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A warm feeling bloomed from her heart to the rest of her body upon seeing Balden once again. He had safely returned, and successfully had made Malik's men get extremely lost.
No matter how long Lara would have liked to stand there and gaze upon Balden, time was still of the essence. Even though that patrol of Malik's men had been confounded beyond measure, that did not mean that they would not seek reinforcements. Every second their group did not spent moving meant another second in which Malik's men would reacquire them.
As Balden introduced his companions, Lara took a look back at the rest of the group. Everyone seemed relieved, but Lara noticed that look in Rhuarc's eyes which she knew all too well from personal experience; that glowering, distrustful look. She would need to talk to Rhuarc about Balden, see what was bothering him and perhaps calm down the flames which had been kindled inside him.
Balden had suggested splitting the group in two, rushing all the female members to the Fenlyck hideout on horses. Even though it made some sense, as it was harder to spot a smaller group, Lara liked this idea not at all. Her thoughts were echoed by the Priestess, who expressed those thoughts aloud. Their group had experienced many things together, from the good, to the bad, and all the way down to the ugly. These experiences were what bonded them, a bond that could not easily be broken. It felt as if she were part of a family once more. A family always on the run from one dangerous event to the next, from the frying pan and into the fire, but a family nonetheless.
Balden, evident by the frown on his face, had not anticipated this at all nor did he like that they would be going with a different idea. Unfortunately for Balden, Lara felt sorry for him, it would be hard to argue when the entire group wanted to run as a group.
It's like water in way. When water moves, no matter how small or big it is, all of the water moves at the same time. Never does one part of water move without moving another part. Unless there was magic involved, but magic was a factor that could be added or removed at any time.
Balden offered her to ride with him, that still boyish smile on his face. Lara accepted, but she did notice the somewhat sour look on Aerik's face. Lara found this somewhat uncomfortable, as she had told him quite explicitly that she and Balden had feelings for each other.
Aerik's face quickly changed to a smiling expression, and he even offered an apology via that "you should go with your friend". But even this felt unnatural, as if it were forced.
Anyways, there was no room for neither more talking or thinking.
Lara felt herself being pulled up by Balden, she helped him with her pulling up so he didn't accidentally break his back.
After she had been comfortably sat down in front of Balden, she wrapped her arms around the horses neck.
And like that, they were away while the rest of the group ran. Lara wanted to talk to Balden very badly, but a conversation on top of a moving horse wouldn't be very effective. Especially when one considers that her back was towards Balden's face, meaning whatever she said would be lost.
Instead, Lara dozed lightly. She had done this many times on her lonely wanderings, and this time it was even easier as she didn't have to worry about controlling a horse.
What awoke her from her snoozing was the loud and piercing sound of a conch horn being blown. Even though one conch horn would never produce the same exact sound of another conch horn, it still reminded her of all the festivals and fun times with her parents she had had. Or at least those that she could still remember.
Shortly after the conch horn had blown, Lara both noticed and felt how everything became darker and slightly more colder. A quiet boom echoed as the entrance was shut, slightly startling her.
But Lara could hear the water dripping down the stone, reaching out she could feel the vast amounts of water. Were they under a lake, or did some large source of water flow through the cave?
That question, for now, would remain unanswered as all of them walked towards the glim but piercing lights further in the dark.
Lara kept looking around, being ready in case something nasty unexpectedly jumped out at them. Maybe it was nonsensical, but that did not change the fact that any safe place had to contain something dangerous; each garden had its own snake.
They eventually came down to a large cavern. It was truly breathtaking. The light and shadow difference, especially up higher, made the cavern seem bigger than it actually was.
And there were noises, noises of living people which bounced around and echoed against the stone walls. It was heartening to hear it, for it meant that there were Fenlyckians living out of Malik's rule.
Balden welcomed them to the Fenlyck Resistance, as many Fenlcyks looked upon their group which had just come in.
Lara graciously accepted Balden's help in helping her dismount, as she looked back at her people. Her people... It was hard to think about it that way. For the past three years, she had not been back to the place of her birth, nor had ever bumped into another Fenlyckian. But they were still her people. It did not matter the time nor distance, she represented them and a chosen of the Fenlyck spirit, something which she'd carry with pride and honour.
Ayab was led off to the infirmary to have his leg looked at.
An older woman surrounded by another group of people, all wearing the tradition Fenlyck garb. The older woman's garb, a plum colored toga and a peach/gold robe, indicated that she had some sort of authority. While the clothes indicated authority, the voice spoke it. The older woman questioned Balden about what he had brought in.
When Balden had responded who he had brought back, the old woman burst into happiness. The curious thing to note here was that Lady Stanos, the old woman, had not for a moment question Aria's validity of who she was. Lara was not complaining at all however, if it meant avoiding what had happened back in Volshi then she was totally for it.
Lady Stanos asked about the rest, and Aria politely introduced eachand everyone of them to Lady Stanos. Lady Stanos offered a polite bow to all of them, but to Lara she also offered a show of awe. Lara just stood there, shocked a bit at this sudden awe towards her. And again, comparing her looks to the painting of Fenlyck. Lara truly wondered whether her looks were similar to how Fenlyck had appeared on the painting.
A question for the Fenlyck spirit, but now was not the time for such a question.
Now was the time to rest and relax as much as they could before going on forth and overcoming new challenges.
After they were shown the new quarters they'd be living in, they could finally rest. Lara walked up to Balden, and leaned towards his ear. Whispering, [+purple "Want to find a quiet place and catch up?"]
[center [I [size25 ⛓⛓⛓⛓⛓⛓⛓⛓⛓⛓⛓⛓⛓]]]
Saraya was fatigued greatly. She used to much energy, her forehead oozing beads of sweat, but she remajned docile, so her friends wouldn't worry. The darkness finally consumed the land, and with it came her anxious habit. The warrior in her alarmed her, and her guard was up. But, she hadn't the energy to move. She was panting through her nose, still putting on a brave face for the rest.
And finally... Balden had returned.
He was trying to hurry them. Everyone was eager to move, even Ayab, who still had to consider his wound. Saraya watched as everyone gradually slipped from her, and she tried to give herself the strength to move... But she was like stone. Carrick had notice she hadn't followed and turned to see her struggling to stand. [B "Saraya? "]
Saraya tried once more to stand, using the trunk of the trees for support as she finally could put some weight on her bare feet. Carrick had hurried to her. [B "Can you stand? "] he asked. Saraya huffed hard before slowly beginning to lift her body, and grunted as she felt a bit of a strain. Around this time, Aria had suggested the horses be for Ayab and Saraya. She was willing to protest, but her breath was shallow, and she couldn't catch it soon enough to speak. [B "It's alright... You catch your breath. I'll help you"]
Carrick lifted her off her feet and walked his way back to the group, setting her on the horse. She frowned. [I "I... I can't... Let Aria... "] she squeezed out. Carrick shushed her. [B "We'll make sure she's safe. It will be alright. "] he encouraged her to stay on the horse.
Having not the strength to protest any longer, they group had taken off, jogging to keep up with the horses. Saraya could see the dim luminous midnight ahead of them. Saraya heard a conch shell, and stared ahead as an opening had appeared, and everyone had entered.
Saraya heard the stone close behind them and they were led away, through darkness, dank and silence... Until they reached an opening with light.
Saraya saw stone and attempted to adjust to her surroundings... But, for some reason, though the darkness had some sort of comfort, she felt lightheaded. She felt the fatigue note than usual, and her overextended power had effected her to where her hearing and her sight were distorted. The tunnels led to a chasm, and to the leader of the Resistance... Lady Stanos
Aria and the Lady had started conversation, while Carrick attempted to help her down from her horse. Saraya had hard trouble finding her footing, and finding her stomach... She started trembling, and hurried out of Carrick's hands behind the group so not to be noticed, and vomited.
She coughed silently before staring at the brick wall... Her father began showing the Guardians surrounding him in this very room. He spoke with a distant voice of his purpose... Saraya watched in silence the scene until Malik and Luther had fought vigorously. Sayan tried to stop them, but Luther had yelled something she didn't quite understand, and her father had mistakenly hit Malik, nearly killing him, making the others restrain Luther and look to Sayan.
He didn't want to kill him... He brought him back with his magic, and bestowed upon him his power. Saraya started trembling some. Carrick had noticed and knelt to her. [B "Saraya? Do you need rest? Do you need food? "] he asked before looking back to Aria and Lady Stanos. Saraya looked down to see bodily fluids... But it was dark, black... Blood. She knew it... If she used her Arcane powers while she was carrying, it harms her, and possibly her child. She quickly wiped her mouth and used the sand to cover it from sight.
[I "I... I'm alright, Carrick"] she whispered before trying to stand. Carrick looked to everyone as he helped her up. Saraya slowly regained her footing and returned to the group, Carrick regrettably leaving her side to accompany Aria's.
Carrick's new power had allowed him to speak to her in his mind, even project images. And all the while that he stayed guard, he would whisper sweet nothings into het mind. Saraya sighed to them... It comforted her as she heard them, and even whispered Thank you to him for even trying. Carrick would be happy to help her, but now was his duty... And he had to do so before making such a feat.
Finally the wait that the group had been forced to endure was coming to an end, Balden had returned and with the young man's arrival the group could finally get moving again and start their journey again. Fenlyk was too dangerous to simply stay in the same place for too long. As Balden returned and introduced the two men from the Fenlyk resistance with him Rhuarc glowered at the former blacksmith's apprentice, he still was not sure how to deal with Balden'a abandonment from the group, even if he did what he thought was right he still walked out on his friends and companions. For now Balden would have to accept the glares from the Jai until the situation was resolved. Aria unconsciously voiced a similar opinion as she made a barbed comment about sticking together to Balden. It almost brought a smile to the serious Jai's face. As the group made to move off, Adimar extended and arm and halted Rhuarc before he could start moving and what he had to say was very interesting. The Volshi Prince asked for Rhuarc's word that he would keep this private and the Jai replied a nod before continuing...at least before he was cut off by the Priestess. Malik's Seer had visited Adimar? How was that possible? At the earliest opportunity Rhuarc would need to hear the rest of that particular tale.
The group set off at a run and Rhuarc had to admit it felt extraordinarily good to run again. They had travelled by airship and horse since Tanaka and to run again made him feel like himself again. The Jai were a nomadic people, they trusted their feet above all else, there was a saying in the Wastelands 'A Jai who cannot run is no Jai'. Rhuarc glanced at Ayab, on the horse, his leg looking even more sickly than an hour ago if that was possible. Rhuarc and Ayab had run from their home in the desert to Central City so the run to the Fenlyk hideout barely counted as a run, it was fun but certainly not tiring, at least not to Rhuarc. By the time that they had arrived, Aria looked a little winded and flushed...Rhaurc had not even broken a sweat! The Fenlyk resistance certainly wasn't as grand as Kil'heed but it seemed functional enough. What surprised Rhuarc was the number of people that seemed to be inside the hideout, it was certainly more than he expected, Rhuarc had always been told that Fenlyk had bowed to Malik practically unconditionally but what he saw here in these caves seemed to contradict that. Maybe Fenlyk did not have as much [i Toh] as Rhuarc had been led to believe.
Balden introduced them to Lady Stanos who seemed to be in charge of the resistance and to her credit she accepted Aria for who she was immediately. It was certainly easier than it had been in Kil'heed with Adimar's father and the other Volshi emissary. After the pleasantries were exchanged it seemed that everyone had some downtime to relax. Ayab was taken off to by checked by the resistance's physicians while Rhuarc went to set up a tent. Now that he had a moment alone he went to seek out Adimar in his own makeshift quarters. [b "Adimar I think it is time for you to explain about the Seer. Tell me everything."] Rhuarc didn't know what Adimar was about to say to him but he was certain that it would be important. Adiamr's instance that Rhuarc keep quiet about the conversation ealier had put him on edge. The Volshi Guardian would not do that unless it was absolutely necessary. Rhuarc would keep his word to the man unless it either endangered Aria or their mission but until that moment the Jai would keep silent. Now the only questioned remained was what was Malik's seer doing contacting one of the Guardians?
Aria was ready to move, and once the horses started off to lead the way at a quickened pace, she hurried to follow. She was flanked by Rhuarc and Adimar, with Max and Luther taking the front, her other two guards brought up the rear, and Carrick ran ahead with Lara and Saraya. Aria was no athlete but she wasn’t one to complain about the physical activity of having to jog to keep up with the horses and group. This was how the Jai generally traveled wasn’t it? Being in enemy territory had Aria feeling anxious and yet invigorated, giving her the energy she needed to keep up a steady jog with the group.
Thankfully the entry to the hideaway wasn’t very far, only a few miles. It was well hidden in the wetlands they crossed into but there was an obvious trail the horses could walk on to reach the entry. There was nothing around the collection of rocks that marked the entrance to the hideout, just marshlands and the sounds of the wildlife that inhabited it. One of the Fenlyk’s blew into a conch shell signaling their arrival, and the stones that bared their way, rolled to the side just enough to allow room for the horses the run in single file and the rest of them to slip inside afterwards.
After they crossed the threshold, the rock rolled back into place sealing them in darkness. Outside it had looked like a simple collection of stacked rocks, but it quickly proved to be anything but. Lights came from deeper in the tunnel, and water dripped off the walls, collecting on the floor to create a shallow stream of water they had to walk through. The light ahead of them reflected off the water creating a warm glow in the space. They never stopped moving, though now they were able to catch their breaths as they went down a path further underground. Aria was heaving for air, having never run that much in her life. As she took a moment to catch her breath, she felt a hand on her shoulder and looked to see Luther standing there. She was still angry with him for lying to her, and his suggestion to use her powers of persuasion on Ayab, but she couldn’t deny that he was an asset as well, and so far the only one who encouraged she test and use her powers.
[#00FFFF “Are you alright? You’re flushed.”] Aria raised a hand to wave him off, her face was pink from the exertion, she tried to catch her breath, and stave off the urge to suddenly vomit from the physical stress.
[#DB7093 “I’m fine, or I will be. I just need a moment,”] she heaved, but as he refused to back down, she accepted his offered hand to help her through the tunnels.
The lights they came upon were small glass balls filled with bioluminescent algae. They illuminated the space as they rounded a corner of the tunnel and with time found themselves hearing the noises of the underground residents who lived in hiding here. A well guarded secret after Malik’s invasion, the Fenlyks had begun carving out tunnels underground all of Fenlyk. Thankfully Malik’s men had not discovered the many entrances yet, and even if they did it was quickly obvious that one could easily get lost in such a labyrinth if they did not know their way.
The group was led into a large natural cavern that was illuminated by naturally growing mushrooms, moss, and algae all with bioluminescent properties. It was lovely to Aria who had never seen anything like it. Even Carrick was taken aback by how magical the space was, and he sensed Saraya’s impression of the place. More shocking was the many faces of Fenlyks that looked back curiously upon their arrival. At the head of the group Balden smirked.
[#A52A2A “Welcome to the Fenlyk Resistance,”] he told them and dismounted his horse to help Lara down, while Carrick helped Saraya down from hers, stealing a kiss as he’d come to always do when given the opportunity. The two companions of Balden’s offered Ayab help to get down.
“We’ll take him to the infirmary for you,” they told Aria and Rhuarc. She nodded and watched Ayab be led away to more relaxing quarters.
From the crowd of people going about their business, a group of men and women walked forward. All dressed in the robes and togas of traditional Fenlyk garb, not excluding the obvious warriors of the group, and all of them flanking an older woman in a toga of plum and wearing a robe of peach and gold.
“What is the meaning of this, Balden?” The older woman asked. She was easily in her 50’s, with grey hair, curled and coiffed in the fenlyk fashion upon her head. “You were sent out to scout the Volshi Airship, not return with…” her voice trailed off as Balden reached back and Luther brought Aria forward. A look of recognition on both their faces.
[#A52A2A “These are not mere refugees, General. May I present to you my friend, Her Holiness, the High Priestess of Azeroth. Priestess, this is the Resistance’s General, Lady Stanos.”] The elder woman placed a hand to her heart, stunned by the vision of Aria. She was flushed, with muck up to her knees staining the only dress she owned, and damp with her sweat even though they ran through the night, it was warm and humid in Fenlyk.
“Oh my, the last time I saw you… you were… such a small thing! Priestess, welcome!” She reached forward and collected Aria’s hands in her own; a large and bright smile on her face and eyes growing misty. “The divines must have heard our prayers and sent you to us.” Aria smiled at Lady Stanos kindly and stood with her. Aria had a faint memory of the woman, though she too had been much younger with strawberry blond hair, not grey and much less wrinkles. Aria also remembered that Lady Stanos had been the Elected Ambassador of Fenlyk before Malik’s invasion. Now it seemed she was the Resistance’s leader.
Aria had to ask, [#DB7093 “You do not question the validity of who I am?”] Lady Stanos smiled.
“Oh no, your holiness. I still see that little girl with those unique eyes of yours. To me you have not changed a bit… taller, older, more womanly, but you are still clearly you. Are these [i The Guardians]?” She asked. Aria smiled and nodded sweeping a hand back and introducing them.
[#DB7093 “Yes, I present Lady Saraya of Caledon, Prince Adimar of Volshi, Rhuarc of the Farlan Jai, and of course your own… Lara of Fenlyk.”] Lady Stanos bowed respectfully to them all as they were introduced, but when it came to Lara she seemed to be in awe of her.
“Why you look just like the paintings of Fenlyk that once graced her temple… a shame I cannot take you there to see… Malik-“
[#DB7093 “Destroyed it. We know. Please, my people are in need of rest, food, and medical attention.”]
“Yes of course! Come, we will see to it that all of your needs and that of the Guardians are met. You are welcomed and safe here. Balden has told us much about you… I get the feeling we have much to discuss.” The lady waved for others to come and help the Guardians, and showed them to a section of the tunnels they would be able to use to store their things and set up their own living space.
They weren’t impressive quarters, and it looked as though they’d all be sharing the space together. It was clear the tunnels were not used for actual living, but for operating from. Still, there was space enough for them all to set up their own sort of camp, and Lady Stanos called for tents and cots to be brung to their space so they would have some semblance of privacy while in hiding.
“I apologize, I know it’s not much, and we weren’t expecting you. Though we have been waiting and hoping for you to come for many years.” Lady Stanos stated, which explained to Aria why they’d been so secretive for so long, slowly networking tunnels underneath Fenlyk, and into its major cities; while amassing supplies, weapons, and fighters. Aria only nodded in silent understanding and watched as her guards and the Cabin Boy set about erecting tents and making the space livable for them all. “When you have settled in, I should like to meet with you all. I will have a fine meal prepared for us all to share over our conversation, and fresh clothes if you need it.” She then informed the Guardians where they would find a place to bathe, told them where they would find the other fighters training if they so wished to stay strong and fit, and explained that they were welcomed to any part of the underground. Then she bid them goodbye, letting them know she’d send someone to lead them to supper, and turned to leave. Aria turned to face the group and clasped her hands.
[#DB7093 “Alright, we all heard Lady Stanos. Let’s take some time to get settled in, then we can all eat and plan with the Resistance how best to reach the Fenlyk Temple. In the meantime. I am going to wash the mud and sweat off.”] Aria grabbed her bag, eager for the bath was that mentioned and invited Saraya and Lara to join her if they wished. Before Lara or Saraya could go to follow, if they decided too, Carrick suggested taking their weapons with them. They couldn’t be too cautious, despite the safety of the underground. With Aria gone, Adimar looked over to Rhuarc, hoping for a chance to confess further about the visit he received from Vega and share her message with him.
Adimar waited as patiently as he could. He was normally very patient, but when it came to hiding in wait? Not so much. Adimar might have been more of a scholar, but he was a trained warrior, and even he knew to be this deep in enemy territory it was best to remain cautious. He had to rely on everyone else’s faith in Balden, because he certainly didn’t know the young man very well. Balden did not have Adimar’s trust.. and considering what Vega had told him the other night? Adimar felt himself becoming almost paranoid and shifty. At least for now he had dissuaded Aria from venturing off after the Medici. When Rhuarc made his comment about their returning shortly, Adimar cocked an eyebrow and looked over at him. How had he known that? It suddenly dawned on Adimar that Rhuarc possibly possessed a skill very similar to his own. This was a coastal region, known for its marshlands and wildlife. No doubt water snakes were prevalent in this province, and if Adimar was right… Rhuarc would need a familiar, the way Adimar had Hermes. A conversation for another time though, as they had to keep quiet.
Luther was another matter all together. His brazen suggestion made even Adimar prickly, and he wasn’t the only one. He could feel Rhuarc beside him glower with irritation. Neither of them trusted Luther as far as they could throw him. Adimar was still curious to know what the ring Lara had found was all about. Adimar just hadn’t had the time to look it over, but whatever it was there was something dangerously powerful about it. Which begged the question: why did Luther possess such a ring? Why did he have a full notebook filled with drawings of Aria? He watched the Watcher closely as he sat and waited, head tipped back and eyes closed as if he was simply sleeping. It rubbed Adimar the wrong way and he shared a glance with Rhuarc, glad to see he wasn’t the only one wary of Luther’s presence.
Luther wasn’t the only one that Adimar was unsure of, but that might have just been an overprotective need inside him in regards to Lara. She was young, and her blushing smile at whatever the cabin boy murmured to her had not gone unnoticed. That too made Admiar a bit prickly to watch, Lara was quickly becoming important to Adimar in the way a sister, niece or cousin might be, that he didn’t even like how handsy Balden had been earlier with her. Maybe that was just the paranoia talking. Perhaps Vega had come to him in an attempt to sway him from his path? He almost wasn’t sure what to believe in anymore, but he did know there was at least one person he could trust implicitly: Rhuarc. But even Adimar wasn’t certain that if he told the man about Vega’s visit that he would agree to keep it from Aria. Still, he kept his comments to himself even as the Cabin Boy flirted unashamed with Lara -despite her warning of feelings for Balden. Oh to be young…
Nightfall was moving in, and Adimar was growing more restless -they all were. It grew to a fever pitch as they heard hooves thundering towards them. Lara seemed to know it was Balden, and Adimar would have used Hermes to verify, but the group of riders returned before he could connect with Hermes and made their presence known. Balden had managed to get the patrol off their trail and was able to double back. The Fenlyk resistance was very good at deflecting and misleading Malik’s men, that putting them on a new heading was easy. Malik’s men were all brutish, but they lacked intelligence.
[#DB7093 “Balden! You’re here!”]
[#A52A2A “It’s nice to see you all,”] Balden quickly introduced his companions to the others. He could see Rhuarc’s directed glare at him, and he knew he was in trouble with the Jai. Ayab had warned him, but Balden had done what he felt was right. It still didn’t quell his anxiety at having to confront the man and speak to him.
One of Balden’s companions dismounted his horse and brought it over for Aria, while the other dismounted to give his horse to Saraya. Balden suggested rushing Aria, Saraya and Lara ahead to the base, but Aria did not agree with the group being split, much to Adimar’s relief. She reached back, and moved to stand between Rhuarc and Adimar a different idea on her mind.
[#DB7093 “Ayab and Saraya should each take one of the horses.”] She instructed, and looked to the two men accompanying Balden. [#DB7093 “Saraya is with child and Ayab needs The Medici. Walking is difficult for him. I’ll be fine on foot. This group does not split up, Balden. We are stronger together.”] Balden frowned, he clearly didn’t like what she had decided, or her subtle jab, but he voiced no argument against her. Aria wasn’t going to leave the others behind, there would be no breaking up their group. Not this deep in enemy territory, and that was obvious. She felt there was better strength in numbers.
Balden was less convinced. Sometimes it was easier to move through the wetlands in smaller numbers. At the same time he sensed a level of distrust coming from Rhuarc and even Adimar, and it hadn’t gone unnoticed his subtle reaction to the idea of splitting the group -but maybe it was the plan to separate Aria from their line of sight. He had to relent and help move the group as a whole. It wouldn’t take them too terribly long to reach the hideout on foot, but it would take longer than Balden would have liked.
“Come on, we can’t stay here or they will find us. Let’s move quickly.” One of his companions stated. Balden turned then for Lara, a warm smile on his face, and held his hand out.
[#A52A2A “Will you ride with me? We have a lot to catch up on. I want to hear all about the trials in Kil’heed,”] he said to her eager to spend time in her company again. From where he stood carrying his many bags, Rhys watched with extreme displeasure and obvious jealousy, but he quickly pasted a smile on his face and looked to Lara with an encouraging tone.
[#8B008B “You should go with your friend. He seems like a fine enough fellow…”] Balden frowned down at Rhys for that, holding his horse steady and reached down for Lara, helping her in one strong pull of his arm until she was seated comfortably in front of him in the saddle. Rhys only grinned as if he knew something the others didn’t, and watched as they rode off to lead the group to the hideout.
As greetings were made and they were urged to move quickly under the cover of darkness, Adimar reached for Rhuarc holding him back as the rest of the group moved forward, and whispered.
[#20B2AA “There’s something important I need to tell you, I need your word that this will not leave us. Vega, Malik’s Seer came to me the other night. She warned me-“] they were cut off by Aria who had turned from the group, realizing they had not followed with the others.
[#DB7093 “Come on you two, no dawdling,”] she chided. Adimar forced a smile and glanced to Rhuarc, a silent promise to pick it up later.
To be truthful, she had not expected any hugs at all. But at the same time, Lara deeply appreciated this show of instantaneous gratitude from Balden. It meant that despite their long separation, both distance and time wise, he still clearly remembered her; Lara still clearly remembered Balden.
Lara had embraced Balden, smiling as she wrapper her arms around his soaked clothes and body. Lara missed Balden as well, but their moment of reunion had to be cut short due to a patrol of Malik's men closing in on their position.
She became worried when he mentioned that he'd try screwing up the trail on purpose, scared that he wouldn't come back. But Lara could feel that Balden had changed. He had less of a 'boyish' voice, and more of an authoritative voice. His body felt as if it had gone through long, intense physical work.
As Balden let go of her, Lara let go of Balden. There was no time for standing as Balden quickly moved her in the direction of Adimar, who grabbed her by the arm and dragged her to where everyone else was hiding. Lara felt completely displeased at being dragged in such a manner, she could've easily run towards the hiding spot without this physical contact.
But since it already happened, she couldn't really change it.
Now, now time would tell whether Balden's efforts would pay off or not. Sitting down, Lara closed her eyes and prayed without words that Balden would be successful and return alive and scratch-less.
For now, the patrol had come up where there were many prints of both horse and human. All of them could hear what Malik's men were saying, and there was a discussion. Lara listened intently, waiting for some sign that the hiding spot had been compromised and prepared to call upon the sea to sweep these foul creatures to deeper waters and end up as snacks to the beasts of the deep sea.
But that would not be neccessary at all. With a deep sigh of relief, a heavy weight was lifted off of everyone; Malik's men took the bait and went after Balden. Now, now they had to wait for Balden to come back.
Now begun a very uncomfortable waiting period. They could only sit there while the patrol of Malik's went after Balden's deception, not knowing whether Balden had succeeded or not.
Lara closed her eyes and reached out with her mind to the water. She could feel as the water gently swished forwards and backwards in small, rolling waves, going up and down the sandy shore. Despite the heavy pressure suddenly thrust upon their shoulders, Lara found this forwards and backwards motion calming. It reminded that her that even though there was evil in the world, there still remained those quiet and pure bits.
She opened her eyes upon hearing someone crawling. Turning her head around to the crawling sound, it was Aerik. So, he had also come with them to explore the lands of Fenlyck. Lara hoped that he knew for what he was volunteering for, since they had already met danger in the form of Malik's men.
She turned her head away from him as Aerick showered her with compliments, she even blushed just a tiny bit as her heart raced ahead of her. Turning around just a tiny bit, she could see him grinning at her;she quickly turned away.
Despite feeling happy, Lara still felt awkward at this showering of attention from Aerik. It felt as if he was going for some sort of relationship with her. But Lara knew that she had already committed to Balden relationship wise. But at the same time, she couldn't be cruel and crush Aerik's hope sofast as if popping a balloon.
She slowly turned around to face Aerik, a serious expression on her face as she begun to speak in a quiet tone. [+purple "I thank you for your shows of affection. No one has ever told me that I look like those depictions of Fenlyck. At the same time, I do not remember how any depictions of Fenlyck appear as. As to appearing 'peaked'"], Lara gave a bit of a jovial smile before returning to her former serious expression, [+purple "Lets just say I have.... you know.... feelings for Balden and he has feelings for me... And, you know, we just happen to meet up after I nearly drown him."] Lara chuckled a bit at her own last statement.
And then Rhuarc spoke up, Balden was supposed to return soon.
By this time, night had slowly replaced day. It was hard to see as it slowly became darker and darker.
But sounds, sounds traveled. And when there was water for the sound to travel, the sound could be heard more distinctly. In this case, it was the sound of galloping horse. Lara once again reached out to the water, and she could hear the hooves of the horses thundering along the sand, tearing it up.
Lara stood up. Stretching out her arms, she then gripped her staff and quietly walked towards the edge of their hiding spot. [+purple "It's Balden all right."]
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She watched as they disappeared from sight. She exerted her power again, shielding the others. She shivered. She never used her ability for this long at this big a stretch. Shielding everyone, more than five people... This was definitely a stretch. She felt a little fatigued, but when she saw Malik's men, whooping and screeching upon their neighing decaying steeds halt a moment to observe the sand, she summed up as much of her energy she could and kept it strong.
The horses were evil, malnourished... Strands of hair were hanging on their mane, their swishing tails looked like straw. They had wounds... Holes in their chest, and looked hollow within them. The horses were the fallen steeds of Fenlyk... Bent to do their whim. The men took to the hoof prints in the sand the water couldn't touch. Saraya held her breath and tensed. She felt a growing strain on her belly, knowing she was reaching her limit. The heavy hoofbeats and shrill neighing sounded as they chased down the source. Once she was sure they were far enough over the dunes, she slowly allowed her shield to subside. She relaxed, panting after fully dissolving the shield. She could recollect herself while they waited. Balden was growing to be a formidable guardian.
Saraya sighed as she sat down, and Carrick followed. Everyone was tense, still. She understood, but she also knew that the task must be done... And she had to put faith in Balden. If he didn't come back, she would take the time to play leader, and she had to find a way to the Temple. She sighed as she felt Carrick move her hair, and leaned close to whisper to her.
[b "How are you feeling after shielding us?"]
She chuckled some. [I "A little winded... But I think I can manage"] she joked, trying to calm her anxiety down. She had always been a warrior. But, to be a guardian... A pregnant guardian had a whole new meaning to her. Her motherhood was stolen in an attempt to save, and through her death become a mother again... She had a role to play, Not only to Aramis... But to everyone. She had to be a warrior for a whole new reason... To protect life outside and inside her circle. To be Hïgàsçá was her ultimate weapon. To keep her family safe, she had to be sure to be on her toes.
Even if she was swelling with life...
[b "Do you still have enough energy to run when the time comes?"]
[I "i think I can make it half-way... "] she joked. Carrick chuckled some, showing his smile. [b "Because I will carry you if I must,"] Carrick said, leaning in and nuzzling his nose with Saraya's. She smiled softly, relaxing some as she was this close to him. [b "Your bravery and compassion will be the death of me I'm sure... but it's what I admire most about you. It's why Caledon chose you, and it's why I love you, and always will."] He leaned in and kissed her, after whispering his tender words.
She sighed and understood it all. With one kiss, she understood that she had a destiny... And she had a goal. And if it took her last breath, she will go down with knowing she saved Aria, the High Priestess.
She sighed a thank you to him, and nuzzled him. She finally could sit all the way down on bark. She needed to breathe. Waiting for Balden would be tedious, but she watched as they resisted. She could see the darkness within the trees. Everyone was getting impatient which was normal. There wasn't a thing she could do about that... Be cause she could slowly feel herself slip into that category. She started rubbing her belly, watching the dunes as she felt the comfort of Carrick...
The sun was setting...
The darkness was spreading...
And patience was thinner. Saraya began listening to Luther, suggesting using magic to blank Ayab's mind from pain. She felt offended by that. She growled at Luther, making him look to her. [I "No... I won't allow that"]
She could see her emotions were dancing on a thin wire. It only took a word to make her switch up from bliss, to worry, to anger. She calmed herself as she averted her eyes from him to the fading light. She had to hold tight, but the darkness worried her... Darkness had eyes, and she couldn't bear anyone else getting hurt from it... Where was Balden?
Night came.... And with it, Saraya's anxiety began. She began to watch the darkness. She didn't have enough energy to protect them yet... She tried, and she panted hard, feeling the stretch. It wasn't good. At this rate, she wouldn't be able to make a run for it to the temple.
Lara dissapeared into the water, ready to use her abilities the second that they were called for and she got her chance as several horsemen were dragged under the surf to be dealt with by the Fenlyk Guardian. Rhuarc stood with his sward drawn, ready for if there were more men or they somehow escaped Lara's trap in the water...that was until she released them. One of the figures was familiar, even at this distance, despite the changes that had come over him in the last six months one of the figures that had ridden out to meet them was unmistakably the one time blacksmith's apprentice. Rhuarc's hand tightened on his sword, the knuckles going white from the pressure, in many ways he was more concerned to see Balden than an enemy, he knew how to deal with enemies, the betrayal of a friend on the other hand was a far more delicate matter. Time passed slowly and eventually it seemed that the patrol that Shade-stealer had sent for them had been sent on a wild goose chase by the tracks that Balden had left for them to follow. Rhuarc glanced at Aria and saw fear in her eyes, but whether that was from almost being discovered or the state of Ayab's wound he was unsure, her eyes were somewhat fixed upon the injured Jai. Luther made a suggestion on how to help Ayab but all it did was make Rhuarc want to slit his throat, how dare he even consider using magic to mess with Ayab's mind it was unthinkable! The suggestion might have been made out of a genuine intent to help but Rhuarc thought the idea an abomination, after everything else had been taken away at least a man still had his wits. An uncomfortable voice in the back of his head wondered if he would still hate the idea if anyone other than the watcher made the suggestion...
The pain burned through Ayab's wound and it was unimaginably painful, the worst it had been in months. The truth was he was exhausted, and the injury dealt to him by the Fade was taking all of his strength. If he did not make it to the Medici soon then Ayab knew that he would die sooner rather than later and he had made his peace with that. Ayab knew that he was becoming a liability, if he wasn't one already and that it was at least a little selfish of him to come along with the group, he would slow them down and while even a weakened Jai was a better warrior than most of those in the wetlands, he was not the protector he had once been. In truth he was there for Rhuarc, to keep him level headed, to call him out on his misjudgments and to spend as much time with his old friend before he died, as he knew that he would. He was glad that he had finally named Aria [i da'thei] she would be strong enough to do all of this when Ayab could not. He was in too much pain to really hear what the Priestess and Luther were discussing but whatever happened he trusted Aria's judgement, he always had and that would not change for anything. In fact he was so delirious he thought he saw Balden...no, that was not a hallucination. Balden was real.
Rhuarc agreed with Adiamr's sentiment, they should be moving but, as much as it galled him to admit it, Luther was right, it was too great a risk to start moving without knowing where they were headed to or if their enemies were lying in wait to ambush them. The smart move was to wait until Balden returned to them. They had not been in Fenlyk for even a day and already Malik's men were breathing down their necks it showed just how dangerous Fenlyk was going to be. Rhuarc attempted to clear his mind and focus on what was around him, he focussed on the serpents, tried to see through their eyes the way that Adiamr did with his hawk but he simply could not, his arcane training was nowhere near strong enough so he had to settle for communicating with the snakes and interpreting the images that they saw to find out what was happening out on the wetlands. FRom what he saw Balden and the two men with him were leading Malik's men far enough away and seemed to have left such a confusing trail that even the most skilled of hunters or trackers would be out for hours looking for the true trail, and soon it seemed Balden was returning tot he group.
What was Rhuarc to do with Balden, the young man had been a friend, and a good student who Rhuarc had liked. When Balden had left he had disrespected Rhuarc as his teacher and made a serious transgression in the Jai system of honour and obligation, by Jai custom Rhuarc had the right, and should, take Balden's life for the insult but Balden was not Jai. He probably did not understand how serious what he had done was and how much it had hurt Rhuarc, even if he refused to show it. The question of what to do with Balden would weigh on Rhuarc's mind for a while yet. The Jai guardian, came out of his trace with the serpents and reported to the rest of the group. [b "They will return shortly."] Rhuarc continued to grip his blade tightly, wondering just what to do with it.
They waited in silence for what felt like hours. Shortly after taking cover, Malik’s men shouted as they neared. They lingered at the sight of the prints, and one of the men dismounted his horse to walk around. Saraya’s shield did little to calm Aria’s nerves too. Adimar and Lara had finally rejoined them, with word that Balden was near and drawing the patrol away from them.
“They were here.” He said, but another pointed out the hoof prints in the sand. Aria closed her eyes and prayed to Azera that the patrol took Balden’s bait and let them be. She didn’t doubt their ability to fight Malik’s men, but it would be prudent to not make their presence known just yet.
“They have horses, that way.” Another shouted. Her prayers were answered! From where they hid Aria held her breath and she didn’t relax until the sound of their horses rode off. Even then she didn’t move. She was surrounded by her guards, and the guardians, but the initial fear of Malik’s men was enough to keep her frozen. For the longest time the only sounds they heard came from seagulls, and the lapping waves against the sand. Aria didn’t like sitting either. She felt like a sitting duck, just waiting to be found and plucked up from the ground like some helpless flower.
She looked over and saw Ayab gripping his leg and gritting his teeth. She crawled over to sit beside him and took his hand away from his leg. She didn’t speak, but the look of her eyes spoke enough: Let me see. She doubted she could do Ayab any good, but Ursula had said she had the potential to heal wounds such as Ayab’s. She only needed taught. Aria was beginning to wonder if she had the time to not only be taught, but to find the Medici as well. This was her first real chance to see Ayab’s wound up close, and what she saw was frightening. Ayab’s wound was festered and rotten, with a spiderweb of blackened veins stark under his skin. His once tanned flesh looked pale and sickly. Perhaps if she gave Ayab just a little bit of her own powers, maybe if she channeled it the right way, she could help him. Just by looking at it Aria could see the wound leaking off a dark aura.
[#00FFFF “Use your powers of persuasion, make him think he can’t feel any pain from it until he reaches safety.”] Aria looked over to see Luther had come to crouch beside her. Aria frowned. She’d only ever used that skill with animals… persuading a man would be too difficult. [#00FFFF “you don’t have the skill to heal him, but you can make him think it causes him no pain.”] Aria looked to Ayab. She didn’t feel comfortable getting in his head like that.
[#DB7093 “There has to be something else I can do,”] She whispered under her breath to him. Luther only stared back with an expression that told her he didn’t think there was another way. Frowning she looked at Ayab and gripped his hand tighter. [#DB7093 “I know it hurts Ayab, and I will do everything I can to see you well again, but I won’t make you believe a falsehood.”] Luther looked displeased by that, but made no comment and sat back to wait like the others. Aria stayed where she was, holding Ayab’s hand. He had guarded her the longest of them all, and had kept watch during her and Rhuarc’s quarrel. She feared loosing him too, the fear of not being able to find the Medici was daunting and left Aria to stay close at his side, what little comfort it might have provided him, and laid her head on his shoulder as they all waited in silence for Balden to return. Eventually her gaze found Rhuarc’s, her expression nothing short of worry for the Jai they both cared deeply for.
Carrick didn’t like waiting, even if he didn’t show it. The air was tense around them and it seemed the time was dragging on. He looked over to see Adimar leaned against a tree his eyes open and vacant of color. Instead they were a cloudy white, staring up into the sky. Overhead Hermes flew past them and along the shore, following the patrol from a safe distance and making sure the coast was kept clear around them. It reminded Carrick of Aria’s trance like state when she left her body for another plane: Vulnerable. Carrick was learning quickly that all magic comes with a price. Adimar could do great things with his magic, but he’d been practicing for years, and researching it, and he still had his limitations. He looked over to see Saraya relaxing beside him, the need for her shield passed with the patrol. He looped his arm over her shoulder and decided to wait it out with the rest of them, since he had little choice in the matter. He brushed his fingers through her hair, but like the rest of the Holy Guard, he too had his sword drawn and waiting. Lara had her staff, Admiar kept his bow and arrows safely in his lap, and Rhuarc’s blade was never far from his hands.
[#000080 "How are you feeling after shielding us? Do you still have enough energy to run when the time comes? Because I will carry you if I must,"] Carrick said leaning in and nuzzling his nose with Saraya's. [#000080 "Your bravery and compassion will be the death of me I'm sure... but it's what I admire most about you. It's why Caledon chose you, and it's why I love you, and always will."] He leaned in and kissed her, after whispering his tender words. He was not ashamed to show his adoration for Saraya in front of the others.
They all waited with baited breath to come out of hiding, but they all knew they couldn’t make a move until Balden returned. It begged the question: What would they do if Balden didn’t return? Luther wanted to know if he should go scout, but Adimar finally spoke, taking a deep breath and his eyes returned to normal. According to Adimar, Malik’s men were enough away they could move a bit more freely.
[#20B2AA “I don’t like sitting here. I’d feel more comfortable making our way inland towards Astoria.”] Adimar stated.
[#00FFFF “Not enough cover for us to move under. We’d need a guarantee that Malik’s men aren’t on our path there. Which doesn’t matter since we don’t even know where the Resistance is hiding.”] Luther reminded from where he sat. Adimar looked displeased, but relented, not in the mood to argue with the watcher.
Rhys sat observing the group. It was what he did best -observe. He carried a large bag on his back full of provisions, maps, and other survival tools they might need. Rhys hadn’t been ready to cross paths with a Patrol of Malik’s either. He’d have to expose himself too soon, and he had to keep tabs on the Priestess and her group. The mark of the Fade was strong with the lad Lara had seemed so close with, that Rhys was impressed none of them had found the boy out yet. To be fair, the Fade was crafty and cunning, so it wasn’t that surprising that his work was unnoticed. As far as Rhys could tell, the boy wasn’t even aware that the Fade was with him. With the downtime he had the opportunity to get closer to Lara. He crawled over to where she sat and leaned in to whisper to her.
[#8B008B “Everyone is pretty tense with that close call. How are you hanging in there? You look peaked about something. Was it that guy from earlier or was it using your powers? I had no idea you could do that! It was brilliant! Has anyone ever told you, you look just like the depictions of Fenlyk when she was alive? Because seeing you rise out of the water like the goddess she was is not something I’ll soon forget…It’s got to be the red hair…”] He teased with a handsome grin.
The trees and tall strands of sweet grass gave them enough cover to hide in. Adimar had dropped behind a dune to hide just before reaching the trees. Lara had dropped back to dive in the water, no doubt to manipulate it, and Adimar did not want to leave her so far separated from the group alone. He was prepared to be her back up. From his back he removed his bow and notched an arrow. He kept his breath steady and waited listening, until he heard a grunt and looked to see Saraya helping Ayab. He was prepared to shoot at the coming party, but Saraya was quicker and used one of her shields to make them invisible. So Adimar held his position and waited as the scouts came back around having spotted their tracks. By then Saraya and managed to get Ayab to the cover of trees.
He could hear their hooves beating dents in the sand. He could hear a voice speak about the airship taking off from this spot and to spread out. Saraya however stepped out and at the tree line Carrick stood ready to attack. With Saraya confronting the enemy, Adimar made his presence known with his bow still readied. Adimar had only known Balden briefly, but he was almost certain that’s who they were facing, and by Saraya’s reaction it confirmed his suspicions, and he reluctantly lowered his bow.
Apparently there was a scouting party of Malik’s headed this way. Balden told them to make cover, and that they would lead the party away before circling back for them. How fortuitous that Balden would show up, but Lara was still in the water waiting to strike, which she did with a vengeance quite suddenly, snatching Balden off the sand and the other two off their horses and into the waves. The water had reached like a large hand, and pulled them viciously under the surf. Not even a moment later were they spit right back out, and Adimar sighed in relief, but time was short. If a patrol was coming, they had to move fast.
[b BALDEN] had rode out that morning with two others to scout the coast and try to intercept the Volshi Airship. They wanted to at least see who had landed and report back. Instead they had almost crossed paths with an enemy patrol unit. Ten men strong and all bearing Malik’s sigil. The Airship had moved too quickly, it had landed at mid day just as predicted it would, but Balden’s group wasn’t the only one who saw the Airship land and promptly ascend. It became a race to reach the landing site first. Balden expected to see a Volshi regime ready to fight, or actual Volshi representatives to delegate a union. What Balden had found was entirely different. He’d been genuinely shocked to see Saraya standing before him with sword drawn. Behind her Adimar had appeared on the sand with bow drawn. Seeing the Volshi Guardian instantly put a bitter taste in his mouth. Balden ignored him and greeted Saraya, but his mind was preoccupied. If those two were here, where were the others? Where was Lara? Aria? They needed to hide. He tried to tell Saraya to make sure everyone was hidden when he felt the water shift the sand suddenly under his feet. Before he knew it, the water had him wrapped up and was dragging him under. Balden managed one great breath before being ripped underwater. He knew exactly who had done it and he shouted into the Water, praying she would hear him.
[#A52A2A “LARA!!!”] his breath bubbled up towards the surface. Wether she heard him or realized her error, she spit him and his companions back out of the water. Balden landed with a hard thud onto the sand. His bottom rang out in minor pain from he landing. It all meant nothing, as he looked up and saw Lara rising from the water, and coming onto shore. For a moment Balden and the others stared in awe at how perfectly similar Lara had looked like Fenlyk in that moment. A beautiful tempest with the ocean and its power at her back.
She looked angry, no... upset. Didn’t matter, Balden smiled dumbly at her, not hearing a word she said. He was too busy taking in the sight of her. He smiled to see she had the staff he made her, and smiled as she helped him stand up. He adored the way she was blushing, and at her comment to have him back. He smiled at her, committing her face to memory before he grabbed her and held her tightly in a hug.
[#A52A2A “Lara, I missed you so much. We’ll talk soon, I promise. Right now I need you to hide. Malik’s patrol is headed this way, they saw the airship too. We’ll try and lead them away from you. I promise to come back for you.”] He let her go and tried to move her towards where the ground was hiding. He then turned for his horse, all of them did and took off quickly kicking the sand and making tracks to lead the patrol away.
A shrill whistle sounded then and everyone could see Carrick waving for them to hurry for cover. Adimar grabbed Lara by the arm and dragged her with him towards the trees. He turned back towards the sand and with a gleam of his eyes and a sweep of his hand, a gust of wind blew across the beach and took their footprints with it.
As soon as she had answered Rhuarc's question, Lara felt a familiar and comforting hand across her shoulders. By a quick glance at Aria, Lara could see the motherly expression looking her way. Lara smiled, the burden of last night's feelings finally released.
At this point, Adimar walked up to where they had gathered with something on his arm. The thing on his arm was not a mere thing, it was a bird. Based on what Adimar said, he and the birds had a "best-friends-forever" relationship; the only way that human-bird bond would break, "till death do us apart".
The fact that Adimar could see what the bird saw would be an extremely useful tool in avoiding traps. The bird could go and fly inconspicuously, as if it were any ol' regular flying bird. But no one would suspect that the bird, Hermes, would be used by Adimar for spying on the enemy's movements.
Lara declined to pet Hermes, the pet bird. She was not afraid of the bird at all, but instead Lara had already decided to observe the ship's descent all the way down to the ground or water, whatever the ship would be landing on.
The bird's screech was high and piercing, and caused Lara to almost jump back. That bird did know how to screech, and it was most probable that Hermes knew how to use his beak and claws in a deadly fashion.
After the screeching had died down, two new pairs of footsteps had appeared. Turning around, Lara saw that Carrick and Saraya had come up to the deck as well. For the first time in a long time, unless she had missed one earlier, Lara noticed that Saraya was looking more refreshed and relaxed. It was a good sign and a healthy change from all the series of unfortunate events that Saraya had experienced, one after the other.
Lara sighed as Carrick and Saraya started an impromptu training session right there on the deck. There was not anything interesting to watch, so Lara watched the training session. It consisted of Saraya throwing items at Carrick and Carrick catching the items flying his way. He did not either miss or fumble a single item thrown his way, even being confident enough to throw a few items back the way they came; Saraya dogged all the items Carrick threw at her with ease.
And then it happened. The ship was finally flying downwards, closer to the ground of Fenlyck. Lara could feel the initial lurch as the ship slowly accelerated downwards before it floated downwards at a constast rate.
ANd then Luther approached their little group. Lara could see the look of frustration as clear as daylight. Had Luther looked through his belongings and had come to the conclusion that someone had gone through them? Lara giggled only to herself. The answer to that question, would remain a well tucked in secret.
It took awhile more, but in the end the ship finally touched down. It did not touch down on land, but on the water on a beach. Lara's heart fluttered, she was officially back in her country. After three years of absence, she was finally back. It was a mind blower for Lara, for not even in her deepest dreams had she dreamed that she would actually return to her homeland.
But there was not any time to keep on wondering. They had to get off the ship, and as far away from here as quickly as possible. No one knew if Malik knew about their arrival, and it was for the better that Malik did not know that information for as long as possible.
Adimar was the first to jump on to sand, after which he released his bird Hermes for scouting. Lara walked up to the edge and jumped on the beach shore. Adimar helped to soften her landing, and with Carrick and Saraya as well.
Lara took a tentative step. She could feel as the sand slowly gave way to her foot, her foot slowly displacing the sand. Lifting it up, she could see the impression of the bottom of her boot in the sand, as if someone had stenciled the bottom of her shoe onto a piece of paper. It all felt surreal, but it was actually happening. After three long years, she had finally taken her first step in Fenlyck.
By this time, everyone else had come down onto the beach shore and the ship had flown away.
The decision was made to send out Thad and Rupert in search of the elusive Medici, while the rest of them would start to head towards Astoria.
Thad and Rupert walked off, leaving only them standing on the beach. Concerning Aria's wish about learning things from the Medici, it would be best if Aria would stay away from the Medici. The Medici was as changing as she was elusive. The Medici might do something completely unexpected, and there were already too many things that could happen unexpectedly.
Speaking of things happening, they had just been spotted. A group of horsemen had noticed them, but whether they were friends or foes was unknown. Their only option was to run, although Adimar suggested for her to "sweep those bastards" into the ocean.
While the rest of them ran towards cover, Lara ran and jumped into the sea. Even though she was fully clothed and armed with a metallic staff, the ability to control water nullified all the extra weight.
It felt, there were so may feelings. Lara smiled, remembering all the jovial times she had swum alone as well as with her family. She also felt hope. She was back in her homeland, back in her own turf. All her fights here would be on her own land, a massive advantage in any fight.
But, she had to get back to "sweeping those bastards out to sea".
Unknown to Lara, the group of horsemen were actually friendlies. And their leader was Balden. If Lara had known this, then what happened next could have been avoided.
The three horsemen started to gallop back along the shore, but Lara was waiting underwater. As they galloped, Lara pushed the water further out onto the shore. And as the horses ran through that water, Lara snatched the riders out of the saddles and dragged them under the water. The horses stopped all of a sudden, completely confused as to why they suddenly had no riders.
Lara would have left the riders to drown, until she realized that one of them was Balden. When she saw that she was drowning Balden, of all the people to actually drown, LAra got a bit of a shock which caused the water to spit out Balden and his comrades out of the water, and on their asses.
Lara, using the water, propelled herself forward. Reaching the shore, she ran over to Balden. [+purple "Balden??!??? First you craft beautiful weapons for us, and then leave us without so much as a note."] She grabbed his hand and pulled him back up, the old feelings that she had had with him slowly returning. Blushing, [+purple "I'm... I'm sorry about nearly drowning you... It's good to have you back."]
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Saraya, after their spectical began to smell another wave of his intoxicating Apex. She had long ignored it, but it was still there. He was on guard, only retiring to their Chambers when his training was done... His constant concern for her and their baby was enough to warm her heart and bring a tear to her lashes. But, still... The Captain still needed his woman, and above all else, she'd start with her own circle.
Carrick had asked [b "Are you ready for our next adventure, my love? "] Saraya smiled. [I " Let's accomplish this"]
The ship had finally landed in water. Saraya saw everyone gather to take that drop. Adimar, Rhuarc, Ayab, Lara... Saraya was next. With Carrick's help, she had safely gotten down and into Adimar's arms. Aria came down on her own, then Carrick, Thad and Rupert. Saraya was safely on her feet as she looked around the waterlands. The water wanted to shimmer and shine, but she knew why it wouldn't. She could feel the sadness from there. Malik's grip was tight, and it was up to them to loosen it.
Corbin, Saraya's guard disembarked the ship, followed by Max. Corbin had trotted to Carrick and bowed. [b "A thousand apologize, Captain. But, it seems you'll need assistance."]
Carrick didn't have time to answer him. A call had sounded on the horizon, and it was coming towards them, by the smell of it... Not so far away, there was a bushel of palm trees. Everyone thought it trees cover and ran for it. Carrick took Saraya's hand and made haste.
Saraya had trouble keeping up at first, but through the Sting of cramping sensations had subsided, she could finally keep up with his speed. Her left hand was wrapped around her, so not to feel any pain as she ran. She looked to see Rhuarc and passing her, then ahead. Where was Ayab? She looked back to see him falling behind because of his wounds. She let go of Carrick's hand and turned back. Carrick yelled for her, but, she hurried to him. Corbin turned and ran for her, but she barked to him to go into the trees as she ran. Ayab saw her coming for him and tried to assure her, but she threw his arm over her shoulder and started trying to use some of her abilities to help alleviate the pain.
But, his massive weight had halted even her steps after a few attempts of helping him run and she could tell by the tenseness of his muscles that he was bearing a lot of pain. [I "Ayab! "] she gasped as he wanted to stop. She saw that her healing abilities wouldn't take effect soon enough! She had to do something while she worked her magic. She saw everyone make it to the forest and she saw that the small puff of smoke was getting bigger. She had to think fast!
She helped him sit as he grunted. She knelt behind him. [I "calm down. Breathe slowly through your mouth. "] she told him before putting her palm on the middle of his back. As soon as she did, to everyone, they disappeared.
Ayab gasped when he felt a sensation coming from his spine. She watched as the three of Malik's men approached. She was careful, making sure that she could get to work on his leg without being seen.
She started scooting him back, feeling the difficulty of helping such a big man like Ayab get to safety... But, she found it easier as she kept her hand on his back. The horses neighed, and ran past them... Good. She sighed as she looked to Ayab's leg... It seemed to dim the pain some. She looked behind her to see them running just a few feet from them, and helped him stand. [I "Come on, Ayab... "]
[b "Lady Saraya... You should be safe, not trying to help me"]
[I "Shush, Ayab. You are one of us... You won't be left behind... "]
[b "Lady Saraya... "]
[I "Come on... We have to get to everyone now before they are discovered!"]
Even though they were close, it didn't stop Saraya from coming up with a plan. As they ran into the thicket of trees, she delivered Ayab to Rhuarc before getting to Carrick. Before he could say anything, she raised her hands and quickly formed a shield, to shroud there scents. Everyone could feel the vibrating sensation from it. She looked to everyone as the sound of their galloping enemy or ally neared the trees. She looked through the opening of trees, and watched as their stress slowly halted. While everyone stayed low, she kept her breaths even. She felt that she needed to do so, so she wouldn't find discomfort and would have to let up, especially from using some of her energy forming not just a temporary healing spell, but to make her and Ayab invisible so she could have the time to let it get into effect.
She grunted some. She practices with her shield long enough that she could hold the barrier so long as she breathed. Corbin kept his eyes on Saraya, knowing that the energy she was casting would soon have to deplete, and he would have to ready for another plan. Saraya looked ahead... The atmosphere smelled like Malik, but... She slowly left Carrick's side and slowly made her way into the open. She drew her double edge sword and placed it's end to the back of the enemy. [I "Show your face, minion! "]
She waited as the first two scouts turned before the third did. What she saw, she was appalled to see herself. She slowly drew her sword away from him and smiled a tear filled smile. [b "Lady Saraya!]
[I "Balden... "]
When she saw that he mounted off the steed, she hugged him, tightly, happy that he was alright.
Afterward, though, Balden quickly switched topics. [B "Where's everyone? "]
[I "They're just-"]
[B "Lady Saraya, go and hide. Malik's men are coming this way. We'll lead them off and come back to collect all of you when they're deterred "]
Saraya nodded before turning and hurrying to the trees. Carrick held onto her, but she looked to everyone. [I "it's Balden. He said the real minions are riding here as we speak. I can shroud our scents, but we'll have to wait until Balden leads them off and come back for us"]
After everyone understood the situation, Saraya looked to Balden before nodding to him. With that, Balden had told his boys to hurry, and mounted their steeds. They ran off, and everyone stayed huddled in the trees, waiting. Saraya looked to Adimar. [I "Adimar... Can you use Hermes to see how close they are? Once they get close enough, I'll put up my shield"] she said, looking out to the sandy trap they were in.
Aria gave a very wise answer to his question and she was of course correct, it did not matter whether she was ready or not the world would not wait for them to decide that they were strong enough. She was determined to succeed in Fenlyk and with the attitude, the group that followed her and a little bit of luck she just might do it. [i “You’re not all glares and long silences anymore. You’ve opened up and have shown a softer side the betrays your exterior.”] Rhuarc looked at her, confusion on his face. He has never been called soft before, normally it would be an insult but Rhuarc knew Aria and so he knew she did not mean it as such. Rhuarc was a hard man, covered in scars, tattoos and brands, even his features were hard, he could have been sculpted out of stone for all the difference it would have made. The one thing he would never be was handsome and he had thought another thing he would never be was soft and yet here was Aria saying so, and seeming serious about it...and part of himself was agreeing with her. [b "I still have my share of glares Priestess."] The hint of a very rare smile tugged at the corner of the Jai's mouth but what he said was true, and recently most of these glares were directed towards Luther.
Adimar then took the time to show off his hawk, Hermes, and explained that his bond would allow him to see through the bird's eyes, an incredibly useful ability. Rhuarc could already see what an incredible tactical advantage that would be, always having an eye on the area, to see enemies from miles away...the possibilities were endless. Rhuarc refrained from petting the bird but it did seem like a magnificent specimen, it would have made a good trophy if he were to kill it in the Wastelands. The airship had been descending steadily and now it time for them to land, as the ship lowered Rhuarc felt a familiar, and welcome, sensation touch his mind. Snakes. In Kil'heed the protection of the city had kept the sensation from his mind and being in the skyship he had been too far from the ground to sense anything but now that he was heading back to solid ground the sensation was coming back. The first thing he noticed was that they were far more numerous in Fenlyk than he had sensed in Volshi, there were grass snakes, water snakes, swamp snakes and even a few sea snakes on the very edge of his mind deep below the waves of the water. It was a good feeling to have and he had not realised how much he missed the familiar sensation, in a way even though he was still far from his homeland the connection to the serpents who were sacred in Adbhu'Jai made him feel close to the desert.
Rhuarc still could not believe how much water there was in Fenlyk, the ship had landed on the shore and as the crew went about their duties with the synchronised precision that only came with experience and one by one they all departed the ship, Ayab requiring help to get off the ship, he now used a thick wooden quarterstaff to help him walk and support his weight. He had changed the dressing on his wound early that morning but already a very small hint of rot was seeping through the bandage, Rhuarc caught a glimpse and his jaw tightened in anger. Finally Aria jumped from the ship landing gracefully . Adimar suggested moving inland to find a secure location and Rhuarc agreed with his logic but he was not entirely happy with Adiamr's implication that they head straight to the Capital and away from the Medici. Ayab needed aid and if it came down to the choice Rhuarc between Fenlyk and the Medici Rhuarc would choose to go to the temple but such a choice had not become necessary yet. Adimar was acting odd, Rhuarc didn't know why or even what exactly was off about the Volshi Guardian but he seemed...shifty.
The call of a patrol completely changed the atmosphere of the group, Malik's men were so close and they had only just landed in the Province, it was a stark reminder that they were firmly in enemy territory. The whole group made their way to the cover of the coastal forest, Rhuarc had his sword in hand just in case they were discovered before they reached their shelter and Ayab was painfully slow, limping by his side, a look of pained determination on his face but Rhuarc could tell that his friend was determined not to be a burden to the group. He was a proud man and Ayab would do all he could to uphold the vow he made for himself. For now though Rhuarc needed to put his injured friend out of his mind and ready himself for the possibility that this patrol discovered them, and be ready to take appropriate action.
Across Fenlyk, on the outskirts of Astoria, Balden sprung up from his cot. His body was rife with sweat and his eyes haunted. His chest heaved for air. He’d had another nightmare, they were becoming more frequent lately. Balden had changed, hitting a growth spurt in the past seven months. Balden had grown another foot, and his body had thickened with corded muscles from his practice with the swords he crafted. He still followed Rhuarc and Ayab’s teachings, spending no less than a full hour everyday training. The rest of his time was spent either working in the rebel underground forges near the hot springs, or out in the streets of Astoria gathering intelligence. However, something was wrong with him lately...
Things had been a wild ride since Balden rode out from Kil’heed. In four short months, he had passed across the provinces and found himself in Fenlyk with a small group of rebel fighters. It wasn’t his intention to get involved with the Rebellion the way he had. His intentions had been to start spreading the word that The priestess was returned. He had done that, but during a stop in Central City, he crossed paths with an old man on the street. Balden had been laughed at by the Underground Resistance in a small village outside Central City when he told them he had traveled with the Guardians and that they were coming. He came as their herald to inspire the rebels to rekindle their fight. Instead he was laughed at and told the leave. Besotted and feeling like he might have made the biggest mistake by leaving, he met the old man. Balden never got a good look at the beggar’s face, but he suggested that perhaps words were not enough. Sometimes a man had to take action, had to commit to his cause. Balden, inspired by the man’s words turned back into the tavern and the rebels and told them he would join if that was what it took to earn their belief. They accepted and sent him to Fenlyk to give his message to their brothers and sisters in arms in the wetlands.
The Fenlyk Resistance was more inclined to believe Balden. They had been waiting for the day they could finally strike back. Balden learned Fenlyk had sacrificed their land, allowing Malik to take it and occupy it. They kept the largest numbers of Malik’s men confined to one area of the provinces, and essentially trapped. The Terrain was difficult to navigate, Caledon was to the North, Abdhu’jai to the south, and an ocean at their backs. They had no where to go except to Central City, and then they would be surrounded on all sides by the enemy. Balden wasn’t sure if that was the story they were telling or if they were just that ingenious. They saw everything like a giant chess match, it just wasn’t until recently the board had become active again. Balden was welcomed into the fold quickly and adjusted to a pretty consistent life with them.
He missed the others. Sometimes he thought he should return early, but he decided to stay and help. He just had to be back in Kil’heed by the end of the year. It still bothered him that the Volshi Watcher had called him unworthy, and a coward. He’d sent messages back to Kil’heed with no response back, he had to wonder if his messages were even going through. He wondered how angry Rhuarc would be if he knew he’d left. Ayab hadn’t been all that pleased, but hadn’t stopped him from leaving. No one had. Sometimes he could imagine the lecture Carrick or Aria would probably give him if they knew he’d come all the way out here alone. Mostly he thought about Lara. Balden spent most nights laying awake in bed, and remembering the way Lara looked beside the lake that fateful afternoon. He missed her red hair, her smug grin when she got away with sneaking around, and her voice. He missed her company and their conversations. Would she care that he left? Would she care if he didn’t make it back? He hoped when she woke up, that she got the staff he made her. Since her last one broke, he had set out to make her one that would be nearly indestructible. She couldn’t defend herself if she didn’t have the proper tools. Balden would be a liar if he said he wasn’t lovesick. He longed for Lara, but lately he couldn’t bring himself to think about returning. He didn’t think he was good enough for her, and of course there was Adimar. He was older, incredibly handsome, and it was no great surprise to learn the man was a damn prince. That lesson learned while in Kil’heed had been a real ball buster. Prince Freaking Adimar was everything ladies wanted -why would Lara want any different?
Dark thoughts, and voices of self loathing invaded his mind when idle, or when he thought of the others.
[i ‘ Why go back? It’s not like you were helpful. They called you unworthy. You really think any of them would be excited to see you again? That Lara would be excited to see you? You idiot, like some stupid halfbreed son of a whore could ever be in the same league as her. You honestly thought you were one of them? They’re heros! And what are you? Unworthy coward.’]
[#A52A2A “Shut up!”] Balden groaned in a hushed voice, his words frustrated and tired. His hands held fistfuls of sandy blonde hair on either side of his head. He just wanted the voices to stop. They did the opposite. They grew louder and louder, multiplying and all of them shouting at him incoherently, but the understanding was there. Balden was nothing and no one. They roared in his mind until he finally snapped, and for Balden things went black.
His body remained upright, his eyes glazed and he slowly rose out of his bed. He was dressed only in his trews, his feet bare as he walked from his bed in the cellar he was sleeping in and made his way through the tunnels. He eventually found the entrance to the underground cellar and hid, they usually kept two men on watch. Sure enough there was one seated quietly and playing a card game to pass the time. Balden approached quietly, crouched low until he was just behind the man and snatched him into a choke hold. Balden held tightly with no expression on his face as the man slowly passed out in his arms. With the guard taken care of, and his identity still safe, he climbed up the ladder and out of the cellar. The outside world was still dark, the early hours of morning still holding onto the night. Balden walked across the grass towards a line of trees, where the shadow was thickest. The moment he crossed the trees, Balden was swallowed by the darkness...
Before him stood The Fade who had come to greet his puppet, and learn what new developments were being made by the rat scum of a rebellion. You see, the strange beggar that Balden had been so inspired by to join the Resistance had been none other than The Fade... Balden had no idea he was even being influenced, and had been slowly losing himself to The Fade since The Mage and his wraiths had attacked on the road to Tanaka. Balden came to a kneel before The Fade. [#A52A2a “Master, I bring news... Rebel Scouts north the Caledon boarder sent word of a Volshi Airship heading this way. It’s just the one. It is expected to land somewhere in Fenlyk by mid-day today. The Rebels have no idea why the Volshi are coming, who or what is on the Airship. It was proposed that the Volshi have finally come down to either help or finish them off. It’s been suggested by some that the Volshi have come for alliance talks with Malik..”]
The Fade found this information, interesting. A Volshi Airship… he had a very good idea as to who and what was on it. It was no doubt the same Airship that they knew landed in Kil’heed. The Priestess had woken up, and it was no great feat to believe that the Priestess was doing as Vega said she would… In time, the Priestess would come to them. The Fade, satisfied with this new information sent Balden back to bed, who woke up the next morning as if nothing had ever happened. Balden couldn’t recall leaving his bed, and the guard who had been knocked unconscious had been too embarrassed to say he’d been bested without a clue to who had done it. The primary buzz amongst the rebels was: Why a Volshi Airship was spotted heading to Fenlyk, and should they send a scouting group to find out what they wanted. Balden of course, volunteering to join the scout group… a part of him hoping it was his friends.
The ship was landing and Rhys knew he had to be with the group that landed. He was one of the last to jump down, and he was carrying bags of provisions with him. He had charmed the Captain of the Ship to let him travel down and act as a pack mule for the Guardians. If Malik didn’t appreciate all the grunt work Rhys was doing to get close to the Guardians and the Priestess, than he didn’t know what would please that man. Rhys followed behind the others towards the tree line. Even he wasn’t ready for the group to be captured by Malik’s men. He had a job, and that was to find a way to get Malik closer to the Priestess, and now that they were landed in Fenlyk… make sure the temple remained sealed. He took cover with the other members of the Holy Guard and watched the Patrol make it’s way towards them, but Rhys kept his special skills to himself. For now he wouldn’t use his magic, but in time he might have to…
Saraya agreed to keep the promise Carrick asked of her, and it seemed that things had calmed down. Since her morning sickness, and pregnancy was draining her of energy she spent most of her time reading the books Adimar loaned to her. The morning they were to land, Carrick found her in a makeshift tub, bathing herself. He took a moment to look at her, the woman who was carrying his unborn child. Carrick didn’t want to imagine what his life would be like if the group of them hadn’t entered his forge. He felt humbled in her presence, and slowly made his way to the side of the tub. He had come to see how she was doing. She assured him she was fine and to focus on his duties as Captain to Aria. He gave her a chiding smile, and helped her stand up from the tub.
[#000080 “I will find a way to balance my duty as Captain, and my duty to you and our child. We each have a part to play, and I’ll wager one day our son will have his own part to play in this world. In the meantime, let’s enjoy the fact that Adimar got the protection spell to work. Even if the Mage does come after you, he can’t touch our son,”] Carrick was at least comforted to know if nothing else, their child would be protected. Adimar had been confident in the spells ability, so Carrick was too.
She seemed embarrassed by the way her stomach was swelling with life, but Carrick thought it nothing short of beautiful, and he made that very clear to her before they eventually made their way to the upper deck. Carrick had been considering asking Saraya to marry him, maybe once all the madness was over. If they saved the world, and if he was still alive, he knew he wanted to spend those days of peace with her. He wondered how she would take it if he asked her, he just needed the right moment. They decided to spend a bit of time training together. She threw him targets to hit, and he caught every one of them. He even slung a few back her way and let her dodge them.
Across the deck stood the rest of their group, and the ship had begun to descend down through the clouds towards land. Of all people, Luther approached the two of them. He looked frustrated, but for what reason Carrick wasn’t sure. Perhaps it had to do with not being able to find the things Lara has pilfered from his room.
[#00FFFF “Ship’s Captain says we will be landing soon, Captain. They’re dropping us off on the Northern Border between Fenlyk and Caledon. Then they say the’ll be waiting for us in Caledon.”]
[#000080 “Thank you, Luther. Prepare the rest of the Guards for landing. I’ll see to the Priestess.”] Luther gave a nod of his head and left to follow his orders, as a whistle sounded from the helm house indicating that their descend had truly begun. Carrick turned towards Saraya and took her hand. [#000080 “Ready for our next adventure, my love?”]
The ship came to a landing on the gently lapping waves of the shore not much longer after that. The Ship’s captain called out to them as crew members hurried to secure the ship for the short duration they would be landed.
“There isn’t much time. Disembark while we are still unnoticed. We can’t linger or we’ll be found out. Priestess, when you are ready to return to the ship, Prince Adimar will be able to summon us back. Please don’t die your highness.” Adimar assured them, death was the last thing he wanted to do and quickly jumped down from the ship to the shifting sands of the beach, releasing Hermes to fly freely as he did. He helped Lara jump down, and helped Carrick get Saraya down safely, too. The members of the Holy Guard disembarked, as well as Thad and Rupert who had tagged along. Their reason was: Someone had to keep Adimar’s neck in tact. Once Carrick had seen to it that Saraya was safely on the ground with the others, Carrick turned to see Aria waiting her turn. He offered help but Aria just smirked, sauntering up to the edge of the ship and looking down.
[#FFC0CB “I think I can manage to get down on my own. I learned a new trick during my trials.”] Suddenly she jumped down the several feet to the ground. Adimar rushed to catch her, but it wasn’t necessary. She landed on her own two feet splashing the water under her. Max jumped down landing with a splash behind her, followed by Carrick and the rest of the group. They were officially on Fenlyk shores. The island of the Medici was behind them, with the Capital and Temple ahead of them.
The Volshi Airship couldn’t follow them all the way into Fenlyk or fear being shot down from the sky. As soon as everyone had disembarked, the Airship took back to the sky and vanished behind the veil of clouds above them. Carrick watched them leave as well.
[#20B2AA “We should head inland, find shelter. The shores are not safe from Malik’s patrols, and if my calculations after studying a map are correct, it will take us several days to reach Astoria.”]
[#000080 “What about the Medici?”] Carrick asked curiously. Adimar looked tense at that question, which concerned Carrick. Adimar voiced what Lara had said about the Medici never being home, and that they should head inland.
[#20B2AA “I’ll send Thad and Rupert out in search of the Medici, but The Priestess must be moved to a more secure location.”] Carrick couldn’t argue with that, and gave a relenting head nod towards Adimar’s men, who took that as their cue to leave for their own mission. Aria however had her own disagreements to share.
[#FFC0CB “There are things I can learn from the Medici,”] she tried, but Adimar had other plans.
[#20B2AA “Then lets hope the Medici finds us…”]
A call or a shout was heard further down the beach, and the group tensed… One of Malik’s patrols was heading their way. They had to move quickly and for cover or risk being exposed. Past a hill of rolling sand dunes, stood a collective of palm trees creating the start of their own coastal forest. Perhaps cover could be found there. The group had no choice but to run, and Carrick turned grabbing Saraya's hand and ran with her. [#20B2AA "Lara, can you bring the surf up over the shore and cover our tracks?"] Adimar asked.
[#000080 "Maybe while you're at it, you can just sweep those bastards out to sea,"] Carrick smirked.
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