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The series of events that had given her that feeling of dying had faded into distant memory, surprisingly with each hoof sounding against the earth. Saraya seemed silent, almost in daze, were it not for her eyes blinking normally. To the fellowship, it may have seemed like an eerie commodity that landed on the unfortunate beauty, but for Saraya herself, she felt an odd thing she hadn't felt before.
The spirit and an entity she could yet recognize both told her confusing riddles... To be fulfilled...
Saraya then thought about what The Priestess said of her sudden connection to her host. He was never harsh, but he was that stern. For the most part, all she could think of was what she said about her being a Prya. She knew a thing or two about their kind. They were believed to have a deep rooted passion and connection to the God they worship.
She never thought that she would be one, however. She believed to that if it is the case, she had a stronger spirit than she thought. This would mean that she had to prevent the enemy from knowing. It was stressful enough protecting one from harm. If they found out that she was a Prya... It would mean a lot more to grab her, as well. She needed to protect The Priestess, not hide with her. She just could not put her in worse harm as is.
Careful silence surrounded Saraya as they traveled. The three weeks of travels with an additional week trekking along the plains will give her plenty of time to prepare for her skills being retaught and honed before the battle of great importance came about.
The sunset caught her eye. On the twelfth night, she had decided to sit near the waters as the men hunted. As she did, though, she thought of Felliope, and sighed as he faded into thought once more. Rhuarc and Ayab were conversing, Carrick and Balden were talking about their training, and Lara was off with The Priestess, or at least nearby.
Saraya had bathed carefully while others were distracted and though Felliope was in her thoughts... Another face came to view, and she caught herself staring upon it longer than intended. "Rhuarc... " she snapped herself out of it, however. Now was not the time for personal endeavors. The priestess... The last of the guardians... Her being Prya... These were to be dealt with first.
She watched the sun kiss the horizen before an odd wind rushed past her. Whispers in the wind with a familiar stench reaped past her nose, and a hiss escaped her. Knowing her comrads, she slipped out of the waters and into her underskirt and top, both bathing in the purest white. She slowly stepped back, letting her sense of smell catch the stench of dark magic.
She grabbed onto her arrows, bow, and sword and began to turn.
The air was silent...
The trees were shivering, but dared not sing.
A stench carried along the dead atmosphere... Until...
The stench of evil choked her a moment. Her eyes flashed violet as she she heard The Caledon spirit speak from within her... [i Protect her! Danger approaches!]
She grabbed onto her double edge sword and dug into the earth with her feet before launching as hard as she could push herself. Carrick screamed "Wraiths!" and The Priestess looked to Rhuarc, then to everyone else. Saraya need not words of encouragement. She simply ran until she surpassed her, and raised her hands to her sides, a gust of wind creating a force field. The wraiths screeched as she pushed them far from everyone, before running at them again.
She jumped in the air, her sword tight in hand as she attacked, and collided with the enemy's. She growled as she swung again and again, and again, the wraiths sneering in anger. She blocked a swing, and dodged another, backing up for just a moment.
Before she would attack again, Rhuarc had taken charge of the fray, a signal to get to the priestess and get her to safety. She turned and grabbed her by the hand, hurrying her back to the camp, and took out her bow and arrows. She let a few fly to cripple the wraiths so Rhuarc could take the advantage. Then, her focus was on the Mage. She would not leave Aria's side until any could take over. Lara and Balden had ran to her and the priestess. She nodded. "Stay here..." Was her only words before she started towards the trees. She created a force field around her in case he sought to try another trick from his sleeve and she had gotten to the trees by the time Rhuarc had attacked. The stench of the Mage's blood caught her, and before he could evaporate, she had took her chance. She launched at him from the trees, but missed him entirely when he turned into mist, with a chuckle so haunting, even she was snapped back to the objective.
"How sweet... The doll would wish to stand against a Mage"
She growled and readied her swords. "...Such a pity... Your precious husband dying..." A growl escaped her. "... Your newborn swimming in its own blood..." She growled again. [I Advert your ears, love... He will do anything to distract you and claim what he wants]
"How did it feel, Doll?" He egged on. She stayed at the ready. "... How did it feel to be at your moment of glory and have it taken away by a cannon?"
[I Listen not, Saraya]
"My sword tasting the flesh of your lover?"
[I Do not believe him]
"My boot stomping on your belly until your newborn breathes no longer? Until your precious son dies before he is even born?"
[I He lies...]
The sword cried from the pressure she applied. She knelt, her anger rising beyond compare. A moan from the trees sounded as she mustered energy, and let out a battle cry so piercing that even the Mage was surprised. The ground shook as she rose to her feet. She readied her sword and launched at him, ripping off cloth and drawing blood before he disappeared. This angered her more. She yelled as loud as she could in a battle cry. "MAGE! "
She finally made her way back with her trophies; The cloth from his clothing, and the blood on her steel. Rhuarc was explaining that they should make haste to the last Guardian, and Saraya said not a word. The priestess noticed her first before Rhuarc did, then Ayab, Then Carrick, who sought out the wagon full of weapons. When the Priestess halted her, Rhuarc had followed, along with the rest of the fellowship, they expected her to be alright... But, a devilish look had appeared, tears streaming down her cheeks, eyes burning with the fires of revenge within her. At that moment, The Priestess knew. "I want the Mage..." Was her sentence when Arya asked if she was alright. She then looked to Rhuarc. Though she wanted to thank him, her voice bore away from it. She nodded to him, a hand instinctly reached for his chest as they do in her homeland. She bowed her head in gratitude, and spoke in English so he could understand. "Thank you..."
Ayab, however, did not see it as a gesture of gratitude. He pushed her away and drew his sword against her. [b "You do not touch him, woman. Know your place"]
Saraya, somewhat unfazed by the action, stared him down. " Do you want to kill me, Ayab?" Her eyes still burned as he stared, and though he felt intimidated by her stare, sought to keep his ground. The sword was now at her neck and her hair pulled to hold her in place. [b "Touch him again... And I will kill you"]
Saraya did not take lightly to threats. Not at this time... Not with the feeling of unshakable rage within her. She grabbed him by his throat and with ease, lifted him and slammed him into the earth, with her sword at his throat. " I have gotten the Mage's stench on it, you think not I will do the same for you?!"
The Priestess was shocked, as were the others of her strength. Though Rhuarc and The Priestess tried to pry her off, she was stronger than they thought. "Do not threaten me, Ayab. I respect Jai, and I will do no harm. It is a simple feature of gratitude. If you cannot accept it, then do not... But, do not... EVER... Threaten me again... Or you will feel the true wrath I bear and the chill of my steel against your hide"
The sweet woman before them held so much pain and anguish in, it came out in a few short sentences. She released him, and turned to Rhuarc, who seemed both bewildered and shocked. She bowed her head quickly before hurrying to the camp she made near the waters. "I am sorry..."
She needed to be alone... She felt the pain... It resurfaced as she rubbed her belly. Tears streamed that night, and freely. She needed it out of her system before she could get to the task at hand... Find this last Guardian.
Rhuarc was scanning the horizon while the group progressed, looking for danger of any kind Ayab, Balden and Lara had not returned yet but he ws not too worried. The Caledon Guardian, Saraya, was kind enough to give him a cloak and set it upon his shoulders. It was a good gesture, the mountains would be cold and many a man had frozen to death in these lands. Rhuarc was different, he was the Guardian of the fire God and as such was unlikely to face the same fate but he appreciated the gesture nonetheless and accepted the cloak without protest. [b "Thank you, Saraya."] The journey seemed calm for now but as soon as Rhuarc had the thought his calm was shattered. Saraya fell from her horse and let out a cry Rhuarc was instantly put on edge. The others rushed to her side to check if she was hurt but Rhuarc had the great blade of heavy black steel out its scabbard before the Guardian hit the ground Was it simply a fall or was she struck by an arrow or other missile, Rhuarc stood motionless ready to poise his eyes covering as much ground as possible but it appeared there was no need for his blade just yet.
Soon enough the splinter party returned to the fold Ayab making his way straight to his fellow Jai and whispered a few words in Rhuarc's ear which only received a nod in response. From that point on the journey was largely uneventful, travel during the day and camping at night, Rhuarc staying true to his word and training Balden. For the first few days all he did was speak to the boy about what he expected and then started building up his strength and stamina before ever letting him touch a blade. Rhuarc was a hard teacher and he expected nothing less of excellence, pushing Balden harder and harder, the boy would make a good swordsman when his training was complete. Aria and Carrick seemed to be talking and the large Jai could tell that something was not right. [b "Balden ready yourself."] Rhuarc wasn't sure what exactly was going on but he had a suspicion that it wasn't good. He caught Ayab's eye and his fellow Jai also took up his weapons. That was when the Mage showed his face. His laugh sent chills up his spine, it was a trap the whole time, the Mage knew where they were gaoing and more importantly why. That meant that Malik knew as well. Their task had just gotten much more difficult. Their foes seemed to be shadows themselves, how was that possible, Ayab wasted no time and loosed an arrow as soon as he saw the treat, it would have struck the eye of any normal man but it sailed through the wraith unimpeded and buried itself in a tree. A curse in the harsh Jai tongue followed.
The wraiths sprung forward and Rhuarc raised the heavy black blade to meet the onslaught. Immediately he gracefully glided throuygh the sword forms that he had been teaching Balden, Rock on the Mountaintop became Charging Bull which became Wind blowing through Valley which became Heron catching Fish. Each move brought his sword to meet the shadows' corroded blades until he slipped through their defences and cut one from shoulder to hip. The blade in Rhuarc's hands was engulfed in a brilliant white flame as it rent the shadow apart clearly Jaihash had awakened the holy blade in his Guardian's hands and given him a way to fight off these shadows. With the next swing of the blade flames continued to burn and Rhuarc could feel the fight start to swing in their favour. From the corner of his eye he could see the other Guardians and the High Priestess get involved in the fray, Ayab on the other hand was not blessed with the powers of a god. Rhuarc ran over cutting and slashing at any shadow he could reach before laying a hand on the bow of his friend. A warm flame passed from his palm onto the weapon but instead of destroying the weapon it enhanced it, giving the other Jai a chance to fight back against these abominations.
The Guardians fought hard, Rhuarc coming in to use his blade of Ancient Power to defend his fellow Guardians and Balden from harm, he paid particular attention to Saraya and the High Priestess for different reasons. Saraya was a kind woman and he wasn't sure how much battle she had personally been a part of and the High Priestess because if she died, they all failed, she was more important than any of them. With his now flaming arrows Ayab could effectively take part in the fray, distracting Wraiths giving Rhuarc the opportunity to destroy them with the heavy black steel in his hands. Ayab loosed one more shaft, not at a Wraith but at the one who had summoned the abominations; the Mage himself. With Jaihash's holy fire powering the arrow it left a large cut across the cheek of the Mage who recoiled more in surprise than pain. It must be evident that his forces were going to lose this fight. Soon enough the Wraiths no longer tainted the land nd all that remained of the dark forces was the Mage itself. [b "Flee, flee back to Shade-stealer and tell him what you say this night! The Guardians are gathering. Soon enough this war will end and he will fall! You tell your false king that the time of his death approaches!"] Rhuarc shouted at the Mage, there was no point pretending anymore, Malik knew what their mission was. With a mocking smile still on it's face it vanished into the ether leaving the Guardians, Balden and Carrick in the clearing alone.
[b "Is everyone alright? We should check everyone for wounds, treat them if necessary and rest quickly. Shade-stealer will be after us and I want us to be moving by first light, we need to push harder and travel quicker. We can lose his forces in the mountains but until then we are easy targets. That is, if the Priestess agrees of course."] Everything Rhuarc said was true but the Priestess was in charge and he would obey her word even if he didn't agree with it.
Aria spent the rest of the afternoon thinking of Rhuarc’s words. Ahrak-Toh was honor and obligation. She had thought she was holding true to this by any standard. Aria knew she could have easily turned away her teachings, religion and just gone off to live her own life –one where she could be a normal person, but Aria knew she was not normal. Aria had been taught since she was old enough to remember that she was a servant to the Will of the gods and the people who worshiped them. She belonged to no one man or woman, and yet belonged to everyone. She could never be married, never mother children, and while sex wasn’t forbidden it wasn’t smiled upon either. That of the High Priestess was a rather lonely existence and had been while she was in the company of Father Rigby. He had been a good man, a good guardian, a good teacher, and a good friend. Rigby had been the father Aria never had. Now he was gone, and the weight of that truth finally had its moment to sink in.
Her sorrow was short lived however, once Saraya fell from her horse and began to tremor on the dirt road. For a fleeting moment, Aria wondered if she’d ever have the moment to grieve properly or to take into account all that was happening. Carrick called the wagon to a halt and Aria jumped down. She saw what the others could not and that was the aura of Caledon. It glimmered a bright and verdant green over Saraya’s figure, and when she finally settled and opened her eyes, the three of them were huddled around her. Aria’s brows were furrowed with a knowing, Caledon was strong in Saraya –she had openly and willingly accepted her path into her heart and so Caledon quickly manifested within her. What was more shocking were the words Caledon said to her through Saraya.
“Priestess, You are magnificent... For this one is chosen to fight... This one will not fail...” Aria had only one response, a resounding: “I know,” And leaned forward to help Saraya stand again. Saraya would not fail –her devotion to her Gods and her willingness to help the world would serve her well. “why do you stare?” she asked and Aria only smirked.
“You had a bit of a tumble,” Carrick answered with a concerned frown. “Fell from your horse,” He placed a heavy hand to her shoulder and looked her over. “Are you alright?” Aria was observing
Saraya, Caledon’s aura had receded back within Saraya, but it was still a tangible thing Aria could reach out and feel.
“She will be fine,” Aria assured. “Your concern is noted Carrick… Saraya has… accepted her path, now let us continue to Volshiv,” She said and as both men left the two of them to return to their horse and wagon, Aria reached forward and lifted Saraya’s chin. “Never has there been a guardian so quick to accept their part, and never has there been a guardian who can so quickly hear and speak with their Gods. Hopefully the next time Caledon speaks to you, you won’t be sitting atop a horse. Be prepared for your dreams –give them close attention, they are the gods speaking to you, memories that hold clues to the future… all things are connected, and do not hesitate to come to me with what you see, hear, even smell… I can teach you how to speak with Caledon in a way that doesn’t render you useless. You have a great deal of power in you that I am left to wonder if you are what we in the Septum call A Prya. In other words, you might be of an ancient bloodline that can trace its way back to the very Gods themselves and the first Guardians. Back in the city there is a tomb under the Sanctum where many of the ancient texts are kept and preserved. If Malik has not burned them all… there may be clues there as to how you’ve gained so much power so quickly –the ability to speak with your host God is not…. Common.” Aria released Saraya then and made sure she mounted her horse safely before Carrick called her to return to the wagon and ride. In Fact the ability to convene and speak with the Gods was generally a talent solely of the High Priestess… but Pryas had been known to be intimately connected with their Host Gods in the past. If Saraya was truly a Prya it would make her a vital piece to winning against Malik.
They rode through the afternoon making great headway on the road to Volshiv. Carrick had surmised that if the weather held up, they would be to the Volshiv boarder within three weeks. That was only to the boarder –they still had to pass through the whistling plains which would take them another week, before they reached the bustling city of Tanaka where they would begin their search for the last and final Guardian.
The sun was setting when they heard the cacophony of hooves. Aria looked up to see Laura, Balden and Ayab making their way back. Both Lara and Balden went flying past the group while Ayab managed his horse like a seasoned professional. Most Jai traveled by their feet, but as they were going so far –horses had been provided for them to conserve their strength and energy. Carrick impressively made no comment about Lara having gone off on her own, and whatever she had run off for Balden wasn’t speaking. Aria had to admire his loyalty –whatever it was, he didn’t feel it was his place to reveal why she had run off without so much of a warning or word to where or why. No one else brought it up either, letting it go for the time being.
They traveled without incident for the better of the week. They saw very little passersby, but plenty of game. Balden had shown himself to be an impressive hunter when he bagged a few rabbits and a doe for them to field dress and cook during their evenings making camp and sitting around a fire. It wasn’t until the twelfth night they made camp that things seemed a bit strange. Supper had ended and both Lara and Aria cleaned up the mess of supper together as it was their turn to do so. Carrick stood off to the side pitching a tent while Balden trained with Rhuarc. The boy showed great promise, and Aria would have liked to watch as Balden traded his training between Carrick and Rhuarc, but something in Aria caused her to drop the clay plates she was carrying and she fell to the ground. She was sitting, head bowed and gripping her head. A Terrible pain had lanced through her head behind the eyes…. A warning. Around them the forest was deathly silent… too silent. When asked what was wrong Aria lifted her face, tear streaked and trembling.
“I am not certain…. I sense… danger. Something dark and evil is near us… hiding in the shadows…” her voice trailed off and they all looked around their camp to the shadows that encircled them. The camp-fire burned bright and warm… but with each heart beat that passed the air grew colder.
“Is it the knowing, Priestess?” Carrick asked, his sword already drawn. Aria frowned.
“It is trying to tell me something,” Aria confessed breathlessly. “But it comes too frantically, too quickly, and I can’t make heads or tails…” It was then the wind picked up and whipped about their camp knocking over a tent and strong enough it blew the fire out and shrouded them in absolute darkness just before it let up and everything went still once more
Everything was tense.
Everything was quiet.
So quiet… and then suddenly… Laughter.
“The Mage!” Aria gasped realizing what was happening. Red eyes peered from all around them, and the voice spoke in the air.
“You lied to me Carrick… I knew you would. I have always know where your loyalties lie!” He hissed. “But you have led me to the Priestess…” Aria felt a caress of the wind, like a veritable finger against her face and jaw, she cringed and shied away from the magic. “Hello my pretty, I knew you were near…” His laughter was suffocating and the eyes around them neared. “I do hope you enjoy my little nightmares. Once they dispose of you all they can drag her by her hair all the way back to me,” he cackled. Carrick spun in circles, sword raised.
“Show yourself!” Carrick hollered, but nothing came from it. The red eyes advanced them, and just as Balden managed to restart a pitiful little fire they saw what was threatening them.
There was ten of them, cloaked in darkness and not entirely tangible. How did you destroy something that wasn’t solid? They were spirits –dark nightmares sent to destroy them. Each held a skeletal face just as terrifying as their next brethren. The only parts of them that seemed tangible were the nasty corroded blades they carried with deft skeletal hands.
“They’re wraiths…” Carrick breathed with uncertainty. Aria had to hunt through her mind to find a way to defeat them… but Wraiths were difficult to kill –and there were ten of them. This Mage was frighteningly powerful, and if there was anything that could defeat a wraith with a single cut…
Aria gasped. “Rhuarc! You carry old magic with you!” She said, the knowing informing her exactly what it was he held. “Your blade!” She gasped realizing the truth. “All of you have powers,” she told them hoping to encourage them to not be afraid. “We will defeat them, we won’t let Malik or his Mage win!” Still the wraiths neared –toying with them, their eyes gleaming with malic and power… and without further ado….
She had galloped into the forest amidst cries from the priestess, but those cries fell on really deaf ears. Besides, she wasn't planning on going out into the forest and never returning, she did plan on returning but she wanted to take care of something first. Upon entering the woody areas of the forest Lara slowed her horse to walking speed and carefully led it around the trees, making sure the horse didn't eat anything. When travelling through a forest it was best if one didn't leave obvious markings that someone had been there. Aside from the imprint of the horseshoes, nothing else was left that anyone else would've been able to track her.
There was an empty clearing which was close to where she had entered the forest, that was where she directed her horse. In her three years of travelling Lara had found this place quite by accident, and it didn't appear as if anyone else knew of it. It was a good place to rest and get away from the hustle and bustle of regular life, even if it was just for the shortest of moments. She just sat on her horse, feeling like she was on top off the world.
That was until she heard another noise that was rushing through the trees, it could be either a friend or it could be a foe. But after hearing the voice that sped ahead of the rider Lara knew it was only Balden looking for her, and after hearing his voice stop she assumed he had found her. Her assumptions were correct as another steed closed in parallel to hers before stopping, and hearing Balden's voice again. She didn't know what to say to everything Balden was saying, she had never been involved in something so intricate and in such utter secrecy in her life before. Nor did she have a good feel for how her behavior affected others, once upon a time she did but the three years of solitary travel had washed it all away.
After Balden asked his questions, Lara could feel his gaze upon her, as if trying to guess what she would answer. [+purple "I went here to get away from the crowd and think, you're here because they sent you to find me."] Call her a smart ass with the comment towards Balden but it wasn't like she was lying, just merely stating the quite obvious truth. [+purple "As to finding them, that shouldn't be a problem. The carriage will leave extremely obvious tracks and then it will just simply be follow the leader."]
And then another noise, much more terrifying than Balden's had been was heard. Turning around in fear, but it didn't look like her horse was reacting in a negative way. Upon listening in closer, she could hear someone yelling in an unknown language to her while also trying to cut through branches. If someone extremely disliked the forest, that would probably be the Jai. Being desert people, they liked the openness, which was exactly the opposite of the forest. The Jai, the one called Ayab was the one who rode up in an extremely furious manner and began yelling at her in his own language. Lara herself felt angered by all this, but this time she did not attack him. All she did was listen patiently while kneeling her head, the last time she tried to fight back had only ended landed her in a worse position.
Slowly gesturing to Balden they went back along the path. The Jai wanted to get out as fast as possible, but they didn't need speed within a forest but slowness. Galloping on a horse within a forest could end up horribly, either running afoul on some low and tripping thing, to not being able to hear the movement of other objects. The Jai unfortunately didn't see that and instead just yelled more things which Lara ignored.
Once they had gotten out onto the main road did they break into a full speed gallop. Even though this pleased the Jai there was an uneasy silence within the group. They followed the same road that the others had followed like demons after someone's soul, with terrifying determination. They were so determined that they almost galloped fast the cart and its occupants, well the three of them actually galloped past the cart but shortly reversed their course to fall aside with the cart. Only then did the three of the reign in. Except the Jai, Ayab just went back to his nomadic fellow and complained about her to him, some things just would never change.
With Lara taking off, the young apprentice being ordered to collect her, and Ayab instructed to follow for protection, Saraya's order was to turn East. She let the soft hoof falls of the horses be her music as she traveled, remembering the sounds of steeds in her voyage to battle. She looked towards the Jai and then the Blacksmith. She grabbed onto her cloak and with a simple gesture, she set it on the shoulders of Rhuarc. The protector looked to her in surprise and confusion, and the young woman smiled wryly to her fellow guardian. "It would be... Selfish... Of me... If i not... Think... Of fellowship" she said slowly, knowing that he may be nonchalant of her. She looked ahead afterwards, and tapped her horse gently to move on.
As the hours passed, she seemed to feel that the youngling was restricted of play. She looked back to the baby steed and let down the rope just enough for her to run about to strengthen her would be powerful legs. The baby was grateful, immediately taking the invitation of running around, yet stayed near her and her mother. It brought a certain joy to her, made her smile. It was first she had ever smiled warmly since that day. Her husband would've been...
A sharp pain ripped through her chest. She gasped and beat her right fist to her heart. She doubled over, her steed slowing down to a halt, neighing softly to her in worry. Saraya patted her steed, trying not to worry her, but when a tight sensation restricted her of her breatthing, she arched. Her left hand sought her throat. The mark over her heart was beginning to turn violet, and as she opened her eyes, her eyes were glowing the violent color. The white cloak had slid off her shoulders, revealing her flawless skin. Her conciousness waned as tears fell. The pain was excruciating, so horrible that she couldnt let out a scream.
As if a chain was wrapped around her neck, she shot straight up, her hands falling from her chest and throat. She tried to breathe, but it felt as though she was being kicked and beaten, like stones flying to meet her form. Her tears were like lava, burning her skin. The comrades hadn't noticed she was behind a good yard before her steed neighed in panic. Even her foal was neighing, trying to run to them, but the rope was still tied. Her cloak finally met the earth as the horse neighed and propped herself on her hind legs, trying to call everyone back. The foal broke free from her rope and charged, though wobbly, to the group.
Saraya felt herself losing conciousness. Her hands found her chest and throat again, before she felt her balance give. As the horse snorted when the group finally began running to her aid, she began sliding and evenutally fell off her steed. The sudden weight loss shocked her horse, and neighed loudly as the foal made it back to her. The collision with the earth knocked air out of her lungs, but her hands were still tight on her chest and throat. She arched , fighting for air as she felt her body being tightened as if in a fist. She dug at the earth, trying to fight against it, and she instantly sat up, eyes vacant of pupils and of life.
Her eyes played what seemed to be a personal vision of a prisoner. The vision was blurry, but the voice could never be mistaken. [i You are mine, now]
She then heard a scream, and screamed herself, feeling a searing pain in the back of her neck. As soon as she felt the cold earth, she was tempted to wake... But, as she tried, her body refused the order. She, instead, stood in darkess, with only one light. She focused on it, and bowed quickly.
The spirit within manifested and urged her to stand. She stood, seeing Caledon in her subconcious still birthing a certain shock... This spirit smiled and placed a hand in her hair, moving a lock of her hair from her face. [i You are truly beautiful, Saraya...]
She stared, feeling the compliment within her being. He then leaned down and placed his lips on hers, a scent of Lavenders and fresh morning dew filled her senses. She then saw him smile and nod. [i What you saw was a sight of a slave being forced to bow down... There is some significance to this sight... That, i do not know. But, there is one thing for certain...]
He looked into her eyes, seeing her face soften to the simple softness her exuded. [i ...You will learn faster than ever before... Your mind has been unlocked, so you will be five times the woman you are... You sill be a force to reckoned with. And i will be sure you are fufilled]
Saraya stepped forward. [i Fufilled?]
She watched as his smile broadened and nodded. [i Time will tell... For now... Wake up... I will see you tonight]
Saraya's eyes opened... Her eyes scanned the blurriness around her before seeing her comrades surrounding her. She blinked a moment before feeling herself breathe in deeply. She sighed and looked to the Priestess. Her voice sounded ancient, as if an older, wiser being had stood with her. [i Priestess, You are magnificent... For this one is chosen to fight... This one will not fail...]
Saraya looked to her with a sudden fazed look. Her pupils returned, but it had a glassy gray tint to it. She then looked around to everyone, seeing the worry on their faces. They hadn't fully grasped what happened... And she felt the same. Her lips parted, and that voice had spoken for her. "Why do you stare?"
She shocked herself, but she prevented herself from showing it. She managed to grab her cloak, and attempt to stand. With a moment of aid from the others, she was successful, and started brushing off the earth. Her steed looked to her and snorted, while the foal wobbled to her, nudging her hand. Saraya smiled and petted her before looking to her steed. "i am fine, love" she said, petting her snout.
While everyone watched her in uncertainty and worry, she looked to the Priestess, a violet hue to her eyes were revealed. Her lips parted ever so slightly as her snow white hair blew in the breeze. She nodded before mounting her steed again, and waited for them to return to their positions. Once done, she continued on in the back as usual, the young foal running around her mother, but staying close to keep a watchful eye on their master.
Balden and Carrick rode in the wagon while the two Jai walked by its side, eyes constantly scanning the surroundings for any danger as Aria was hidden in the bottom of the wagon, unable to defend herself. She was the High Priestess and needed to be protected at all costs. Thankfully no such danger came and once the small band had travelled a safe space outside prying eyes, they finally let Aria out of her confines and out into the fresh morning air. [b "I am also gladdened to see you Priestess."] They would never be successful in their mission without the High Priestess, all that needed to be done now was wait for Sarella and Lara to join them, that would take some time yet. Rhuarc drew the obsidian black sword on his black and started working the sword forms that had been taught in the Wastelands for centuries. For a large man Rhuarc managed a graceful elegance in these forms, moving neither particularly quickly nor particularly slowly, merely as quickly as was required. This was simply one way for Rhuarc to pass some of the time waiting while doing something useful, it allowed him to keep his skills sharp while also letting Balden know what standard he would eventually be held up to if he truly did want to learn the way of the blade. Ayab meanwhile continued to scan the surrounding areas keeping watch for any threat of danger. Once or twice Ayab raised his bow, arrow nocked at a hint of movement only for it to end up being a rabbit or other small animal which he promptly killed and collected. In the Wastelands you did not spurn a chance for food, that was a hard habit to break and some extra food would not go amiss.
Rhuarc couldn't be sure what time the others would arrive but it couldn't be too much longer, so he decided to take this opportunity to talk with the one who would be leading them, the one who had started all of this; The High Priestess. [b "Priestess if I may, I thought that while we wait for Lara and Sarella to join us we could start your education into the ways of my people. Are you ready to learn about [i Ahrak-Toh]?"] Aria had said that she would endeavour to understand the Jai ways, it would be a long and complicated process and if she truly was to understand the complex system of honour and obligation that drove the Jai people. [b "I know this will be complicated and you may struggle to understand some of it but I shall be here to guide you Priestess. I will start with the most basic principles."] Rhuarc knew what he had to cover first, it was surreal having to explain this to anyone, all Jai's knew it and no outsider was generally allowed to know. [b "[Ahrak-Toh] is honour and obligation. This is the heart of the Jai. You must always seek to act honourably and bring pride to your [i Daes-mai]..the closest translation you have to this word be a warrior society, and you must also bring pride and honour to the Jai people as a whole. If you do bring dishonour or shame to the Jai or your warrior society you have an obligation [i Toh] to rectify this. Try and cleanse your [i Toh] as soon as possible This can be done in many ways, so I will leave that for another time. The most important thing to know is this, the most insulting thing you can do to a Jai is ask if you have [i Toh]. This would mean that you don't know how you have been acting, how you should behave or if you know how your actions come across. It is most shameful to ask if you have [i Toh], you should always know such things."]
As the large Jai finished talking the two other female Guardians arrived to join the rest of the group but just as it seemed all would be well Lara took off on her own again. Balden took off after the Fenlyk Guardian, Ayab briefly looked towards Rhuarc and with a slight nod from the Jai Guardian Ayab followed after Lara and Balden that way if something dangerous ambushed those two at least one seasoned warrior would be there to fight. Aria decreed that the rest of them should continue moving towards Volshiv, and while Rhuarc agreed that they should find the last Guardian as soon as possible he did not think it was wise to split the party. The journey would be long and dangerous and who knew when Malik or any of his forces might find them but Aria was the High Priestess,s he was their leader and Rhuarc trusted her.
Aria was becoming familiar with the feeling of fear. She was fearful at a constant since the attack of the cottage and the death of her guardian. She’d almost hesitated to climb into the hidden floor of the wagon when they prepared to leave, and of all people it was Rhuarc who managed to convince her to lay in the dark cramp space so they could smuggle her out. She knew she had to go, but she was fearful of if they were caught. Despite Carrick’s assurance that they would not be discovered, nor Ayab or Rhuarc’s promises to protect her, or Balden promising she had nothing to fear, Aria still felt it within the marrow of her bones. This was a dangerous gamble. She bid Saraya and Lara a sweet goodbye with hugs and promises that they must return to her whole and safe. Saraya had assured her there was nothing to worry about, while Lara remained her quiet aloof self. She bid them good luck and allowed Carrick to tuck her safely in what Aria could only describe as a coffin.
The cramp dark space was still an improvement from slumming through sewage and waste, but it cloyed stronger at her fear. It was the feeling of being trapped in a dark enclosed space –one she could not get out of without Carrick releasing the hidden spring. She was in a sense trapped and despite how uncomfortable it was, she couldn’t move or fear making a sound. It was a rocky ride, she felt every jostle of the city streets as the wagon was pulled through the city and towards the gates. They were stopped just as Carrick said they would, and with a hand over her mouth to silence her frightened whimpers, and her breathing she listened as the guards searched the barrels and trunks of goods for sale. They didn’t question Carrick more than they would any other. It was a simple standard of procedure.
“Where are you headed, Smith?”
“North towards the Boarder Clans for market.”
“Who are they?” The guards demanded of the two Jai.
“Extra muscle should I cross unsavory folk along the way. Bandits and the like.”
That had been the extent of their questioning, and then they’d jumped into the back of the wagon shifting through things. Carrick had been right about the barrels. Bad ideas. She heard the clatter, flinching as they dumped one of the barrels onto the wagon floor and kicked it about.
“Nothing back here. Let him pass,” and that had been it. They were allowed to start on their way out of town, but Aria was not freed from her small coffin until they reached the rendezvous point.
It took them three hours to reach the rendezvous point, three hours trapped in a rattling coffin that left her dizzy with the beginnings of a migraine. The trick floor opened up with a sudden swing after they’d stopped. The light from above was blinding, but what greeted her was a wonderful view. Carrick stood with Rhuarc, Balden keeping watch and mimicking the stoic Ayab. They each offered her a hand and helped her to sit up and Aria looked around to the bright sunshine and lovely hilly landscape of the country. Currently the usually busy road was clear of other travelers.
“Rhuarch, Carrick…” Aria breathed happy to be free of the confines of the smuggler’s hidden compartment. “Oh I’m so glad to see your faces. Have Lara and Saraya joined us yet?”
“Not yet,” Carrick informed her and together they helped her down from the wagon. She looked about at their surroundings. They had headed north as they instructed the City Guards, but they were still a few miles from the first major crossroads. They needed to head east towards Volshiv. The trip alone to reach the boarder would take them at least three months by foot. Thankfully they were outfitted with horses, and they would make it in half the time… six to eight weeks. The trip would not be easy, one full of bandits and creatures. Not many people traveled East. It was a difficult terrain, and full of mysterious dangers and creatures.
Aria was able to breathe better when Lara and Saraya finally joined them an hour later. They came galloping like hell beasts towards them, reigning in their horses to a stop as soon as they reached the wagon.
“Saraya, Lara! You were successful in your escape!” Aria exclaimed happily, hurrying down from the wagon where she sat with Balden and rushed to greet them. Lara, seemed to have other things on her mind as she collected her gear from the group and mounted her horse once again. “Lara?” she questioned, but Lara did not explain, simply taking off into the wilds of the forest. “Lara!” She shouted after. How impertinent! To just take off with no explanation. It was rude and certainly unfair to them to have to wait on her. She gave Saraya a curious expression, but Saraya did not seem to know of Lara’s plans or where she was going. Carrick grumbled with a matching scowl to the two Jai and turned irritated to the other horses.
“That child will get herself killed,” he growled.
“Where did she go?” Balden questioned. Aria frowned watching the direction she vanished to.
“We will not know until she comes back-“
“If she can make it back. And IF she can find us,” Carrick growled. “We cannot stay here and wait for her.”
“And we cannot allow harm to befall her. She is just as important as all the others in the effort to take down Malik,” Aria challenged back. “Balden,” She turned to him. “We are going to continue east. Hurry follow after Lara and travel with her, get her back to us. We will meet you hopefully on the Eastern Pass. Be safe,” Balden was quick to notch his belt where a sword and dagger hung at his hip. Carrick had given it to him earlier for protection, now it seemed he would have use for it. He took to a horse of his own and galloped off after Lara.
“Foolish girl,” Carrick grumbled. “I should have gone after her,”
“No, Carrick. You are too important. We need you to help us travel these dangerous roads and show us the way to Volshiv. Balden is a brave young man, he will see to it that Lara finds her way back to us,” Aria stated with the firm command and poise of a true leader. Carrick was hesitant, but he relented and with a fist to his heart bowed to her.
“Of course m’lady.”
Aria looked out at the Eastern road, and while they could not see the mountains of Volshiv yet, she could see the hilly terrain they would soon be traversing. Her gaze was determined, and frightened. “Let’s continue on,” She said and moved to jump into the back of the wagon where she would ride under the cover of the canvas that protected the wagons contents. As the carriage took off, trundling down the path, Aria looked back out among the forest and with concern, prayed Lara and Balden made it back to them. Meanwhile she could hear Carrick grumbling under his breath about selfishness, the impertinence of youth and entitlement, and how he didn’t understand her reasoning for just taking off without an explanation to her group. They were supposed to have each other’s backs, but how could that be if one was so brash as to leave them and take off? Aria was remiss to say she agreed with most of what Carrick had to say, but she made no comment.
Balden rushed into the forest until he came upon Lara, and called for her. He finally caught up to her and rode his horse alongside hers. “Lara!” He gasped, catching his breath from the rush of his ride. “Why did you take off? What could be so important you left all of us behind? The Priestess is frightened for you,” He chided, trying to understand her reasoning. “I was told to ride with you, they would and could not wait for you to return. We will have to try and find them along the Eastern Route… why are we out here?” He asked looking up to the canopy of trees and then to her curiously.
Sitting within the confines of a wooden barrel felt very odd, as if there was a disconnection with the world outside. Everything happening outside of the barrel could be heard but the sounded came out distorted, and only the occasional flash of light hoed through the little cracks within the barrel. The sound of someone approaching the barrel, the footsteps didn't sound like the usual footsteps one heard.
Her little solitary self-confinement ended when someone opened the top of the barrel up and reopened three connection back to the world. Light flooded in, and even though the sun was setting the drastic change in light stunned er eyes for a few seconds. She did hear someone say 'boo' with a jovial
tone, and based on the voice it had to be Aria.
Standing up straight Lara leaned on the edge of the barrel to overhear the conversation going on down there. She couldn't hear everything, but sometimes one needed to watch with attention as well as listen. Carryck had walked over to the cart and then started what looked like an attempt to pull it apart, which it wasn't since he was just unveiling a secret compartment big enough to store a few people laying down. That was extremely convenient because the guards never bothered to check there, all they ever checked was everything out on top even though the more interesting objects were somehow hidden within the confines of the cart. That she knew from self-experience, even though being involved with that was slightly dangerous as the laws passed by Malik dealt harshly with smuggling.
The day tomorrow, it was indeed a big one tomorrow. Tonight the final preparations would be made and tomorrow they'd be carried through. Balden helped her get out of the barrel although why he blushed was a complete mystery to her. But then again living alone and most of the time away from civilization most things civilized were a mystery, three years away from home did much to change her. 16 years at home she had only aged and matured, but three years of being alone out traveling the kingdoms had changed her more than those 16 years.
Carryck was kind enough to give up the bed for the three women, the old age of chivalry hadn't and would probably never die out. The smell of food permeated throughout the house, part of that was tomorrow and the journey that would continue on. She had nothing to do so she watched Saraya put on makeup on Aria. Makeup wasn't something new to her for it was fairly popular with the higher classes, but honestly she never saw the use for putting it on just for fun. For purposes like these, changing ones appearance to disguise, fine but hopefully she wouldn't have to put on the stuff.
The dusk outside gave away to darkness, the stars shone beautifully on a cloudless dot and the moon was clearly visible, half white and the other left in the dark. Going to bed for a good nights sleep it took her awhile to fall asleep. Sleeping in a bed and sleeping in the wild were two different things and her back muscles were having somewhat of a negative reaction to the softness of the bed. But in the end she managed to fall asleep but not before Aria also came to lay on the bed.
Lara was always a sound sleeper, never any dreams nor moving about, although hard to wake. Not exactly a surprise when she was awakening to her entire body being lightly shaken by someone. Of course it took a while for her to completely comprehend what was going so if Lara seems fussy, it was from attempting to comprehend the outside world while being shaken awake.
Saraya explained the plan to her for the two of them, everything was alright. Except having to put the makeup on. On second glance Saraya had already put the nasty stuff on herself and she appeared much older than last night. Even though she was in disagreement about the makeup, Lara went along with it. It felt sticky and unnatural on her face, and the hair. She eventually just stopped thinking and let Saraya do her job in peace. She didn't feel any difference, except the negative reaction to the makeup, but the sight was a difference. Looking into a mirror she saw herself, but not exactly herself. It was a younger girl with dark brown hair, threw her off completely.
Saraya also wanted her to change but Lara simply took of the top most layer and replaced it with a good cloak that fully covered everything underneath it.
Even though she was ready Saraya had rushed in and was urging her to hurry up. The others had went to complete their part of the plan and it was time to do their part.
They first headed to the pub where Saraya drank something, nothing too interesting. Lara sat patiently and looked around, occasionally giving warming glances to Saraya as part of this masquerade. Even Saraya had words on this matter although her English was still somewhat rough, but it would improve over time.
When it was high noon they left the pub and rode off to the exit gates. On the horses, three of them, they slowly traveled towards the gates where guards stopped them. To the question about destination purposes Lara answered about visiting relatives who were near the city. The whole time the guards were examining this petit caravan. Everything was calm...
Before the fire started. The guards ran off followed by Saraya leaping off the horse and opening the gates, letting the rest through, slamming the gates back shut, and then with a 'hyahh'd' all of them galloped off to the rendezvous point.
They eventually arrived at the rendezvous point where the rest had already come. The ride had been fun and the horse she had ridden was an excellent horse. Dismounting, she walked over to the horse that had her staff and took that out. Having her black shawl with a hood on her horse, Lara took off the cloak and put her old black wear on top.
Then she mounted the horse again, [+purple "I'll be back soon"], and then galloped off into the forest.
Saraya nodded quickly to the gesture. She didn't feel the need to waste any time. With the plan being articulated by Carrick, she felt a silent call of dedication fill her spirit.
With the task of dying the priestess' hair, she thought of young Lara and herself. If the plan was for them to escape the city as a pair, they had to think smart. She, after having the priestess situated, had went right to work with her task.
Throughout the night, she had used similar methods to contouring her face as she would when she had to spy on the enemy. With a touch of dye, she aged her hair to a pleasent grey, and added age to her once flawless face with simple earth and water along with dye to add contrast. She was sure not to alarm the Jai, for she read well of their attributes. One of their strengths were that they would protect what was necessary. The Priestess was tjr mission, and, being humble and also woman, knowing that she was thought of as meek and fragile, and maybe even unlikely to be stronger physically, she saw fit for Rhuarc and the men to focus on the Priestess, for she was top priority. After all, she knew how to use her feminine wiles to her advantage.
Saraya then looked to Lara. She sighed some. She may be a bit fussy, but she'll have to change her look. But, she decided to rest her arms and thoughts of the task at hand. She looked to Rhuarc, feeling a fair sense of security just watching him observing surroundings. It reminded her so much of Felliope, when they camped and were readying themselves to move camp at dawn. He usually took watch at night, and always stayed before the lips of her sleep tent.
Her memories pleasantly faded to the sight of Rhuarc. She sighed, seeing the faint fire colors peak over the horizen. Dawn approached. She fashioned her hair into a high ponytail, fairly braided and aged before tucking the braid just right. She let her hair fall astray here and there, and checked her look. The skin was flawless, even with the age to it. Her hair, though white, shown silver grey along the fullness, and she was satisfied. She then grabbed her weapons and stuffed them in a napsack before getting her cloak. She searched around some for an old sheet to drape over her form, to cover the odd clear colored tresses she worn with pride.
After which, she had gently awakened Lara. Lara, though fussy as she expected, yawned and finally attempted to listen. Saraya tried to explain her plan, though English was not easy. She pointed to her face, and then to the dye and earth she had applied. Though Lara fussed and twisted and protested, Saraya succeeded in applying the makeup and dye, before tossing her cloths.
While Lara was changing clothes, she excused herself, trying her hardest not to break the other's attention as she had gotten to the stable. A horse, a horse... She needed horses. She looked about each horse... Until one caught her eye... A white female horse hiding in the back of the stable. She sighed as she looked into the stable to her. She was young... Beautiful with white flowing mane, and even longer tail. Her hooves were covered with hair... But, she seemed worried.
Saraya had walked into the stable, the horse snorting, for she was nervous. Saraya steadied her hand as she looked to her. [I reuletia oprsnu...] [I you needn't fear me]
She steadily touched the steed's nose, the horse, somehow understanding what she had said. She smiled as she began hugging the snout. It was as though they had instantly connected... [I veltu kipru koori] [I ] she said and noticed something hiding. She saw a baby horse, only about two weeks old. She smiled. "Take... Her... With us" she whispered, the horse stomping her hoof in joy. The baby horse was just as white as her mother. She only had black fur over the hooves instead of white, which made her special. Saraya nodded to the horse, grabbing a blanket to put on her back.
As a custom of her home, she would never constrict a steed of the air it needed, so they only rode on the back with reigns and a blanket. Afterwhish, she grabbed another steed for Lara, who was young and vigilant.
Saraya hurried, looking to the horse and the horse neighed softly. Saraya nodded and hurried inside, urging Lara to make haste. The wagon and the men had already gone. She must keep to schedule, and take Lara along to the Pub to give the illusion of old mother and daughter.
The pub was silent as she had taken her fill. The bartender that greeted her when she entered, supplied her with Groot... She nodded in a thank you. She looked to Lara. "Must... Seem older with daughter... I must... Not speak" she tried to say as clearly as possible.
Once she was sure that Lara understood the plan, she waited until high noon, to finally put her plan into action.
She had gotten onto the steed, a rope wrapped delicately around the baby horse and his her weapons and Lara's staff underneath the blankets on the horse's back. They traveled, slowly yet surely to the gates, where the guards had halted them. "And what is your purpose?"
Lara played her role well, informing the guards that she was taking her dear mother to visit relatives that were staying near the city. As she explained, the other guards were inspecting the steeds, and then looked to the old lady that sat on the elegant horse. They saw a tired, elder woman under the cloak, and sighed as they looked to each other. Before they could say a word, however, bells rang of alert. Their post had been caught aflame.
With them abandoning their post, Saraya kept into action, using her strength to open the gate, and hurried the horses and Lara out safely before shutting the gates. With that, she jumped onto her steed, and "hyahh'd" the steed into a high sprint to a run.
In her mind, she celebrated temporarily of her plan. She, once they left the pub and was mere walk from the gate, had set aflame hay only yards away from the post. She used her talent of managing time to accomplish the post going up in flames before the guards noticed. With planning being completed swimmingly, she trotted once out of sight, and reunited with the others. She sighed as she demounted her steed and started wiping away the earth on her face, signing as she shed away the cloth covering her tresses. She stared at everyone and nodded, going back to her steed.Their next aim... Getting to the last Guardian... And exacting her revenge on the evil man she dared not see with her eyes.
Rhuarc listened to Carrick talk about his time before he was a smith, a time when he served a higher purpose as the guard of the Holy Sanctum. From the look on his face he was remembering the time with a mix of shame, regret and nostalgia, it must be difficult for the blacksmith to dedicate himself to a cause, have that torn away from him and be forced into submission and to work for those that took his Priestess away. Now after all these years later find out that she was alive and that he had a purpose again, it was a lot for any man to contemplate. Rhuarc wondered what his life would have been like if Elder Mandarb had never sent him to the central city, probably a simple life of wandering the deserts with caravans and surviving from one day to the next but most likely fighting the False King. With the women rejoining them, talk soon turned to how they would leave the Central City and make their way towards the last Guardian the suggestions of barrels was raised. Rhuarc was glad that he would not require to hide in one of those things, there was absolutely no way in Azeroth that either he or Ayab would ever fit. He was far more comfortable out in the open, weapons in hand. Carrick's concern surrounding the plan were well founded and apparently it mattered not as the wagon that the group wild be travelling with had a false bottom large enough for Aria to hide in.
The rest of the night passed far too slowly for the Jai's liking, Rhuarc was unable to let himself relax, instead waiting for the Mage or some soldiers to break down the door and drag them all before Shade-stealer in chains for harbouring the High Priestess before promptly removing their heads. He was a snake waiting to strike at prey that might never come, and did not make for a particularly good guest. It was Ayab that snapped him out of his trace, a few words were exchanged in the harsh sounding guttural tongue of the Jai people and the younger Jai was able to talk some sense into his friend. In the morning they were off on a dangerous journey, enjoy the peace they had now, it might never come again. While the women worked with Aria to apply the dyes to her hair and conceal her identity while Carrick and Balden worked on the meats for dinner. As soon as the women had finished their tasks Carrick announced that the meal was ready, despite only her hair changing colour Rhuarc hardly recognised the High Priestess, he was sure it would be a suitable disguise.The two Jai were hesitant at trying the meats that Carrick had acquired and roasted, cooked in the Caledon style they were far different than anything that Rhuarc or Ayab had eaten before. In the Wastelands food was scarce in the wilds, if you were lucky you might find some hardy desert goat wandering around but more often than not you ate what you were able to hunt or what rations you had packed from your last time in a city or with a caravan. Bread and a small drab of honey was what Rhuarc had been used to for the longest time, he had had some meat marinaded in Jai spices before he left Elder Mandarb, the feast that Carrick was putting on now was wonderful compared to what he had been surviving off lately.
As the others drifted slowly off to sleep Rhuarc and Ayab decided that a watch still needed to be kept, in reality it was just an old habit from the Wastelands, a Jai who didn't have a watch kept at night was a dead Jai, in truth neither warrior expected there to be an issue but that didn't mean that they weren't prepared for it. Ayab took an uneventful first watch and after several hours of nothing interesting woke his companion who also had an uneventful night, eventually watching the pink and orange hue of the rising sun light the smithy. Rhuarc thought he heard someone stirring amongst the women but his attention was immediately captured by the old grizzled smith rousing himself from his slumber, who in turn announced tot he women that they would be leaving imminently. With the wagon already prepared the night before there wasn't much left to ready other than the High Priestess being hidden away in the false wagon bottom while Carrick, Balden Rhuarc and Ayab left the Central City first while Lara and Saraya followed later. The streets of the City were busier than Rhuarc would have expected at this early hour, most were merchants setting up stalls for the long trading day ahead, or those just entering the city after travelling all night, some guards changing shift caught Rhuarc's eye but aside from a quick glance at the two large Jai they paid the group no heed. At the city gates several alert men stood guard, surveying the few that entered and the even fewer who left. They muttered amongst themselves too softly for Rhuarc to overhear when they saw the wagon approaching. Carrick took the lead, talking to the men,while the two Jai guards stayed silent, like any paid help would, two men looked around the wagon, searching its contents thoroughly. Rhuarc had to make a conscious decision to keep his hand off the handle of his belt knife, praying to Jaihash that Aria was not discovered. After what seemed like an eternity the group were let through and they were well and truly free from the Central City, the wagon rumbled along, Carrick and Balden riding while the Jai walked alongside, for a mile or two before finding a suitable place to stop and wait for Lara and Saraya to catch up. Soon they would head east into the Mountains and with Azeroths blessing towards the final guardian.
With the exit of the Mage, Carrick was able to slow the beating of his nervous heart. He tossed Balden the coin purse and looked to Rhuarc as he addressed him. Yes, it was fair to say Carrick owed them some form of explanation. “I was once a guard of the Holy Sanctum. A guard of the Priestess, I was young and devoted to my little priestess. The first day I met her, she was nothing more than a tiny tyke of five years and she came through the sanctum with arms full of freshly picked wildflowers. She gifted us all with one that day, and thanked us for our continued service. I was newly appointed, and at five she called me out as a new face and welcomed me personally. Five years old… and already such an adult,” he commented with an air of nostalgia. “But when the raids hit the following year… that little girl I had grown so attached to, who I had watched over and guarded, was whisked away while we fought off the hordes of greedy power hungry men. Some of us were captured when the Sanctum fell. I was among those captured, I was spared because I was young, impressionable and I had a trade skill they could use… I have been biding my time here in this forge ever since,” he confessed. “Usually they come to me with requests for weapons, sometimes small jobs delivering packages.. but this is the first time the Mage has come to my door asking me to kill someone. He knows she’s alive… and he knows she’ll find one of us from the old days…. He’s watching me, and you’re right –they’re not to be underestimated and the Priestess must be protected at all costs. Like you, Rhuarc, she’s a guardian too… the Host of Azeroth himself.” Those final words carried severity and weight. Azeroth had always marked his priestess… but he’d never housed himself within one before… not until Aria.
Balden was the one sent to retrieve the women from under the floor, and when he lifted the trap door he gifted them a friendly smile.
“It’s all clear!” He told them and helped them up one by one. Aria was the last to come out, and looked around to see the house had be lightly ransacked, and Saraya was quick at work with a plan involving wooden barrels. She suggested that the three of them hide within it, and while it might work to get them out… it wouldn’t provide a long term cover. Lara seemed to weigh the idea by climbing into a barrel as example. Aria lifted the lid back up and peeked inside where she hid.
“Boo,” She teased. Carrick was quick to calm Saraya with a heavy hand to her dainty shoulder.
“Peace dear Saraya. The barrels are a fine idea. They’ll make great cover for all of our gear, but I am a smith –they know what I carry –weapons, tools, armor. Everyone’s will be meshed together so none stick out, besides…” He smirked mischievously and walked towards the floor of his wagon. “You think you’re the first people I’ve smuggled out of this city?” Carrick was a man of many talents and tricks as he slid the wooden paneling of the wagon floor to display that I was a false wagon bed, and underneath was a padded enclave large enough for four people to lay down and hide under. “These soldiers are known to be real ass holes and tip over barrels of food stuffs, and other things. They care not of the work that went into it. Just that they are thorough in their search… I like your style of thinking though,” He told her with a hidden grin and they watched as a blushing Balden helped Lara out of the barrel.
“Once we are on the road we won’t need to hide,” Aria added as she reached in and touched the soft padding that lined the hidden compartment of the wagon.
“No we won’t, but you will need a disguise,” Carrick said pointing a finger at her. It was then made aware to Aria that Rhuarc and Ayab had brought with them dyes and clothing to help hide her when they had gone out to gather supplies. She grinned at the haul they brought back and looked it over. The colors would not last forever, but it would be enough to tint her hair darker, which was all they needed to keep her from drawing attention with her silver white hair. It was a dead giveaway to her Volshiv Heritage.
Aria enlisted Saraya's help in applying the dyes to her hair that night, while Carrick was busy at work roasting meats and cooking them a final meal before they left. He wanted to leave at sunrise, they were all in agreement of that. The sooner they left the better. Carrick made up sleeping arrangements for his guests, go so far as to relinquish his own large bed to allow the three women to sleep in, Balden slept in a small cot, while Carrick Rhuarc and Ayab slept on their own prospective pile of furs next to the hearth in the living room, closest to the door. This way if the Mage and his goons decided to surprise them in the night they would be the first line of defense, to allow the women to flee with the Priestess.
Morning came as it always did, with the cawing of a rooster, the pinkish glimmering hues of a rising sun, and the morning fog that seemed to linger over everything. Aria was the first one up, the moment the first ray of sunshine hit her body, her eyes snapped open and she looked beside her. On either side slept Saraya and Lara, the three of them nestled like life long sisters under the blankets. Aria noted how peaceful both of them looked, and then slid out the edge of the bed just as Carrick came knocking.
"Time to wake up, we need to eat and leave." He called through the door. His deep rustic voice waking the other two. Aria looked to them both -she even looked different with her charcoal grey hair and pale skin, it made her icy blue eyes that much more strange looking. Today was a big day, today was the day they would all be leaving. First things first. Carrick had to smuggle Aria out.
The plan was as follows:
Rhuarc, Ayab, Balden and Carrick would ride out with the carriage hiding Aria in the hidden bed, while Saraya and Lara left on their own. They had entered the city -they could just as easily leave it as their own little group. They planned to meet up and regroup once they were outside of the city and heading East towards to Volshi Mountains in search of their final Guardian.
And of course Carryck would be the one to voice his complaints out loud. It wasn't like she was trying to kill herself by fighting the Jai, if she did anything that would result in making or death to herself or anyone else then the priestess wouldn't allow it so the mission wouldn't fail. Talking about the priestess, she didn't think her idea was a bad one, on the other hand the priestess thought it was an acceptable idea. Se even saw the the thought process behind it.
Lara braced for the hit, but the actual hit was lacking both in strength and faith. It was like the Jai just hit her because circumstances caused him to do it but the Jai didn't have any faith because of the irritating, irradiating distrust between the two of them. She hit him back across in the same way he had slapped her. The would take awhile but she wanted to show this Jai the futility of distrust, the futility of keeping a past grudge which should just be let free and forgotten forever.
Before anything could happen Balden had run in almost breathless with a worried look on his face. This worry and fear wasn't unfounded as Balden had spotted the King's mage riding with a host of troops to this direction. It was an uncomfortable situation but Carrick had a plan, and it also seemed as if this wasn't the first time he had been 'visited' in this fashion.
The plan involved the three women being hid into a secret underground storage compartment, and the guys would be on top. Somewhat sexist but the plan did have a sound base to support it, the King's men wouldn't ask too many questions about three new males, three females would be extremely hard to explain to the nosy bastards.
No questions asked and only actions. The Jais opened up the entrance to the secret underground tunnel and the three women hurried down into the big empty room at the end of the tunnel. The entrance was closed and their were sounds of objects being placed on top of the entrance, all was dark and so far the only sound that could be heard was the faint breaths.
That was before what seemed as if a horde of horses stampeded through the house and abruptly stopped. The women who's name she hadn't learned at all started doing something but she didn't pay attention, she only closed her eyes and meditated. The guardian inhabiting her started to recoil in disgust from the foul presence up above, why did the presence seem so similar? Why did it remind both of them of someone from the past? It was someone from the past, three years from the past. The same person who had went out with intent to do harm and had killed her parents, it was him. But it wasn't the time to openly show the hatred or all this hard work would be for nothing, nothing at all.
Eventually the stampeding horses went away and all was silent until the entrance was opened back up. The rush of fresh air was refreshing but time was off the essence. Once all of them regrouped around the wagon the woman who's name she did not know started acting up, seemed there was another plan involving hiding.
It also involved barrels , hiding in the barrels to get past the city defenses. It would be a pain but it was necessary, so she took the initiative. Walking up to one of the barrels on the cart Lara hid her staff in the cart, jumped unto the cart and opened up one of the empty barrels. She then jumped in, took the lid, and then sealed herself within the woody confines of the barrel.
She did feel odd though, sitting there and reflecting. She felt like the seventh wheel, not exactly not needed but not exactly needed.
Saraya watched as the priestess left her to reassemble herself. She sighed as she stood, swiping away the hay from her clothing, and stretched. Aria was right after all, she mustn't let it cripple her sense of urgency. There was war amiss, and if she could be of any use, she had to go back into her previous state of mind... War is just, Aim is neigh.
As she doused the fire, there was a scent that made her hair stand on edge. The enemy was in the city! She must warn the priestess!
Before she could even get to the stable door, Rhuarc had opened the door, with eyes as serious as the storm that was approaching them... She knew then that he knew as well. All she could do was bow to the knowledge and made haste to the stable, where orders of haste were given to hide.
Rhuarc guided her to a hidden latch to a cellar, and without hesitation, her instinct told her to do what was necessary. She nodded to Rhuarc in a swift thank you, and decended into the dark surroundings. Saraya backed away as the young child and the Priestess took refuge, and waited as the latch door closed and carpeting covered it from sight. After a thud of a table sounded, silence impregnated the cellar. There, they waited.
The doors to the stable swung open in a thud, and with it, a foul stench that even she grimaced to. But, what made her halt all movement and a frozen expression of shock take her face... The voice that spoke.
The voice... it was dark, laced with intrigue and malice. A terrifying and traumatizing chuckle sounded lightly, yet her ears picked it up as if he were sitting just an arm's length from her. Compared with her memory, the voice she remembered had an life- shattering effect. This Demon 's voice was the same.
The spirit somehow broke through her shock, and urged her... [center [I Hear me! Focus, love]] it was an urgent whisper, spoken as an temperamental spirit that hurried across your senses, and speak within your ear with an attention grabbing echo. Saraya sharpened her breathing, and as the spirit spoke, she felt that sense of urgency creeping up from her spine. [Center [I Saraya... You must shroud their scent... his soldiers are coming...]]
Wait... [I SHROUD] their scent? Saraya gasped, looking up as his prediction was proven true... one soldier was heading this way, to their cellar, to their temporary sanctuary. Saraya placed her hands on the ground, hoping that she could succeed on detouring the enemy. [Center [I breathe, and relax... Imagine hugging them, comforting them as the loving martyr that you are... cover them with your love...]]
Saraya began thinking... The priestess would never allow me to do so... but, even she would want a comforting hand at times. She still suffers how all chosen leaders suffer... like she for her homeland. And what about the other?
The child was young, vibrant. When she was at that age, she had grace and beauty, with will, strength and stubbornness. She hoped that she would want her help... maybe then, she could...
A thud on the stairs sounded. The enemy was closer than she thought. [I Scon-ga] she cursed. As she shed away her sword and bow and arrows aside to keep the silence, she refocused, using her emotions to wrap around them as she placed her hands on the ground once more... But, it proved to be more complex. She tried, but it wouldn't stretch.
Though, as she exhaled slowly, that strong embrace she remembered wrapped around her again. Suddenly, she felt her heart warm, and with it, his face appeared. [I now, Saraya... Use it, now] she channeled her energy without question. She shrouded them in her tender love and care in her mind, and as she completed that, she looked up. The footfalls had halted near the table. She hoped that it worked... She continued to scan the ground above them, watching the ground as it squeaked and creaked. It halted for a moment... she heard the sadistic voice speak again. It grabbed his hounds and demanded their return. They retreated as the voice spoke once more, striking conversation with Carrick a about finding the priestess. This was one of their methods, to create cross agents to infiltrate, and kidnap or else price was on their head. Saraya slowly released the ground from it's purpose, and looked up as silence finally impregnated the forge.
The table was moved, then the carpet, letting in light finally. As the hidden door opened, and fresh air took the cellar, Saraya was frozen, sitting on the ground aside her weapons. Her mind was racing, so much in fact that she had almost forgotten that the door was open. She grabbed her weapons absent-mindedly before climbing out of the cellar. Saraya knew they would speak of a plan to leave without raising suspicion, but Saraya was plotting alone. The Mage, whom they spoke of as the leader of this brigade, was going to scout left and right for The Priestess, as a way to gain control of The Guardians. She knew that the spirits were a threat, but for them to scout Centeral City would mean that Malik was growing worried of his mistake. He claimed no Spirits, therefore his worst fear was being realized.
Suddenly, her stubbornness had claimed her well-being. She felt herself shift to a warrior that she had once took pride in being. Her mind narrowed to the point of strategy. Once before meeting them, Lara had been in a sewer, vast was it. It had been a passageway that they had entered, so that was not a suitable escape.
She then thought of the wagon... She smirked as she hurried to the Priestess' side. Grabbing her hand, she felt that she could build the courage to speak, and she did.
[I The wagon... If we use the wagon, we may still strike a chance in leaving safely together...]
She looked around for barrels, and began dragging at least five to the wagon. [I Strouga yemil tregul.] She realized that she was explaining too fast. She went to the Priestess with haste, taking her hand. [i The three of us will hide in the barrels. We put fruit within them, and I shall shroud our scent so not to raise suspicion. Our weapons should be placed in the other barrels filled with trout. i will shroud them, too. Any weapon that were made for trade should be displayed as a decoy. Make sure your scent, as well as Ayab, Rhuarc and the young Apprentice are the only scents on you weapons you've made for trade. They will be searching for unknown scents, so leave it to me to shroud our scents and keep from sight.] she looked towards everyone, hoping they understood her idea. If it could work, they would be able to make haste to find the last guardian without surprise. [I do you not think it is possible?] Her accent in English still sounded seductive, but she couldn't think of it. Time was of the essence. They must think fast and smart.
Rhuarc listened to Balden's words and he was satisfied with what he heard from the boy, he was young but had a good head on his shoulders. That would serve him well in the journey they were on. [b "I warn you, this will not be easy, it will be a long and hard trial. I will be a tough teacher, and I will expect the same commitment and effort as I would from any Jai student of the blade."] Rhuarc was bestowing on Balden a greater honour than the child would know, everyone knew the Jai were deeply protective of their culture and the secrets that they held yet here was Rhuarc willingly offering to part with the combat techniques that his people had used for as long as there had been Jai. The large Jai had come to respect Carrick in the short time that they had known each other for, he could see that the blacksmith was an honourable man, devoted to his cause and would willingly lay down his life for the Priestess. If Carrick trusted the boy then so did Rhuarc, the Jai normally had excellent instincts, they had kept him alive in the past and they had never let him down before.
The men had almost finished loading the wagon finishing up by putting a few large crates of weapons and armour in the wagon, courtesy of Carrick. Rhuarc and the Jai didn't use armour like the Caledon or the other Provinces, they fought in their own skin. It was true that not wearing armour was more dangerous, but the heavy steel that protected also slowed you down significantly. Many Jai today were alive because when they fought those in armour they could move quicker and land a killing blow before those who they were fighting knew what was happening, besides not wearing armour meant the opportunity to gain and show off scars collected in battle, there was honour in that. Strike hard and fast, like the snakes which were sacred to them. That was when Lara entered the room and Rhuarc tensed up, he had hoped that Ayab and Lara would move past their differences but it seemed like that was not going to happen just yet. Ayab stared her down as she asked him to strike her across the face, Rhuarc watched with interest as Aria told Carrick to be silent, this was for Ayab and Lara to deal with. A minute passed, and another, and another, and another and for the longest time it seemed like Ayab would disregard the High Priestess and refuse to strike her before he reluctantly lifted his left and and gave a halfhearted slap across her face. It was a weak slap by Ayab's standards, far weaker than his greeting to Rhuarc or Rhuarc's greeting to the Priestess. It was hard enough for her position as a Guardian but not an ounce of strength more, very clearly Lara did not have Ayab's respect yet. Rhuarc picked up on the intricacies of his veiled insult to the Fenlyk woman that the others might not notice, the Jai culture was still very foreign to them.
As Balden returned and informed them that a Mage was about to descend on them Rhuarc and Ayab's body language shifted in an instant, they both seemed ready to fight in an instant, their eyes alert, hands ready to draw weapons at a moment's notice. Carrick gave Ayab an instruction and the younger Jai followed it through, keeping one hand near his belt knife just in case he escorted the women into Carrick's house, under the table and into the secret room under the floor before returning just in time before the armed men entered the forge. Rhuarc stood leaning against the back wall, seemingly lazy and unconcerned at the new arrivals, in truth the way he was leaning was mostly to hide the heavy blade of black steel from the prying eyes of the Mage, he was sure the weapon would raise questions. Ayab was looking equally unconcerned, picking up the odd weapon and examining it before moving on to another, but the two Jai were listening intently at the exchange between the Mage and the blacksmith. As the Mage looked his way Rhuarc stared him in his black eyes a flutter of nervousness in his chest. The Jai had heard stories of Mages but had never encountered one personally, they were fearsome foes, in fact it was a Mage that was responsible for Elder Mandarb losing most of his left arm, it was one of the reasons that Mandarb was so resected amongst the Jai, he had managed to kill a Mage which is a task not often achieved. Rhaurc held his emotions in check as the Mage handed over what looked like a weighty coinpurse to the smith in exchange of information, the Jai wasn't sure how the encounter would end so he was analysing how best to dispatch the challenge in front of him. The soldiers would fall easily enough, they were simply men and would not be expecting the assault. His sword would be too large and unwieldy in such close quarters, better to use his knife or a few short spears quickly. The Mage would be a different challenge, and one that he didn't know what to do about, Rhuarc was sure that Ayab was also sizing up the possible adversaries.
Carrick seemed unperturbed at the ransack of the house despite the women hidden beneath and that was all that kept the two Jai in check, as the soldiers left the house one knocked into him and Rhuarc, who stood far larger than the soldier, looked down and gave a snarl at the idiot. If he could have gotten away with it he would have snapped the soldier's neck in an instant. The tense words with the mage continued for a moment before the assortment of the King's men left and all in the forge, even the Jai, exhaled a deep breath of relief. [b "That was too close. I would suggest leaving now but the abomination will surely be watching us. Leaving before morning will only raise suspicion. The Priestess must be kept safe at all costs. You did not tell us that you had dealings with the King's men, blacksmith. You ave some explaining to do."] Rhuarc was sure that the blacksmith was trustworthy but dealings with Shade-stealer's men could not be ignored, it was better to play it safe. The coin the Mage had given Carrick would serve them well on their quest, Rhuarc gave a chuckle in the irony that the money that was meant to ensure the death of the High Priestess would be used to keep her safe and bring the downfall of the False King Malik. [+red "That Mage will be troublesome, Malik and his abominations should not be underestimated. Have you had many dealings with it before?"] With the Mage taking an interest in Carrick it was becoming even more imperative for them to leave the Central City and find the last Guardian. Then the fight against Malik could truly begin.
So Rhuarc wished to help train Balden... Carrick agreed to think about it, in other words, he was going to ask if Balden wished to learn from them both. His answer had been one a true warrior would say: “I can never learn too much. I can only grow from what the Jai and you can teach me.” Such wise words for a boy so small, and he was small… they’d have to start force feeding him protein rich foods to get some muscle and weight on him. Carrick decided then, that he would cook up a large feast for them all. A Final meal of sorts, before they took off to the countryside and began their trek. Where they would be going, Carrick had no idea. He wondered if the Priestess had an idea. Not willing to bother her with questions and knowing she was with Saraya, he decided to enlist the help of Balden with supper by sending the boy with some coin to purchase hearty meats.
Meanwhile Aria held firmly to Saraya as she wept gently. She did her best to give the guardian a sense of comfort, to help ease the distress, but an unexpected symptom from her touch emerged and it was revealed with Saraya spoke again. Her Common Tongue was much improved. Fluent even. She claimed her own stubbornness killed her loved ones. Curious, Aria held Saraya out at arm’s length and looked her over.
“I do not understand, explain it to me,” Aria pleaded, and so Saraya spoke of her life, her quest for revenge, and her loss.
[i "it was my fault... I seek revenge for my family. To seek redemption for my stubbornness. The spirit speaks to me to say that it was not my fault. It is what keeps me going. If I find Malik, I will take my revenge, and live on as the spirit's vessel. If what he says is true, i may be able to love an guardian... I know not who... but, time will reveal"]
Love another guardian? Aria’s brows furrowed. The Word Guardian could be used loosely. A Guardian Host like herself, or a guardian there to protect them all… words were often coy and deceiving. She wondered how her Spirit would know such things, but she didn’t ask questions on it. Instead, she let Saraya finish her peace. She was not like most Caledon’s that Aria had met. They were generally rough –even the women. They were battle hungry clansmen who lived in revelry and told stories of the stars and the earth. Saraya was different… softer, gentler… but just as strong willed.
“Discon-ga...” Aria whispered with her, and for a quiet moment watched her move to self-comfort herself. This was all well and good, but time was of the essence and as much as Aria would have liked to mourn for her own losses, she could not, and Saraya could not cling to the past. “Now it is time to move on,” She said firmly but gently. “Learn from your past, but do not cling to it, or you will lose sight of what is ahead of you.” Aria sighed then and crossed her own arms looking about pensively. “You mentioned Caledon speaking with you, that you might find love with another guardian. I don’t suppose he spoke what type of love, or if he meant a Guardian host? They tend to refer to one another by name… how curious….” Her brow furrowed further and she gave Saraya a very pointed look. “If it is Romance you seek, I suggest setting it behind you for now, you still mourn for your loss and we have too many large fish to fry before all is said and done, and right now… we all need each other’s love and understanding,” Aria reached out with a smile, gifting Saraya a reassuring squeeze to her shoulder and turned, quietly slipping outside of the stable to give Saraya privacy.
Aria entered the forge just as Rhuarc and Ayab had returned with a mass of supplies. Carrick was busy with Rhuarc loading all the goods onto the covered wagon they would be using. They would be leaving in the morning, and Aria intended for them to start their way towards Volshi. The last guardian they needed to find was Volshiv, where better to start looking than in Volshi? She walked over to the wagon to watch the men and pulled her cloak around her shoulders, and kept her hood up. She couldn’t be too cautious here in the city.
“You seem to have thought of everything Rhuarc,” Aria said watching as Carrick raised a large sack of grain up and into the back corner of the wagon. There was plenty of food, medical supplies, cooking utensils, blankets… some of it Carrick had brought out from his house to load onto the wagon, including a large locked trunk filled with weapons and armor. “Thank you for going out and collecting all of our supplies,” She didn’t ask for any leftover coin, and instead opted to let Rhuarc keep the remaining coin. They all fell silent however as Lara came over to the four of them. Carrick and Rhuarc stood closest to the wagon. Ayab tossing supplies to Rhuarc who then tossed them up to Carrick who loaded the wagon meticulously. “Lara?” Aria questioned with a bit of nervousness. The girl was determined and marched straight over to Ayab removing her hood.
[i “Hit me,”] she commanded. Aria quirked a brow with an amused grin.
“Lara-“ Carrick tried, but Aria help up a hand to silence him.
“Peace, Carrick. She only wishes to display her own strength to the Jai.” Carrick glared, unhappy with it, but settled none the less and crossed his arms watching them both closely. “Go ahead Ayab, greet her and make amends. We cannot be successful if there is always to be bitterness betwixt you,” Aria advised.
Aria had given her blessing, and watched as Ayab struck Lara across the face, and she return the favor. With things shaky but on the mend, she was able to focus on other things.
“Priestess, I must implore you to go inside, none will see you there, you run the risk of being seen here in the forge. Go where it is safe,” Carrick said, acting the role of Guard as he had nearly 20 years ago. Aria frowned –not delighting in having to hide. This was her home… the Central City had been her home as far back as she could remember, for years she had missed running through the halls of the Sanctum, playing with other city children, or just delighting in the sounds of midday prayers and temple bells. She missed the city, but Carrick was right, she needed to hide. Balden came running into the forge then, looking winded and hugging a bundle of wrapped meats in his arms. “Balden, boy… what is it?” Carrick asked. Aria sensed fear and dread in him.
“You’ve seen something haven’t you?” Aria asked. Balden nodded his head, rushing towards her and stuffing the meats under one arm and all but pushing Aria towards the main house.
“You have to hide! You can’t be seen. He’s returned. Can’t let him find you again…” Aria frowned, and even Carrick jumped down from the wagon to calm Balden.
“Who’s here boy?”
“The Mage! The one who attacked our village and the Clans north of us in Caledon… all looking for Aria. He’s returned to the city. I saw him-“
“Did he see you?” Carrick demanded.
“No… I don’t think so, but we need to hide Aria just in case!” Carrick was forced to agree, and quickly grabbed Aria by the arm and steered her towards the house.
“Lara, come. Rhuarc find Saraya and bring her inside. I can explain your presence but not the women’s. Them I must hide, Ayab, please take them down to the cellar. Inside my home is the kitchen table, under that rug is the secret door. Lift that up, drop them in there, I must keep watch at the front of my forge. Balden, drop that food off on the counter and get back to work on that shoe. Look busy, boy!” He barked. Aria had grabbed Lara in the midst of Carrick barking orders and hurried over towards Ayab and the house. They found the trap door leading down to the cellar and as soon as Rhuarc brought Saraya to the cellar the door was closed, the rug replaced and the table reset, and all just in time before the forge door slammed open.
There were eight of them –armed guards and the one Mage. Balden and Carrick were quick at work tending to their own things. Balden hammering away at a horse shoe while Carrick continued to heat up the iron of what would be a sword.
“Wasn’t expecting the King’s men in my forge this evening,” Carrick said smoothly.
“We weren’t expecting to visit… but I just came from the Caledon and Fenlyk Border… had a nice chat with Father Rigby… you remember him… don’t you?” The Mage sneered showing off his pointed yellow and rotted teeth. Balden stopped his work and glanced around at the guards who moved about the forge like a group of children, unable to keep their grubby hands off of anything.
“How is it possible you spoke with Father Rigby… I thought he died in the fires your king set to the Temple…” The Mage never stopped his sadistic grin.
“Yes well… it seems he survived. Ran away like the coward he is… or rather… was. You see, King Malik doesn’t care much for traitors, he likes to see that they are disposed of…” The Mage’s voice trailed off as he caught Balden staring in horror, gripping his hammer tightly. “Who’s the boy?” He asked with a venomous hiss.
“Hired help, also brought on two Jai’s that entered the city yesterday. I thinking of traveling North to Caledon in the morning. Thought it wouldn’t hurt to hire an extra forge hand and some muscle for protection on the road….”
“Oh? What takes you to Caledon?”
“Trade obviously,” Carrick glared, caring less of the Mage’s tactics. Trying to get a rise out of him. “They pay good money for the swords and shields I make…” The Mage glared.
“So you admit to supplying the enemy with weapons-“
“No, I admit to being a man of trade. I don’t care what side you’re on… as long as you pay my price…” Carrick held his hand out then and the Mage gave a huff of disgust, and with a wave of his hand a coin purse appeared in Carrick’s hand. He felt the weight of it and smirked.
“A Lord of War… I can appreciate that. You deal in more than weapons… so give me your secrets…”
A Clash was heard from the house as the Mage’s men ransacked his home… this was not uncommon for Carrick, and he remained impassive by the fact the priestess and two guardians were holed up in his basement. “Don’t make too much of a mess… the Jais I hired don’t take kindly to your methods…” Carrick warned the guards in the house. They stilled their work of destruction and started back out the house reluctantly and back into the forge, one so foolish to forcefully knock Rhuarc in the shoulder while passing.
“They won’t break more of your things, now tell me what you know of Father Rigby.”
“He was the old man in charge of the High Priestesses education –rather like a surrogate guardian. I wasn’t a Temple Guard for long before King Malik. All I know is that when the raids hit, Father Rigby supposedly smuggled the wee Priestess out of the city –after that I don’t know what happened, where he went, what he did with the girl… none of it.”
“He took her… she’s alive… and I followed a trail that led me to the King’s road and back to the city. She’s here… I can smell her in the air…. She’s close…” The Mage crooned as he made his way leisurely through the forge. “There’s word that the Guardians are awakening… haven’t heard anything about that have you? I know you’ve got… friends in low places.” The Mage stopped and looked Rhuarc over suspiciously but did little else. Knowing better than to anger a Jai.
“This is the first I’m hearing it. Must have your work cut out for you... Can’t even find to catch a small woman,” Carrick smirked. Balden trembled with fear. Aria held Saraya and Lara close to her in the darkness listening to the faint voices above them and in the forge. The Mage growled with distain.
“A Shame you are leaving in the morning… I had a job in mind for you.”
“Oh? And what’s that?” Carrick asked, folding his massive arms across his chest and leaning against his work bench.
“I was going to pay you a King’s Ransom to hunt down the bitch and bring me her head,” The
Mage whipped around to face Carrick his robes fanning out around him.
“Are you so certain she’s in the city? Perhaps she’s close by where she can keep an eye on it and still get news quickly?” Carrick suggested. The Mage was perplexed –he had not thought of that.
“Go on your trip… and if you find her… you know what your King asks of you.” Carrick only nodded his head, but before the Mage could leave, Carrick whistled at him.
“Forgetting something? Your boys left damage to my home…” Carrick held his hand out once more and the Mage sneered.
“Find the Priestess and you can live like a king…” with that the door slammed shut and Balden collapsed to the floor, pale and shaky. Even Carrick slumped with his own nerves. The Gods must have been watching out, for that was the most civil meeting Carrick had ever had with the King’s Mage.
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