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The voice, it wondered to and fro, there and back again in her mind. It emerged and then sunk back into the depths of her mind, like a fish swimming in the water. She didn't understand what it was saying, what language was this that it be using? She only really understood two languages and those were English and her native tongue of Fenlyck.
She was so engrossed in trying to make at least one bit of sense out of it that she didn't notice someone coming until they were almost upon her. Her first reaction was to look up and reach for her staff but something held her back, the voice in her head assured her this person was a friend and no enemy at all. It even seemed this Baldin was looking for the same person as whatever was talking in her head, and it seemed even more pleased. Why did this have to be so confusing, why couldn't the voice in her head offer some explanation?
With the help of the staff she stood up again and turned to face Baldin. [+purple "I don't think I can help you, but something inside of me can. It's like a different entity which knows what will be happening and then telling me to go someplace and then do this or that. It told me to come down here into the sewers and wait for someone who'd be walking through the sewers to get here."]
Now the voice spoke up again and it wanted her to go into the water. [+purple "Now the voice inside of me, it's urging me to go into the water, why I don't know but I'd better do it."] The water was murky and it was filled with filth, but if the voice told her to go in their then that's what she would do. As she stepped into the torrent of liquid filth something happened, a small aura flickered around her and the staff, giving off a small amount of light. The water that was coming into the sewers and passing through where she stood, it wasn't filthy water filled with all sorts of bad things, but it became pure water and continued to flow past her as clean water.
The voice urged her to go on and down the sewers. Turning to Baldin, [+purple "If you want to join me and the voice inside of me in finding this person of yours, just step in front of me and we can begin walking down the sewers."]
Peering eyes of the both drunk and sober lingered on her delicate form, but she would not budge. Saraya caped her cloak to prevent too much attention, but it mattered not. Her perfectly pale skin glistened against the candlelight while her snow white curls dangled against the cloak, making the cloak seem filthy in comparison. The Groot calmed her slightly, the sweet and sudsy taste distracting her ever so slightly to the unnecessary invitations of strangers.
She closed her eyes, blocking the rude remarks of men. The difference was clear between her home and this city. Somehow, though, after successfully ignoring them, it felt as though her heart warmed slightly, then warmed even more. what was this sensation?
[I A guardian approaches...] a whisper echoed in her thoughts. She looked about, but alas, her eyes did not fall onto anyone that peeked interest. She looked down, and spotted her marking glow a soft white. She looked up before tying the cloak against her and finally, standing. The attempt to leave seemed easy enough to Saraya, but she underestimated the amount of beauty she had and had gained as the new host. The Drunkards that inhabited the confined space seemed to have plans of their own.
As Saraya bowed of respect of thank you for tolerating her presence for so long, one bearded man standing about 6'3" with tattered and torn attire towered over the 5'6" beauty. [I Watch out behind you] A whisper echoed again. She turned around, and spotted the towering man and sighed as she stood aside to depart. Passing him, the man grabbed her wrist, yanking her to him. "Yer jus gonna leave us hear without a single notification?"
Notification? Her eyes peered over her shoulder to the man while the others stood. "We all know you're a prostitute, so why not just let us have a taste?"
Saraya growled as her understanding unveiled what they have labeled her as. The man then tried to rip away the cloak, only to reveal a bow, arrows, and her double edge sword. She smirked in a way that frightened the men and with a slight jump, had gracefully flipped and kicked away the man holding her captive. The others stood in protest, but Saraya kicked her sword to the side and grabbed the hilt as she landed gracefully on her bare feet. One of her agrms found it's way out of the sleeve from of her attire and hung ever so delicately from the folds like The Caledon Guardian Statue that once stood proud.
[I Drun scrutal umbac utel solipte...] [I ] Her eyes gleamed for combat. [I ...limort kristu opilu frintu voltori] [I ]
As cowardly as the men were, Saraya simply turned and left the pub. She let her instinct guide her towards the other guardian, the warming sensation from the marking over her heart intensifying the closer she had gotten to them. The silent woman followed until something told her to halt. There was a sewage line that was slightly ajar, and as she stared, a gust of wind hit her sinuses and she could even tell that there was someone down there despite the odor of sewage.
Despite her first thought of waiting, she opened the gateway to the underworld and jumped in. Landing with little reaction, she looked left and right, before allowing herself to follow. Burning now was the marking on her heart when she was close enough. She stared some at the area before spotting a figure that seemed to be curled up against her knees.
Though she urged herself to speak, she knew not the language she spoke and would embarass herself if they couldn't communicate to one another.She knew English, but speaking it came harder to her since she never honestly practiced the speech. But, despite her better judgement, all she spoke was "Hello"
But... For some reason, the woman didn't lift her head to her voice... The spirit inside slowly came in as a whisper [i You are invisible, love. When you are unable to be seen, your voice will no longer sound. You are utterly air, oblivious to everyone in nature's eye. You must return to the streets above the sewers. This place will give signs of witchcraft. ]
Obeying the spirit, she returned to the ladder. [I The sign of witchcraft?] She asked.
The spirit further explained as she reached the surface. [I Above ground, there is light and, therefore, shrouds the glow of the Mark... underneath, where there is no light, the glow of the Mark will show, and the people that dwell here have never seen it before.]
As she closed the sewer with ease, the Mark began to give off it's warm sensation once more. Another guardian approaches. She went back to the pub, relieved that the men had vacated the location. The bartender had bowed his head as she did, and proceeded to take a seat where she was once before. The bartender had handed her Groot without her having to need to ask. Even moreso, he placed a hearty meal before her as a thank you. Having recognized the gesture, she bowed her head to him before she began eating. Whomever the other guardian was will soon find her. She would not become chaos looking for others.
After three and a half weeks of solid running Rhuarc and Ayab finally had the Central city in their sights, it would only take one more day for the two Adbhu'Jai to reach their destination. The journey had been a long and tiring one, especially since neither Rhuarc nor Ayab had ever left the Wastelands before instead relying on the directions that Elder Mandarb had given them and occasionally asking people that they met on the road. Often any traveller that they met was not particularly forthcoming and in retrospect they probably didn't want anything to do with the two barbarians. Often the two men ran through the night in order to make the Central City in a timely fashion. [b "We shall camp here for the night Ayab then at first light we will head into that city and see if Mandarb was right."] Rhuarc didn't like that he didn't have a definitive reason for being right under Shade-stealer's nose. Mandarb had said that he had a vision that by being here he could help defeat Malik, buy Ouk'nu how it would happen. [+red "Good, I will be glad to finally slow this pace. As much as I love life as a nomad, sometimes time in a city can be good."] Rhuarc chuckled at the statement. What his friend said was true, Rhuarc would not trade his nomadic lifestyle for that of any of the other Four Provinces but on rare occasions a bed was welcome instead of camping. After the pace he had set to to reach the Central City, this was one of those times.
[b "We would be there tonight if someone hadn't spent last night with the stableboy from that village we passed through..."] Rhuarc's voice was dripping with dry sarcasm. [+red "Haha, this is true my friend, but can you blame me? He had a fine figure."] The Adbhu'Jai had a fine respect for strength, stamina and the male form. you needed to be strong in order to survive the deserts of their homeland. As such the jai as a society had a respect for the male figure and didn't bother about a discreet bit of buggery. While a man could not marry another man, they were free to engage in sexual relations if they so wished. Rhuarc wasn't sure how the other Provinces viewed such issues. In almost no time the two Jai had seta fire pit, placed and lit the wood and had their tents pitched for the night ahead with the practised economy of movement that only nomads who had done this almost every day of their lives could manage. This was second nature to them. The two men sat around the campfire in relative silence eating the dried, salted meats that they had brought from their homeland. It was mostly goat or lamb met that was eaten in the Wastelands, with bred accompanying most meals. If one was lucky honey was used to add extra flavour but that was usually reserved for feast days or other special occasions. [+red "I will take first watch tonight friend, get some rest and I will wake you when it is your time for watch."] With a grateful nod Rhuarc made his way to the tent and drifted off into a restful sleep, recovering from the gruelling travelling pace that had been set over the last few weeks and comforted by the knowledge that by tomorrow they will have finally reached their destination.
As the sun started to rise Rhuarc stretched his muscles, Ayab had woken him during the night and there had been no incident to report after his watch. It would only take about three or four hours to make it to the Central City at a casual jog for the two men. [b "Ayab, wake yourself. We move again."] After a few moments of grumbling Ayab was ready to move with his friend and the two set out at a leisurley jog, which was comfortable compared with the blistering pace that had been set since leaving their home. By the time that the two Adbhu'Jai had reached the once gleaming marbled walls now stained with black ash and soot. The two Jai were not the only travellers on the road but at this time of the morning it seemed to mainly be merchants or farmers arriving with the night watch bleary eyed and waving them in without too much of an issue...that was until they caught sight of Rhuarc and Ayab. The guards on duty stared at the two heavily armed men towering over them. Aya and Rhuarc had prepared for this journey and as such were armed accordingly; as per the old customs each man carried three weapons. Rhuarc had the great sword of heavy black metal upon his back along with a belt knife, of nearly a foot of tempered sharpened steel along with a quiver filled with short spears that could be thrown or used in close combat. Aya on the other hand also carried a near identical belt knife but also carried two hand axes tucked in by his side and a large bow made from what seemed to be horn which would give a powerful shot, accompanied by several quivers of arrows. [+green "What is your business here?"] The guard did remarkably well to keep his voice level considering the vicious looking, large armed men in front of him. [b "Do we need a reason to enter the city. I don't see you questioning the others going in. I thought this city was for all those who live in the Four Provinces. Our business is our own, let us be on our way!"] Rhuarc practically snarled the words and his thick Adbhu'Jai accent made him hard to understand sometimes. He stared at the guard and the guard matched his gaze for a few seconds before lowering his eyes and waving his hand signalling the two men through into the city.
[+red "We have made it, friend. Where do we go"] Rhuarc looked around the city streets idly as they walked, he briefly noted a half breed working the forge at a blacksmith before turning his gaze elsewhere. [b "First we find somewhere we can call home while we are in this city. Then Ouk'nu only knows what we do..."]
Balden hurried down the many steps into the depth of the Catacombs, hoping to reach the sewage line where Aria would be entering from. He was late –he knew he was. Not that he could have helped it. The Blacksmith he found in town had put him to work well into the evening. Between the work and the traveling Balden was exhausted. He’d fallen asleep in the hay with his stolen horse, and had nearly forgotten to wake back up. The Midnight hour was close at hand, and Aria would be arriving any moment. It was his job to greet her, bring her a change of clothes and help her to the stable he was staying in so she could catch up on rest. He felt partially guilty for having been able to eat a hot meal, and take a much needed nap while Aria had been on high alert, hiding, probably hungry, fighting through sever fatigue, and she was literally swimming through a river of shit to reach him. He couldn't fathom doing what she had to do. It was still insanely surreal to him that he was even on this path, helping her. He was only a boy -though he also realized as a teenager of fourteen, he was nearly considered a man. Most boys his age made their own life choices, were preparing for marriage, or preparing to take off for schooling. It seemed he would be taking an adventure -and not just any kind of adventure, but the kind that could get him killed.
He dodged guards, not wanting to draw attention to himself, and watched with mild shock at the way the nighlife came out. Painted women with ample breasts called to other men. Their coin could buy them a fun night with no attachments. Men gambled, everyone drank in excess, and as he made his way through the grit of the city he heard the snarls of dogs, and the shouts of men as the dogs tore one another apart. The once grand and holy city had fallen into one of the levels of Hell. From his perch high above Malik no doubt watched with a smug grin, drinking his red wine and palming the ass of a whore while he admired his handiwork. Balden feared how Aria might take all of this in. It had been her home once, and the stories she told him of Azera's Central City seemed like a fairy tale now.
The putrid stench of sewage reached his nose and he spotted the manhole tucked away in a darkened alley. He stood on the street staring and anxious to enter the dark and creepy alleyway, but knew if he did not Aria would have no one to help her. A Part of him wondered if she really needed the help, but that was the fear of a young boy talking. Of Course she needed help -she planned to take on Malik and crush him. a Part of him also wondered if Aria was capable of violence. She didn't have a violent bone in her body... though to be fair -Balden had only seen Aria from afar, listened to her stories with other kids in the village, and had spoken to her on a rare few occasions when his master had crafted something for her and Rigby. Things were different now. Balden knew... he had to be a man. Today was the day, and this was the moment, or maybe the moment had happened when he'd stolen that horse and raced to warn her. He inched his way into the Alley, wishing he owned at least a dagger, or had the skill of a thief to lift one from another. He sucked in a breath, finally determined and pushed back the last of his fearful thoughts. He made quick work, using the muscles he'd built working in the smithy to lift the heavy grate from the ground and descended into the pitch black depths.
Balden climbed down an iron ladder into the depth of the city's underground and heard the movement of water as it echoed off the old stone walls, as it dripped into puddles and the horrid stench that followed with it. The tunnels were dark and cramped, not to mention the ground slippery. Yet, like any young boy, he ran head long without a flame to light his way. He made it far enough along his eyes began to adjust to the darkness, he could make out small rodent bones that littered the ground, dirt, rats scurried about, and if he didn't know any better he could see a body propped up along the wall with its head hidden in their arms. He stumbled to a stop -catching his breath and blinking past the darkness wishing he'd had the foresight to bring a damn torch. He was certain to remember for the next time. Aria couldn't afford to have a fool helping her and he knew it.
Balden slowed his steps enough to approach the body cautiously. Was it dead? he wasn't sure. Was it a boy or a girl? It didn't look like a guard or even someone who had been down here for very long. He had to be careful -for all he knew it could be an outlaw hiding out in the sewers. It wasn't Aria -he knew that much, she didn't have clothes like those of a hunter or mercenary... though, that would probably change soon. He couldn't tell if the figure was asleep either. Curious as ever he approached her and reached out to touch her shoulder. When she moved and looked up at him, Balden jumped back sheepishly.
"S-sorry. I only wanted to see that you were alright. What are you doing down in the sewers? This ain't no place for a lady," How funny he should say that while as he spoke Aria was making her way through the waterways to gain entry. "My name is Balden, I'm an apprentice Blacksmith. I'm actually trying to find something," [i someone] was more like it. "Are you familiar with the sewers? I could use the help."
By the time the merchant caravan came to the gates of the city it was about the time of dusk. The sun was almost below the horizon, as if it was an iceberg made of light in a sea of space spanning in many direction and the length of the span was infinite. The past day of the journey had been somewhat dull as it was just a repetition of all the other days pretty much. There as an incident he the caravan was about to be robbed but the robbers were weak willed people who fled at the first signs of armed resistance. There had only been two stops for rest, food, and drink, so coming upon the city at dusk would make ft a good repast before finding a bed somewhere and going to sleep.
The checkpoint was as usual, the 5 W and the one H questions were asked, and they were asked towards each person in the caravan. This time it didn't take as long as it had the last time this caravan had to enter a city, did the gate guards for this city just have more experience than gate guards for other cities? She didn't really care how fast it took, the only part she cared about was being let through and being able to shoo away into the crowd and hide there until she decided it was time to move.
After the gate guards let them through the caravan proceeded to a place where caravans usually stopped for loading/unloading purposes and as a place to keep the carts safe from harm. The horses were automatically led to the stables, and she and the rest of the group in the caravan proceeded to unload and scrutinize the cargo for anything missing and/or damaged. This time there was nothing of that sort so it went by really fast, but the stars and moon were now visible in the night time sky.
It was time to go collect the hard earned money for working as a caravan guard, it wasn't the best amount of money to get payed, but it was much better than what some of the other caravan groups had been offering. Taking into account that this route was also slightly more dangerous with the cargo also being higher valuable it made sense. 300 gold pieces, that was how much she had earned for this job, it was a great success.
She was last in getting the money from the boss of the caravan. As she walked up to him she could see that question he had asked earlier today begin to form. When she had stepped up to him he asked it once more with a pleading tone in his voice. With a firm but very gentle and polite voice Lara answered, [+purple "I don't like disappointing people, but as I said, I am already promised to someone. I have been for a couple of years, we just haven't married because of lack of money."] She could see his countenance droop, [+purple "But don't give up. You're a kind person with a good heart, you'll find someone eventually to be together with and enjoy spending time with them. Don't give up hope in times like these, for in times like these only those who try succeed, and you manage to do it quite excellently."] His countenance wasn't sad anymore, there was still that small amount of regret, but he seemed to understand. With a wave of her hand and a curt goodbye she left to go find a place with food.
Or so that was what she thought, something inside of her head was thinking something completely different, a different place than what she was actually thinking about. She thought about going to eat, but the voice in her head wanted her to go to a specific place, one where one could descend into the sewers.
She hadn't realized this until she came up to the hole in the ground. Looking down there was a six foot diameter circle leading into a pitch black nothingness with the sound of water running. Something inside of her was happy, it sounded bubbly, under the water bubbly. She shook her head to shake the confusion out of herself, but it didn't leave. It just told her to go down, walk down some distance and wait.
She went down the ladder and down onto a pathway that was parallel to the flow of the water. She walked down the path until it ended and only water flowed there, and sat with her back towards the wall. It was slightly cold and she shivered a bit but it wasn't too bad.
Something started to happen, the back of her neck began to warm up and the voice returned. It sounded pleased but she didn't understand what it said. What did all this mean, why did the 'tattoo' only now start to act up and, where did the voice come from as well? It sounded as if it had found the person it was looking for out there and was talking with whoever was out there. For her it was just a confused mass of nonsense jargon, she tried to keep calm by putting her head in between her arms but that didn't work.
When would the answers finally come?
Saraya hung onto the lessons that The Caledon spirit proposed. As her two week walk transpired, she had found herself spotting unfamiliar scouts. She looked around before hurrying to the safety of trees, sheilding herself from sight. As she investigated, ignoring the odd feeling of running, she spotted the same troupes that attacked her home march past her before they halted and broke and scouted the South and the East. With that much of musk in the air, her sensitive noise could quickly calculate the number of each of the troupes. Seeing the troupes quickly dissipated her ill prepared act of revenge. Malik, despite his tantrum, may have been general, but finding him through his troupes would be a task...
Suddenly, she heard a call of halt. Saraya quickly jumped into the trees, to camaflauge her form as a steed trotted steadily forward. The terror sitting upon it, covered in bronze and black armour reeked of animosity and pure five days journey.
She listened attentively as he spoke with one of his troupes, demanding answers as to why they hadn't caught the Caledon Spirit. They were speaking in their native tongue, which she was fluent in understanding. What she could make out was that their general that lead the attack was killed by a woman... But, the body of the woman has not been found.
Saraya stared at the two as they conversed... She heard Malik speak that the Caledon Spirit must have escaped and found a host. Saraya hitched her breath as she listened to the conversation. Though she wanted revenge for her family, she was not naive. At the stage she was, she knew she would never stand a chance against his troupes. She was but a underling to the practices of her protector, and it be a great dishonor if she used her senses poorly.
Malik looked to the rest of the troupes before revealing a sword and jabbing it into the gut of his follower. This would have shocked Saraya, but her reaction shocked herself. She felt nothing towards the enemy. But, as she watched as the body drop, and his bow and arrows hit the ground, the Porcelain beauty couldn't help but wonder why the beast of all evil would bite it's own tail to keep control.
Malik called his troupes to keep moving afterward. His troupes stepped in unison, marching off, leaving the body. After being sure that they had marched a good distance, Saraya descended from the trees and walked up to the body. Not even thinking twice, she stripped the corpse of the bow and arrows and a cloak from his napsack. She couldn't help but notice his sleeping face, however. He looked no younger than fourteen, maybe sixteen years of age. She sighed as she closed his eyes, then stood. She couldn't mourn the life that was lost. She had to keep moving. [I Sconc-ga] she muttered to herself [I Sconc-ga, rughshi haru muskau] [u ]
The Central City was four days from where she stood. She had been walking without rest ever since she left her once proud city in ruin. She stripped away her sandels, feeling a great discomfort in the confignment that she hadn't felt before. She didn't feel tired, nor hungry, nor did she feel the need to detour. To stray to safety is to stray in the blind side of the enemy. And now that she crossed paths with the enemy, she had to be sure to steady away from his line of sight and thoughts.
It seemed that the Caledon Spirit within was silenced because of her thoughts of revenge... But, now, it seemed to only speak when convenience was necessary.The sound of the spirit's voice reminded her so much of Felliope, and it would often break her heart that her stubborn ways led her here. The spirit knew this, and began feeding into her memory, creating a way to have her listen to the advice given... and it seemed to work. But, all she knew was that Central City was where they're going... and where she will be.
Saraya, however, felt a certain need to keep moving. She wouldn't camp this night, and for what reason, she didn't know. But, as the full moon glazed along the silent trees, she could clearly see the path towards the city that would set her fate in motion.
And there, sitting proudly atop a hill a half - day's journey from where shew stood was the Central City. She sighed in relief as she continued in her pace towards the city. As she did, all she could think of was her once proud city. The perfect white marble now tarnished and destroyed lingered in her mind as the city grew with each step. And as Dawn kissed the pale skin of the Porcelain beauty, the city was at its most massive and proud. Try as she might, she felt not the need to attract attention. She slid on the cloak and wondered in, letting her instinct guide her.
She had found lodging before she stepped out into life walking the paths of the city. She wandered awhile, and noticed the bakeries, the sweet bread like how Felliope used to make filled her nostrils. But, she did not buy one. Instead, she let her instinct guide her to a pub... now why go there?
She stepped into the pub, and ignored the eyes that stared. She thought to strip away the cloak, but to avoid unnecessary attention and conflict, she bowed to the barkeep, as a sign of respect towards the hard work and dedication, and found seating in the shadows before unveiling her form. There, she called for Groot, a beer most loved by her people. She then sighed as she waited. There had to have been a reason why she was guided here. Was the child coming here?
The caravans that Rhuarc had been travelling with arrived in one of the sprawling terracotta cities, known as Kerabdras, almost five days ago now and since then Rhuarc and Ayab had been enjoying themselves. The Adbhu'Jai were a nomadic people and so travelled often, most not seeing one of the cities along the River Nine for months or years at a time so being able to spend time in a city was a rare treat for Rhuarc. The large Adbhu'Jai man and his companion walked down the streets his eyes were drawn to the different people and different activities that were going on that he normally wouldn't see out in the Wasteland. The camels that pulled the caravans were being cared for by various men, who at the same time were unloading their wares for trade to other Jai tribes that may be in the city. No horses could be seen in Kerabdras which might seem odd to a foreigner but to the Adbhu'Jai it was as natural as the sand covering the Wastelands. Horses were taboo in Jai culture for they were seen as the greatest form of dishonour and weakness. The Adbhu'Jai were wanderers and if thweir own feet could not carry them anywhere then they were unfit as Jai. It was said across the provinces that the Adbhu'Jai could run as far as horses could carry the other inhabitants of the Four Provinces. It was a testament to how hard life in the Wasteland was if one needed the speed and strength to match a horse in order to survive.
Of all the various sights in the terracotta city by far the most interesting to just about all men were the various tests of honour and strength that were in abundance. There were tests of might with men wrestling and fighting with their bare hands, there were tests of skill with men fighting with spears trying to draw first blood in order to win, there were tests of endurance with men cutting themselves with long knives where you had to endure more cuts than your opponent and there were tests of devotion where men tried to see how many bites from a serpent that they could endure. Rhuarc enjoyed watching the Adbhu'Jai in the setting of a city, he would never trade it for their nomadic lifestyle, but it was good to see so many of his people come together and tests themselves against other Jai. It was an honourable pursuit. Of course the various Tests of Honour were not all that was happening in Kerabdras, Men were being tattood to depict victories in battle or show loyalty to the Ouk'nu, men were being branded to show loyalty to tribe and the Old Ways. This was a decidly Jai custom and as far as Rhuarc knew no other Province willingly subjected themselves to such markings. the blacksmiths also worked their forges in order to produce weapons which would ultimately be used to fight against Shade-stealer and his raiding parties. Watching the smiths work brought Rhuarc's mind to his own blade, a most deadly instrument. A sword made from a curious heavy black steel with a wicked serrated edge that had never failed him in battle, some claimed the curious black metal was stained with soot from Ouk'nu himself as the holy serpent's own flame was used in the forging. No doubt exaggeration but Rhuarc took notes of the whispers none the less. Rhuarc had found the blade when he had faught against Shade-stealer in one of the raids, as far as he could tell no Jai was wielding it nor any soldier of the False King, it could have been one of the abominations that Shade-stealer employed but Rhuarc didn't know. Accompanying the sound of the smiths working their metal was the sound of various merchants peddeling wares and the occasional slapping sound of old friends meeting again, like Rhuarc and Ayab had greeted each other however in order to maintain a semblance of decorum in the terracotta cities a firm slap was needed instead of the full punch.
[+red "...It was as much a shock to me as anyone else. My own sister laying the marriage wreath at Coul's feet. I almost wished she had laid it at a Menin Jai's feet"] Ayab laughed at his own joke while Rhuarc absentmindedly listened as he took in the surrounds of the city. [b "Coul is an honourable man, and an acceptable match. Ouk'nu save anyone who tried to talk your sister into changing her mind."] Ayab's younger sister Aya was a fiery woman, slender and graceful and was indeed more than Coul deserved but she chose who she lay the wreath at and if she chose Coul then there wasn't a force in Azeroth that could talk her out of them. [+red "True my friend. I have heard that Elder Mandarb is speaking in the city about Shade-stealer, we should seek him out."] Mandarb was one of the oldest Adbhu'Jai elders, a respected individual amongst all of the Jai tribes, an extremely rare trait. It didn't take long to find the Elder speaking, the throng of people surrounding the man in simple brown robes, surrounded by four white robed [i Akh] marked him out easily enough. The two men sat and listened for at least three hours on what Elder Mandarb had to say, eventually the older gentleman's speech came to an end an the crowd dispersed, not Ayab and Rhuarc, however, as they approached the revered Elder.
Mandarb was a bald man, with a large white bushy beard, tall by most standards of the four provinces but of average height for a Jai, Rhuarc was taller by almost a head. The most obvious feature however was the lack of a left arm below the elbow. Mandarb had lost it in the first year of raids fighting Malik but had continued to fight the False King for twenty years after that, and fought well. After exchanging the traditional greetings the Elder spoke; [+blue "I have heard of you. You are Ayab of the Farlan Jai, and you are Rhuarc also of the Farlan Jai. I wish to discuss a proposal with you."] Rhuarc was instantly wary, why should an Elder know him, he had fought against Malik and had the curious black sword but otherwise he had lived as all nomads had. Elder Mandarb walked d the two Jai men through Kerabdras explaining his plan. [b "No, it will not work. We have worshiped Ouk'nu from here, why should honouring the Great Serpent in the Central City make a difference. It is a fool's errand."] Ayab raised an eyebrow at such words, questioning an Elder was seldom done especially one as respected as Mandarb. [+blue "I have fought Shade-stealer far longer than you, we cannot win the way we have been going, we must do something else."] Rhuarc remarked that the words were eerily similar to words Ayab had spoken when they first men days ago. [b "Then do something else but I will have no part in it. Find someone else to send on this insanity. The Central City is nothing but a cesspool of evil. If you think any good can come from such a place then you must be mad."] [+blue "Choose your next words carefully Farlan. Ouk'nu has sent me a vision, I have a feeling that this must be done."] [b "Then you misunderstand him Mndarb!"] Ayab inhaled sharply, showng such disrespect to any of the Adbhu'Jai would be enough to warrant a challenge but to speak so to an Elder was even worse. [+blue "Your words must be answered. I propose a challenge of faith to decide who is right in this matter. Maybe then you shall learn respect."] Rhuarc bowed his head slightly, he knew that he had overstepped but his honour could not allow him to deny a challenge. To refuse a challenge was grounds for exile, a fate worse than death to any Jai. One of Mandarb's [i Akh] brought a serpent and the two met sat down, facing each other the serpent in the centre between them. As the challenger Mandarb moved first, exposing his right arm for the snake to bite, as the snake sunk its fangs into the man's flesh Mandarb's expression barely changed. Rhuarc mirrored his action. Back and forth this went until the snake had bitten them both five times, a long challenge. As the snake was presented to Mandarb for a sixth time the older man held out his bloodied arm and seemed to falter for a moment before retracting it again, Rhuarc had the advantage. Once more the serpent bit the younger Jai and the challenge was complete, Rhuarc had won.
Rhuarc studied the Elder for several minutes in silence, impressed by the old man's commitment, men half his age often could not take three bites. [b "I will go, you showed great honour Elder Mandarb and I spoke out off turn. I shall see what Shade-stealer has hidden in his city."] Rhuarc knew that Mandarb had been right all along and despite winning the challenge he felt that he needed to make amends for his words. As per the Old Ways if a Jai was sent by an Elder out of the Wastelands he could not go alone. Ayab would accompany him. At dawn the two would run as fast and as far as their feet would carry them.
It took Balden and Aria nearly two weeks of hard riding and hiding out in the forests, avoiding Malik's patrols and even the border patrols of some of the less friendly Caledon Clans, before they even found the main road leading from Fenlyk to the Central City. Aria was exhausted as was Balden -both of them craving a warm meal and a hot bath. They stopped only for a short while at the top of the hill outside Central City. From their place they could see the tall spires waving their banners, but where the Fortress once gleamed white stone and marble, it was now blackened by ash and soot. The banners black and blood red. Aria frowned from the top of the horse, her heart aching at the sight. She remembered being a little girl, growing up in those sacred and hallow halls. Seeing it now as it was, stirred something within her. A raging spirit hungry for vengeance. She would take back her home, she would sit on the holy alter and restore it. She took one look at the blackened keep and vowed she would destroy Malik.
Balden's feet hit the ground, making a clean dismount from the weary horse. He tenderly stroked his hand down the neck of the beast and studied Aria. Her eyes were intense, nearly glowing with the promise of retribution, and she sat back stiffened and her hands fist in angry knots.
"mi'lady, can I ask what you are thinking?" Balden asked. Two weeks on the road with his ultimate crush had helped to stem his nervousness around her. He never would have imagined being on this sort of adventure. He rather liked to imagine himself as Aria's Steward. He would serve her loyally and faithfully, he would protect her at all costs, and Gods be good -he would succeed at it. Balden was no squire, and certainly no knight or warrior. He was a Blacksmith's apprentice, or he had been. He was well aware of what Malik's men would have done to the villagers and Elder Rigby.
Aria looked at him, as if his voice was unfamiliar. To be fair he hadn't spoken much, they were running for their lives. "I was thinking about how we have been running from Malik's hounds... and now we are about to walk into the Wolf's Den..." Balden couldn't help but grin at her words. He'd been thinking the same exact thing.
"They say the best place to hide, is to hide in plain sight, and this is Central City -it's supposedly very diverse. There are people from the furthest reaches of Caledon, down to the deserts of The Wastelands... Of course, there's a load of Fenlyks," he said the last word with a hint of disgust. Why shouldn't he? The Fenlyks could have helped put Malik in his place, instead they bowed to him -refused to fight for their freedom. His mother had been from Fenlyk -not that he knew his mother.
"I am Volshi," She reminded him. No matter how diverse the City was... Volshi were still a rarity, they never came down from the clouds. Some people harked them to Angels, or Lords of the Sky. Balden was more inclined to believe the first -knowing Aria first hand.
"I know," He mumbled. He had been to the City before, traveling with his Master to trade their wares to the more rich of the city.
"The moment I reach those gates, the guards will spot me and I will be captured on the simple facts I am a female Volshi. Malik could care less if another Volshiv woman entered the city. He's probably ordered all of them to be captured, tortured and killed." Balden swallowed past the lump in his throat. She had a point. He hadn't thought of that before. Faced with a conundrum he was ill prepared for he turned and looked to Aria for leadership.
"What are you thinking?" Aria studied the walls, the Caravan making their way down the main road towards to City Gates, and finally a slow smile spread on her face.
"I have a plan," she finally said looking to him.
Balden hung off of every word Aria said to him. She was familiar with the cities hidden passages, she would sneak in under the cover of darkness entering the city by a hidden door beside a sewage drain that led out of the city and towards the rivers of Fenlyk. He would meet her down in the catacombs where the sewage drained out of the city from. He was not looking forward to the smell, but Aria told him it was the only surefire way for her to get in the city unseen. He was tasked with riding into the city with the Caravan, and finding an Inn for them to sleep. With no coin that was going to be difficult. He left Aria at the forests edge, hidden safely while he rode the horse towards the gates. The guards didn't pass him a second glance, but their eyes did scan those entering the city with great scrutiny. Even Balden could see they were looking for something particular. As he snuck in on the tails of a Caravan, he was for the most part overlooked, and once inside he made quick work breaking away from the group he'd entered with and went in search of a place to stay.
It took Balden the better part of the day to find an Inn where to stay, but with no coin, and being a mixed race individual, he was turned from every inn he came upon. They wouldn't even allow him to work for a stall in the barn. With sunset coming upon him, and knowing that with the moon Aria would slip beneath the streets of the City and would need a place to sleep, he grew nervous. He needed to find a place to garner shelter and food. That was when he heard the heavy fall of a hammer striking out and shaping red hot metal. Balden smirked, maybe he couldn't find an Inn, but perhaps he could work for the Blacksmith and earn his keep. Balden hurried over towards the burly man as he worked. He was large and bald, his head tattooed with intricate northern designs, by his lighter color skin, he could tell the man came from the Northern Reaches of Caledon. Balden took the gamble.
"Excuse me, Sir? I'm new to the city,"
"What do you want?" The man gruffed, hammering out the shape of a sword, his brow glittering with soot and sweat, and his shaggy red beard singed from the fires. He didn't bother to look up from his work.
"I am looking for a job. In my last village I was a Blacksmith Apprentice, but my Master... has recently passed away, I'm searching for new tutelage," The Blacksmith, smirked, taking the sword and sifting it back through the hot coals and hammered it some more.
"Where do you hail from?"
"Ada Village, it's on the boarder of Fenlyk and -
"Caledon, I know the place. No wonder I couldn't place your accent," when he looked up however, he frowned at Balden -looking him over, "Mixed aren't yeh?" Balden did blush at that. His mother had been a whore in Fenlyk when his father had fucked her and gotten her pregnant. Unable to care for Balden, and not knowing who or where his father was; his mother had given him up. It was because of his mother he had tawny tan olive skin like many Fenlyks, and the large eyes and reddened hair of Caledons.
"I apologize, Sir. If my mixed breeding offends you," He forced from his mouth.
"If it offended me I would have cut you with hot iron the moment you opened your mouth," The Smith warned. Balden backed up slightly. The Smith stood and studied Balden for a moment and finally walked over and forced him to hold up his arm and let him feel out his biceps, then he checked his hands -calloused and forever blackened like a Smith's. "Good to see you're not a liar." Balden stood with baited breath as he waited, but he could also see the smith still need a nudge of encouragement.
"Please sir, I promise I won't let you down. I want to earn my keep. I'll be a good worker, and I'm a fast learner. I only ask for a stall for my horse. I can sleep with the horse for now. At least give me a chance? Work me, see if I'm worth keeping?" The Smith knew he'd been had, and Balden had to count his good graces he was led to a man of heart and honor. One who's mind was not clouded by greed for coin and hatred for the different.
"Bah!" He barked, giving into his conscious. "Go put your horse in the back stable, bring me wood from the far wall outside the stable." Balden nodded and quickly took off to obey. He had secured a place for Aria and himself, and he had a good feeling about this Blacksmith. Perhaps he could trust him.
The Moon was at its highest peak in the night sky when Aria slipped from her place hidden in the trees and followed closely to the cover of the stream that washed away gods only knew what from the city. Water was a sacred element, the fact that Malik was tainting the waters of Azera with sewage, angered Aria deeply, even the smoke and ash he let his fires send into the sky was frustrating for her. Air, the water, the Earth and even fire -all elements were inherently important to the Gods and the Guardians. Aria hated to see the damage, but it was truly a reflection of Malik's corruption. The entire city was under his rule. She could only imagine how far it had fallen into a deep depression since his conquest. She was about to find out once she was done wadding through sewage to get inside the fortress of a city. She had to get inside the city though, her Guardians were in there and in need of her guidance.
[i -Go now, do not tarry, the watch makes its rounds...-]
The omnipotent voice whispered into her mind. Elder Rigby had called it The Knowing. He said it was like a sixth sense -one gifted by the Gods to guide and help her stay safe and find her way. With the absence of the mental voice, Aria heard the sounds of clinking armor as guards walked the outside of the wall on patrol. Aria felt her heart begin to race. There was no more time, she had to plunge into the blackened water of Central City. The smell alone was enough to make Aria gag, having to ruin a perfectly good set of clothes to swim through... it was enough to make her taste the vomit in her mouth. It had to be done. The balance of the world rested on her -and she knew she'd have to do a lot she didn't want to in order to save the Four Provinces and reclaim Azera...
The merchant caravan was approaching the city from where Malik rule with an iron fist, approximately a one day journey before actually entering the city itself. They probably wouldn't be looking for her there if they still were trying to find her. From their point of view, why would she come closer to the place from where the guy who wanted her captured, to them it wouldn't make any sense. But that didn't mean she could do anything stupid, as would still have to be on her guard and not attract attention to herself. The last thing she wanted was to be captured by those gits.
But who was she and who were the they who either were actively after her or not anymore? She was an 19 year old female with the name of Lara who had run away from home three years ago, but she hadn't run away from home because she wanted to. They wanted to capture her alive and bring her back, but she managed to escape them when her parents distracted long enough for her to run away. Her parents died and she never went back to the kingdom where she was born to visit their graves because she still feared them. They would still be actively hunting her down, definitely not a safe place to be if one wanted freedom.
The people referred to as 'they' were the people who served Malik, or King Malik as that self-centered totalitarian idiot wanted everyone else to call him. She still did not understand why he had sent armed men to raid for the kingdom she had lived in hadn't revolted at all when Malik took the seat in his throne. The other three kingdoms had revolted sometime after that event passed, but still the kingdom she lived in did not. The raid didn't make any sense to her at all, but it had happened, meaning that in this confusing thing, there was some reason behind it all.
What was she doing with a merchant caravan? Simple, she was one of the people helping to guard it, that was how desperate the boss of this caravan had been. To be fair she did know how to fight with the staff that her parents had given her before she ran away. It wasn't what she wanted to do at all but one had to earn a living somehow. She always was on the lookout for the odd job which would help her survive. Like helping shop owners with something, hunting animals or fish and then bringing them in to sell for coin or keeping it for herself to cook alone. In those three years of living alone, she had so many jobs, traveled a great distance, and endured many hardships.
Currently she was riding the horse that had been given to her at a plodding place along with the rest of the caravan. She was also trying to sort out the dream from last night and what she had felt in the morning after the dream. Just like with the raid, this also didn't make any sense whatsoever, but it felt very eery. Why would she have this dream, she wasn't the type who had dreams that often nor were they clear as that one. The dream started off with two people on horses, one definitely was a boy and the other one was wearing white robes and carrying a stick not unlike her own. Something was happening in the background and theses two it seemed were galloping hard to get away from it. Then the view centered on the white robed person and dimmed out everything else. There appeared four symbols shining brightly around it, as if either revealing what was on the mind of the person robed in white or something else. The four symbols turned out to be animals, there was a dove, a fish, a snake, and an animal which she hadn't seen before. That was the end of the dream.
Upon waking up, something else in the strange department was experienced. The back of her neck prickled slightly and it was warm to the touch. Lara knew what was on the back of her neck, it was a tattoo of a fish. That was nothing new to her as her parents had told her that. Well she didn't believe that at first as a kid, but when her parents showed it to her in a mirror, that was evidence one couldn't refute. But what Lara couldn't figure out was how her tattoo on the back of her neck relate in any way to the fish in the dreams. Or how did it relate to the dream in general? It was just something that demanded answers, but from where?
As usual the boss of the caravan rode up and down it to ensure everything was in good condition. As usual he talked with everyone, it wasn't bothersome at all because he just wanted to make sure his caravan reached the city without something happening to it. In short he was trying to do his job.
It came her turn as he was plodding his was down the caravan. He pulled his horse parallel to hers and started asking the same questions as he did everyday. She answered with either a simple nod of the head for yes and a slight side-to-side shake of the head for a no. The first two days of her answering questions in this manner had somewhat surprised the boss but he eventually got used to it. Probably figured out that not everyone was a loud talker. After the list of questions had been gone through, he asked a new one. It was about her feeling tense, well she was always on the lookout for any surprises, especially the ones which would result in the caravan being attacked. That was what she explained to him.
He fell silent for awhile before he made a proposal of sorts. At first Lara didn't know what he meant by it, but then the realization dawned on her. What he proposed was, [+green "You know, after we get to the city, the two of us... could, have some fun together."] This wasn't the first time something like this had happened, nor would it be the last. Over the three years of running, these types of questions started popping up. She always answered a no with a different explanation each time. When she said no this time, the explanation was that she was already promised to someone and was going to meet them in the city. It was all lies, but nothing else could be done.
The boss was quiet for sometime before pulling away and heading towards the back of the caravan. That left her in her usual place of quietness and solitude. She didn't know whether she wanted to continue thinking about what she had been thinking about before she had been interrupted, but there was something in there that was just too much to just leave lying there. She went back to thinking.
Saraya, a beautiful martyr and humble servant of her sacred city, had a smile bigger than the River Nine could fathom. After teaching the youth the history of their fair homeland, she felt enough strength in her legs to stand firm and walk home. Her basket was full of generosity and good wishes of her fellow neighbors, almost as full as the bundle within the belly of the beauty the townsmen swore Caledon had created to feast their eyes upon. Humble was she of the compliments given, for they knew her love protected the city, and due to the timing, he should be home now, doing what he loved... cooking for his loving wife.
On the way, though, she spotted a Fawn, but it seemed to be running away. Saraya looked ahead... something was amiss. The mighty Caledon could see it plainly. She huffed and walked home, safely, yet hastily, to her shop, but it was closed... very strange.
The gracious wind seemed to blow oddly now. Saraya caught it as quickly as the doves above. The pleasent little creatures seemed to be fleeing from something. Knowing her natural ability of precise guesses, some sort of storm was approaching. If that was the case, she should hasten to her cottage, and be sure to close the windows... but, as she turned the corner of old Mr.Hopkins' garden, she noticed horsemen racing in the other direction while carriages took haste past her. This worried her.why we're they in such a hurry?
Finally, she reached her sanctuary. She figured that she would see the blinds open and fresh bread sitting on the stoop...but the blinds were shut. This puzzled her even more. Stepping in, she saw her husband putting on his armour. "Felliope? Why do you put your armour on?"she asked in their language. They spoke some English, but we're more used to their native tongue, which was used to honour their temple and their rituals and practices. Her husband turned to his wife with a face as serious as the statue of their Protector. "We must protect our walls. There is a threat that is breaching, and they called upon me to lead the troupes. "
A threat? Saraya stared back, very worried. She knew it was her husband's duty to protect the city, but she never wanted him to fight anything he couldn't come home from. Felliope read her face like a book and kissed her. "Please do not be stubborn with me, love. Stay away from the fight. Get as far away from the city as you can"
"Saraya, please... protect yourself. Protect our child... do whatever you can to stay alive... I will find you when the battle is over"
Saraya's face screwed up with fear, and her husband couldn't stand the look. He kissed her, hoping it would help. "Go... Please" he said before hurrying out the door and to his steed. He took off, other knights joining to make haste to the wall. Saraya, despite her loving husband's pleas and her mind saying to find ground to hide, she gave in to her stubbornness and started after the knights, grabbing onto her white steed and making haste towards the threat amongst them.
The crackling sounds of cannons, the songs of swords, the dark clouds hovering about the temple... Saraya couldn't stay away. Her need for doing her part kicked in, and she rode into the tarnished ruins of part of her once beautiful home. She spotted the troupes. The battle looked like the turn for the worst. They we're breaking into the temple! She rode past the troupes to look for her husband, and found him... He was pinned against the pillars, and the enemy was going to strike. Saraya had to think fast. She grabbed two sickle swords, flinging them into the back of the enemy. Success.
Felliope looked to her in shock. "Saraya!!" He yelled. Before he could even get to her, a cannon sounded and collided to where the both of them were.. then, there was nothing.
Burning buildings, ash as white as the Temple's stones... Death hung in the air. Saraya was on the ground, her steed on the ground dead from impact. Her body instantly began to escalate the pain she never thought she could experience. It hurt so terrible that she couldn't even move. Suddenly, a pair of armour shoes stopped just feet from her. It then slowly knelt... Felliope... Tears fell when she realized what her stubbornness had gotten her... She was losing their child...
Felliope lifted her head and rested her head on his legs as he leaned against a pillar... "Saraya..." he said before kissing her forehead. "I love you"
Her sobs we're carried along with the smoke."I am so sorry..." she started. Felliope shook his head. All he could do was kiss her forehead. With that, all he could do was lay next to her... and soon enough, darkness took them.
[i Saraya... Saraya]
All she could see was light... She thought she was in Paradise, but everything was a blur. She looked up, and she saw a dove... Caledon? Was the mighty spirit there to carry the three of them to Paradise?
[i I saw your act of bravery... and it has warmed my heart. I have chosen my host..]
Host... the dove restedvon her forehead, then disappeared into mist... She sat up with a start, screaming from was thought to be a dream.But, when she looked to a body laying next to her, and a blanket with a bundle inside... she knew... she began to cry, but a voice in her head shook her from it. [i I have chosen you to carry my power. There is a threat among us, and you must find her]
Saraya sniffled. Find who? She sighed as she slowly stood, and looked to the two. Her hands reached for them when she noticed her once tanned skin had paled to a porcelain white. Her once red hair had faded to snow white, and the Mark of the dove had appeared over her heart. Scared, she shut her eyes, and focused on the task at hand... burying her family.
With the new strength she never knew she had, she lifted him over her shoulder, then grabbed the bundle before walking uphill, to the highest peak, and began digging. There, she buried her husband and child together, and made a tombstone: in loving memory of Felliope Scalfon, Saraya Scalfon and son... Rest in Paradise.
With that, she turned and walked to their cottage, and grabbed a weapon he had gotten her when they were newlyweds; a double ended sword. She changed her rags to her white attire, and pinned her hair up. She stepped outside afterward, breathing in air before looking to her sword. "Where must i go?" She sighed. The spirit spoke [i You must search for the city... she will be there, and so will the other spirits]
Other spirits... Saraya took a deep breath, said her goodbyes to her loves, and started walking, silent, with each day the spirit within speaking to her of what was waiting for her... but all she could think of... was revenge.
The relentless heat of the shining sun overhead beat down furiously causing a heavy sweat to sting Rhuarc's eyes as he made his way through the desert. He had left the caravan with his people behind three days ago in order to scout ahead making sure there were no hidden dangers in the shifting sands that he and his people called home. They were far enough from the border that raids by the false king Malik should not trouble them, but life for the Adbhu'Jai was a tough life especially given how much infighting was done between the Jai people. Luckily enough Rhuarc was not involved in a blood-feud with any of the other Jai tribes although given the fiery nature of the Adbhu'Jai that peace may not last for long. The tall nomad pulled out his water skin and drank deeply, the cool liquid inside quenching his thirst for the moment. Despite the refreshment that the water gave he knew that he should not drink too much, in the desert wastelands water was often a far more precious commodity than gold.
As Rhuarc continued on his journey his attention was caught by two figures ahead of him, one dressed entirely in white while the other donned the traditional nomadic garb of the Jai. Checking to see that the sword on his back was not caught and would be easy to draw if needed Rhuarc crept up on the two figures, keeping his distance until he was sure that he could strike first if he needed to. It was a lesson that all Adbhu'Jai children learned; The wastelands were a dangerous place and a lack of caution meant a dead child. Calling out in the harsh, guttural tongue of the Jai Rhuarc called out a warning announcing his presence to the figures in front, although he only addressed the figure that was not wearing white, to speak to one wearing white would be a great insult. As Rhuarc glanced at the tattooed and scarred body that was so common amongst all Adbhu'Jai a grin broke over his face as he recognised the man in front of him. [b "Ayab!"]
Ayab reytuned his smile before closing the distance to his old friend and firmly punching Rhuarc across his jaw, the force of the blow enough to knock the larger Jai man to the ground. An even larger grin broke out on Rhuarc's face. [b "You honour me, friend."] Rhuarc returned the punch across the jaw in kind with slightly less force than he himself had received. This was one reason why the other Provinces looked down upon the Adbhu'Jai as barbarians. To an outsider this greeting looked like the Jai were constantly violent and uncivilised where as in reality the traditional greeting of a closed fist punch across the jaw for men and an open palmed slap across the cheek for females was a tradition that dated back to the very first Adbhu'Jai people and was meant to symbolise a respect for the others strength. The harder the hit the more respect you had for a person. The figure in white was also an old Jai tradition. An adversary could be forced into submissiveness if in battle an opponent was able to place bare hands on an opponant if they still carried a weapon and were still able to fight. The captive or [i Akh] would serve the one who placed hands upon them for one year and one day, unable to touch a weapon or disobey the one who had made the [i Akh] unless it would cause further dishonour. This tradition was so easily mistaken for slavery but if anyone so much as openly spoke of [i Akh] being slaves to an Adbhu'Jai they would soon find themselves in a battle to the death.
[b "May you find shade and may your feet carry you far. What news do you bear?"] The traditional greetings exchanged Rhuarc got down to the practical, the wastelands were large and communication was often difficult unless one was near the River Nine where one could travel quicker than on foot. [+red "You honour me with your shade, friend. Perrik and Unkor have declared a blood feud with The Tardaad Jai and Shade-stealer is launching more raids at the border. The Antior Jai have lost many good men in the last three weeks or so. On more joyous news Delphus is to become an Elder."] The naming of a new Elder was far more significant than it would first appear. The nature of the Adbhu'Jai people and their love for challenges meant that they were constantly competing with one another to show honour and strength in any way possible. This meant that many men died young and as a result there is often a lack of experience and wisdom coming from the Elder Jai people to pass on. A new Elder was significant and joyous occasion especially it was the father of one of Rhuarc's childhood friends. The news regarding the increased raids by Malik was to be expected, Shade-stealer was the title that the Jai often referred to the false king as given how he was trying to take their home from them.
[+red "Shade-stealer grows bolder with every victory he gains, soon enough we will fall if nothing is done. Ouk'nu punish me if it is not true."] [b "Ayab we do what we can, we are nomads, if we have our feet the Jai will live. Come friend, accompany me to the River Nine and Kerabdras. That is where our caravans are heading. The journey will be more pleasant wit you friend."]
“The Holy Ones, rose from the earth, the oceans, the desert, and came down from the heavens. They united their lands and for a thousand years fought off the scourges of evil that plagued the world – a thousand years they battled?” Aria asked halting her lessons and looked up Elder Rigby. He was once a Temple Master, still was in Aria’s eyes. Aria was skeptical of her night history lesson and gave her elder an incredulous look.
“Yes, it is known,” Rigby grumbled, shuffling his weary feet to sit down on a stool across the table from Aria. She looked at him under the flicker of candlelight. He was frail, old, and bald but save for the wisps of white hairs that stemmed from his temples, but his robes were always in perfect order. Aria felt it within her… Rigby was dying, soon her guardian would pass from this world… which meant Aria would have to move on and go in search of the Guardians meant to save the Four Provinces.
“Says the scroll,” Aria challenged. The entire table was littered with scrolls saved and salvaged from ravaged temples across the land. “How did the Guardians even manage to keep a mortal host alive for a thousand years?”
“How do you know they didn’t?” Rigby challenged back. “The Holy Ones are still a mystery to this day –they are Gods, they do not need to explain themselves, or have reasons for why they do what they do.”
“But the Guardians have found new hosts,” Aria tried.
“Yes, and when the time comes, you will have to depart to find them. Now finish reading the scroll on the creation of the Wastelands,” He commanded of her. Aria gave him a last look before looking down at the scroll and reading the flourishing script.
“Caledon the Mighty carried his war hammer swinging with lethal grace. With one strike to the ground, the Earth opened into a chasm and swallowed the Demon Hoards whole. Fenlyk the Siren, filled the chasm with her water drowning them, creating the River Nine. Jaihash the Quick and Volshiv the Tempest claimed those that did not fall or drown. Jaihash created a poisonous cloud that Volshiv sent on the wind to choke and decimate the hoards. Thus the Wastelands were created. Jaihash seeing what the work of his poison had accomplished, claimed the southern battlefields as his own. He claimed victory of the land and vowed his people would be filled with fire in their veins to propel them in life in a barren landscape. With the great battle over, and a thousand years of War finally ended the Guardians set up council in their own City. Azeroth, the High God-“
Aria had to stop her reading, the sudden sound of a loud bang came upon the front door. Rigby frowned, and both of them wondered who on Earth would be banging on their door this late in the night.
“Stay seated, Aria,” Rigby ordered. Aria stayed as instructed but watched as Rigby answered the door. They Smith’s boy rushed in quickly, looking flushed and sweaty. He must have rode from the town to their small cottage right on the Fenlyk and Caledon boarder.
“Elder Rigby,” The Smith’s boy bowed quickly. “Priestess,” He bowed again as Aria finally rose to her feet and walked over. A Sense of dread was filling in her chest. Whatever news he brought could not be good.
“What is it Balden?” Rigby demanded.
“Malik’s men. They’re in the Village. It’s a raid. If they find Lady Aria they will kill her, or worse. I rode from the Smithy, stole a horse from the stables and tried to get to you as quickly as possible.” He said breathlessly. Aria tensed. Malik’s men were here. “And there’s more. It’s not just soldiers. Malik has sent something darker,”
“What is it boy, spit it out!” Rigby shouted.
“Malik has a Mage.”
Aria felt the world shift. A Mage? She’d read about them, Rigby had told her stories of them. They were dark sorcerers and rare. The gift of magic was incredibly rare, but sometimes when one is desperate and greedy for power, they can sell their soul to the Demons of Olde and will be imbued with their dark magical gifts. From his place Rigby seemed to go into a panic.
“They must know she is here! We must be quick! Balden you will take Aria away from here. Balden gasped.
“Elder Rigby, Balden is only a boy of ten and four, you can’t expect him to come as my guard,” Aria protested. It gave Rigby pause as he hurriedly packed a sack with food.
“And he will be killed with the rest of us if he stays.” Aria and Balden shared a look. “Now quickly child, go gather your things. It is time for you to leave.”
“I can’t leave you behind!” Aria tried to protest.
“Mi’lady, we must hurry if we wish to get out of here before Malik’s men reach this place,” Balden attempted. Aria felt hesitant. She didn’t want to leave Rigby behind, but deep inside she had known Rigby would be dying soon. She just hoped it would be a peaceful death, turns out it was going to be bloody and violent.
Aria made quick work to pack her lonely little bag with a small set of clothes and other essentials. Grabbing her bow-staff she hurried from the small cottage and even in the night she saw the amber glow of fire coming from the village above the treetops. She was nearly stunned to stillness if not for Balden who quickly pushed her towards his horse. Aria straddled the saddle behind Balden and Rigby came forward tying the sack of food to the saddle and handed Balden an old sword.
"Use this well Balden, protect Aria -help her get to the Central City. It is time for her to fulfill her destiny. You are here for a reason, my boy." Balden sat straighter and took the Templar blade with a firm hand.
"I will do my best Father Rigby," Balden said and without further pretense kicked the sides of his horse to carry Aria far away from the burning village.
It was not long after Aria and the young Balden left did Malik's troops come upon the quaint little cottage. Elder Rigby was waiting for them. Sitting inside at the table when they smashed the door down with a hurdled ball of flame. Rigby did not move even as the men came and swarmed around him, blades and crossbows aimed for his frail old body. Others began to ransack the house, turning over tables, throwing open closet doors and ripping the insides out. They turned the cottage inside out, all in an attempt to find Aria. The scavenging didn't cease even as a three men entered, two large and terrifying soldiers flanked one man who slowly began to remove his black leather gloves. Rigby stared him down, taking in his appearance. Pale sickly skin, marked and pocked, even tattooed from his jaw down disappearing into his robes; his hair was as red and wild as the fire he wielded, and his teeth were filed to points aged yellow and decayed from lack of hygiene. Black leather and Red brocade made his robes, and as his black eyes settled on Rigby he grinned.
"Elder Rigby... so I've finally found the Temple Master of Azeroth," the Mage crooned, his voice like saccharine acid.
"You have found nothing but an old man," Rigby told him calmly. "And you will find nothing more here." The Mage walked around the table and sat down across from him. The soldiers that surrounded Rigby backed away allowing the men to talk without weapons in their way.
"So she is gone?" He asked. "The little Priestess you've tried so hard to keep hidden away?" Rigby remained silent. "You know I'll find her, and when I do I will present her to King Malik and he will cut out her still beating heart. You can't stop him you know?"
"I know I can not stop him. That is not my task," Rigby defended. He needed to stall for time, give Aria and Balden as much time as he could to let them make an escape. The Mage chuckled darkly.
"You are an old fool. You think she can?"
"By herself? No. With the help of the Guardians? Yes." The Mage's dark grin vanished into a sneer of absolute loathing disgust.
"She will die by Malik's hands before she ever finds the first,"
"Agree to disagree," Rigby glared. Under the table his hands balled into white knuckled fists.
"Where is she headed?" Rigby went silent. He would not reveal Aria and Balden's direction. "I'll ask again old man," the Mage growled his short ream of patience coming to an end. "Where is she?"
Rigby held his silence, even as the soldiers ripped him from his seat and dragged him outside towards a tree where a noose was already hanging. They tortured him, and yet he refused to answer. They beat him, they cut him, to took from him his ears, a finger, they even took an eye, and when their torture came to an end -as did Rigby's life, they hung him from the noose and left him to hang there and rot. Then they burned the cottage and the gardens around it.
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