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Aria slept soundly that night. Comfortable in the knowledge she had a guard at her door who would be there in flash if she called for help. It worked as well as she’d hoped. Malik did not reach out to her in the night to torment her dreams or thoughts, and she was able to sleep the entire night peacefully. She did not wake again until the early light of dawn began to filter in through the porthole of her cabin. Sunrise from the clouds was destined to be a sight to behold, and Aria did not want to miss the chance to see it. She dressed quickly and brushed her hair out before stepping out into the hall and finding Max exactly as she had left him: sitting on his stool with a bored expression. She bid him good morning and informed him she was heading topside to catch the last bit of sunrise, and he rose to his feet following after.
The air was crisp and held a tang of salt. They were undoubtedly in Fenlyk now. Aria should have been nervous, frightful that they were soon to be knee deep in enemy territory, but all she could feel was a giddiness and anticipation. They were one step closer to getting Ayab the help he needed, being reunited with Balden, and to restoring another temple. To Aria this was potentially going to be her greatest challenge -a true test, and a turning point in the budding resistance against Malik. If she could only sway the people to rise up and fight back…
The sky was aglow with subtle hues of rising gold, and the fading hints of nighttime lavender. It was quiet, save for the wind in the sails and the cawing of birds beneath them. She walked towards the bow of the ship taking in the sight of the sun rising to greet them. It gave her a swell of hope. A new dawn with new possibilities. The Cabin Boy from earlier was hauling heavy rope across the deck to a crew member, going about their duties. Rhuarc stood before her, backlit by the dawn and turned to see who approached him. She greeted him with a warm smile and came to stand beside him and look out at the horizon. Max lingered behind, and seeing that Aria was safe in Rhurac’s company, turned to make his own leave to find some rest before they landed.
There was a comfortable silence between them until Rhuarc asked her about the view. She simply smiled in agreement before she spoke. [#FFC0CB “It’s gorgeous. I’ve never seen anything like it before,”] she admitted finally tearing her eyes away from the sunrise to look up at him. The golden light reflected off his dark skin in a way that almost made it glow, and for a moment she allowed herself to study his scars and tattoos. She didn’t get to study for very long, or very much before he asked if she was ready for what was to come. Her eyes found the Holy Sigil of Azera fresh over Rhuarc’s heart. How had she not noticed that before? When did he manage the time to get it done? His question caused her brows to furrow and she looked back out ahead of them and glanced below to see the land turn to wetlands with pockets of ground sturdy enough to support small villages, with plenty of rivers and streams snaking through the region. Finally she spoke after giving it some thought. [#FFC0CB “I don’t think it matters if I’m ready or not. I will do what I have to do, and by any means necessary. I know I want to liberate Fenlyk, if we can do this… the others will fall in line. It would restore hope throughout the four provinces that Malik can and will be defeated, and Malik will have to accept that I am coming for him.”]
She stood, arms crossed over her chest with a determined and focused expression -as if she could see the plan laid out in her mind.
[b ”You have changed since Kil'heed, you are stronger, more determined. It suits you Priestess.”] Aria’s expression softened and she looked back up at Rhuarc, humbled at his compliment. She quickly remembered strength was something the Jai revered. When Rhuarc had first met her, he had openly confessed his uncertainty in how a timid petite woman could possibly lead a revolt against Malik. It made her stomach flutter with a strange sensation and unbeknownst to her, her cheeks pink with a light blush. There was no denying she had changed, but in a way all of them had.
She was staring again, but she wasn’t that embarrassed by it this time. Instead she smiled at him with fondness and thanked him. [#FFC0CB “You’ve changed too,”] she suddenly said a grin playing at the edges of mouth. [#FFC0CB “You’re not all glares and long silences anymore. You’ve opened up and have shown a softer side the betrays your exterior.”] She openly studied the scar on Rhuarc’s face, a flicker of curiosity entered her eyes -wondering how he could have gotten such a scar. She still had a lot of questions about him. Perhaps most people looked at Rhuarc and saw a hulking monster of a man covered in tattoos, and riddled with scars. Some intentional, others a trophy from battle. She could confess to having been slightly afraid, and entirely intimidated at first meeting Rhuarc. Aria quickly learned differently, and had considered it a privilege to have earned Rhuarc’s friendship and see him open up. Not only to her, but to the others as well -especially Lara. The tension that had once been there in their early days was long gone, and it was the same with Ayab.
Aria wanted to ask Rhuarc about what he had said the other day. She wasn’t familiar with the word he had called her. Her knowledge of Jai Culture was still limited, and they hadn’t the time to really dig into those lessons with all that had been going on. Before she could ask, others began to join them up on deck. Lara was the first to join, looking tired, and Aria wondered if she wasn’t able to sleep peacefully last night. Rhuarc asked Lara if she was ready to return to her homeland, and Lara had to confess she wouldn’t be until Malik was gone. Aria reached out and put an arm around Lara’s shoulders, a motherly expression filling her face.
[#FFC0CB “It’s only a matter of time, Lara. We will see to it Malik is completely erased from these lands. Let’s go restore your temple,”] She said with a confident smile.
[center [I [size25 ⛓⛓⛓⛓⛓⛓⛓⛓⛓⛓⛓⛓⛓]]]
The Mage hissed in his own personal despair. Saraya was just under his fingertips... Close enough to see the fear in her eyes. It gave him such a rush. Even her fear was too beautiful to pass up. Within his little orb he hid in his cloak, he tried to see the specimen guardian, to see that same gorgeous tortured look on her face. His desire for her became rapidly uncontainable, and he only begged in his mind another chance...
Until his master chimed his name.
The Mage stood and turned, hiding his face while the Dark Lord spoke. He could only breathe, but his fear for his own demise kept him silent, and breathing.
Malik began to circle him, as he described his failure with Giji. The Dark Lord was very displeased. Giji couldn't get any closer to Aria than could He, not with even a pathetic practice as possession. The Mage hissed at his failure, and bowed lower.
The reason why Malik didn't kill him, was because he left a scented trail, and knew where to plant the cabin boy. The Mage was relieved, but didn't let down his guard.
[B [center It seems since you killed the Caledonian Knight and claimed the life of his offspring, that you've been acting strange...]]
The Mage tensed. [b [I "My Lord, I haven't done anything to warrant death"]] he whispered quickly. Malik huffed as his nails raked his throne. [B [I "I did as commanded... I was to make them come out of hiding. Attacking a guardian was the best way"]]
Malik roared with displeasure. The Mage was only supposed to get them out of the shield, not attack the Caledonian. Why her? The Mage was prepared.
[b [I "She was the one who broke my ties with Giji... "]]
The Malik stayed silent, warranting him to explain further. [b [I "Her power level is beyond any I've sensed. She continues to become a problem and though she doesn't know how to use her powers, even in that she is dangerous. I felt it when she severed the ties with ease. "]]
The Dark Lord scoffed. She found him AFTER she was attacked, Malik corrected, and instilled fear into The Mage's form. Which meant the Prya ways was increasingly becoming a problem. With each moment, Malik was growing more and more agitated. If she gets any stronger...
Malik barked to The Mage to make his way to the cabin boy. The cabin boy was still closer to them than any of them, so send a message to try and get rid of Saraya. Aria was being protected by something stronger than even him... And he needed to stop it before Aria would be lost to him again. The Mage smirked. As he stalked away, he thought of her, and sent the message to the cabin boy. Another chance to get close to her...
He smirked as he walked on. He went into his chamber, looking at the corpse of her late husband, and a satchel on his belly, the infant child he squeezed from her womb. He took flesh and hair, mixing it into his concoction, and poured some into a gauntlet.
[b "Perfect... "] his evil voice whispered before letting a chuckle escape him.
Saraya had finally eaten her food, with the comfort of Carrick's company. He told her that she was going to be safe, that he appointed a guard for her. She nodded slowly, feeling the full extent of the matter. She did cause alot of panic. Ayab was still wounded, Balden was still missing, and Aria to had alot to learn, as did she, to claim their lands back. She didn't have to be there in the meeting to know what was spoken. Her connection with Carrick made everything clear. Fenlyk had twists and turns, and monsters. Though she was pregnant, she knew what she had to do... To let others fulfill their future, one must suffer alone at times.
She keep that thought in a little box in her head, and sighed as she looked to Carrick. [I "I'll... I'll be fine, just... Just have to keep myself from being in the way... That's all.. "]
She forced a smile before looking down to her lap. Carrick took away the tray and told her that the guard would be outside of needed. With the shut off the for, there was a lot going through her mind. Thoughts she never thought she had... Like Ayab... He had been injured this entire time she was going through her ails, and hadn't even tried to see him. She felt terrible that when she had got into that ship, that it was the only time she even said a thing to him and Rhuarc. Aria and Lara, Adimar... They have been growing in different directions. Saraya knew about from what her father could summize everything about it... But, there still wasn't a clue on how to defeat him. She had to do something... And it took a lot more courage to do it than it seemed.
Saraya sat up and sighed once more [I "Guard, find The Volshi Guardian. Tell him to bring the books of training arcane powers... "] she said before closing the door again. Now, it was up to her to protect her own. The guardian sighed as she took the time to bathe, and afterward, dressed and made herself presentable. She needed to put herself in her own circle, and try on her own to learn to control her arcane side and better hone her wind abilities...
The door was opened. The guard had spoken that Adimar was at her door. She nodded, signaling the guard to let him in. Adimar had came in with books under his arms, and curious why she asked for them. Her answer was simple
[I "The better to take control again. I need to learn how to control it... It's growing stronger, and so does my wind abilities... If it's possible, I can use what I did before we made it to Tanaka... I shrouded everyone's signature... To where The Mage's dogs couldn't find us... When we all met in Central City... "] she looked to Adimar. [I "If I can train myself, it's possible I can protect Aria... And maybe help Ayab with his wound... "]
Carefully, she chose her words. [I "I have to try... For the Guardians... For my son... "]
She made it a resolute dedication. She just had to try... If her vision in Kil'heed was true, than she had to play this smart, and be sure to cover all the stops. She could assist as intended, and keep her dark side under her sleeve... But, she can't do that if she doesn't explore and train it. She grabbed the books, thanking him for the help. Adimar insisted to help her, and she smiled. [I "Oh, I intend on you helping me. But, not now. Once your business has been finished, then you can help me"] she was not negotiating.
Spaning a fortnight in the skies, Saraya had been in either one or two places. She was either in the room, studying, practicing, or being spoiled by Carrick, or she would be above deck, sitting in the sun, occasionally speaking with her guard and the group... But, only briefly. Today, around mid morning, Saraya had eaten, practiced, and was basking in the sun again. At noon, she retired below deck and as usual, would create an herbal bath and soothe away the slight pain she hand in her fingers... And her side... She didn't understand why every time she practiced her arcane magic, that it seemed to hurt her. Hopefully, it didn't hurt the baby... For some reason, Caledon and her father hadn't spoken, as if dormant and silent within her.
She looked at her belly, a bit poked out from the water, andsmiled some as she began to rub... Aramis... Such a growing boy you're becoming... She wondered about his first steps, his first word... The first time he starts running, and riding steeds... She smiled to it. It gave her comfort as she heard the door open. Carrick had came in, wanting to check on her. She assured him that she was fine, that she was only tending to herself for the while, because everyone began to ask why she hadn't stayed with them longer.
She sighed. [I "Carrick, you are already torn in two. Aria and I shouldn't be fighting for you to fulfill duties you have already done and done well. I stay nearby and be her shield... You are her Captain. That comes before me and Aramis right now... "]
She was speaking the truth. Her being pregnant shouldn't be top priority. But, Carrick saw it another way. He vented about it, knowing that he did feel stretched... But he also said that there wasn't a chance that he wouldn't put her first either. Aria is in need to be protected. So did she. [b "Even with the spell protecting our boy... I must be a father, your man and a Captain."]
Saraya sighed to herself, understanding what he meant. Saraya can push herself aside because Aria was top priority, but it didn't mean that it would be a complete success. Even if she did it, Carrick would still be torn, because too much concentration on Aria, would leave her vulnerable to the Mage, and that, he won't let happen. Not to someone he loved.
Saraya tried getting out of the tub, but it deemed a little harder than she thought. Aramis was taking energy to lift now, and the bump in her belly was becoming embarrassing to her eyes. Again, Carrick corrected it. To him, she was beautiful, and he voiced how glad he was to have her as his wife... Wife... Saraya hugged him.
At that time, Carrick and Saraya had went above deck together, and as she took a seat, everyone's eyes were on her. The guard Carrick appointed stood behind her, and Carrick urged her to watch him train, to see how well the both of them had been training.
Saraya smirked some before trying to throw out little bursts of air, that formed into soft balls the size of apples, and he would cut them, one by one. They did once with his sword... One with the spirit's endowed powers... And the last was a mixture of the two. She was impressed. He was getting really strong. She kept playing along with him, when he threw air bubbles at her. She used her ability to dodge them without moving... Everyone stared, even the cabin boy. Some of her training had paid off
Lara sighed quietly. Adimar was wrong regarding the payment or test not mattering. Adimar himself had said that Ayab was one of their group, and that meant the payment or test should matter more. On the inside, Lara felt confident that Ayab would be able to get to the Medici before he strayed too far from his mortal coil; as to the payment or test, anything could happen after that.
Since Adimar was in his happy mentality, Lara decided that she would not kill his happiness. Every happy or otherwise good moment now would help them get through the dark times when the light of hope seemed most extinguished.
It did not cheer her up that they would be crossing into Fenlyck the very next day. She could sense that Adimar was attempting to cheer her up, but Adimar's effort was wasted in that regard. Instead, Lara felt her feelings more divided than before. She did not feel happy, nor were there any other positive feelings about being back in her homeland after not stepping foot there for three years. She felt dread of the unknown, she did not know how much Fenlyck had changed in the past three years. It could appear the same, or different, from the outside, but how would the cities themselves look?
Lara found herself crossing her arms together and rubbing her fingers nervously. She could not let herself breakdown again. Everyone was depending on each other for safety, and if she broke down she was liable to become a liability to the rest. That could not happen, especially not now as they were crossing into more dangerous territory.
She had heard Adimar's question, but had not answered right away as she got a grip on herself. Now that she could ponder on an answer to Adimar's question, Lara found the perfect solution. [+purple "I think we can do both at the same time."] She could tell her story of running away, while showing that very same story in a bowl of water; two birds with one stone.
Adimar led her out of the room. Along the way up to the deck, Lara requested Adimar to go to his room. Lara wanted to do it in the sanctum of Adimar's room.
Adimar agreed, but it did not feel as it was total agreement. If Adimar had his thoughts which he did not want to speak aloud, then that was his choice.
Walking into Adimar's room, Lara immediately noticed the difference between her room and his. Where her room was somewhat bare, Adimar's was mostly occupied. Lara knew that this was due to the fact that she had always traveled with only what she needed on the high road, and that habit had stuck with her all the way here.
Lara looked around the room, and found what she was looking for. On the table was a big, golden bowl which had water in it. That would work fine.
Lara walked up to the table, and sat down in one of the chairs. She motioned for Adimar to sit down across from her. Once he had sat down, [+purple "I will tell you my story, and will show you it in the water."]
Lara put her arms on the table, leaning on her elbows. She closed her eyes, and reached out for the water that was in front of her. She could feel the tug of the water in her mind as it lay still in the bowl. Just to get a feel for the water, Lara pushed it around experimentally. She could feel in her mind as the water moved around in the bowl, tugging here or there depending on how she willed the water to move.
Now, she was ready.
Lara made the water form a scene of a night on the shore of the beach. Individual starts twinkled, slowly brightening and then fading out. To the top right of the bowl, part of a full moon could be seen.
At this point, Lara realized that Adimar was seeing whatever she was seeing upside down. Lara forced the water to rotate the scene slowly by 180 degrees; now Adimar could look the right side up.
Slowly, the scene zoomed in on a figure kneeling on the shore of the beach. [+purple "I was sitting on the shore, looking up at the night sky and admiring its beauty. It was quiet, peaceful, as if nothing bad could happen."]
Next came the tricky bit of showing the fire that would be going on in the background. To show that, Lara pulled away the water from some parts to others, causing the color to lighten. Then she caused it to shift from left to right, as if a big fire was crackling behind. [+purple "I heard a fire. Not a little one, but quite a big one. Its crackling was intense, I could feel the heat from where I was sitting. I... I could also... I could also hear laughing and screaming... I jumped upwards, and ran towards the my house."]
The water showed the figure running towards the house, everything getting a lighter shade of blue as the scene got closer and closer to the house.
Then the figure stopped running, and the scene slowly around rotated from the front of the figure to show what the figure was seeing. The face of the figure, which was mortified and full of shock, was slowly replaced by a house which was ablaze. The fire had multiple shadows in it, each represented by a dark shade of blue.[+purple "Those figures,the most horrible looking creatures I ever saw. They were the ones who had tortured my parents, asking where I was. My parents... they never revealed where I was.... Those evil.... the... they beat my parents to near death, but my parents kept on not saying anything. For resisting, they were left in the house as those brutes set it on fire. That was when I saw him.."]
To the side of the house, appeared another figure. It was larger than the rest, and a sort of eeriness floated around the figure. THe figure's shades of colour kept on changing, always either going lighter or darker. [+purple "That was the first time when I saw him... I do not know who he was, but at the sight of him, I ran away."]
The scene again rotated around as Lara's figure turned around itself, and fled. The whole scene slowly faded out into a dark blue.
Lara opened her eyes back up. She felt wetness around her eyes, but not a single tear had yet to come streaming down. [+purple "From that moment, I wandered around the rest of the world. Always hiding, always in fear that at some moment I would be found and suffer the same cruel fate as my parents had. I found odd jobs to do so I could pay for food, clothes, water."]
Lara all of a sudden stood up, accidentally spilling the water from the bowl out onto the table and stormed out of Adimar's room. On her way out of the room, Lara slammed the door to Adimar's room as she began to run to her own room. She could feel as the tears began to slowly fall down her face. Her vision blurred a bit, but she eventually made it back to her room where she once again slammed the door and fell on her bed.
She lay there, sobbing into the pillow. It felt as if her heart was on the verge of tearing itself into bits and pieces. She felt ashamed for breaking down once again.
She could feel the spirit of Fenlyck swimming around in her thoughts, trying to help somehow. Unlike the other times where she had pushed the spirit away, Lara poured out all her emotions. The spirit of Fenlyck listened patiently, swimming through the turbulent current of outpouring emotions.
Eventually, Lara fell asleep. The spirit of Fenlyck slowly swam back to the depths from where it had risen, content that it had helped calm down Lara.
She awoke the next morning with a start. Lara rubbed her eyes, feeling the irritation from last night's crying. Walking over to her table where there was a bowl of water, LAra rubbed away this morning's fogginess and last night's break down forcefully. Feeling more awake and refreshed, Lara made her way up to the deck of the ship.
It seemed as if everyone was slowly gathering there. Rhaurc and Aria were already there, and one of the Holy Guard standing around. Lara walked up to them as others did as well.
Looking out on the land of Fenlyck, she heard Rhuarc ask a question. [+purple "Until this whole land is cleared of Malik's presence, I will not be ready to go back home."]
The large Jai Guardian had much on his mind, foremost amongst his thoughts was the looming journey into Fenlyk. The land was unfamiliar and dangerous, full of enemies and it seemed even the land itself was against them. They had two main goals, enter the Temple and Find the Medici. As much as Rhuarc wanted to believe that they could do both, he feared that Ayab was right, if Malik had spies and soldiers everywhere then they might not get a chance to accomplish both of their goals...at least not as one group. Together they were safe, they were strong but as small as the group was they were still a noticeable bunch. If they split off into two teams, one to go to Ayab and one to go to the Temple. It would be incredibly risky and it might be an unnecessary danger. Rhuarc would at least raise the idea with Aria, although he doubted that she would agree with his logic. She was smart but naive, especially when it came to her friends. Her trial had given her some steel in her soul but deep down Rhuarc wondered if she really had what it took to make the tough choices. If the group only had one chance to go to the Temple would she sacrifice that in order to save Ayab? Rhuarc knew what his answer would be, and he knew what Ayab's answer to be but that was different; they were Jai. Those not from the Wastelands were soft, it was a fact as much as that fire burned or that ice was cold.
Ayab limped over to his friend and placed a hand on his shoulder bidding him goodnight, the man looked weary and far moe tired than Rhuarc had ever seen him. Ayab was dying, of that there was no doubt and he was not sure how much longer his friend would survive, even in the short time that they had been on the airship the wound had gotten worse. Leaving the protection of Kil'heed while necessary was taking a deadly toll on Ayab. Rhuarc often thought about their encounter with the Fade, how the
monster wounded his friend and how he was going to kill the abomination but that raised an interesting question. How to do it? Rhuarc's blade had cut The Fade's skull in half and Adimar had unleashed the fury of his magic and yet none of it had mattered. Maybe the secret was in one of the books that Adimar seemed to be spending so much time with. He would ask the Volshi Guardian later. RHuarc walked around the deck, exchanging a few brief words with the crew and was assured by the Captain that their time on the ship was almost at an end; by morning they would be in Fenlyk. The Jai did a quick round of the ship, making sure that Corbin and Max were at their posts and even waiting a while by Luther's door, listening to ensure that the Watcher was indeed inside, once he had confirmed that he moved on. It was late, Carrick was with Saraya and Adimar and LAra had left his own cabin although the Jai did not feel like sleeping tonight. Instead he spent the night out on the deck with the captain and the rest of the crew, staring off into the distance, to the inevitable, to Fenlyk drawing ever closer.
The Fire of Jaihash inside of him kept Rhuarc warm throughout the cold night and he had to admit that the view of the rising sun was well worth staying up for, it was magnificent. In the distance he could vaguely see the seemingly endless expanse of water...it was magnificent and yet vaguely disconcerting at the same time. Rhuarc had killed over water far less than that, most Jai had so to see so much in the one place was hard to wrap his head around it. The fact of the matter was that they had left Volshi far behind them and entered the belly of the beast. Other than the Central City Fenlyk was where Malik had his strongest hold on the Four Provinces. It would be dangerous, but everyone had known that this journey would be hard before they set off. He heard a set of light footsteps approaching and turned to see Aria approaching the ship's deck, Max by her side, good, he would serve her well as her Sworn Shield. Carrick must still be with Saraya, that would be the only reason that the Priestess herself was not. [b "It's beautiful is it not Priestess?"] Rhuarc meant what he said, while he appreciated the danger that Fenlyk represented , he could not deny that the water was beautiful. In his experience the most dangerous and the most beautiful were often one and the same. [b "Are you ready for what comes next? For the next leg of our journey? You have changed since Kil'heed, you are stronger, more determined. It suits you Priestess."] Looking at the Priestess now Rhuarc could not help but notice the similarities between the Priestess and the Land of Fenlyk that they were entering. Both were beautiful, mysterious in their own ways and dangerous if taken lightly. Yes, Aria was an excellent [i da'thei] Rhuarc had chosen wisely.
Eventually one by one the other Guardians and members of the Holy Guard made their way onto the deck of the ship as it slowly started to descend, the next stage of their journey well and truly upon them. [b "Are you ready to go home Lara?"]
Aria did as requested, and sat by Saraya’s side all through the day. No doubt the stress of their situation, constant travel, looking over their shoulders, her duty as a guardian, the added hormones from her pregnancy, and the Mage’s threat were baring down on Saraya. It was all too obvious, and Aria worried what they would have to do if it kept getting worse. A part of her wondered if this was a ploy, an elaborate distraction put together to keep them focused on one enemy so the other could continue to grow more powerful in the background. She knew they couldn’t afford to be attacked from all sides.
She kept a lantern aflame beside the bed to keep them surrounded in a warm glow. It was one of the few things Luther had said to her that she’d taken to heart. Stay out of the shadows, The Fade could reach her in them. The absolute last thing Aria wanted was for the Fade to grab her while she was distracted. There was much she couldn’t afford to do, and it could be easily surmised into one simple statement: She couldn’t afford failure.
Carrick came by to visit and check on the sleeping Saraya, and in doing so Aria asked that he have some food sent down. It came with the cabin boy. He was around their age, good looking, and not Volshi. Aria stared at him uncertainly as he entered the room with a tray full of steaming soup, warm rolls, and a cut up apple.
“Food as you requested, your Holiness.” Aria nodded and motioned for him to come inside and set the food on the bedside table. She just wasn’t expecting for Saraya to suddenly fall into a fit. Was it a night terror? Was it something else? The Cabin Boy was smart enough to back off while Aria tried to calm Saraya and wake her.
[#ffc0cb “Saraya, Saraya?”] She called with hurried need. She needed for Saraya to wake up, because she was unknowingly spreading arcane power about. There was a darkness to it, and while a part of Aria told her not to get too close or touch it... it was coming from her friend and Aria wanted to wake her from whatever horror she was seeing. Wind had formed in the room, blowing things about, and Aria worried what would happen if it continued. She called for Saraya once more and reached out to touch her. [#ffc0cb “Saraya!”] She gasped at contact. Aria felt a flare of power flood her, and for a brief moment saw the sadistic grin of the Mage and heard Saraya’s shout for her child’s safety. Then it ended abruptly and Saraya shot up from the bed.
Aria tumbled back in the wake of the power coming to its breaking point before snapping and fading away. The cabin boy remained close to the door unwilling to move any closer. Aria managed to push her own hair from her face and righted the stool next to Saraya’s bed and helped her get comfortable once more as she asked if she’d done the damage to the room. Aria frowned, but gave a firm nod of her head. [#ffc0cb “I think it was a nightmare or something. It’s alright now,”] She said. [#ffc0cb “Let’s not worry about it right now. It was all just a bad dream,”] Aria tried, hoping she sounded sure of it herself, and walked over to take the tray of food before having the Cabin Boy leave. [#ffc0cb “Send Captain Carrick in.”] She ordered. He seemed eager to go, and did not linger longer than need be. She carried the food over to Saraya and set it down on her lap. [#ffc0cb “You need to eat first. I’m going to see if there isn’t a remedy to help you sleep better, but in the meantime I want you to gather your thoughts. I will be wanting the full truth from you soon. No more secrets,”] She warned.
Carrick arrived at the room then, having come from meeting with the other guards, and accompanying him was one of the new recruits. No doubt Saraya’s new guard. He was a promising young Volshi and one Carrick trusted well enough to look after Saraya so she was never alone.
[#20B2AA “I came as soon as I was called on. Has something happened?”] He asked. Aria frowned and glanced to Saraya.
[#ffc0cb “She had a bad dream...” ] Aria settled with. [#ffc0cb “It caused her powers to take form. She needs to eat. Make sure your woman eats it all,”] Aria ordered. Carrick could only grin and nodded his head watching as Aria turned to face Saraya giving her an almost motherly look. [#ffc0cb “I mean it. Eat it all, we will talk when you are feeling better,”] she said and leaned in to give Saraya one final hug and then left, leaving her in the care of her lover.
[b CARRICK] walked over to take up the space on the bed beside Saraya and draped an arm around her shoulders. His brow furrowed with concern for her. It had to be challenging enough to be a guardian, but to also be her father’s successor on top of that? It would have made a weaker person go insane. Tack on her pregnancy and it made for a near dangerous combination. He worried over her constantly and now that they had left the protection of Kil’heed, he feared both Aria and Saraya were more susceptible to attack.
He understood why Aria wanted to leave Kil’heed early. Time was precious, and in nine quick months a child would be born... if he could keep Saraya and his child alive long enough. If only there was a way he could protect Saraya from the Mage, and still do his duty. He knew it wouldn’t be easy -but he’d find a way.
[#20b2aa “Saraya,”] He cooed softly to her as he watched her munch on her food. [#20b2aa “You have me weighted with worry over you. I hope you realize, you are stronger than I think you give yourself credit for. I see it, and I know Aria sees it which is why she worries for you the way I do with this Mage and the baby....”]
He sighed heavily allowing his own concern and stress to show. He had his own worries and burdens to bear. [#20b2aa “I’m sorry... it’s not fair you should have to carry such a burden. That any of you have the burdens you do.”] He gave her a sympathetic look, and tried his best to give her a small semblance of a grin but failed. [#20b2aa “These are going to be trying times. Fenlyk will be incredibly dangerous. I want you to promise me you won’t go off on your own. Stay with your Guard.”] He motioned towards the closed door to their cabin and gave her a firm yet loving look. He cared about her -no, he loved her and he only wanted her health and happiness. [#20b2aa “His name is Corbin, and I trust him to keep you safe and adhere to his duty as a holy Guardsman. He’s already standing outside your door, and if you need anything he’ll be there to help you if I or one of the others cannot. Will you promise me you will not wander off, and will try to take care of yourself?”] He asked his gaze intense on her. He had to know he had some sort of promise with her. He was bonded with her, and could sense her intention, but all he really wanted from it was the ability to ward the Mage off on his own.
[b ADIMAR] waved to Rhuarc as he excused himself next from their quick but informative meeting. He could have looked around the cabin curiously, but it wasn’t like there was much to look at. There were some fletching materials on the ground -some of Ayab’s work no doubt, but not much else. Instead his gaze settled on Lara and listened to her talk about her homeland, that things had changed and Carrick was right. There was no temple... just an unground sanctum from the sounds of it. What he hadn’t known, was that she’d run away. Adimar was shocked by that news. What had caused Lara to run from home?
A question for another time, because she brought further information about the temple. No Watchers either. No one knew what happened to them, not even Lara it seemed, and the Medici was going to be a challenge too. It seemed she never stayed in one place for very long, and would require payment, at worst another test.
[#000080 “I’m sure no matter what test or payment she requires, it won’t matter. Ayab is one of us. Let’s just worry about her being able to heal him in the first place, and that he is not too far gone by the time we get there,”] he advised. That would have been the worst, to go all that way only to be told that Ayab was beyond help. He’d hate to see how Aria or even Rhuarc might react to that sort of news. [#000080 “Good news, is that it won’t be much longer. We should be crossing into the Fenlyk Province sometime in the early morning. When we wake up, We’ll be in Fenlyk!”] He grinned, hoping it might cheer Lara up. Did she need cheering up? Girls her age were supposed to be cheerful, weren’t they? Then again, Lara said she’d run away. It made him curious, but they couldn’t remain in Rhuarc’s cabin. He started towards the door to leave as well, and held the door open for Lara. [#000080 “So, shall we go do some training on your arcane skills before supper and bed, or do you want to tell me about why you ran away from home? I don’t think I’ve heard that story...”] he said leading her from the room and towards the top deck of the ship.
[b ARIA] returned to her room and sat down amidst the piles of books. It had been a relatively good day. She’d spent most of it topside out in the sun, and the alone time and freedom had been a nice reprieve. It was not permanent or forever, for as soon as she had relaxed in her room she heard heavy footfalls coming towards her room. No sooner had she looked up did she see Max position himself at her door, and sat down on a small stool. It looked like it was break under his large body, but he made not a sound and simply sat down and took up the watch. It made her feel a bit better at knowing Malik would be less inclined to haunt her if she had the comfort of a guard with her. Seeing him there she had an idea. The Rhuarc had turned her down, and even Carrick seemed hesitant, but perhaps Max would be different. She called to him from where she sat with her books and grinned when he turned to look inside her room.
“Yes Priestess?” He asked in his gruff voice.
[#ffc0cb “Would you teach me how to defend myself?”]
Max stared at her long and hard and for a moment Aria wondered if he’d agree to it, but instead she was more shocked to hear him say “You mean, you don’t already know how?” She felt her cheeks heat and shook her head. Should she have known how? “Someone in your position [i should] know how to defend themselves...” He sighed and shook his head before answering. “I will teach you. We’ll start tomorrow morning. Fenlyk will be dangerous, and I feel I would do you a disservice if I didn’t make sure you could at least hold your own until help arrived.” Aria smiled, that was all she was asking for. “You’re not wanting to learn this so you can fight like the others are you?” He suddenly asked and Aria shook her head.
[#ffc0cb “I don’t want to fight... but I have to. I have to strike Malik down, but I need to be able to live long enough to get to him.”]
“You will make it to Malik... The Gods command it.”
Her words turned the room as quiet as a crypt. Lara noticed Carrick's glance towards Rhuarc, obviously concerned that she had done something which she shouldn't have done. Carrick could stop worrying about whether she had indeed done or not done something 'illegal', for she was about to tell both Rhuarc and Carrick.
The door opened once more, and Lara recognized Adimar's voice. By his footsteps she could tell he was swaggering in, and by his voice she could tell that he was most likely smiling and completely oblivious to what had just occurred in this very room. Adimar was so oblivious, that he even joked about plots and shenanigans happening in this room; these two things were not a joke, that was exactly what had occurred and would continue in this room.
Adimar's voice changed, a concerned tone and most likely that smile was wiped off his face. Everyone here did not have the best experience with her 'shenanigans', but that was not the whole point. Oh heck to it, she had not even been involved in any sort of shenanigans at all. It had been a specific and legitimate businness, Rhuarc himself had asked and had even inserted the word "please" when asking her to go through Luther's possessions.
Carrick, he was somewhat afraid as he asked what she had done. He did have a fair reason to be worried due to past experiences, but he'd probably be even more worried when she told him that she'd rifled through one of the highly 'esteemed' Watcher's possessions.
There was no point in hiding it, no point in falsifying anything. To everyone inside the room, she told how she'd went into Luther's room and searched through his things. Carrick definitely was disapproving of what she had done, it was written across his face as clear as broad daylight. Adimar on the other hand, it was impossible to say what his stance on this issue was. Adimar had chuckled, but his face remained impassive.
Carrick had gone back to what were maps and started drawing on them, deep in contemplation. With those amount of marks, Lara stepped in a bit closer to see what Carrick was drawing with such deep thought. None of the marks made sense, but either Carrick was marking down safe ones or danger zones; most likely danger zones.
Carrick lifted himself away from the maps, and briefly stated his mind on the whole 'espionage on Luther' business. It seemed as if he did not actually mind it that much. All he wanted was to be kept in touch with any new findings that were made about Luther. There was no problem at all with that. Since Carrick was captain of the Holy Guard, and Luther a member of that guard, it was up to Carrick to make the final decision on Luther.
But then the talk turned to Fenlyck. Fenlyck's temple and the Medici. There were some things she knew naught about because many a thing could change within a three year time span. But, there were some things she did know that would aid them in Fenlyck.
But it would seem Lara would have to wait her turn to speak as Carrick and Adimar debated about the best way into the Fenlyck temple, the Medici, as well as surviving within Fenlyck.
Her homeland? Lara had completely forgot about that Fenlyck had been her homeland. The place where she had been born and raised for 16 years. It was, in a way, a sort of a shock. It was as if the past three years of her life had been one long denial of her homeland. One, long, denial....
Carrick left, excusing himself. Rhuarc followed shortly afterwards, also excusing himself. That left only her with Adimar, who had asked two questions and was expecting two answers.
[+purple "As to your question of what I think about my homeland"], Lara turned so that her left side was facing Adimar and she could stare out the window in the room, [+purple "Many things have happened since I last was in Fenlyck; that was three years ago when I ran away. But some things I know for certain. What Carrick said about the temple being sealed was true, we will have to use the underground passageways. Whether they still exist or not, I do not know. Another important thing about the temple, is that we will not receive the same help we received from the Volshi temple; no Watchers to help us out if we get stuck in a bad place. I cannot say for certain whether the Fenlyck Watchers are dead or have merely fled, but they are definitely not guarding the temple."]
A short pause as Lara sighed. [+purple "As to the Medici"], she shook her head from side-to-side, [+purple "That will be somewhat complicated. The Medici, she never stays in one place too long. Yes the Medici has a place where she resides, but that does not mean she stays there. Her healing powers, while incredible, for a wound like Ayab there will be something required in return. Either it will be some form of payment, or a difficult test."]
[center [I [size30 ❇❇♥❇❇]]]
She was shaken... Bad... Very bad...
Carrick was rocking her back and forth, using his presence and love to finally calm her from the state she was in. After placing her in bed, Carrick was faced with a choice, and it was the right one. Saraya parted her lips to stop him... But she shook her head in defeat, finally adhering to his pleas, and quietly shrunk her argument. He was right... It just wasn't her battle... And she would have them know without her there... She did hate that she was beginning to be a burden, though... Carrick was already torn in two... And now Adimar and even Aria was. She sighed as she heard the door open and close... Then, moment later, it opened again. She lifted her head to see that Aria had came in... Oh, Gods... Aria.
She didn't want her to see her in the shaken state she was in... Her eyes were glassy and her lips were a bit chapped. Her hair was a mess, and she hadn't eaten yet since being on the ship. There was a hand that grabbed hers, and Saraya looked to Aria as she began to speak.
“You’re not alone, Saraya. We’re all here for you. Trust that we are stronger together than alone. I sensed the Mage’s presence, and Adimar is closer to finding out what it is the Mage plans to do. I’ve also told Carrick to appoint a guard to you. I will not hear argument either, it is my command, and my decision is final.”]]
Saraya sighed slowly, nodding as slow as she could. She looked to her and tried to look away. [I "I've already became a burden, Aria... I only wished to allow everyone time to focus on what mattered... You and this mission. My battles shouldn't be on the forefront at all times. Azera, your top priority... "]
Azera... She said Azera... Had her great grandparents gone through this? She had been so blind to everything around her... She then realized... She had almost forgotten that she had the power to manipulate the shadow. She was on the air, air moves all. She looked to Aria. [I "Do you mind sitting with me? On the bed, so I won't feel sickly"] she said as she sat up... Sitting up was becoming an obstacle... She should really eat.
[I "I have had a nightmare. I fell from the sky, torched with thunder and lightning... I had to have been in a battle only I could fight, because I was bruised and beaten and cut along my body... Carrick grabbed me before I could collapse.. Dragged me into the ship... Pain... It was all I could feel... Pain and fear. I find it hard to believe it is mere coincidence. This dream, it... Felt so real... "]
She looked to her. [I "Aria... I could smell Malik when I came in to talk to you. It was only a matter of time before The Mage would come... Just... "] she grabbed onto her own arms [I "He was going to... "] black smoke began to surround her, but she shook it away. Just in time, too... She felt her belly, grunting some at the bit of cramp she felt... It was beginning to swell. She looked to Aria and sighed [I "Appoint Carrick's most trusted Knight... If I am to be guarded, I only want who he trusts. "] she slowly slid back into the covers as Aria told her to rest... It was what she needed... Rest. She nodded and lain back into bed, and it didn't take her long to fall asleep.
Saraya screamed at the sight. She hasn't realized the tumble had took a toll on her... But it wasn't her body she was concerned about... Aramis... Her son... In her mind she was screaming [I No! My son! Somebody save my son!]
Carrick had lifted her up to ease the pain. She screamed as she felt herself stretch in his hold before bundling in his arms. Blood was staining his attire and hers and everyone was beginning to panic. Ayab... Rhuarc... Lara... They all had fear in their eyes. Aria had tears in her eyes, but she followed. Carrick had set her down in a tub of sorts, surrounded with herbal water. Carrick tried to be calm, but when anyone tried to touch her, he would draw his dagger, his canines bearing together so tightly, as if fighting the desire to kill. Saraya could only cry. [I Please... My son... Someone..] Her voice was lodged in her throat... All she could see was a candle lit ceiling, and his face appeared... And a flashback appeared along with it... He had done this... He had dropped her from the sky...
She felt a wave of pain take her, and lifted her head in a scream so profound, everyone had finally panicked. Carrick hurried behind her and grabbed her... Asia knelt next to the tub and started adding her own herbs into the water. Rhuarc and Ayab has knelt, weapons ready, fighting back the urge to run out and find the culprit... Lara had heated up the water, hoping it would ease her pain... Saraya still saw him on the ceiling, an evil smile lurked above her in anticipation. Her lips trembled in growing fear, her eyes widening, and as her fear grew, the wind in the room began to pick up and swirl about, as if a tornado. Her arcane powers sheilded her, though everyone held on as tight as they could. But, the more she exerted her power, the more pain she felt with her baby. [I No... You won't take him! He's my son! MY SON!]
Saraya saw his clammy hand reach for her, to claim her and-
She sat up in a scream. She was breathing hard, grabbing the fabric of her gown, finally seeing the hand and who it was attached to had faded away. She dropped her head, and wheezed in air, feeling a tightness in her chest, as if a hand was on her heart. She finally coughed out that foulness before feeling a strong pull of fatigue...
A weak breath was pulled... She turned her head to see Aria... Her eyes wide in fear. Her eyes slowly scaled the room... Everything was in disarray... And when her eyes trailed the cabin boy... The cabin boy?
He stood, as if terrified... He was holding a plate of food... He was standing at the foot of the bed. She felt something from him. He was clever to hide it... But she still saw it... There was a good sense of fear on him.
She quickly righted herself...
[I "Oh... Um... Did I do something...? "] she looked back to Aria, looking very confused. Aria explained that the cabin boy was sent to give her food. He was reaching out to wake her... And something started happening... The room had gotten darker... And the wind had began picking up and she was screaming her name and grabbed her hand before she had abruptly awakened. Now, Saraya WAS confused. She had done this?
The cabin boy set the tray down and said something before hurrying out. Saraya watched him leave before looking to Aria. Wait, did he say [I "Your very pretty? "]
Aria helped her sit up before grabbing the knocked over stool. She say down and gave her her tray to eat. Now, she asked her for the entire truth, no lies. How could she tell her that? Where to start?
Rhuarc was pleased to hear that Carrick seemed to like his plan, it was still a bit rough around the edges but they were all agreed that staging a coup in Fenlyk would likely be the best way to go. Carrick was correct of course the Priestess herself would be their greatest asset, she wasn't just a figure of myth and legend but what was even more impressive was that Aria actually lived up to the legend. She was intelligent, capable, brave and above all compassionate. She was everything that the people needed. Rhuarc's jaw tightened at the mention of Balden, the Jai was torn over the former blacksmith's apprentice, he liked the boy but that did not change the fact that Balden had abandoned them during the middle of his training with the sword and left the group. To abandon one's training was one of the greatest shames in the Wastelands and by Jai law Balden's life was forfeit. Rhuarc had told Balden right at the beginning that he would hold the boy to the same standards that he would any other Jai student of the blade and he had meant it. When Rhuarc and Balden next came face to face it would certainly be interesting.
At that moment Lara arrived having obviously completed her assigned task with flying colours, as Rhuarc knew that she would. Adimar joined them, Lara told them what she had found and while Rhuarc did not know the significance of the items inside he would certainly make it a point to find out. Adimar marked out positions on the maps, troop movements, fortifications and nything else that could be useful, Rhuarc's mind immediately went to thinking about how these could be used in battle but it wasn't important at the moment. Fenlyk was the priority. Carrick was obviously displeased with them [i “You’ll have to let me know what comes out of this. I don’t condone spying on a man, let alone a member of the Holy Guard, but if you both have qualms about him, then I will hold judgement until I know of your findings.] [b "It is no insult to say that you do not know a man that you do not. I do not know Luther as I know all of you. What we do is too important to risk, life is at stake, all of creation is at stake. I feel no dishonour at these actions but if that changes I shall bear that burden."] Adimar explained the lay of the land in Fenlyk, where the Medici is, where the Fenlyk temple was and how heavily guarded the Capital was. [b "In principle I agree, the swamplands would be best to make camp, at least until we can be sure one of the villages will take us in. Winning their trust may take time and we should be ready for that. Lara your expertise will be invaluable, is there anything that you wish to add or comment? What do you think we should do?"] This was Lara's homeland, she likely had people she knew and cared about still living in the province under occupation. She needed to take the lead, it was best for everyone. Rhuarc might be able to win a war or a battle but winning the hearts and minds of the common people was out of his area of expertise. [b "I feel I have contributed all I can to these discussions for now, the details I leave to your capable hands, if you excuse me I have a few other matters to attend to."]
Rhuarc left the room and made his way to the deck of the ship and to his surprise he found Ayab there, he knew his fellow countryman was not a fan of travelling on the ship and preferred his cabin yet here he was, he seemed to be waiting for Rhuarc because as soon as he saw the other Jai he limped towards him. [+red "Friend, I know what you all are planning and I am grateful truly but I beg to to consider if it is worth it. I heard Adimar and Carrick talking about how dangerous Fenlyk will be and I have to agree, we may not be able to see both the Medici and the temple of Fenlyk and I urge you that if such a choice presents itself then leave me to my fate, forget the Medici and go to the Temple. One life is nothing compared to bringing down Shade-stealer."] Rhuarc looked at the wound on Ayab's leg it had obviously gotten worse since leaving Kil'heed and the protection that the sacred city had granted him. The rot was spreading and if possible looked even more sickly. [b "It is a noble thing you are suggesting, you gain much honour by thinking this but it will not come to a choice. We can do both...and if you really wish us to do such a thing then you can raise it with the Priestess yourself."] Ayab's face faltered a little as Rhuarc suggested this, Aria might be kind but when it came to her friends and keeping them safe there was nothing that she would not do. She would not take well to Ayab's suggestion. [+red "Have you seen the cabin boy about? I saw him when he was below decks and...he looks Jai although there are somethings wrong. He is small so maybe one of the Northern tribes; Antior Jai maybe. His skin is far too pale to be Ilit Jai or Chetse Jai so it's unlikely to be them. I wonder how he came here, he doesn't even look to have a belt knife!"] Rhuarc hadn't actually considered that the cabin boy was Jai, he had practically ignored the youth entirely, perhaps he should talk with the boy and find out exactly how he came to leave the wastelands and end up working on a Volshi airship.
Carrick wasn’t the only one who sensed a dark presence. Aria felt it, and could sense Saraya cry out in fear. This presence was not as powerful as Malik, but it was familiar and dark, and she knew it well. She had spent her entire day topside, basking in the warmth of the sunlight, and learning how to fly the ship. With the Captain’s permission, of course. For once she had been left to her own devices, to do as she pleased, and by the end of the day she was all smiles. Her smile seemed to be contagious as the crew members she met and spent her time with that day couldn’t help but smile with her. The dark presence was the only thing that was able to wipe her smile clean off.
Aria didn’t hesitate to drop everything she was doing and hurried down below deck to see to Saraya, but she was cut off by an equally rushing Carrick. He charged into the room, with sword drawing, having heard Saraya call to him, having felt her fear and repulsion.
“Saraya!” He called quickly seeing she was alone, he sheathed the Harbinger and wrapped the shaken guardian up in his arms. Carrick did his best to calm Saraya. She showed him what had happened and Carrick felt his blood boil.
“No more hiding this, it’s time to tell the others,” he demanded of her, but she was desperate not to let that happen, claiming the Mage was her problem. Carrick wouldn’t budge from his decision.
“It’s not your problem, it’s ours... it’s everyone’s. A Guardian in danger, means all of us are in danger. I will not hide this any longer,” he told her, but he could see she was still shaken, unsure, and in a need to calm her he wrapped her in his arms. “Come here,” he had whispered to her, and tucked her safely against his chest.
Aria politely remained in the hall, but she reached out for any lingering powers of the Mage, sensing none she knew he had truly left... for now. She made a mental note to be better prepared to when the Mage was foolish enough to make himself known. From Saraya and Carrick’s room she could hear the soft murmurings of Carrick as he calmed Saraya, and though she knew she shouldn’t she peeked into the room and saw the tender scene. Carrick had dipped his head to claim Saraya’s lips, and he held her with a ferocity that dared anyone to take her from him. Aria wondered what it would be like to have that... in all honesty... she’d never so much as been kissed, or had a man hold her hand that she wasn’t sure she would even know what to do with that sort of affection. Seeing she wasn’t needed she stepped away from the room giving Carrick and Saraya their privacy, not to mention that her joy for the two of them was only marred by her own impervious loneliness.
Inside, Carrick scooped Saraya up into his arms and carried her back to the bed where he laid her back down. He drew the sheets up to her shoulders and kissed her brow, look of supreme love in his gaze, but a seriousness that implored her to understand.
“I love you, and our unborn child, and that’s why I’m going to tell The Priestess what’s been happening, the full extent of it all. They need to know... I’m sorry,” he whispered. Moving to stand up he promised he would have food sent to her, and that while he wished to stay by her side, he had duties to preform and if she desired he would see if the Priestess would be willing to sit at her side. Personally, he couldn’t be more anxious for Adimar to cast his protection spell over Saraya. Without the protection of Kil’heed, the Mage was getting dangerously brave in his assaults.
He made sure to close the door softly behind him but he wasn’t anticipating the Priestess to be standing at the end of the hall looking guilty.
“Priestess?” She lifted her head to look at him.
“I’m sorry, I felt the Mage’s presence, and nearly walked in on you two kissing...” Carrick actually grinned, a slight blush painting his own cheeks.
“Ahh well... the Mage was here, you weren’t wrong-“
“I know, I heard.” She frowned. “I had wondered how sever it was, now I know. She’s not alone, Malik torments my thoughts, my dreams... not even my prayers are safe from him.” Carrick frowned at that, wondering how it was possible that these monsters were able to get so close to the most vulnerable of their group.
“Would you mind sitting with her? I know I have no place to ask such a thing of you.”
“She’s a guardian, and she is my friend. I will keep her company until your return. Oh and Captain, perhaps it would be wise to appoint a personal guard to Saraya. A member of the Holy Guard will be fine. See to it that it is done.” Carrick had no room to argue, not that he would, as he agreed entirely with her.
“I will see it done.” Aria gave a nod of her head and watched as Carrick left to return back to the group meeting.
Aria slipped into the room and found Saraya back in her bed. There was a short stool sitting against the wall, and Aria dragged it over to be beside the bed and sat down. Aria knew she didn’t need to say anything, and so she reached out and took Saraya’s hand and held it tightly. There was a long moment of silence between them before she finally spoke, her words soft and understanding.
“You’re not alone, Saraya. We’re all here for you. Trust that we are stronger together than alone. I sensed the Mage’s presence, and Adimar is closer to finding out what it is the Mage plans to do. I’ve also told Carrick to appoint a guard to you. I will not hear argument either, it is my command, and my decision is final.” She frowned, hating that it had to come to this, all these extra precautions, and the developing Paranoia. The major difference that was while Malik could contact her through whatever bond they seemed to share... The Mage had the ability like the Fade to actually be where his enemies were. “The next time the Mage arrives, I want you to use your powers against him, call for us, and we will help you fight him off. For now...” Aria smiled and brushed stray strands of hair from Saraya’s face in a motherly way, “Try and get some rest. I’ll be here, I promise. Let me try protecting you for once.”
Carrick had been topside going over proper etiquette in regards to The Priestess and her safety when Ayab had called on him to meet with Rhuarc. Carrick nodded in understanding and turned to dismiss his men, when he was approached by Max, who was quickly becoming Carrick’s most trusted man. Now he understood why Adimar had been slightly letdown that Max had decided to serve in the Holy Guard. He had said he was suffering a great loss, but Aria would be gaining a tried and true soldier.
“I’ll stay topside and keep an eye on her.”
“Good, and if you see him, remind Master Luther that fraternization with the Priestess is strictly forbidden. He should know better,” Max nodded his head in understanding and Carrick’s last view of the top deck before going under was Max sitting on a barrel and sharpening his blade, his eyes solid on Aria as she looked up at the masts and rigging with childlike curiosity.
He made only one stop to collect Adimar and take him with him to the meeting with Rhuarc, and he might have gone for Saraya but she was in dire need of rest. She had to sleep and eat for two now, and he wanted her to take care of herself. Healthy mother meant healthy baby, and Carrick would be remiss to admit that he was excited, when in truth he was over the moon about the prospect of becoming a father.
Rhuarc seemed highly pleased when Carrick entered to hear what he had to say. The maps had been delivered as Carrick requested and he was glad Rhuarc had found some time to go over them. He spoke about Lara being able to help them since it was her homeland. They would need help to navigate Fenlyk, as it was mostly wetlands with large streams of water, and lakes leading to its coastline where past it were more islands. Rhuarc had an idea though, and Carrick awaited as the man took a steady breath.
[b “We overthrow Malik!”] he proclaimed before going into further detail that they would take his hold on Fenlyk away from him. Rhuarc suggest implementing a coup and Carrick’s eyes lit up with excited agreement.
“Brilliant,” he muttered under his breath. “What do you suggest?”
[b “If the people like us, want to help us then Malik and his men will never be able to find us, win the hearts of the people and you will never be betrayed. How to do that is a mystery but that is my plan.”] Carrick stroked his chin in thought, but had a quick answer for that.
“I don’t think getting the people to like us will be difficult. That task can be left to The Priestess. We saw how Volshi rallied behind her with little to no effort on her part. Lara can help in that endeavor as well, being one of them. The Priestess also made a comment that Balden is in Fenlyk, hoping to bolster the resistance.”
He listened to the remainder of Rhuarc’s words, gathering his thoughts to make his suggestions. [b “Stay with me and figure out how best to achieve this and we will both do our duty, you to protect the Priestess and me to winning the War. Unless you have a better idea?”] The door opened behind them and Lara rushed into the room. Carrick was stunned for a moment, but Lara wore a look that had him on edge.
[i"I am done, but we are not done.”] Carrick glanced over to Rhuarc, but before he could say another word, Adimar finally arrived to the room and smiled at everyone completely unawares.
“Fancy seeing you all here,” he joked. “I hear we’re plotting and scheming some shenanigans.” Adimar glanced over at Lara, giving her a look, and his grin slowly vanished. “You look like you just finished some shenanigans.”
“What’s happened Lara?” Carrick dared to ask, and was regaled with how Lara, per Rhuarc’s request, had gone snooping in Luther’s room. Carrick clearly didn’t approve, but Adimar chuckled with no comment, leaving his stance on the snooping to himself. He wandered over to the maps, picked up a pencil and began to mark known locations of Malik’s camps, per Volshi intelligence. Old forts and towers had been turned into barracks for Malik’s men across the four provinces, but the largest was in Fenlyk.
Whatever Lara had found though would have to wait until they had finished making their plan, and Carrick called the attention back to the map. “You’ll have to let me know what comes out of this. I don’t condone spying on a man, let alone a member of the Holy Guard, but if you both have qualms about him, then I will hold judgement until I know of your findings. But first…” he tapped the map. Adimar seemed to agree and finally pointed to an island off the coast of Fenlyk.
“I read in one of the tombs from the Archives that this is supposedly where the Medici resides… but this whole trip is for nothing if we can’t get to the Fenlyk Temple. It’s in the heart of Fenlyk’s Capital.” he tapped a city on the coast not too terribly far away from the Medici’s island. Astoria City was the home of the Fenlyk Temple, its Capital, heavily fortified with Malik’s men.
“There’s another way in,” Carrick suddenly said. “If I recall correctly, there is a Burrow, somewhere in these marshlands, just outside of Fenlyk’s capital, Astoria.” He circled an area with his finger. “That should have the entryway. We can’t go through the original temple in the city. Malik destroyed most of it and sealed it off when he came across the land to claim Central City. Hopefully, Malik hasn’t sealed it entirely, or time hasn’t crumbled the underground passageways. I suggest staying in one of these outcropping villages around the city, or making camp in the swamplands. The threat of animals will be high, but there won’t be any people there.”
“Just night creatures and bad spirits...” Adimar murmured warily. “I don’t like this, we’re outnumbered a hundred to one right now. What do you think Lara? This is your homeland.”
Carrick suddenly tensed, sensing Saraya’s fear, and quickly excused himself from the table, leaving Adimar, Lara, and Rhuarc to finish their planning if there was anything left to plan. “When we get closer, I will use my gift and send my hawk down to scout the area,” Adimar offered Rhuarc. “We can see the land without having to take the ship too low. The crew will drop us off at the coast to see the Medici, and we’ll have to send the ship North to safety until we can meet up with it in Caledon.” Adimar still couldn’t shake a dreadful feeling that this was bound to be the most dangerous leg of their trip. “So what did you find in Luther’s room?” Adimar asked mischievously.
Rhys crept along the dark halls of the ship until he reached The Priestess’ room. His Master would have a better chance of getting to her if he had something that was of value to her, or belonged to her. The only problem was as he reached the room, he saw the door was already open and sitting in it was the Volshi Guardian. Rhys could sense the power leaking off of him in waves, and he knew that this man was his only rival in the arcane arts. He had to tread lightly.
He poked his head around the door and looked in, the Guardian had his back to him, and was cross referencing between three different books, and jotting down notes on a scroll of parchment.
“Can I help you?” The Guardian suddenly asked, meaning he was perceptive of his surroundings. Rhys straightened and stepped into the door way.
“Oh, I was just walking by, I’ve never seen so many books before.” The Guardian looked up from his research and over to Rhys and looked him over. “Why do you need all those books?”
“It is for my research. I am Adimar, who are you?”
“Oh, I’m just the cabin boy. My name is Aerik.” Adimar looked Rhys up and down, perhaps slightly confused.
“You do not look Volshi. How did you come to serve on this ship?” Adimar asked. Rhys maintained his composure and simply grinned.
“I was just a kid when I was found on the border. I must have wandered away from my tribe.”
“Jai?” Adimar asked looking him over once again. Rhys nodded his head and for the first time, answered a question truthfully.
“That’s what they keep telling me. Two spinsters took me in and raised me. Then I managed to find employment here.”
“Huh... Small for a Jai, you must be from a northern tribe. Do you know what tribe you hail from?”
“Not a clue.” Rhys answered. “This is the Priestess’ room isn’t it? What are you doing in here?” He asked changing the topic quickly.
“It’s where all the books are.” Adimar stated simply.
They were suddenly interrupted by Carrick who poked his head inside the room. Rhys studied the Captain of the Holy Guard, there was an aura around him that was oddly familiar to Malik’s. It was intriguing. What was this man? Was he also an ancient? He sure did resemble one.
“Pardon me lad,” Carrick addressed Rhys, and looked to Adimar. “Rhuarc and I are going to go over maps. We want to get a base plan put together for Fenlyk. Join us?”
“Certainly,” Adimar said. “Are you going now?” Carrick gave a nod of his head, and Adimar assured the captain he would be there in a moment.
“See you there,” the Captain said before taking his leave.
“Duty calls, my friend,” he said and placed a marker in his book before he got up and shimmied out of the room. “Nice to meet you Aerik,” he tugged the door close as he stepped away.
‘You too,” Rhys said, sure to make himself sound start struck and watched as Adimar walked away leaving the room unattended. He too walked away, but only enough to make it seem he had gone off to do his duty before he circled back around and slipped into the Priestess’ room.
He closed the door behind him and looked around. Careful to step over the books and not disturb anything as he made his way to the bed. Out of curiosity he took the pillow and sniffed it. Lavender and Lemongrass reached his nose, which led him towards a knapsack. Opening it he found nothing but a pair of rolled up stockings, a hair brush, a folded Volshi shawl, and a small coin purse with no more than ten gold coins. Rhys frowned, how was it that a woman of her caliber owned nothing? Not even a nightgown, ribbons, or change of clothes. She had nothing he could take to send to Malik. There was nothing of value here. Defeated he stuffed her worthless things back into her pitiful patchwork bag and put it away exactly as he had found it. He searched other places, such as under her pillow, and under her bed. He even checked the drawers beside her bed, but found nothing. Hearing a noise in the hall he quickly snapped to attention, stilling in nervousness. It was time to leave. He’d spent enough time in her room already, and could not linger any longer. He made haste to leave the room, checking that the coast was clear before he grabbed his mop and bucket and started up the steps to mop the deck. He’d send word to his master that The Priestess owned nothing of true value to her, and then wait for his next orders...
Adimar hiding behind the pages of books? Wait, hiding was the incorrect word for this situation. If Adimar had been hiding, then Rhuarc and the others would have been concerned by Adimar's absence. But since none of them were concerned, that left only one other option: Adimar was attempting to glean some piece of crucial information out of the books that would help all of them fight the menace of Malik.
But Lara felt concerned for Adimar. Yes it was important to find any useful tidbit that would help them defeat Malik, but one still needed to rest. Doing anything for extended time periods was not good for one's body. Lack of sleep and sustenance would tire the body and have a bigger impact as time went on. She'd ask about that before asking what she wanted.
So that was who Rhuarc had been fighting. It all made sense now. Rhuarc was still breathing somewhat hard, adding the fact that there was a small cut with some blood as well as the somewhat shine off the skin from the sweat. Luther being a Watcher and with many years of experience under him, Lara knew that Luther was one of those who could have fought Rhuarc like that. She even smirked.
She had not know that Luther would be coming, but she had seen Luther come on board as a last minute change. She distrusted Luther, but she had no way of getting him off the ship.
And it seemed Rhuarc distrusted Luther so badly that he, Rhuarc was asking her to be a sneaky little cheeki breeki and stick her nose into Luther's personal stuff and sniff out anything fishy or any other bad smells. It did feel morally wrong to go through someone else's stuff without asking their permission, but they needed information on Luther and knowing who he was working for without telling him.
Rhuarc did tell her about somethings to look for, but it was not anything specific. But that made the hunt that much more interesting. It felt as if she was the bird swooping down and plucking the unexpected fish out of the water.
Lara waited for Rhuarc to walk away. She felt extremely happy that Rhuarc had said to her that he trusted her. Those words had not been first, somewhere in the middle, or somewhere behind the last words. Those words had been the last words, the very last words, that Rhuarc had said to her.
She looked around, as if enjoying the beautiful view of the sky and ground, before slinking of below decks.
Lara quietly walked through the hallways, she had never any trouble walking with naught a sound to be heard. Her breaths were light and quick, and she was on alert for any sound that happened nearby. So far, she had into nothing and no one. It seemed so deserted down here.
She had crept up to Luther's door, and stopped. Leaning against the wall with her back, she grapevined with her feet up to the door and put her ear to the door. She heard no sound coming from the other side. Looking around once again, she opened the door slowly. Peeking through the ever expanding hole, Luther was not in his room. Slipping in quickly, she closed the door.
She was alone, without permission, and maybe there were possible traps. If Luther was truly hiding something, then there had to be traps. Lara could only hope to be not caught by no such trap.
First thing was the trunk at the end of the bed. It had no special design to it, it was simple wooden trunk with inlaid metal around the edges. Opening it, Lara knelt down on one knee and began carefully shifting through the contents. She took everything out and carefully stacked the items around her. Honestly, everything that she found was completely boring. Clothes, money, some weird looking stone, books, some weird piece of clothe, and a few other items. Out of those, there was only one item of interest, a piece of strong paper that was written in a weird language. Lara looked at it from every possible angle, but not a single clue popped out. It would have been useful to take it to Adimar or maybe even Aria, but she would have needed to explain what she had done. And the other negative side to it was Luther would quickly see that someone had been through his things.
[i [+purple Fenlyck?]]
[i [+blue Up to no good as usual?]]
[i [+purple Ignoring that fact for now, can you see what I see?]]
[i [+blue In a way, I can. But why do you ask now?]]
[i [+purple I only need for you to commit this to memory, so I don't have to take it.]]
[i [+blue Hmm..... I see... You can put it away now.]]
[i [+purple Thank you very much]]
Lara mentally bowed to Fenlyck, and began to carefully put everything back away in the trunk so it looked like before. Closing it, she stood up. Where was another place to hide something?
Lara looked suspiciously at the bed. The next best place to hide something would be under the mattress. Lifting up the mattress, Lara found herself breathing somewhat hard and sweating lightly; the mattress was somewhat heavy. But, what was that small dark thing lodged between the wooden planks supporting the mattress?
Leaning down with an outstretched hand, Lara swooped with her hand and picked up the unsuspecting fish: a dark pouch with something in it. Lara lowered the mattress, and stood as she untied the strings of the pouch.
The first item was a book, opening it up it was revealed to be written in the same hand and in the same weird language as that piece of paper. Along with the language, there were maps and pictures. The pictures were of a little girl, who suspiciously looked like the young version of Aria. In one of the pages, there was lodged some old cloth that looked as if it had been white.
Flipping the book, journal, back to the beginning, Lara again asked the spirit of Fenlyck to memorize it. After flipping through one page at a time, Lara put the journal back into the pouch and took out the second item.
It was a ring. But the moment she pulled it out, she knew it was no ordinary ring. It felt warm to the touch, a very pleasant warm. It also shined, and showed off something engraved into the stone. But something else was off about this ring.
She could hear a voice in her head, a metallic and screeching voice. It was attempting to convince her and put it on her, promising to stop this screeching. Lara was tempted, but the spirit of Fenlyck butted in.
[i [+blue DO NOT PUT THAT ON!! That ring is made of a fallen star, and is not for you to wear!]]
Lara listened to the spirit of Fenlyck. After that one talk with Fenlyck, Lara trusted the spirit and was more inclined to listen. Taking out a very small satchel, Lara stuffed the ring into it before putting away the satchel into her pocket.
As to the pouch, Lara put that back from whence it came. And was hoping for an easy escape.
But footsteps coming from the hallway and coming closer to this door. She could not be caught by anyone. Lara slid under the bed, and crawled to the very back corner of the bed. Turning on her side so her front was facing the wall, Lara covered herself as much as possible with her black cloak.
The door opened, footsteps, door closing, and more footsteps. Lara could only impassively stare at the wall, and hope that whoever was in the room would not search under the bed. Lara closed her eyes and prayed to whoever to help her hide.
She knew nought how long passed, but eventually whoever was in the room left.
With her heart beating hard within her chest, Lara breathed one heavy breath after another. Long, hard, and slow breaths, for a total of 300 breaths. Lara counted each and every one of those breaths. She needed to get out of this room, and back to Rhuarc.
She slid out from under the bed, quietly scrambled out of the room, closed the door, and walked out quietly. She felt somewhat scared, glazed, and a whole mix of emotions.
Making it back out onto the deck, Lara walked to the edge and leaned on the wooden railings. She let the fresh air circulate in and out, calming herself down. She still felt somewhat shaken, she needed to talk to someone; she needed to talk to Rhuarc.
She went to Rhuarc's room to wait for him. But there was no need to wait. Lara heard the loud outspoken voice of Rhuarc talking to someone. She only heard, [b "protect the Priestess and me to winning the War. Unless you have a better idea?"]
Right after Rhuarc finished, Lara walked into the door and slammed it closed with a jerk of her hand. Looking around, there was Rhuarc, Ayab, and Carrick.
Lara looked Rhuarc in his eyes. She felt as if she had eaten some bad fish, but she looked with a steely gaze. [+purple "I am done, but we are not done."]
And it was as if events repeated itself. As soon as a person ended talking, someone else walked in. This time, Lara stopped talking and Adimar walked in.
[center [I [size30 ❇❇♥❇❇]]]
[center [I In a dream...]]
Saraya tumbled onto the sand, clutching her double edge sword, her body so sore that she could barely get up. Her ripped garments were back on, her smokey bow and arrows were on the ground, but somewhere along the chaotic tumble, she couldn't find anyone. She looked up at the hills, the group ready to fight, Carrick standing at the ready with a sword in hand.
He cleared the the ship's side in one fluid jump. Swords lowered. The sky was lit with thunder and lightning in a display that rivaled any display she had ever seen. She was crying harder than it was raining by the time he reached her. A torrential downpour and hurricane-level winds made waves slam against the beach in an ominous warning. Carrick hugged her hard and she groaned, and then nearly passed out from the pain.
Carrick half-dragged, half-carried her into the ship with one arm, both of their blades cutting into the sand as they walked. The team parted as Carrick looked at her jaw in disbelief. He dropped his blade where he stood once he truly saw the bodily damage she'd sustained, and he took her sword and angrily cast it away with a loud clatter.
Water streamed onto the floor from their drenched bodies, placing them in a huge, spreading puddle. Their garments clung like second skin and his eyes searched hers as he studied the large, purple, angry bruise that had begun to make her cheek swell. Blood still ran from her nose, and she sniffed it back. Carrick's eyes darted downward to look at the deep talon gouges in her arms, and then he saw her blade arm and finally freaked. Saraya shivered, going into mild shock.
[center [b Oh, Gods... get a towel, some ice, somebody move!"]]
He swept her up into his arms and hustled her over to the bedding. The bewildered group moved like the wind, bringing the supplies Carrick had bellowed for them to bring while Aria ransacked her bag with shaking hands.
[center [b " Adimar, seers, healers, medic! Get over here!"]]
Carrick was on his knees on the floor beside Saraya, his palm hovering over Saraya's swollen belly, silver tears of rage in his eyes. [b "My love, it's gonna be all right. I'll take the pain, Aria will clean out the gashes. Adimar is gonna do his magic and help you. It's all right."]
But, it wasn't alright... As she tried to look down, Carrick refused it. She needed to see if she was completely alright. Her body was too numb to know physically. [b "Saraya-"]
[I "Let me look, Carrick"]
[b "I can't, Saraya... You'll pan-"]
Saraya let out a disembodied growl that signified her disdain for the effort. [I "I CAN'T FEEL ANYTHING! "]
Saraya finally forced herself to look down, and the sight even stopped her breath. Because of the fall, her body numbed, but as water trickled into a puddle, she saw droplets of blood fall into it. She started to panic. Everyone that had arms used all the strength in them to keep her laying down. But, even the grip of her father couldn't keep her down. Carrick was beside Aria, and they were begging her through her still ringing ears to calm down, but panic escalated to pain, and she threw her head back in a scream.
[center [I ☀☀☀☀☀☀☀☀☀☀☀]]
Saraya woke up with cold sweat. She turned her head to see the time outside... It was sunset. She sighed as she tried to move. She carefully moved to the side, looking at the dying sun as the ship slowly glided across the open skies. Carrick was still top side, along with everyone else. She supposed she should be the only one down there, considering she needed the rest out of everyone there... Well, everyone needed rest, she was just in need of rest.
She sighed to herself as she tried to wait on her Carrick, but something eerie came over her... Like something was watching her. Her ears rung in alarm as she slowly sat up. She looked left and right, seeing an alarming amount of shadow in the room. Against her better judgement, she called out. [I "Carri-"]
A hand smothered her lips as a scream threatened to escape her throat. A tremendous amount of force crushed her to the bedding, and Saraya cried out from the impact. Sulfur and burning wood filled her nostrils. The Mage!
Out of the shadows he appeared, a deadly stare in his eyes as he stared at Saraya from above. [I "You must think you're so clever, using my magic trick against me"] he growled. His tongue licked a line from her jugular vein to brow, and Saraya, for the first time, felt helpless. She watched as an evil smirk twisted upon his lips as one of his hands began to touch her naked limb. She squealed in fear, knowing his intention.
[b "what say we play a game"]
[I C... Carr...]
She needed to call to him... She needed to call to him now!
[I Carr... Carri...]
[b "Your precious Carrick can't save you, whore... I will get what I want..."]
Saraya was crying now. Aria has to have felt this during her trials... How she feels as Malik visits her... She began to panic and started trying to fight against his strength. His free hand was dangerously close to what belonged to Carrick, and something made her panic overflow. She materialized her bow and arrow and in tears of fear and of anger, forced it between them, and The Mage backed away quickly.
[I "I FORBID YOU TO TAKE AWAY MY CARRICK'S MARK! "]
She cried out to Carrick in her mind, praying to the Gods that he came... The Mage's face twisted in anger before disappearing. When she was sure he was gone, the bow and arrow disappeared and as it did, Carrick ran in, and saw Saraya acting as though profane and evil things had touched her. Try as he might, she couldn't be calmed about it. [I "He tried to... "]
He hugged her and calmed her some, only to ask her what it was... She thought a moment... She didn't want to worry him, but she never lied to Carrick... And she wasn't starting today to. [I "I... Had a nightmare... I had awakened and... The Mage... He was here... "] she looked to him with bloodshot eyes. [I "he... He..."] She dropped her head as she revealed it to him in his mind from her memories, and felt the clammy hand of his trail up her thigh to his territory. Angry as he was, he couldn't let his Saraya be in a panicked state. Saraya was shaking, clearly terrified. When was going to call the others, she grabbed onto him. [I "N-no, Carrick... I can't tell them! "] but, Carrick wanted to let them know of the danger she was in. [I "I can't, I can't alarm them any more than I've already have. The Mage is my problem"]
Carrick stopped her, explaining her problem was THEIR problem, and she looked away. She could smell his apex over tge sulfur and burning wood, but she was still too shaken. Carrick saw this, and with a sigh sought to relieve her pain... By writing over The evil touch with his, and by taking away the memory with a new one. He would do anything for her, but he had to tell the others. For now, Saraya needed a moment's peace
The sparring session became a little more public than Rhuarc had anticipated but it seemed to impress upon the new recruits the standards that they would be held to if nothing else and it served far more importance to Rhuarc, assuming that Luther had been performing at his peak during their bout. It gave Rhuarc an insight into the Watcher's ability as a fighter, his strengths, his weaknesses and his temperament. He was skilled, of that there was no doubt but as they had fought a chilling comparison dawned on the Jai Guardian. Luther's fighting style had been eerily similar to Malik's during his Trial of Desire. In truth there might be nothing to that as Rhuarc had not actually fought the mad king, it had all been in his mind so maybe the False King fought differently, or maybe it was simply the training that all Ancients received, there was any number of explanations but it still made the Jai nervous. Luther was better than Rhuarc had hoped and no worse than expected, Rhuarc still did not like nor trust Luther but he was too good a swordsman to turn away from the Holy Guard, Rhuarc would simply need to trust in Carrick and his other men and keep an eye on the Watcher. Rhuarc barely saw Aria peek her head out from belowdecks and rather irritatingly Luther was over far faster than Rhuarc would have thought possible. The Jai made a conscious decision to ignore the situation and let Aria do as she pleased. He knew that she wanted nothing more than freedom and to do as she wished instead of being guarded at every moment and while Rhuarc feared for her safety, even he could see that no harm could come to her on the airship. She was surrounded by allied, high in the skies away from any of Malik's eyes or ears he could allow her a modicum of more freedom. It would be his small gift to her. The Priestess knew of his misgivings towards Luther and when he caught her eye as the Watcher and the Priestess passed him he gave her a slight nod of greeting but nothing more, his subtle symbol that he was trying to give her what she wanted, what she needed. It wasn't much but it was all that could be managed for now.
As Rhaurc stood by the rail of the airship he was joined by a figure, and a welcome figure that it was. Rhuarc enjoyed young Lara's company. [b "Greetings Lara, Adimar? I've not seen him since last night, he must still be belowdecks in his cabin, no doubt pouring over books. That's all he seems to have done for the last few days."] Rhuarc gave a brief chuckle at her comment of his fighting, she obviously had not seen the sparring session otherwise she would have known that it was Luther but she was still able to piece together everything. Was it the small cut on his arm and the trickle of fresh blood? Was it his sill slightly heavy breathing? Was it the sheen of sweat that covered his body? [b "I was practicing my swordsmanship and Luther appears. We had a sparring session. Did you know the Watcher was coming aboard? You seem to know just about everything that goes on."] Lara had a habit of sneaking around and that habit could come in very useful, all her sneaking would mean that she could learn things that others could not. She could listen in and uncover details. [b "How would you like to do a job for me? While Luther is distracted with the Priestess I want you to sneak into his cabin and look around. Look for anything that he might want to keep hidden, orders from Ursula, documents, any secret books or notes...or anything more nefarious. I don't know what to expect, he might have nothing hidden but if he is I want to know about it. You know I don't trust him but I trust you Lara."] Rhuarc doubted that the Watcher would be stupid enough to leave anything lying around but if his orders were important enough...who knows what might be hiding away. If anyone could find out it was Lara. Rhuarc's physical exercise had been completed for the day but he still had a few mental acrobatics to complete, mainly planning strategies for Fenlyk, he would follow his own advice to Carrick and do his duty; he would find out how to rally Fenlyk to Aria's cause and help Aria win the war.
Rhuarc returned to his cabin, Ayab was sitting there fletching more arrows to pass the time, evidently he did not seem to care for the view atop the ship as much as the others did. Did he look a little pale? [b "Are you alright friend?"] Ayab gave Rhuarc a pitiful look before answering, [+red "I always preferred my own feet to anything else. Caravans were fine, but I hated the boats on the Nine... but this, this is worse than it all."] Claearly travel by ship of any kind did not agree with Ayab. Rhuarc saw that there was a stack of maps, and other papers sitting on a table in his room, clearly Carrick had someone drop them off for Rhuarc to study. The maps were easy enough to interpret although Rhuarc still could not believe just how much water there was in Fenlyk, it boggled the mind. The River Nine was the only great source of water in the Wastelands and no Jai Tribe had claim over it, so the Jai had to be inventive with their agriculture, and get any water from deep under the desert sands for their crops, it was hard work. Tribe Wars had been fought over small pools of water, blood feuds had started over puddles and shallow streams. Knowing that the sea and all the water of Fenlyk was out there was one thing, seeing it on a map was quite another and Rhuarc was sure that seeing it in person would be greater than it all. Rhuarc thought about the problem of Fenlyk, the biggest issue was that the people were submissive, the fight had been beaten out of them by Malik. No matter how well they planned or how careful they were if the people were against them then it was all for naught, without the help of the people Malik's forces would find them the day they set foot in Fenlyk. Rhuarc thought back to all he had heard of Lara's homeland, it had bent the knee to Malik first it was one reason they had so much [i Toh] to the rest of the Land but Ursula had said that since the Guardians had revealed themselves that resistances were springing up everywhere, even in Fenlyk. Rhuarc grinned, that was it, that was the key. [b "Ayab go get Carrick now!"] Ayab looked surprised at the sudden outburst from his friend but Ayab limped away above deck with an...unpleasant look upon his face but returned moments later with Carrick. [b "Carrick, excellent. I've been looking over the maps and i've had an idea. The specifics will need worked out, Lara could help with that she know her homeland better than us all of course and the two of us will still need to come up with how to actually achieve my idea...if it turns out that it's not utter madness."] Rhuarc took a breath. [b "We overthrow Malik! Obviously not the false king himself but his grip on Fenlyk. A coup, revolution, revolt call it what you will but we get the people onside and from there we strengthn our hand. If the people like us, want to help us then Malik and his men will never be able to find us, win the hearts of the people and you will never be betrayed. How to do that is a mystery but that is my plan. We get the people onside and overthrow Malik's grip on Fenlyk. That will weaken his hand and bring another Province to the Priestess' cause. Stay with me and figure out how best to achieve this and we will both do our duty, you to protect the Priestess and me to winning the War. Unless you have a better idea?"]
Aria watched and listened to Saraya’s story as it played out before her. The shadows danced, depicting Saraya’s words, and Aria couldn’t help but look back at the tomb and its illustration from before. Saraya claimed her father, the Horseman, was good. She also claimed that Malik was tricked into his position, which made Azera’s pleas to save Malik instead of destroying him all the more clear. Aria was hungry for more knowledge, to see more and know more, but sometimes the mysteries of the past, remained in the past. She could see all she wished from Azera’s point of view, but that wouldn’t help Aria learn Malik’s. Hearing that Malik was tricked by another made Aria feel remorse and sympathy for him… for only a moment. He might have been tricked into his position, but he hadn’t been forced or tricked to uproot and destroy everything Aria and the people of Azeroth had ever known. He had made the choice to slaughter innocent people, raid villages, steal younglings, and rule with an iron fist. He had made those choices, not some darkness, as far as Aria was concerned.
[i The only thing I fear is that you and I may have probable cause to any of Malik's henchmen of being taken... I won't let it happen so long as I breathe. And knowing I hold value to you, I find it best if I warn you before another threat comes. Azera will show you more on her side... By then, you will see Malik's beginning of his treachery... All I ask for you to do... Is watch and stay away from anyone and everyone that isn't the Guardians... “]
That was an uncomfortable request. Aria knew she was at risk of being taken, and Saraya for her bloodline, but Aria did not like the idea of staying away from other people. She craved human interaction from the time she was a knobby kneed teenager, looking out at the world from within her personal prison, and Elder Rigby had been her warden. So much of life had been stolen and withheld from her because of fear… Aria was tired of living in fear, and she was tired of being kept from the world. She remained silent mulling over all Saraya had said, and watched as she stood up to leave the room. Was it really already dawn peaking through the porthole? Aria sighed, she was bound to get grief for looking so tired. From the door, Saraya looked back and warned her that Malik only knew as much as Vera. That caused Aria to tense and she looked to Saraya.
“What did you say?” She asked, and when Saraya verified the name, she continued on her warning that if he learned more he’d be able to stop them. How had Saraya known this? Vera had been the old woman in Tanaka, and Aria had not seen her since that fateful day.
[i “If he can see our plans... I'm most certain that you can see his”] Aria followed Saraya with her eyes as she left the room and closed the door. For a moment she feared Malik would return to taunt her, but silence permeated the room and he was absent. Aria sat back and thought on Saraya’s words. She said much, including that there was another involved, her mind instantly went to Luther. She recalled from the vision that Luther had gone with Malik, per his command. It left a bitter taste in her mouth and left her to wonder more abut his intentions and why he had told her the things he had. Why had he lied? Were his intentions malicious, or was he trying to shield her from the truth?
The one thing that kept popping up in Aria’s mind was Saraya’s comment that Aria could be a mother… if they succeeded. Aria had tried very hard not to laugh at that. Succeed or fail, Aria could not do those things. Failing meant she was dead. Success was less easy to interpret, and she was beginning to wonder if the Rites of Azeroth shouldn’t end…. The people were getting caught in the middle of a hundreds year old power struggle, and it wasn’t right. She wondered if she should free the people and let the temples fall. Let the people lead themselves instead of following the Gods who had left them in the middle of this mess. It was a cynical and dishonorable thought, but Aria had begun to wonder if maybe, just maybe, all of it should end with her and Malik’s life.
With the sun rising, there was no hope of getting any sleep but that did not stop Aria from taking a nearby pillow she’d been sitting on and moved it so she could lay down on the floor. Surrounded by open books, Aria stared lazily at the ceiling of her room. Stay away, stay hidden, don’t interact with the people, keep inside, don’t wander off alone, stay out of the shadows, never accept food or drink from an unreliable source… all Aria heard from that was: You are a prisoner of your own fate. You are a slave to the will of Azera. It struck Aria that perhaps she was not her own person, they had said she was a reincarnation of Azera, they had said she was powerful; but Aria didn’t feel very powerful. She felt more like a pitiful child than a woman. She was constantly being coddled and held back from doing anything to truly help the Guardians, but as she looked at the books she realized she could at least help uncover more of the truth, and maybe… maybe she could learn some arcane tricks to help keep her safe, so to relieve some of that burden from the others.
Adimar knocked on the door before poking his head in and carrying a tray of biscuits, butter and salted ham for her to eat.
“Good morning, cousin,” he greeted warmly and came to sit down on the floor beside her. Aria only turned her head to look at him and tsk’d her. “You didn’t sleep,” he observed, setting the platter of food to the side.
“Saraya and I spent the majority of the night speaking about the origins of this whole mess. One we have been tasked with to clean up.”
Adimar studied the defeated look and tone of Aria and gave her a wan smile. “Sounds like you’re bitter about it.”
“Am I not allowed to bitter about this?” she challenged, receiving a chuckle from Adimar and a resounding show of support. It was Adimar’s turn to smile and he pulled on her arm to make her sit up, until she was nestled into his side so he could hold her. He knew what it meant to be like Aria, in a position of power… untouchable to others, and always hungry for human compassion and touch. As her only kin, he felt obliged to give Aria the familial touch and love she had lacked her entire life. It was just enough to help bring a smile back to her face, and he convinced her to eat a couple biscuits before she asked to go topside and see the view. Adimar stayed behind to pick up the research, and Aria ascended the stairs on her own to the top of the ship.
Carrick had woken up early with the rest of his men, missing Saraya as she had spent most of the night speaking with Aria. Which was fine, Carrick needed time to think over Rhuarc’s words, and his expressed advice he stick to his duty. His duty was to the Priestess, and many months ago she had tasked him with the job of protecting the other Guardians. That was fine, he’d do that, but he’d make sure Aria was heavily protected as well. They spent the better part of the morning watching the impromptu spar between Luther and Rhuarc, which had left his two new guards staring mouths agape. Even Max wore a wary expression as he watched them fight.
“Rhuarc is impressive, but Luther moves so quickly,” Max observed as the men fought. Carrick nodded in agreement.
“Rhuarc is methodical, but I think Luther is overly confident.” Max offered to make a wager with Carrick, but he wasn’t about to gamble over such an evenly matched fight. The men, Oohed, and hollered at all the right moments in the fight, and when it ended in a stalemate, Max laughed and Carrick only shook his head. If he had fought Luther, the way he had the others…he was sure Luther would have wiped the floor with him. The few times Carrick and Rhuarc had trained together, Carrick had barely managed to hold his own against the muscled Jai.
[b "You fight well, Watcher.”] They heard Rhuarc tell Luther, who only remained in place, unwilling to be the first to move.
“As do you, Guardian,” he said. Luther didn’t move until the other guards came to congratulate them on their fight and asked if Luther would train with them.
“Until next time,” He had said before walking away with the other guards. Carrick remained watching them take off, before he spotted Saraya, and heard her whisper into his mind about Malik and a potential spy on the ship, then she spotted Luther and he could feel her rage spike.
[i “Carrick, what is he doing here?”] she demanded. Carrick walked away from his place towards Saraya and began to explain to her the reasons.
“His commander allowed him to join us to help us, and he offered his services to serve on the Holy Guard. he’s quite skilled-“ Saraya didn’t care, and begged him to keep Luther away from Aria and the other Guardians. Did she distrust him that much? And if so why? “I don’t understand…” he tried, but she kissed him and his train of thought was derailed. “Mmm, that doesn’t answer my question,” He teased her under his breath, holding her wrist to keep her close. She finally told him that Luther was not meant to be with them, but Carrick had a hard time believing that. He was too skilled to turn away. In Carrick’s eyes, Luther was innocent until proven guilty.
He watched Saraya walk away, and couldn’t help but follow the sashay of her hips as she left him. “Damn woman… what you do to me…” he murmured and turned away to see that Aria was peeking her head up from the stairway that went below deck. Before he could reach her, Luther was there in a flash of light to greet her. Carrick watched the man for a moment, but saw nothing worthy of suspicion and let it go. He wanted to find Rhuarc and collaborate on the plan they discussed earlier. Maybe they’d round up Adimar and Ayab, along with Lara and Saraya to help formulate a plan. Lara would know Fenlyk best, and would know the best routes to sneak in and out from, while Saraya would be able to pinpoint a good place to meet up within Caledon and out of Malik’s reach it things went sour.
Rhuarc fought better than he anticipated. Luther could still feel the smack of steel on his back when Rhuarc got in his good hit. So in turn, Luther made the Jai bleed. Luther was not accustomed to being bested, and certainly not by a mortal like the Jai. He had relinquished his blade first, as he was sought out by the other Guards to ask for his help in training, but Luther saw something better show its face. He spotted her from across the ship and excused himself to greet the lovely creature who had finally come topside.
“Priestess,” He greeted warmly with a courteous bow. Aria turned to look at him and he could see the exhaustion heavy in her eyes.
“Master Luther, this is surprising. What are you doing on this ship?” Luther explained to her that he had been sent by Ursula, but welcomed into the Holy Guard by Carrick. He was certainly not expecting Aria to cite his previous employment. “So you have returned to the Holy Guard. I should consider myself lucky,” she said. Luther gave her a flawless smile and nodded.
“I thought my skills could be put to good use,” He held his hand out for her and Aria looked down at it and then to him. He smiled, hoping she would take it, even as he saw the hesitation in her lavender eyes. “Would you mind my company?” He then asked, and was delighted when Aria offered him a smile, albeit tired, and placed her small hand into his own. He quickly tucked it into the crook of his arm and began to walk with her around the ship. He asked if she had eaten, but Prince Adimar had seen to that. He asked if she slept well, but she confessed to staying up all night with Saraya and pouring over her research.
He kept her engaged in conversation as they walked laps around the ship, until she finally stopped on the starboard side of the ship and looked out at the world below.
“Where are we?” She asked. Luther looked over the edge with her and from the looks of it gave her his best guess.
“I would image we have passed into the Caledon Province by now.” She gasped from beside him, causing him to chuckle at her sweet naivety.
“So quickly?” She asked in awe. “Oh this is wonderful,”
“Ayab is grievously wounded. He needs to see the Medici in Fenlyk in order to be healed.” Luther frowned, as he didn’t quite understand the importance of someone like Ayab… or Carrick for that matter.
“Ayab is General Rhuarc’s companion, yes?” Aria confirmed it, but her eyes never left the scenery. “He is not a Guardian, he’s just a man-“
“But he is my friend,” Aria said turning on him with a look that did not allow argument. It was a look that was purely Azera’s, and it made Luther smile at her. “Friends are not something I have in abundance, and those that I do have, I intend to take care of.”
“Of course,” He stated simply.
“So why did you lie to me?” She suddenly asked. Luther steeled himself and glanced at her, from where they both hung over the edge of the ship and looked down below.
“I don’t know what you mean…” Luther lied, but Aria giggled softly, however there was nothing sweet about it.
“There you go again.. lying to me. What are you hiding Luther?” She asked turning to face him. “You told me Azera loved Jai’Hash… I know that’s not true.” Luther sighed heavily. He hadn’t anticipated her finding that out so soon.
“I wanted to protect you,”
“From what?” she demanded coldly.
“The truth. I was afraid if you knew Azera and Malik were… lovers… you would be under worse stress than you already are.”
“What is stressful, it having the truth withheld from me.” She warned him. “Malik was not also your friend… I know he was your brother,”
“You know nothing,” Luther suddenly whispered to her. He gave her a dark look, but Aria met his expression with one of uncaring. “Malik is no brother of mine. We might have been born from the same star, but that creature is no brother to me.”
“Still… the fact remains… that you lied to me, and you were stupid enough to think you could get away with it.” Suddenly Luther was chuckling, and he turned to lean against the railing of the ship and looked at Aria.
“You truly are Azera’s reincarnation. Not many could lie to her and get away with it either.”
“I can’t have guards who I can not trust, guards who lie to me. Do it again, and I will see to it, that you be disavowed.” Luther couldn’t argue with her there, and instead gave her a placating smile and bowed his head.
“Now get out of my sight, and don’t return to it, until I am ready to forgive you.” He observed her a moment longer, before he took her hand and kissed her knuckles.
“As you wish, my Priestess. Please just remember, I only did what I thought was best. Should you need anything, you have but to call my name and I will be there,” he whispered against her hand. She damn near ripped her hand away from him and his lips, but the look on her flustered face made him only grin that much more. She was going to forgive him, and for now that gave Luther something to smile about as he made his way back to the other guards
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