there, there was a third figure but his face was covered with something. Despite this, it appeared as if her parents knew whoever this third figure was, knew them well enough to let them handle her. [i [+purple Who is that figure?]] [i [+blue Even I do not know the answer to that question.]]
The scene was replaced by darkness, but then the darkness began to be replaced by a fire. There was a house burning, someone had set it on fire. There were many figures surrounding the house, but in the shadows one figure was going away in the opposite direction of the burning house. It stopped to turn back and look at the house awhile longer, before quickly turning around and continue its flight. It was interesting to see this scene not from a first person view, but from a birds eye view. But she still did not understand what was the point of the spirit showing her all this, unless it was in similarity to a preamble.
The night faded away and gave way to a torchlit chamber, a big table there was and on it a map of the country of Fenlyck. There was a group of people discussing, and it sounded like they were fed up with the king and were attempting a coup of some sort. But it was interrupted by a furious knocking sound, loud and erratic, before a figure burst into the chamber. Heavy breathing, as if they had run away from a Koskari sea monster while on water. But there was a look of sorrow behind the face of fear, evidently the figure had seen something sad. He started to rave about being too late, a house on fire, people being killed, but whatever he was raving on made sense to the rest of the group who began looking at each other and their countenances began to change. Looks of horror, frustration, anger, and sorrow replaced the quiet debate that had only moments ago had been happening. And then one asked a question and it came from the masked figure, [+green "All of them?"] The other was about to respond when an authoritative voice came from a corner, [b "The spirit hasn't been released, merely hidden itself away deep within."] All turned around to face he who had spoken these words, an old priest sitting in the corner.
Another darkness descended, only to be replaced by the same chamber, except light streamed in through the glass so no torches burned. There were less people but the discussion was much more heated. There were divisions within the group, and each group was trying to outtalk the others. But then the doors violently burst open and the priest came in like a wave, crushing the argument. [b "Fools, why do you argue? What's the purpose of it, does it further our goals? Take comfort that the spirit is beginning to awaken from its three years of slumber."] That had quite the effect on the group. [+green "You're certain of this?"] [b "Why else would I come so unexpectedly?"] [+green "It's time to spread the world.]
And with that the curtain of darkness descended for its final time, and she went to sleep.
Saraya smelled the stench of the mage on her blade. It would come to her advantage. She never thought negative about any situation. Knowing that Ayab would test her temper had upset her amazingly at lightening speed. She never got upset that fast, but at the same time, the mage had been in her clutches, and even had gotten a good amount of blood... The blood... She took the vial, and put some into the clear substance, in hopes that it would come to their advantage. After enough dripped into the small vial, she then used his cloth to smear the blood along the shape of the blade. She then tied the cloth onto the hilt of the weapon, and as she blew onto it, a freezing chill touched the blade. There was a song it sang and a certain glow... Whatever the blood contained from the mage, his magic had been spread onto her blade, and it would be of great advantage.
At sunrise, she had been the first to get up. She sighed as she saw the Priestess sitting near a fire. She gave her the vial and nodded. "It can be used to our advantage" she said as she shown her blade. She then nodded in respect before tending to her steed and the foul. The little baby, after the attack, had been scarred badly on her chest. Her mother was no better. She suffered a slash onto her snout and neck. Saraya felt so bad that she couldn't protect her, but the steeds did understand that The Priestess was priority. Saraya had tended to their wounds, and used her chilling breath to close and bring ease to the pain so they could heal properly. The female sighed in a huff, and Saraya smiled to herself. "I've found a name for you... Faith, and little one will be my Pride" she said and petted the two of them.
Sunrise finally kissed the horizon and everyone was up. They had to leave and create distance from this area. They had already spent too much time in this location. She had took the back and continued on, and the ride had went on for about a fortnight before a city had been seen. She dismounted Faith and looked upon the horizon to the city. "It is sunset. Is this where he hides, or must we make haste away?" she asked the Priestess. Knowing that she had a vendetta to keep and stay at bay until the moment where his end was imminent.
She looked to Rhuarc, Carrick, and Lara. "I suggest we set up camp. Let the horses rest tonight... Either that, or we make haste to the city, and risk the Mage's spies watching us from within..." she looked to the Priestess. "Aria, you hold the decision in your hands."
The Saraya that stood was a far more secluded being. Though she seemed off, she never lost sight of protecting the priestess or allies. She felt the need torelax and reserve her strength. The spirit within her hadn't spoken throughout the travel, so it also puzzled her. The city wreaked with enemies, as how her nose could pick up. She looked to Rhuarc, who seemed to have some concern for her. She nodded before jumping into the trees and made her way to wall of the city. The air was heavy with villainy and ... Something else... Was that the last Guardian?
She looked over the wall and spotted an area where nothing was touched. Humans we're roaming freely, but this spot in the far back of the city was odd. It was closed in, and it peaked interest. The odd smell came from there. She then madebher way back to the group. "We must rest untll nightfall. The guardian waits for us" she said before looking to her steeds.
Despite the battle being over and the danger having seemingly passed for now Rhuarc still scanned the surrounding landscape searching for any hint of a secondary ambush. He was gladdened that the High Priestess and Carrick had seen the wisdom in his recommendations and decided to move quickly. It was only Ayab and his temper that slowed them as he exchanged words and a vague threat with Saraya, clearly Rhuarc would need to have words with his fellow Jai. Speaking in the harsh guttural tongue that was native to his people so that the others could not understand the two Jai talk. [b "Ayab what madness has taken you? You openly threaten a Guardian! The Guardians are our only hope for defeating Shade-stealer."] Ayab gave a brief glance over to the others a few feet away and responded in a low whisper, also in the Jai tongue. [+red "How does the Hasra hunt?"] The question caught Rhuarc off guard, it seemed like an odd question to ask in response to what Rhuarc had himself said, that was until Rhuarc really thought about the question.
A Hasra was a small creature native to the Wastelands who hunted by killing a creature and leaving it in the open waiting for a larger creature to be distracted by the free meal and then take that for itself. [b "You mean this was a ruse?"] [+red "Of course it was, you don't think I would ever really threaten a Guardian. I'm sure Shade-stealer and the Mage have eyes everywhere, they will be watching make no mistake about it. If they think I am willing to betray you I may just be able to get close to him. It is a risk, this I know but I am willing to see it through if needed."] Rhuarc thought about what his friend was really saying, he was willing to subtly undermine the group in small ways in the hope that Malik might offer him the chance to betray the others, and give Ayab an chance to either kill Malik himself of the Mage, or even just disrupt his plans form the inside. It would almost certainly end in death for the Jai. It was most honourable. [b "You play a dangerous game friend, but we must move now."]
Balden and Carrick tended to the Priestess while Lara seemed to sit quietly to herself in contemplation while Ayab patrolled the perimeter of the camp, arrow nocked, keeping the group safe. Rhuarc intended to have a conversation with Saraya at some point, the encounter with the mage seemed to have left her shaken and perhaps she would need a strong reassuring figure to help her deal with whatever she was going through. Rhuarc also wanted to examine the mage's bloody blade and see if he could gleam any insight from the weapon.
The Jai wished to quickly discuss something with the High Priestess before she got the sleep that she so desperately needed after the exertions of the battle. [b "Priestess, we will soon enough reach the land of Volshiv and with any luck this last Guardian but there are things I wish to know before we enter the mountains. These are your people, yes? What are they like, how do they think and how much aid can we expect from these people? I mean no disrespect but I wish to keep us all safe and I simply need to know if I should expect a knife in our back. I will leave you be now, rest and gather your strength, you will need it."] The High Priestess succumbed to sleep after her exhausting encounter so Rhuarc made his way over towards the blacksmith and the young apprentice. [b "You fought well Balden but your forms were sloppy on several occasions, work on them whenever you can, in time I may make a decent swordsman out of you."] The boy had promise but he was a long way from being as skilled as a Holy Guard of the High Priestess or as fierce as a Jai warrior. [b "Carrick, you know the False King better than most, what other abominations has he to send against us? One Mage is bad enough but Elder Mandarb has told tales of other creatures borne from ancient, evil Magic some even worse than Mages. I like to know what I am fighting, if not there is only so much I can do to protect all of us."] Rhuarc glanced at the sleeping High Priestess oblivious to the conversation between her two warrior advisors as they discussed what possible threats they would face. Ayab had managed to gather some firewood as he patrolled and presented it to Rhuarc who arranged it and lit it with a simple touch of his hand, a symbol of his power to the great Fire God, keeping both Lara and Aria warm as they rested. [b "The sun will rise in a few hours and we must leave then. Let them rest and tomorrow we will ride as hard as possible. We need the safety of the mountains."]
Balden seemed to be hanging on for any instruction that would assist Lara in any way, the infatuation of the young boy could be problematic if anything ever came of it, for many reasons. The most important to the Jai Guardian was that a distractedsoldier worrying about those he loved in battle more often than not ended up dead. Rhuarc would need to watch the boy closely and that was before you even considered that the one that Balden seemed infatuated with was a Guardian. A host of one of the Gods themselves, it was sure to provide no end of problems. This group was going to be spending a lot of time together and only time would tell how the relationships between the groups would advance, perhaps he was wrong, perhaps this would be good for both Balden and Lara...if she returned his feelings, if not that would lead to more issues. Rhuarc at least would ignore it until sometime that it became an issue, it wan't any of his business or concern after all.
It was pure Chaos.
Balden and Lara were closest. Balden showing off his newfound skill and Lara displaying her proficiency with a bow staff. Aria felt like a fool, and a coward. She wanted to get up and help, wanted to fight back, but the pain in her skull was blinding. She recognized it for what it was… the Mage trying to enter her mind. How powerful was this mage? How far did his powers reach? Who was the real villain to fear, Malik or his Mage? As much as Aria hated to preform her own task… she had to, and collapsed into the dirt as her eyes rolled into the back of her head and so she began a mental battle of wits against the Mage.
Everything else around Aria seemed to melt away as she blockaded her mind and her spirit made to leave her body for the Astral Plane to confront the Mage. The sounds of battle became a distant and hallow echo, from the shriek of Saraya’s battle rage, to Rhuarch’s grunts of victory, to the skills of Carrick and Ayab, who despite not having powers, proved their own merit in the group. Aria was alone in the dim and swirling cosmic dust that sent gentle illuminations across her face. Her body floated, weightless and non-corporeal, but her mind was sharp and her eyes zeroed in on her enemy. Behind her was a towering pillar of florescent colors and glimmering stars. In front of her floated the Mage, his robes of coal and blood billowing about his lanky frame. He gave her a devious smile that showed off the way he filed his teeth into points.
“My, my… you are a pretty thing. More lovely than we thought you might be,” he growled at her and sent what could be thought of as a gust of wind her way. It was heavy and suffocating as it whipped her towards the pillar of her mind and slammed her up against the wall. She felt the pain of her hit in her physical body and it twitched while around her Lara and Balden continued the fight protecting her. “And here I was expecting a homely little chit, without a mind to defend herself with...” aria took it for what it was: an offhanded compliment. She was mentally stronger than he had anticipated. Aria couldn’t speak, she was desperately trying to hold the Mage back from toppling her over. For a moment he seemed distracted, as if he was in two places at one time. Aria struggled to push back at him, but it was something she had not learned. She cried out in pain as her mind felt it was being invaded by a swarm of hornets. They crawled and buzzed about her mind making things fuzzy and it difficult to block the Mage from her mind. “Your friends fight so valiantly. How impressive you found three of the guardians so soon. How do you do this? How do you know where to go? Where is the last one? I know you know!” He advanced on her, his hand raised and glided closer. Aria felt herself being ripped away from the pillar and into his open palm. She felt his hand around her neck and her body began to convulse with a need for oxygen. If she died in the Spirit world, her corporeal body would die and wither away too.
Behind her the pillar of cosmic dust and gas began to writhe and take form. It slithered so much like a snake, but held and ethereal grace to it that belayed any evil it may have beheld. The Mage saw this as Aria gasped for breath, and clawed at his wrist.
“Are you attempting to distract me while I slaughter your new friends?” He chuckled darkly at her. “Foolish girl, Once I have killed them I will drag their broken bodies back to Malik where he shall string them up at the gates of the Septum for all to see and be warned of what happens to traitors and those who foolishly stand by the Olde Gods of Azera. Then he shall make a public display of you. He will rape you of more than just your body, he will crush your spirit, drink your powerful blood and once he has no use for you I will carve your still beating heart out of your chest and spill its blood over the Alter of Shaman. The dead will rise, and the sun will turn black. All you know and love will turn to ash, and I will be there to enjoy it all!” He hissed, his blackened teeth grinning wickedly at her and Aria groaned, in fear and in pain. She saw the vision he described flash before her eyes and she wept. She could do no less or more, but cry in fear… and with rage… she couldn’t allow that future to take shape, no matter how firm the shadows of it was becoming.
“We… ack!” Aria gasped for breath and shock when the Mage suddenly dropped her, his cheek welled with blood as if he’d been cut.
“ARGH! That Sand Sucking Bastard!” he roared. Outside the Spirit World, the Mage had just been shot by Ayab’s arrow. He hissed in irritation, and like black ink in water he recoiled from the Astral plane and was whole with his body once more. Aria remained suspended in the ether of the Spirit World. The Pillar that had writhed behind her, came alive and coiled itself around Aria, shielding her and warming her like a blanket. Aria managed her bloodshot eyes to open and came face to face with a reptilian head. Long waving feelers danced out from his snout and fuchsia eyes stared back like gemstones and gleaming dangerously. Aria knew who it was at first sight. This scaled beast was a dragon, and none other than Azeroth himself. He said nothing, but a knowing washed over Aria, warming her down to the core and she felt her spirit being pulled back within her own body… but when she returned… she was not alone. Azeroth had joined her. He had found her worthy, saw something in herself she didn’t, and would help guide her to keep the Dark Shaman from returning, enslaving all mankind, and shrouding the earth in total darkness.
Aria came awake with a startled and strangled breath. Gasping for air like a fish out of water. Balden was the first to her side, his once youthful face splattered with blackened blood and aged in an instant. He had helped to kill many a wraith, and had proved he could be a vital asset to their mission. A Short distant away, Rhuarc shouted to the Mage to run and hide like the coward he was.
"Is everyone alright?” Rhuarc asked.
“I think so,” Balden muttered, but he didn’t speak up as not to draw attention to Aria. She was unscathed but looked pale and sickly as if she’d been brought back from a death sleep. Her skin was cold and clammy, and Balden was quick to drape a blanket over her shoulders.
“We should check everyone for wounds, treat them if necessary and rest quickly. Shade-stealer will be after us and I want us to be moving by first light, we need to push harder and travel quicker. We can lose his forces in the mountains but until then we are easy targets. That is, if the Priestess agrees of course.” Aria lifted her pale face and sunken eyes up to look at Rhuarc. Carrick walked over followed by Saraya.
“I agree with Rhuarc, Priestess,” Carrick said with firm resolve. “We cannot linger. They know where we are and where we are headed. They will press against us harder and harder until we cross the border to Volshiv. Only then will we have some semblance of safety from the Mage. The Mountains are shrouded with ancient magic –his powers and reach end at the border. “ Aria listened dutifully and took their advice. Rhuarc and Carrick had quickly become two of her greatest Advisors during their time together, she did not take their words lightly and if they both informed her it would be wise to rest and move quickly she’d agree with them.
“Very well,” She rasped with shaky breath. “We will rest and continue on at first light. No more stops less the horses require it,” She informed them and with Balden’s help stood back on her feet.
“Priestess? Are you well?” Balden asked nervously. Aria forced a flawless but tired smile and nodded. “Yes, I will be. I just need to lie down and rest. I think we all do-“ She stopped short seeing Saraya covered with blood and holding a swath of familiar fabric. “Saraya? Are you alright?” She asked “Is that what I think it is?” she dared to ask, and when she caught the flinty and dangerous look in Saraya’s eyes she knew the woman wanted vengeance.
"I want the Mage..." Aria frowned, her own gaze steely.
“We all do, Saraya… I make no promises,” She warned and allowed Balden to take her towards the wagon and ignored the outburst that happened in the wake of her absence. When was Ayab not bent out of shape about something? Sometimes it was comical, and other times down right annoying. Aria could have ignored further, gifting Lara a small smile as they approached if it wasn’t for the sudden show of strength and the warning shout from Carrick that forced her to look back.
Saraya had Ayab down on the ground in a grand show of strength. Aria was not surprised by this –Saraya carried Caledon the Mighty within her. One of the strongest and greatest warriors of Olde, but it was her next words that shocked her still.
"I have gotten the Mage's stench on it, you think not I will do the same for you?!" The Mage? She had his blood. Aria was suddenly frantic to have the sword and a vial to keep that blood in. So much precious blood had already spilled into the Earth. “Do not threaten me, Ayab. I respect Jai, and I will do no harm. It is a simple feature of gratitude. If you cannot accept it, then do not... But, do not... EVER... Threaten me again... Or you will feel the true wrath I bear and the chill of my steel against your hide" And with a quick turn of her heel, she was gone for the chilled spring that cut through the forest.
“Do you wish me to follow her?” Balden asked curiously, Aria shook her head and explained that Saraya was more than capable of taking care of herself. She had run off and taken the bloody sword with her. Aria counted it as a loss and let it go. They’d get another chance –she knew she would and when the chance came she’d try to get enough to use it against him. Blood Magic was incredibly powerful if done correctly, or incredibly dangerous if tampered with without the correct knowledge.
She felt a tingle on her back where the Fenlyk marking laid on her porcelain skin. She knew then that the Fenlyk Guardian was showing itself to Lara. They neared the wagon to make space for Aria to lay down in, but were stopped by the sight of Lara held in a trance like state. Carrick had come over to help Balden with Aria, and he too stopped at the sight of the blood on Lara and her unresponsiveness, but before he could reach out and touch her, Aria was already climbing into the wagon.
“What is wrong with her?” Balden asked nervously.
“The Guardian of Fenlyk is guiding her. A warm blanket please? And dressings so I may tend to her wound?” Balden nearly tripped over himself to get Aria what she asked for, and in his leaving she shared an amused look with Carrick. Balden’s infatuation with Lara was not unnoticed by the elders of the group.
“Will she be alright?” Carrick asked. Aria nodded knowingly.
“She’ll be fine, she’s young –this is a lot to ask of someone as young as her, or Balden. I think she’s learning to accept the Guardian within her.” Carrick seemed slightly unconvinced, his concern and worry for Lara etched deeply into the fine lines of his face, but he relented and trusted Aria’s judgement.
[b BALDEN] was quick to return with his arms full of a thick wool blanket and dressings. Aria thanked him and made quick work to tend to Lara’s wound, cleaning it gently with witch hazel, and wrapping it tightly after applying a healing salve made of moss and bark. Her arm might be sore for a few days, but she’d be alright. Balden knew the greatest threat at this point was infection. Worry for Lara was rife in his gaze. He had seen the way the wraith dealt a lethal blow, strong enough to snap her staff, and when she’d tumbled to the ground it was all Balden could do but react. Part of him knew to protect her because she was a guardian and he had to ensure she survived. They all had to, but another, greater part of him wanted to save her for the sake of saving her. Some instinctual part of him wanted to prove himself to her –catch her eye, and maybe more. He knew he was infatuated, but also accepted the fact that Lara probably didn’t and would never look at him that way.
Aria had fallen asleep tucked under the blanket with Lara, too exhausted to stay awake. She seemed to be the only one. After their fight with the Mage and his wraiths it seemed the others stayed close to the fire, tending their sore muscles and keeping alert for a second attack if it would come. If Aria hadn’t alerted them all, they would have been ambushed and then who’s to say they would have been victorious at all? Balden contemplated these things to the best of his ability while around him everyone else carried on with their own business. Balden at the same time, couldn’t sit still and when he spotted Lara’s broken staff sticking up from the mud, he got up and collected the broken pieces. Wood. He frowned and glanced around to where Carrick might be, but Carrick was off doing his own thing with Ayab. Balden knew that what Lara needed was a Staff made of Iron. Balden had been the apprentice of a Blacksmith back in his home town, Carrick WAS a blacksmith among other things and Balden decided then and there that once they found a town he would forge a weapon for Lara that wouldn’t fail her the next time.
After they had arrived, there wasn't much to say really. Quick double check that everyone was in one place before the whole group resumed a slow and steady pace in the general direction of the last guardian, in the lands of the east. Otherwise than that, there wasn't much to say.
Each day, it felt too similar to the last one, at least for her. Waking up in the morning to eat, continuing the journey, stopping a few times in between morning and the evening, and then settling down for the evening in a quiet spot where it'd be hard to find them. All of this felt much too similar to what she had experienced when traveling with other caravans, but she wasn't complaining at all. She left all the others alone and they left her alone in her solitude, as usual it left her with plenty of time to think. Although there was one somewhat frustrating experience, the spirit inside of her stayed silent the whole time, like a fish that did not want to take any of the fisherman's baits. What was the purpose of revealing itself before going back into the depths to hide, maybe the spirit had its reasons but whatever they were she could not understand them.
At least with nothing else to do she at least had all the time in perfecting with being one with the horse. At the beginning of the journey the horse she ride wasn't accustomed to her riding style, and the horse was at least a willing creature to adapt to her riding style quickly. After two days she felt the horse and the horse felt her, and in a few days perfect sync was achieved. During this whole time she had also debated about giving the horse a name, usually horses didn't last long enough so it wasn't that useful in attaching feelings to a horse. But this felt different, as if this horse would last a good chunk into the future.
Another evening, same as any of the other evenings in the past three weeks of the journey. The whole group had just eaten dinner, and she along with the priestess were cleaning the dishes, it was their turn after all. The two of them we're heading back towards the rest of the group when all of a sudden Lara saw the form of the priestess fall down, and all the plates and other eating utensils fall down as well which produced a somewhat of a fearful noise. This sudden event at first made her pause and freeze, what was she supposed to do? Setting down he own load of course plates as gently as possible, Lara made her way to the fallen priestess in a tentative manner. Although by the time she got there, the rest of the group had gotten there as well, and just like her they were in a worried state as well. The silence was ominous, a bad wind was blowing and it was blowing in their direction.
And then the priestess came back around, something about a danger, mage, and then some other talk. Lara didn't pay attention to the rest of the conversation, for at the uttering of the word danger she had sprinted back and had taken out her staff before rushing back. Even though the staff itself wasn't big, defensively it was a pretty decent thing to have. Versatile, not being limited to certain techniques.
And then that evil voice came floating, from the darkness it came, in an attempt to severely dishearten them before actually fighting. Taking a look around, it had actually caused the opposite effect, all of them had a bigger urge to resist than let the plan go to complete waste. But the unsettling thing was that they would be fighting wraiths, and out of the conversation it appeared here was only one weapon that could actually kill the wraiths, and that weapon belonged to Rhuarc.
And then the tension snapped, like cooped up water behind a fan finally weakening the damn to the point of where the water overcame the damn. The wraiths and the mage attacked their group, and an impromptu plan was formed on the spot. She and Balden would defend the priestess while the rest would counterattack, and this was put straight into action as any little hesitation would lose precious time.
The plan worked extremely well as the counterattacking group drew the majority of the wraiths as well as the mage himself on themselves while she and Balden had only two of them to deal with. Ever since Balden had begun his fighting lessons with the Jai, he had become something of a force to be reckoned with. Sure he needed a couple of more years, but he was definitely on the right path. She herself, other than blocking and making ineffectual jabs, held off the second wraith while Balden took care of the second wraith.
At one point the staff split in two from one of the wraith's downward swings and moving out of the way she could feel a line going down the outside part of her arm. She could feel the blood start to soak the clothes, but more importantly she was practically defenseless. But a well timed arrow killed the wraith, and Balden had managed to land a critical blow on the other wraith, before finally finishing off the damn thing.
At the same time the rest of the group had dealt with the rest of the wraiths, before the evil mage decided to turn tail and run away. She gripped her right arm on the outside, the bleeding wasn't too bad, but something would have to be done about it. She did know that somewhere in the cart there were plants that when boiled would cleanse the wound and help with the healing process.
But before walking off she witnessed a spectacle, at least it was funny to her. It was the other female guardian, Saraya, she had chucked Ayab and holding him at sword point. That Jai with his ego would eventually trip himself over, and he had done it with Saraya, hopefully he actually learned his lesson this time.
Whatever else passed she didn't pay attention to as she walked over to the cart, jumped in, and started searching among the various other things for the plant. But then a thought drifted through the back of her head, it came out of nowhere. [i You will always be the outsider], that was the thought that so casually drifted through her head, but she then began debating with herself, which stopped her in the midst of her search for the plant.
[center [i [+purple That's not true]]
[i But it is, the Jai already see you as weak]
[i [+purple From the first moment they saw me, the Jai already considered me weak]]
[i But whatever you do in convincing them otherwise, it will never work. No matter what you do, they'll always see the weak side and not the strong. Forever stuck in a paradox]]
[i [+purple I can't do nothing about that, they are Jai and I'm a native of Fenlyck, nothing will change their view of Fenlycks]]
[i But it will be the same for everybody else, you'll always be an outsider, the seventh wheel with no particular use. Even within these three weeks, you have always been on the outside of the group, and it will stay as such]]
[i [+purple That's... that...]]]
Despair seized her and she sat down with her back against the side of the cart, bringing up her bloodied hand to her face. Then something warm ran down and cleared a path through the blood, another warm thing streamed down and cleared another path through the blood on the hand. Slowly, warm tears began cascading trough the blood, slowly washing it away to nothings. In the midst of this despair, she began to pray. [i [+purple Oh Spirit of Fenlyck, I'm lost and in need of guidance. I plead desperately for you to help me.]]
At first nothing happened, nothing happened at all. But then the tattoo on the back of her neck began to warm up, and the warmer it got the more she felt out of tune with the real world. Ir eventually warmed up to where she couldn't feel or see the real world, but only what the spirit decided to show her. The spirit appeared in the form of a fish, [i [+blue Come, let me show you something.]]
On the outside, it would appear as if she was in some sort of trance, or maybe even as if death had taken hold of her. The blood soaked clothes would make that allusion make it look more real. But if one listened closely, or felt for a heartbeat, then they'd easily figure out she wasn't dead.
But if the tattoo on the back of her neck warmed up, wouldn't that mean the similar tattoo on the priestess would also warm up? No one would know, except the priestess.
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