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Carrick would be furious with her if she had made it back. But, Saraya refused to let herself fail the mission. She hadn't failed a mission yet, and as guardian she refused to fail now! Her steed beat the earth to the thunder as her mind blanked out of everything else. Aria was the prime target to The Fade... So, she made it her mission to target Malik herself.
As she ran, she realized that there were multiple hoofbeats besides her own. Looking back, Lara was on her left. [I "GO back, Lara!! Aria needs you there! "]
She realized that Carrick was running up behind her. Oh, no... Not Carrick. She didn't want him to follow her. Suddenly, balls of fire fell from the skies and wrecked the earth's surface. She grabbed the reigns to steady her horse as they fell, and she looked back, seeing that the hill was being swarmed by beings... DEAD BEINGS?!
Saraya saw Carrick retreat, then looked to Lara. [i "Go, Lara! Aria needs you"] Lara refused, staring at her with the intention of staying. She knew Lara, and she knew that she wasn't the type to run if it meant a demise of others... She stared through her eyes and let a tear fall. Saraya knew of the fate set in her hands...her heart was heavy and as she was forced to accept it, she whispered to her [I "...Then, you will be the doom of me"]
The earth broke and out came skeletons, undead warrior who fell to the power of The Watchers. Saraya turned and pulled her sword from her gown, shrouding the young Lara. She cut the head off of one, and ran through the other. She backed up keeping the skeletons nearby on her only. Each one approached, and each were felled by the sword. Saraya had successfully saved Lara, and turned to her with a plea that she would be safe. [I "You must go, Lara. It is not your time yet"] she saw a spear impale her horse and down she tumbled, so Saraya denounced her steed and used a surge of great power to create a path for her. As she fought, she saw a big one coming at Lara, axe in hand. She growled and raised her hand up, and slammed her hand down to the earth to instantly make the enemy fall. The dead fell like flies, and she looked to where Lara was, hoping she wasn't too late. When she peered above the dead, she sighed in relief. Lara and Carrick were safe.
She made it back to the hill, hearing Carrick curse and bother about her wellbeing. She said nothing to protest. She thought it would be a moment that she would sacrifice herself for the team... But it was not this night. Something was not in place yet... And if that was the case, she'd have to get back and protect Aria... Though everyone else seemed to to be doing their job. The warrior in her slowly began to rest as she walked over the dead, and up the hill. She saw the full extent of her stubbornness, and it made her heart writhe in anguish... Her efforts had been a failure.
The Watchers saw her as she walked forth, and of abundance did she come. Carrick, still upset about her actions and Lara, a bit shocked of the events that happened had trekked behind. Saraya was patient for the while. Everyone in the group had been safe, and looked to Saraya as if she had made yet another foolish decision. Rhuarc... Ayab... Adimar... The guardians looked to her with confusion and doubt. Saraya said nothing. Even if she told them, there would be nothing they could do. If it was her duty to save Aria this way... Then, she would accept it... But, not without a fight. The Watchers had opened the gates with one word in the wind... Guardians.
Citizens went in first, and Saraya was relieved that most were safe. She looked out into the field... Blood decorated the ground before them, bodies claimed by the dead lay postrate and she held in her wails of sadness. This was why they stared upon her so evilly. It was her idea to take them from Tanaka to Kil'heed... And it was her that the bloody hands rested. Her eyes welled up in tears as she watched The Watchers retrieve the bodies. She walked away, The Guardians waiting for their opportunity to speak unto her their frustrations, but Saraya never came to them for solace. Instead, she ventured away and down between rock and space, and sat in the shadows, where none could see her... There she wept till her eyes had become swollen, and still she wept to herself until she had fallen asleep. It was her fault... They were all going to say so... She was selfish... And with all things running through her mind, the worst one came about... She would rather die by Malik's hand than to carry a dishonor like this.
Sleep didn't last, however... The same knight from her vision appeared again, and she was startled awake. She hoped that this was not a fluke. The knight was the beginning of her doom... She hadn't spotted him yet... And as long as she stayed silent and waited, she would eventually find him. But, not before Carrick and the other guardians find her first.
Carrick was looking left and right for her after a night of being alone in their caves. Saraya must feel horrible... She hadn't appeared to him all night. He asked if the other guardians had heard word of her... None have seen her... Why did she seek solace from them?
It took some while to catch up to Saraya; no wonder, with Saraya pushing her own horse the way she was. Lara urged her own horse faster, but it didn't seem to be of any use as the distance didn't seem to shorten at all.
And then out of nowhere, Carryck galloped out of nowhere. Coming out of nowhere, he was going to somewhere. That somewhere, was Saraya. What was his task? His task was to protect the two of them. Personally, Lara wouldn't be surprised if he went for Saraya first because of the relationship between the two of them.
But then, one of the many possible worst case scenarios emerged. In truth, the actual scenario could've been worse; but this was the now and not the any of the ifs, bette focus on the shit that was happening [b "now"] and not the [b "if"] shit.
The shit that was happening right now, consisted of one-half raining fireballs and one-half of a chasm opening and a horse of undead crawling out. Carryck yelled some words out, but Lara didn't manage to comprehend them; what she did manage to comprehend was some sort of spear-ish looking weapon flying past her and impaling an undead scum. It took Lara a second to realize that, and another second to realize that the three of them were in the midst of an undead horde which was totally hellbent on annihilating them. Carryck yelled about turning around; unfortunately, that involved going through a horde shitstorm. At least the undead would die.
Although right away, some bad shit started happening.
Lara wanted to go towards Carryck, her horse wanted to go another way; what Lara wanted and what the horse wanted were two different things. Unfortunately, being on a horse meant being subjected to its wants. What the horse wanted, was a 90 degree rotation clockwise and a rapid full gallop ahead. That was working only for an extremely short moment, until the undead horde closed in.
First problem, the horse suddenly stopped; it had been impaled by a spear, and the sudden stop caused Lara to fall off the saddle and tumble down to the ground. Like a cat, Lara landed on her feet; the sword on the other hand, stuck tip first into the ground.
That led to a second problem: being surrounded by an undead horde without a horse. Lara did not have any clue how to fight with a sword, except that you either swung at enemies with the sharp blade or you stick them with the pointy end; all the other complicated footwork and blade work was unknown to Lara. Lara could only wildly swing the sword and occasionally stick it in one of the undead horde members.
Third problem, this luck would eventually run out. Lara had finished turning one of the members of the undead horde into a raw shish-kebab when she felt something hit her on her back. This in turn led to her vision to swim like a fish, her hearing to start ringing, and as well as being knocked forwards down to the ground.
Fourth problem, being down on the ground meant being exposed to enemy attacks. Lara felt a throb of pain in her left leg; when she attempted to move it, it would not move. Only one possibility, the leg had been impaled and pinned to the ground. Lara looked up, and wished she hadn't looked up. There was an undead in front of her, and it was raising the axe it had in its undead arms. There was no doubt about how her life ended, no doubt at all. Decapitated by an undead with an axe in the midst of a battle.
And then the axe stopped, went up a bit, and then the axe started to drop.
[center [i Goodbye cruel world]]
The cold feeling of dread that Aria feared she was feeling, was vindicated the moment she came face to face with her hooded stalker. He greeted her by name, with a voice that dripped with cruelty. Aria shuttered as he revealed he was The Fade; the one following them all along! Aria felt a stab of fear, realizing she was alone in this moment. Slowly she began to back away from him, but he approached, lowering his hood.
It was a frightening face, twisted and deformed. It was a milky white, his eyes were pitted and missing, and his lips cracked blackened with rot. Aria found herself frozen in shock at the sight of the dark creature before her. It was truly terrifying.
[i “It would be best if you didn't struggle, oh but how I hope you do…”] he teased her, mocking her fear. Of course she would struggle, she’d fight him with all she had to stay out of Malik’s hands. She wouldn’t fail so early in the fight.
“I-I’m not afraid of you,” Aria said her voice trembling with the slightest vibrator of fear. They both knew it was a lie. She was terrified. Camp was still within eyesight and as she looked past the Fade, she saw charging towards them, none other than Rhuarc. Her heart jumped at knowing she was saved! He was flanked by Ayab, Adimar, his men, and Balden. “I’m not going anywhere with you,” She proclaimed boldly, and turned to run out of the way just before Rhuarc’s blade cleaved through the Fade’s face.
[b Adimar] had been near Aria’s tent, as his was just beside hers. They had her entirely surrounded. Nothing was going to get close to her; not if he could help it. Thad and Rupert were in the middle of getting ready to report on their scouting trip when Rhuarc, Ayab and Balden had approached Aria’s tent to speak with her. After knocking on the post outside her tent, with no answer; Adimar took it upon himself to enter Aria’s tent… They discovered it empty.
“Where could she have gone?” Adimar asked curiously, looking out at the rest of the quiet and sleepy camp. Ayab was the first to find the path, and Rhuarc wasted no time in running headlong down the track. They found Aria within the Golden Sea, a look of horror on her face for the monster standing before her. Rhuarc rammed his sword into the skull of the figure reaching towards a frightened Aria. Adimar remained tensed, his arrowed notched and ready. They waited for the figure to collapse, for blood to splatter the ground around him… but he remained standing.
[i ”As if mere steel could defeat me...I shall deal with you before I take her." ] The next moment happened so quickly Adimar hadn’t the time to worry about Aria. The Fade vanished, only to reform from the shadows around them. He rose up with a serrated whip, that lashed out connecting with Ayab, and felled him promptly. Adimar had no choice, he fired three arrows consecutively right for the Fade. It was enough to distract the monster so Adimar was able to reach up and focus all of his arcane mana to compel the lingering storm. He knew he’d be out for the count after this, but he had to give it his all. They couldn’t let the Fade get away with Aria.
The lightning struck The Fade, and Aria screamed as she bounced away from the impact -having been too close. She rolled about, her body bruised and now covered in scratches and cuts. She watched with baited breath, as the smoke cleared, hoping and praying that Adimar had defeated it. Back in camp, Adimar’s attack had called attention to others. In the distance, the sounds of soldiers and the other Guardians gearing up could be heard; as could the laughter of the still standing Fade.
[b Aria] cowered for the briefest of moments, wishing the golden sea would hide her, but knowing it wouldn’t. She had to run, she glanced over her shoulder towards the tower… if she could at least lead the Fade away from the camp and the others…. She went for it! She jumped up to her feet and sprinted with all her might towards the tower and Gates of Kil’heed. She spared one glance behind her to see the others were chasing after her, when she noticed the Fade was not behind her. It was then she slammed into something hard and cold. She fell backwards to the ground, and before she could catch her bearings she felt a hand grab a tight fistful of her gilded hair, and wretched her head back to a painful angle. Aria struggled with him, grasping at his hand in her hair and fighting to keep him from touching her. The Fade spoke of how happy Malik would be, how they were going to rape and torture her. That her death was highly possible, still Aria struggled against him.
“No!” Her struggles seemed to amuse him.
[i Even if you die, know that the Fenlyk and Caledon Guardians will share your fate." ] Aria froze in fear, gasping at the thought and looked out to see both of them galloping headlong in the distance. She couldn't let that happen to either of them! Without the guardians, Azera won’t stand a chance. Aria could feel the magic emanating from the Fade and she knew she was probably going to never see them again.
Rhuarc suddenly shouted at the Fade, and both Aria and The Fade tensed at the vicious shout. Aria looked up to see Rhuarc standing just away, Ayab and Adimar were down for the count, but Max and Rupert had managed to catch up. Aria reached for Rhuarc, not wanting to be taken away, and pulled herself as hard as she could from the Fade. Not a moment too soon did Rhuarc’s hands wrap themselves around her forearm, she turned her wrist and held on back. She didn’t pay attention to their shouting, she only held on, and pulled from The Fade with Rhuarc’s help. Eventually the tug of war brought Aria to a painful cry as she felt her shoulder dislocate from her arm, and yet they still warred to free her. Saraya and Lara were approaching, and the Fade knew his time was ending. Aria felt his grip lesson, so she used it as did Rhuarc, to put all their weight into pulling free from the Fade. He released them, and they both went tumbling to the ground. Aria’s fall was buffered by Rhuarc’s body. She rolled over to see The Fade hovering over them both, and with a hiss, he threatened and vowed to hunt them down. He seemed prepared to swipe at them, Aria cowering into Rhuarc’s side, when a great force blocked the Fade and sent him back into the shadows. It was Saraya! She shouted at Rhuarc to get Aria to Kil’heed, and from the looks of it, the rest of the camp was packing up and moving too. Saraya kept the ward up long enough for Rhuarc and Aria to get onto the horse she’d rode in on.
Aria suddenly had a dark feeling… The Fade wasn’t the only visitor they had….
[b Carrick] had been woken up by an anxious Saraya. He’d been sleeping so well too. He did as asked, and more. He gathered up the camp and helped them get back on the road towards the Gates of Kil’heed. They obviously couldn’t stay here, it wasn’t safe. Carrick had to be honest though, he admired Saraya’s compassion to bring them… but would be happy to deposit them here and be on their way. Adimar had been carried into camp, having exhausted his powers against the Fade -and they still weren’t enough. This gave Carrick a bad feeling. He was preparing his horse when Saraya returned to him. She was frantic.
“Saraya? Love, is the Priestess alright?” She assured him with a nod of her head.
[i “Go... Make sure Aria gets there safe”]
Carrick frowned, confused. “But what about you?” He demanded, she tried to shake him off, but Carrick wasn’t about to hear that either. It burned a hole in his chest that Saraya didn’t trust him to fight by her side. What was she afraid of? That he might be another Felliope? Carrick didn't want to leave, but Saraya pushed him. “Don’t give me that, other’s can assure she makes it to Kil’Heed. My task is protecting the Guardians who protect the Priestess!” He argued, but Saraya turned to give him a pitiful look, he cursed. He realized then what she intended to do, and his heart couldn’t bear it. “You can’t… I won’t let you sacrifice yourself,” He told her, reaching out and taking her hand, that he might stay her from leaving. She only shook her head, speaking of her friends, and all the others. What about him?! What about [i THEM]? Carrick wasn’t willing to let her sacrifice herself -if she did then they’d all be in trouble! They need all Four Guardians to defeat Malik. It took Saraya, pushing Carrick away and fleeing on a horse to get away from him. He shouted after her, growing angry and watched as Lara went charging after her. It gave him little relief. Carrick cursed under his breath. He had vowed to Aria to protect the guardians. By Gods he would. Mounting his own horse he took off following Saraya and Lara towards the earlier fight.
Malik rasped his hands upon the armchair of is throne, watching with supreme dislike at the unfolding events before him. Egos stood looking grim, and sour. The Fade’s plans were not going as expected.
“The abomination is failing me…” Malik warned. Egos, cleared his throat, and gave his best effort at a wicked grin.
“My Liege, The Fade is facing a very… difficult task. Clearly the Guardians are stronger than anticipated. I will go myself and personally-“
“No,” Malik said, leaving no room for contest. “No…. you’ve failed me time and time again now… I have a narrow window of time to get her…” Or forfeit a whole year in reaching her. Malik didn’t like that. He had to have the priestess in order to accomplish what needed to be done. What he needed to do to secure the city as his own -and for good. Good thing he had installed a back up plan… “I have new plans for you… I am sending you to help the Necromancer. He’s there to collect her now. He’s been waiting in the mountains for my signal this whole time… You will teleport to him and follow his command. Because for now they are trapped,” Malik Sneered. “And Soon,” his hand curled over the edge of the saucer that showed him Aria on the horse with Rhuarc. “I will clip your pretty wings.”
The Tanaka Caravan might have been fast moving… but nothing would be able to save them from what was coming for them. Egos appeared on the ledge of a mountain, and standing beside him, dressed in fine black robes, with swarthy skin, dark hair, and a handsome face was the Necromancer. Beside the Necromancer stood a shadowed man, his face hidden by his cloak… but he was clearly Caledonean. Egos wondered who was special enough that the Necromancer brought him around with him. He simply turned and grinned at Egos who glared back. “Malik says it is time,” Egos spat, the Necromancer simply grinned, raised his hood over over his head and splayed his hands out before him.
“Did you know, that a thousand years ago there was a great battle that took place here? A Mad General wanted the City of Kil’heed to be his new fortress, the Watchers stopped him… now there are so few Watchers…” He grinned wickedly, “but there are plenty of dead….” His hands glowed an eerie shade of purple and down below in the Golden Sea the ground began to shake.
“You intend to kill them all?” Egos asked.
“Of course,” The smooth talking Necromancer crooned. “All but the Priestess.”
“Don’t kill the Prya,” Egos warned.
The Necromancer smiled devilishly. “Fancy yourself smitten with the whore?” he mocked.
Egos bared his filed teeth and cracked lips, while his eyes burned with fury.
“Her blood is directly descended from Caledon the Mighty, her blood holds a wealth of power-“
“Not near as much as the priestess…” The Necromancer noted with boredom.
“Yes, but the power of Prya can be inherited…” The Necromancer turned to look at the Mage and they both smirked.
“You and I, are going to get along just fine I think,” The Necromancer said and together they wrought hell upon earth.
[b Carrick] pushed his horse to breakneck speeds, until he finally caught up with Saraya and Lara. He was about to shout out her name and grab the reins of her horse when the ground began to shake, causing all of their horses to stumble. It was then Fireballs rained down around them. It was a great spattering of explosions, that began to light the whole valley on fire. Carrick turned back at the sounds of horrified screams coming from the Caravan. He never got to get a good look as the ground beneath them split apart, and limbs reached up from underneath the ground. Carrick raised his sword, and spun his head around. They were being surrounded by animated Skeletons brought back to life. Some were still fleshy, and most of them sported armor and carried swords, axes and shields. Carrick knew exactly what this meant when he watched them turn towards himself, Lara and Saraya ready to attack. That meant the screams coming from the caravan were people being slaughtered by Scourge.
“It’s the Necromancer!” Carrick shouted to the others. “Hurry to Kil’heed!” Carrick urged. One of the Scourge screamed a high pitched sickening sound and began to charge at Lara on her horse, but Carrick moved quickly standing in his saddle and threw a pike right for the Scourge. It pierced its eye and felled it. So they could be taken down. “Let’s move forward! Rhuarc is unguarded with Aria!” Carrick told them and he turned his horse towards the Towers in the hopes of catching up with Rhuarc and Aria.
[b Adimar] was feeling weak. His last attack had really taken a toll on him, and yet the Battle was just getting started. He’d felt the ground shake, heard the dead howl, and the living scream. He pushed himself to keep fighting the scourge of dead that had come to attack them. He was losing his soldiers, and he was losing his people. What dark magic had risen the dead?! Would they survive this? Even Adimar was beginning to fear the worst until the saw the flashing of a bright light coming from the distant Watch Tower. His jaw slackened in shock at the sight. Seven great beams of light shot forth into the fray from the tower… the Watchers had come to their aid! It renewed Adimar’s hope and he cleaved with greater power and renewed energy to make his way to the Tower and the others. In the process he and his soldiers would save as many Civilians as they could. Already the ground was becoming soaked with blood…
[b Balden] had stood in fear when the Fade vanished into the shadows… but he didn't feel the Fade’s presence leave… Balden felt that the Fade was with him, like a companion. It frightened him, but he shook the feeling off and found himself standing in the middle of a field of reanimated corpses, and there were some running right for him!
[b Aria]’s shoulder was killing her, her heart was racing, and her mind was reeling. The horse galloped down the narrow dirt path towards the Watch Tower, and she sat up in Rhuarc's lap to look over his shoulder as the first fireballs fell from the Southern Mountain. “Stop! Rhuarc, look!” she tried. “The others need us!” She reached back behind him as if she might hold onto their image. That was when she watched a crack forming in the ground come speeding up from behind them. It broke open from under them and the horse collapsed into the chasm. It wailed and cried in pain, and Aria fell down as well, but she was tossed at the last minute and landed in the grass. She looked around and saw the thistle burning gold from the distant fires and crawled back towards the trench where she found Rhuarc pinned under the injured horse. She called his name, garnering his attention and with her good arm reached out for the horse and concentrated on her powers of persuasion. The Horse suddenly stilled and calmed, allowing Rhuarc to help it stand so he could get free. Then Aria watched as the lame horse was put out of it’s misery.
Aria offered Rhuarc her good arm to crawl out of the trench. With Rhuarc freed from the chasm, Aria sat up and looked on in horror as she saw armored skeletons and corpses engaging in battle, and there were several charging their way. Aria looked over at Rhuarc, she was injured and unarmed, and Rhuarc was only one man… how would they get out of this? She opened her mouth to apologize to him, for leading them all down this path -one of failure and death. The words never came as suddenly a bright light shot through the air, and it was wielded by a man in white and gold robes, with gleaming armor. He moved like a spirit and cut through the Scourge like a luminous blur… and he wasn’t the only one. There were several of them all coming from the Tower. A second one landed just shy of Rhuarc’s side where a Scourge was charging with sword raised. They all wore the same armor, they all possessed the same light… and not a single one of them looked entirely human. The Man who had been the first to protect them returned after making a lethal loop around the field. He stopped just long enough that Aria was able to see his face, and his frame. He towered over her, and shined like a God in his armor, he carried a heavy looking staff, two swords crossed on his back, with long blonde hair and a short beard. It was his eyes that caught Aria -they were an electric blue color. He spared Rhuarc a single glance, before he knelt down by Aria and lifted her up into his arms. She couldn't stop the blush that burned her cheeks from the way he stared right into her. He gave no warning, suddenly taking off, leaving the gleaming aura of his powers and Rhuarc behind. Aria shrieked and reach back for Rhuarc. "NO! NO! RHUARC!" It was no point, she was already cleared of the entire battlefield and sailing rapidly towards the Tower.
The Second Watcher turned to Rhuarc and tossed him his coveted black blade. “Focus your flame, Jai’ash. Your friends need you,” He said and twirled his heavy axe in his hand to point it towards the thicker part of the battlefield. Within it were all the others fighting to get through. Thankfully the other five remaining watchers helping to destroy the scourge were still destroying them with ease. The Watcher beside Rhuarc roared a great battle cry and shot himself into the fray with blinding speed.
Another pause, another silent moment as both of them sat in silence; the silence didn't last forever. Lara felt the priestess' hands go around he own hands, and she waited for what Aria was about to say. Lara hoped that what Aria would say, would help her clear her mind of this present confusion. If not, then hopefully Aria wouldn't mind a few more questions.
Aria started by a comparison of how mysterious guardians could be; this transitioned into a comparison of how forceful water could be. But, what was the point of these two comparisons? It was easy to notice the transition from the first comparison to the second comparison, but what was going to be said afterwards?
Having a fear of not being enough? At first, Lara would have contested this claim. But after thinking about it, it made sense. That was as far as Lara could think before Aria tisked, as if she found all this highly amusing. Even as Aria went on, Lara couldn't understand why Aria found it highly amusing. And then another interruption to the thoughts, this time it was Aria lifting up Lara's chin so the latter could see that Aria didn't find this highly amusing. Looking into Aria's eyes, Lara could see the seriousness and also some other things which she wasn't too sure what they were supposed to be.
And then it was one long monologue about trying to find her own way through the world. Caledon and Saraya and Prya, whatever Prya actually was. Rhuarc, and his cultural('cultural') ways. And then Adimar, how he was so different from all of them. Each person was supposed to be an example of how each one behaved and thought differently. Lara, she definitely behaved differently, but her thoughts were usually stuck in some sort of picks. It was helpful to hear this, as Aria mentioned Lara had tried to emulate others and failed. But at the same time, Lara was thinking that her old ways of acting, the three years that she had lived alone, wouldn't do in this group.
And then Aria lent Lara her hand, helping Lara stand up. This was somewhat unexpected, which meant Lara didn't exactly hear what Aria had just said. Then Aria looped her arm around Lara's shoulder, Lara could feel her smallness in this gesture but only followed Aria. Stoping at the bank of the lake, Aria made a suggestion of trying to clear and unclutter the mind by taking a dip in the lake. A few last words, and Aria left Lara standing alone by the shore of the lake.
Lara was contemplating Aria's words. She sat down on the shore, and put her hand in the water. It felt cold and smooth to the touch, and then Lara retracted her hand, slowly curling it until it almost reached a fist. Going into the water did make sense, but was it a good idea to do it right now? It was night, and the only person who knew she was down by the lake was Aria. If somethings happened to her, any attempt to rescue her would result in confusion as only one person in the multitude of people here knew where she was. On top of that, there was an uncertainty of how safe the lake actually was; it might look safe from the surface, but one couldn't judge a book by its cover. Beneath the lake, well there could be anything down below the surface. Anything from a few fishes, to possibly some sort of scary creature that ate anything. Lara decided not to dip in the lake, maybe once they reached the safe haven she had heard about would she take a dip in the lake to 'clear her mind' and 'unclutter her mind'.
She simply went back to the general area where everyone was and went to sleep. Nothing happened during her sleep, just had a normal night of sleeping.
Waking up the next day, the routine wasn't any different. Waking up, dressing properly, eating, packing, and then continuing their journey to this safe haven. Today, instead of dawdling on the sides of this great big caravan, Lara rode a good distance in front of the caravan; far enough where it wouldn't be easy to discern her, but not too far so she could quickly get back in case there was some sort of danger.
And no surprise here, Lara was again contemplating in the saddle on a horse. At least she had something definite to contemplate about: last night's conversation with Aria. It was mostly the part about not using others as examples of how she should be. Most of the internal self-debate reg lived around the Jai guardian, Rhuarc. Adimar, or least from what se could understand, had some sort of interest in her. Aria, same as Adimar. Saraya, Saraya was doing things only Saraya knew what about. But Rhuarc, first impressions hadn't gone to well; that was putting it somewhat nicely. Maybe she shouldn't have insulted his culture, but by now it was too late to do anything about that. She could try improving, but there was one barrier which kept nagging her; her nationality. She was Fenlyck, Rhuarc was Jai. The Jai had an extreme dislike towards Fenlycks because of something about not fulfilling the Toh. She felt as if Rhuarc didn't see her as an individual, but as part of a collection of people who didn't fulfill their own Toh. It did lead to that gloom of the whole 'what's the point of changing if you'll be thought of the same' gig. Maybe she needed to have a talk, one-on-one with Rhuarc. See if anything could be changed by talking about some topics carefully.
At that moment, Lara heard yells behind her and they appeared to be coming from the caravan. The ears on the horse se was riding perked up, and the horse looked alert and tense. The only reason a horse would do this, it was because the horse sensed danger. Now the most sensiblest thing to do when there's danger is to go away from it, but since it was coming from the caravan there was only one option; go towards the danger. Turning the horse around, se put it into a gallop and galloped back to the caravan.
The sight that greeted her, she was surprised by what she saw. There was mass confusion and panic. Soldiers had weapons out, one or both of the Jais were blessing, Aria looked shocked, and where the hell was Saraya? Looking at Carrick, he seemed to be staring of into the distance, where it appeared a horse had just galloped off. So Saraya had galloped of by herself.
Without thinking, Lara put the horse into another gallop. But the horse decided to rear up on its hind legs and neigh out loud for everyone to hear before thudding its hooves back on the ground and accelerating into a gallop. It was dangerous to go alone, especially if it was something that had caused the hardy Jais to bleed; with this Lara went on a pursuit after Saraya, she was hellbent on catching up to Saraya. What happened afterwards, maybe it would've been a good idea to think about it before, but Lara was hellbent on catching up. On the way she managed to snatch a sword from one of the soldiers holding it, not giving a damn about whether anyone cared that she had snatched the sword nor knowing how to use it.
The best case scenario, nothing happened and the two of them could make their way back to the caravan in peace. But considering what had just happened, a worst case scenario was much more likely. And the number of options for a worse case scenario was too damn high.
[center [size20 (๑•́₋•̩̥̀๑)]]
Saraya was pleased that Aria accepted. She wanted to keep her safe. She needed someone, like Carrick did. But, her needs were something she had been pondering on while Carrick had been away with Adimar and Rhuarc. There had to be some sort of solution, especially with a demon like The Fade on their trails. She allowed Aria to sleep in her lap as she watched the caravan move considerably fast. She sighed as Balden and Carrick had started conversing...
All the while, she dozed off gradually to the gentle sway of trees. She felt the warmth of the rising sun... But, her dream was far from a warming feeling...
[b Avast on her heart, she saw what was meant to be seen by her own eyes. She saw The Fade take form of a knight, which one she didn't know... It attacked her before the towers of Kil'heed. With it, she screamed, into another surrounding... The vast room she was in was dark, and hard to breathe... She looked down to see her belly swollen with life, but a dark image approached her, as if to do her harm... It grew dark, and as she pulled hands to her face, blood trickled from them. A scream she recognized sounded, before seeing Carrick's face, and Felliope's. The blood was hers... The two stood off, and Malik was aiming for Aria... She tossed something and it was about to hit its target...] She woke with a start, gasping somewhat to the shock she felt... This was no dream... It had to have been a vision of what will be...
Unaware that Aria was startled awake when she had awakened so harshly, as if in a trance, she stared at the trees. The dream made sense from the first second she saw it. Her heart sped up, as if a fear had can from within herself. Aria saw this, even attempted to snap her out of her trance. Saraya would not budge.
Her heart raced, without a use of war. Her eyes had widened to the review of it all. Something was gonna happen... She would fight and fight hard. Balden depended on her... Lara... Rhuarc... Ayab... Adimar... Carrick... Aria... Saraya still would not budge from her mission... She wouldn't dare fail the fellowship... Fail The Priestess... Tears fell as the dream played again in her mind. No... She would have to do anything in her ability to keep Aria away from Malik... Even if it meant... Her dream became clear...
She was snapped out of her trance finally after Aria called he name, making Carrick halt the wagon. She slowly looked at to Aria. The look in her eyes... It was a he same look she gave her in her vision... The same worried expression she had given her when Saraya had seen it... If she was to sacrifice herself for her... Her vision had shown her that she would survive... But, what...
She looked to Carrick, who raised his hand to place it upon her cheek. She sighed in relief when she saw his eyes. But, the mountains were close, and their journey wasn't finished.
Days had passed and she wasn't able to sleep since then. Nights, after being with Carrick, when he was sleep in his bliss, she was wide awake, watching the horizon, feeling a threat still around them... Then... One day, came the rain.
No one had learned that she hadn't slept. In fact, Ayab had been doing well in caring for Aria, Rhuarc hadn't been talking to her, nor was Adimar. Balden and Lara were too busy to even communicate with her. It seemed because she decided to save Aria's people, it made it dangerous for the lot of them... Saraya reconciled in her isolation... Until a scream was heard. Saraya then felt power surge on earth. The Fade!
She took off, bare foot and restless towards the feeling of power surging through the earth. When she got there, Aria was being protected by Ayab and Rhuarc. Adimar was using his power to try to stop him but, he was too slow... Suddenly, the demon spoke:
[I [size10 [center "Know this, wherever you go, I will be there. There is nowhere that I can not reach you, you shall never be safe as long as I walk the land. I could hide in plain sight and you would never know. I will never stop hunting you and eventually I will win."]]]
Saraya saw reinforcements, but The Fade was not moved. Saraya saw this in her vision... She was going to meet his adversary in a form of the knight...
[I "Run for Kil'heed... "]
Her voice was low, but she made sure Rhuarc could hear it. The Fade turned, sniffing the air... Then let out a smoky breath with an evil smile that would make even the dead cowar in fear and the blood curdle and the skin crawl on the living. Saraya looked to Rhuarc, eyes wide with fear. [I "Rhuarc, take Aria and run..."] The Fade stepped towards her and she created a small barrier... [I "GO! "]
With that, she took off, rushing past trees and through brush as the grotesque thing get away. She ran to the wagon, shaking Carrick awake. [I The Fade!! ARIA!!! RUNNING TO KIL'HEED!! "]
Without a moment's notice, she had taken to the horses, unlatching her steed Pride and a stallion that Carrick mounted. She ran past villagers, whom once they saw her ride past with haste, quickly picked up the importance of the situation and jumped onto their wagons and steeds, galloping behind her.
Saraya wouldn't stop. She ran through villagers and onto the dirt road, seeing Aria and Rhuarc running ahead on his steed. She saw everyone pile up in an attempt to run through rain. She slowed down to ensure everyone was ahead safely. Kil'heed was not far now. They could make it!
Saraya kept in the back, making sure Saraya had made it to the hillside to see Kil'heed proud. She looked to Carrick. [I "Go... Make sure Aria gets there safe"]
Carrick was confused. [I "What... What about you... "]
[I "Do not worry about me, Carrick... Make sure she gets there safe"]
Carrick didn't want to leave, but Saraya pushed him. [I "Please! I do not want my efforts to be a failure! "] she stared at him with tears falling... Through the rain, Carrick knew what was happening... [I "Saraya.. Saraya, don't-"]
[I "If it means to save you and save The Priestess... To save my friends, my guardian friends, the villagers... I have to... "]
[I "NO! I'm not losing you! "]
[I "Carrick, please! I promised to protect her... How else to slow it down if not this? "]
Carrick didn't want to let her fight alone... But, Saraya was hard on her decision, and he knew she was too stubborn to detour from it... [I "Saraya... "]
She kissed him hard, before drawing her sword. [I "Go, Carrick... Keep Aria safe"]
With that, she [I "Hyahh! "] her steed on, galloping full speed back down the path, in hopes on buying her guardianship time
Adimar had not exaggerated when he said that the journey to Kil'heed would be a dangerous trek, the path that they traversed passed through narrow mountain passes, gorges and narrow ledges, which almost cost Rhuarc his life as he slipped and just barely managed to catch his footing with the help of Ayab before recovering. None of this was made any easier by the presence of those that followed from Tanaka and Rhuarc resented their presence, they slowed them needlessly and only put themselves in more danger by coming with them. Saraya was foolish for insisting they travel with them. Fortune seemed to be with them though as other than the skirmish with the fifty scouts earlier Rhuarc had seen no further attempt by the False king or his forces to strike at them, or if they were being pursued the Guardians were too far ahead for it to matter. Maybe the group might just arrive at Kil'heed unscathed. The Jai Guardian still made time every evening to work with Balden and improve his swordsmanship, the young man was progressing well, he was a formidable opponent for how long he had been working with the weapon and the other bonus was that while he was working with the boy he did not have to spend that time with Aria. While Rhuarc would never shirk his duties of protecting the High Priestess he had let her lessons in the ways of the Jai fall by the wayside, Ayab had picked them up and was continuing them while Rhuarc still ignored her as much as possible.
[+red "You cannot let this go on Rhuarc, not only do you shame yourself but it will end in strife. One day your pride will be the death of you, and I will not allow it to do so. If I must I will put you in white to save you from yourself."] A smile crossed Rhuarc's hard face for a moment before he realised that his friend was not jesting. He truly would make him an [i Akh] a Jai who had been forced into subservience by a custom stronger than written law. [b "That is bold talk Ayab, do not say such things lightly."] [+red "I mean what I say Rhuarc, I do not want to, but if it must come to that then so be it. Try to move past what it is that holds your anger."] In the next day or so of travelling that followed his conversation with Ayab Rhuarc still did not talk to Aria but at least he now able to stand or walk next to her instead of heading in the opposite direction. It was the smallest of steps in the right direction. Soon enough the city of Kil'heed was visible and a lone Tower dominated the skyline, to think one more day and they would have made it to the sacred city of the Volshiv, it would be a relief to have reached their goal. With Kil'heed looming Ayab thought it prudent that the High Priestess should know of Jai customs in relation to consecrated or holy ground, such as this city. [+red "Priestess, the Jai have three main customs that must be observed on sacred ground and they are simple. No Jai may carry a weapon on holy ground, our belt knives excluded of course but they can not be drawn. A Jai must answer all questions put to them and most importantly, a Jai can speak no word that is not true when on Holy ground."] These were important for her to know but Ayab had another reason for telling her this, and he hoped that the High Priestess of Azeroth could puzzle it out; Inside Kil'heed would be the greatest chance for Aria and Rhuarc to discuss and set their differences aside, especially if his stubborn friend could not evade the question or lie to avoid giving an honest answer.
[right [pic http://i64.tinypic.com/s6kvnm.jpg]]
The Fade could not feel boredom, it was one reason why he was created, he could wait for day,s weeks, months on end for an opening to achieve their objective and now, finally it looked like such an opportunity was presenting itself and not a moment too soon. The storm looming overhead slowed the progress of the caravan and camp was set up for the night. The Pristess, his target, was camped between the Jai and the Volshiv Guardian, not an ideal target but the Fade was sure an opportunity would present itself. The magic of Kil'heed was strong, as sacred consecrated ground the Fade could not set foot into the city but with the way these supposed guardians were fractured it was unlikely that he would need to. Night fell and the Fade waited and watched for an opportunity to strike at the Priestess, and she gave it to him on a silver platter. Alone she walked out into the Golden Sea, the covering of thistles made following her path easy as her footfalls trampled the flowers, his own tracks led no trace of course. This was the moment that the Fade had waited weeks for, since before the Guardians had first reached Tanaka the Fade had been waiting.
[#06b9ea "The High Priestess Aria Tolshiv..."] A cold, raspy voice came from the figure under that tattered hood, behind the Priestess where seemingly a moment before she had been alone. [#06b9ea "I have been waiting to be alone with you for some time now. I am the Fade, I believe you have heard of me."] The Fade slowly took down his hood to reveal his face, and the reason this figure always covered their face was now blindingly obvious. The Fade was bald with pale skin, almost like bleached white bone but what drew the eyes was the covering of skin where the eyes should be. The Fade had no eyes but somehow his gaze always seemed to follow his prey and seeing his face in full it would paralyse any mortal that saw it in fear. Men had gone mad by seeing the Eyeless One without a hood. His lips were as black as the abyss with a spiderweb of cracked black veins surrounding them stained with shadow. [#06b9ea "It would be best if you didn't struggle, oh but how I hope you do..."] That cold rasping voice saying those words was enough to send a shiver through anyone's spine.
Rhuarc had just finished his training session with Balden, the young man had actually managed to land a blow on him and Rhuarc now sported a growing bruise on his forearm but that was not what occupied his thoughts, it was Ayab, he was accompanying his friend to the Priestess' tent so the two could talk but no one was there. Adimar was hanging around for his own reasons but when Rhuarc saw Adimar he grew tense, if the Priestess wasn't wit either himself or Rhuarc or Adimar then who...the Jai had spoken to Carrick before Balden's training and he was with Saraya. She was unprotected. Immediately Ayab turned his gaze to the ground and saw tracks leading into the Golden Sea. With a curse in the harsh Jai language Rhuarc took out his blade and sprinted after him, the other men following in his wake. The tracks were easy to follow and up ahead he saw the Priestess facing him with a terrified look on her face, a bald man lowering a hood talking to her. Without worrying Rhuarc lunged with his holy blade of heavy black steel, wielded with deadly purpose and hit has mark, the blade imbedding itself through the back of the man's skull, a foot of black steel protruding out the front of his face. That should have been the end of the matter. Should. The figure, blade still through it's skull started to chuckle in a slow, rasping, cold voice. That laugh was like ice. [#06b9ea "As if mere steel could defeat me...I shall deal with you before I take her."] Thee figure melted into the darkness before reforming a few paces to the side, whip in hand and moved, whatever this eyeless creature was it was impossibly fast. With a crack it snapped the coiled whip out and struck out at Ayab, the weapon finding it's mark leaving a truly horrific gash in the Jai's leg, that seemed to pulse with dark energy. With a scream of pain Ayab fell to the ground incapacitated and out of the fight, Rhuarc marvelled how one wound could bring a man like Ayab to his knees so easily. Clearly this foe was even deadlier than Rhuarc could imagine...and he had already thought him a most dangerous enemy. The Fade gave a horrifying smirk as he sensed who else the foolish Jai had brought with him to the battle: the blacksmith's apprentice that held the seed of hate and cruelty, that one would be unable to strike him down even if it was possible to kill him with mere steel. Adimar shot several arrows at the Fade before all finding their mark where his heart should be but the abomination moved unperturbed by the shafts in his chests and continued to fight, striking with his whip at the Volshiv Guardian, who deftly avoided the deadly weapon. The rumble of thunder sounded overhead and it was then that Adimar unleashed his powers over the storm overhead and channeling the raw power of the storm and sent four bolts of lightning hurtling through the sky to strike at the Fade. The ground exploded where the dark abomination stood, Rhuarc having to throw himself out of the area, but still being struck by a number of sharp stones that left him with a number of bloody wounds across his body. Luckily Balden had been far enough away from the devastating power of Adimar's attack seemingly frozen in fear by the visage of the Fade.
Rhuarc's heart sank as he once again heard that same icy rasping laughter...but that wasn't possible, Adimar's magic was enough to destroy any man, turn them into ashes and dust but there the Fade stood apparently unharmed. [#06b9ea "You think you're pathetic magic is any more effective than mere steel. You have much to learn [i Guardians]]." The scorn in that voice was evident. The Fade turned his back on Adimar and Rhuarc not deeming them threats as he turned his attention to the High Priestess, she had made an attempt to flee but in an instant the Fade materialised out of the darkness in front of Aria as she ran into him and bounced off the monstrosity, landing on the ground at it's feet. With one hand he grabbed the Priestess by her silvery blonde hair and ran a stained black fingernail down her cheek, if that nightmare inducing face had eyes Rhuarc was sure that there would be a hungry, cruel glint in them. [#06b9ea "Malik will be pleased to have you in his hands. Maybe once he's finished with you I will rape you myself. The pleasures of the flesh are beneath me but knowing that it causes you pain is all the pleasure I require. Perhaps not, the only question left to answer is whether Malik will use you for his pleasure before or after he has killed you. Perhaps you will not survive his rape, he is quite vicious, but not half as cruel as I can be. I long to have you as a quivering husk before me, broken. Even if you die, know that the Fenlyk and Caledon Guardians will share your fate."] The darkness around the Fade started to coalesce as the abomination prepared to take his prize straight to Malik when a bestial roar made the vile creature look up to once again face Rhuarc, his blade lay forgotten in the ground but the Jai Guardian stood his ground nonetheless. [b "Take your hands off her demon!"] The Fade opened it's toothy maw, revealing the sharp points of the fangs that The Fade possessed, it was a grim imitation of a mocking smile, the aberration not able to understand any feeling other than cruelty or hate was, certainly anything that would cause a genuine smile. With nothing left to lose the Jai Guardian muttered a prayer to his God under his breath and leapt at the Fade and wrapped one large, powerful hand around on of Aria's slim wrists, and he was holding on for all of his might. [b "Either kill me or take me with you but I will not abandon her to face you or Shade-stealer alone!"] [#06b9ea "Your fate is of no concern to men, brute."] There the Fade and Rhuarc stood in a life and death game of tug of war with Aria the instrument of their struggle. A number of galloping horses were making their way to where the raging encounter was taking place, no doubt attracted by Adimar's lightning and now that reinforcements had arrived, the Fade started to recalculate his position. Two Guardians were already present with the other two likely with the reinforcements...That meant he was in danger. The Fade could only be destroyed if all of the Guardians used their power as one against him, there was no way they could know that but even so there was a chance that it could happen. Rhuarc felt Aria's shoulder pop out of the socket as he struggled to keep her out of the Fade's hands, and by extension Malik's when the monstrosity left his grip weaken and released the High Priestess. Rhuarc and Aria went sprawling to the ground, the large Jai cradling her close to his chest. [#06b9ea "Know this, wherever you go, I will be there. There is nowhere that I can not reach you, you shall never be safe as long as I walk the land. I could hide in plain sight and you would never know. I will never stop hunting you and eventually I will win."] The Fade gave one more look towards the many arriving reinforcements and towards the bloodied Jai, High Priestess in his arms, fear stricken blacksmith's apprentice, and the warrior Mage who had called down the power of the storm on him to no effect before slipping into the shadows and for now at least out of their lives.
The path to Kil’heed was dangerous. The olde road cut through two mountains, with steep inclines, rises and falls, narrow bridges arching over vast gorges. Carved centuries ago all from stone, it would be a wonder if the bridges were still intact, even more impressive if they held… Adimar did not like having the city of Tanaka pilgrimaging with them… enough people died trying to make the pass, how was he going to get an entire caravan of people through it? At the end of the pass though, was what they called the Golden Sea. A Valley of golden thistle as far as the eye could see. It would take them all day to get there, and if they made good time… they might make it by sunset, but only if they left now. From there it would take another day to reach the gates, but once they stepped foot in the Valley they would be trapped on all sides by the two mountains they’d just cut through, and the mountain ahead of them which Kil’heed was built into. Adimar had never seen it in person, only in illustrations and paintings done by Aero City Scholars.
It took the group three long days to trek through the mountain pass. In the process they had lost a wagon, two horses, and one man. Considering it could have been a lot worse, Adimar though they’d done well. They reached the Golden Sea on the fourth day, and began their descent down the jarring path to the valley. Adimar lingered atop the cliff as the caravan slowly made its way down. His eyes scanned the open valley of golden thistle for any signs of camps, and he saw none, but far enough away he could see the definite outlines of the ancient gates of Kil’heed. His blood tingled with anticipation. The very birthplace of Volshi and where his remains were kept… The most holy place for all Volshi. Adimar stared in awe of it, but his quite reverie was silenced when Aria and her horse stopped beside his.
“Is that Kil’heed?” She asked curiously, even with a voice laden with exhaustion. She still hadn’t been sleeping or eating properly. Adimar gave a confirming head nod and looked back out over the landscape. “What is that lonely tower?” she asked pointing her finger to the single tower just ahead of the gates.
Adimar frowned. “That would be the Tower of Volshi, and inside dwells the Watch. They guard Kil’heed from all friend or foe. If you cannot convince them to allow us passage we will have come all this way for nothing.” He looked over and saw a frown pinch Aria’s face as she looked out at the Tower and the Gates behind it.
“I will convince them,” Aria said firmly. “I bear the mark of Azeroth.” Adimar studied her closer and wondered where on her such a mark resided. She looked over to see him staring at her and she answered him as if reading his very mind, and Adimar had a feeling she had. “It is on my back. The totem of all the Guardians, and Azeroth paint the entirety of my back.”
“So you truly are the Priestess… and of the House Tolshiv…” Adimar murmured. Aria shrugged.
“I know I’m the priestess, as for the House of Tolshiv… I’m not sure.” Adimar smirked at her then.
“Well… if you were certain of the later… that would mean we truly are family.” Aria’s eyes grew wide at his words and she leaned over towards him.
“Family? What do you mean?”
Adimar smiled at her, and said, “I mean, that if you truly are born of the House of Tolshiv, then that makes us cousins. My family and the Toshiv family married three generations ago.” Adimar had to laugh at the look of shock on Aria’s face. “What?”
“Why… why didn’t you tell me this sooner? I didn’t think I had any family at all…” Aria confessed. Adimar shrugged.
“It didn’t seem pertinent the past week to bring it up to you, besides… we had more important things to worry about.”
Aria reached out for his arm then and stayed him from moving. “Do you believe we are cousins?” Adimar smiled softly at her and placed his hand on her shoulder.
“I do,” he confessed truthfully, and he watched as something like hope and happiness filtered into Aria’s face. “I believe it now, whereas when you first entered Tanaka –I did not… but watching you since then, has confirmed to me that you are my cousin, and we are family, and I will follow you with my last breath…. Cousin,” he promised her with a smile. Aria finally smiled, as Adimar pulled away from her to follow the Caravan down. “Now don’t fall too far behind… the other’s will have my neck if you were to get lost now!” he teased. He left Aria up on the top of the path to let her take in the scene a little while longer, and allow her a moment’s peace.
Family… Aria had family… biological family, and according to Adimar there was a lot of them still alive. She wondered what they were like, and hoped they were half as funny as Adimar was. She also didn’t think she’d get to meet them anytime soon or at all if she failed. Still, it was a nice thought, and she carried that thought with her down the rest of the pass and into the Golden field of thistles. They had one final day to trek towards the Gates, but for now the sun was setting and a storm was moving in, so they camped close to the base of the mountain for some semblance of cover. There were no more torches, or large fires, only small ones to maintain low light and cook food over.
For the past few days, nearly everyone had kept to themselves. Rhuarc would still not speak with Aria, though she had grown closer to Ayab and found out of all those that guarded and watched her, she enjoyed Ayab’s company the most. He had also changed the most in her opinion, whereas he was originally callous and cold, closed off from the others; he was opening up to her in a way that Aria saw his loyalty was truly with Rhuarc, but he didn’t mind watching her in the least. Or at least that was what Aria had picked up. He was teaching her the ways of the Jai in place of Rhuarc, and thanks to Ayab’s help Aria found her powers expanding to where she learned if she placed her hand in the fire… she did not burn. If anything it felt cool and tickled her skin. Adimar had been working with her too, and her control over her mind was improving, just the other night Aria had managed to make the small ball they used to float in the air. She was getting better at entering and leaving the Spirit world, and projecting her Astral self in other places. The first place she went? The farm house her and Elder Rigby had lived.
With nightfall came a torrential rain storm, thunder rumbled above the mountains, and lightning shattered across the pitch sky. It left camp quiet as most people had taken to bunkering down inside their covered wagons. Carrick and Saraya shared a wagon. Balden had taken to bunking with Ayab and Rhuarc. Adimar with his men, and Lara kept to herself sleeping in one of the few tents that had been erected. Aria had her own tent as well, smack dab between Adimar’s, his men, Rhuarc & Ayab. She was well guarded, and felt safe walking out of her tent that night once the rain let up into a soft drizzle. Still unable to sleep properly, Aria had tossed and turned all night feeling on edge, like a darkness was looming over them. They were so close to the gates, and yet everything was still so far away. Outside it was chilly and damp, causing Aria to wrap a wool blanket around her shoulders. She walked from camp to its edge and from where she stood she saw the faint glimmer of light coming from the windows of the Watch Tower. She walked closer towards it, knowing even if she left now, she wouldn’t reach it until after sunrise. Still her feet carried her closer to the Tower and further away from camp. All of the Guardians would burst a vessel if they knew she was out here by herself… but it was quiet, and for a while she finally felt alone. She felt she could breathe, and so she did; sighing deeply and tipping her head back towards the sky as rain drops landed on her face. She felt as peace… at least for a little while. That peace was disturbed by a chilling sensation that suddenly wracked her spine. The hair on her neck stood up, but when she spun around to see if the presence she felt was there… she saw nothing, and realized how far from camp she had wandered. They sky was turning grey with predawn light, and Aria knew it was probably best to head back, or incur the wrath of the others. It wasn’t like she didn’t have enough “Toh” as it was...
She couldn’t shake the dark feeling though, as if someone or something was watching her. Yet Malik remained silent in her head. Something was off, and realizing her precarious position, no matter how isolated they were, Aria knew she should head back. Danger lurked everywhere and since the hairs on her neck hadn’t gone down, Aria wrapped her blanket tighter around her shoulders and looked out around her… wondering if they truly were alone out here, or if dangers lurked in the Golden Sea they didn’t know about…
Carrick woke up to the jarring movement of the figure beside him. Last night had been… interesting. He’d never felt anything like that before. He felt he had grown drunk, his mind foggy and his desire compounding with every inhalation of her scent he caught. He had fallen asleep stated and in bliss, too bad he couldn’t wake up that way. No, instead he woke up to Saraya holding her sword up at the throat of someone he didn’t know, but someone she seemed to recognize. This person, this Giji, simply glared at him and tossed his trousers to him. Carrick had to arch a brow as the stranger stomped off. He shared a confused look with Saraya before she dressed herself and left to gather everyone else. Adimar’s shouts were already heard across the camp, as it became alive with people rushing to clean up and prepare to keep moving. After all, the most dangerous part of the trek was nearing…
Carrick donned his gear, the leather jerkin fitting snuggly over his wide chest, and his bracers laced up to his elbows. After a quick tug of his boots to make sure they were on all the way, he rolled up their sleeping mats and blankets and stowed them in the back of their wagon. Balden was already up and dressing the horses, when Carrick dropped his gear into the wagon with a heavy thud.
“Good morrow, Master Carrick,” Balden greeted, eager to continue the journey.
“Balden,” Carrick returned, and moved to help him when he spotted that Balden had left the rigging to the wagon loose. “Hold on a minute,” Carrick instructed and moved over to show and guide Balden to doing it the correct way. “When you’re rigging the horses to the cart, make sure the straps under their bellies are nice and tight. You want it tight enough the straps don’t slide around on them, but you don’t want it too tight it cuts into them either,” Balden nodded his head at Carrick’s instruction and went about making his corrections.
“Thank you. Carrick? Do you think there might be a forge in Kil’heed?” Balden asked. Carrick frowned, not entirely sure.
“I don’t know, why would you ask?”
“I want to forge a weapon,” Balden confessed. Carrick turned to look at him with full attention and curiosity.
“What kind of weapon?” Goodness! How long had it been since he talked shop?
“Well… weapons, and armor.” Carrick had to smirk at the boy, he wanted an outlet to help… perhaps this was just the thing. “Lara’s bow staff, for example. It’s make of wood, one true blade strikes that and it will break. She has no armor, nor does The Priestess. I could make fine armor! Weapons too!” Carrick stroked his beard in thought, enjoying the boy’s idea.
Carrick had to admit, Balden was right. They were sorely equipped to take on Malik.
“Perhaps…” Carrick began, looking to Balden’s eager face. “When we reach Kil’heed we will take stock of what is available, if anything… other wise… smithing will have to wait until we reach the next populated town or city, and then… I’ll help you forge some weapons fitting for our Guardians.” Balden smiled at the idea and nodded his head, eager to be helpful. Carrick chuckled to himself and turned around to view the camp as it quickly put out fires and cleaned up the area. From across the way, he spied Saraya walking towards him with the Priestess in tow. She looked like she hadn’t slept in days, which she hadn’t, and Carrick steeled himself from showing his displeasure at such a sight. Sure Carrick and the others could protect and fight for the priestess from her enemies… but how could they protect her from herself?
He said nothing to the Priestess, but he did offer a wan smile to her. When Saraya came close enough he stole from her a quick kiss, and helped both women into the wagon.
“Easy does it ladies,” He said with a wink. He garnered a smile from Saraya, but Aria was zoned out into another world, her mind was elsewhere as evident by the slight furrow of her brow. He handed them a blanket. Not that they would truly need it, it was already proving that it would be a warm day, and that made him all the more thankful for the chilly breeze that came down from the mountains that towered above them in the near distance.
“It’s going to be a lovely day,” he commented as he leaned in towards Saraya, handing off the blanket and whispered in her ear, “Try and get her to go to sleep.” He glanced one last time to the Priestess and moved to the front of the wagon, where he took up his seat. Balden climbed up beside him. He let Balden take the reins and lead the wagon around towards the front of the caravan, but behind the scouts. Adimar was mounted on his black ride at the very front of the line, speaking quietly and seriously with his men. Their whispers put Carrick on edge. He still hadn’t decided if he trusted Adimar or not. He withheld too much information, and seemed too familiar with the Priestess. Carrick felt, Adimar conveniently knew everything that needed to be known. Rhuarc seemed trusting of him though, and so Carrick had made no mention of his uncertainty. Then again, Carrick was already dispositioned to not like Adimar after the comments he’d made about Saraya in the infirmary. He was arrogant, and Carrick didn’t like that. Arrogance could be dangerous.
There was a shout to move out, and with a great lurch, the caravan moved forward towards the base of the mountains to follow the dangerous path to the valley and ancient city of Kil’heed…
Despite her ability to look unaffected by the fact that two of her guardians plus Carrick were away fighting, Aria was a mass of anxious nerves. It was so intense that she was ill to her stomach the rest of the day. Balden and Lara had done so well in finding the entire caravan a location to camp for the night. It was picturesque in a way once the torches were lit. The area was illuminated and with all the decorated wagons and trinkets that hung from them, they seemed like a caravan of gypsy entertainers. Everyone worked and everyone ate. Guards walked the perimeter, while Thad, Rupert and Max lingered close to her and always in her peripherals. Aria had grown up a practical recluse… now she was constantly surrounded and it was beginning to feel suffocating. Soon she would need a moment fully alone and away from everyone. She felt as if her thoughts were slipping away from her, and her energy drained. It didn’t help she’d been too frightened to sleep. She was too afraid of what might happen should Malik reach her mind again. He knew who she was now. He was able to find her… it made her want to reach Kil’heed all the more sooner.
Aria was kept busy, helping to serve supper and seeing to the well-being of the Volshi. She was exhausted from the forced smiles, the gentle voice she used, when all she wanted was to do as either Lara or Saraya were doing. Going for a quiet walk to clear one’s mind, or to simply sit in peace and silence. Just a moment… that was all she asked, but it would have to wait until Malik was defeated, or they reached Kil’heed. It certainly wasn’t happening tonight, so it was much to her relief when Adimar, Carrick, Ayab and Rhuarc returned from the fight. She had jumped to her feet, so happy to see them returned. They all sported minor injuries. Aria watched as Rhuarch and Ayab wandered away to lick their own wounds, and Carrick rushed right past her to swoop Saraya off her feet. She smiled at that, they were quite adorable, and she was happy to see that despite all the darkness and challenges they all faced, Saraya had found happiness once again, and Carrick had found purpose.
Adimar marched directly to her and stopped just short of her, bending to kneel before her. Aria glanced one last time in the direction Rhuarc and Ayab had gone, and finally turned her attention for Adimar.
“You were successful I see,” Aria said her voice relieved to see them returned, and yet she managed a tone of authority. “Your wounds look minor,” Adimar nodded, rising back to his feet and full height.
“We dispatched of them quickly enough. They will not be able to report back to The False King,”
“This is good news. Rest for now, I will find someone to come and see to your men and their wounds. I will want to speak with you all on the morrow. It is far too late to be dealing reports. I shall hear from you all at dawn.”
“Of Course, Priestess,” Adimar bowed and turned leaving the center fire for his own tents, but stopped turning to call on her one last time. “Priestess?” Aria stopped herself from resuming her seat, and instead rose back up to face him, folding her hands at her waist.
“Yes, Lord Adimar?”
“May I speak freely?” He asked. Aria pursed her lips, she wasn’t sure she was prepared to hear whatever he had to say.
“Doesn’t everyone here?” She countered, her piercing eyes boring into him. Adimar arched his brows, and realized that they had all taken liberties to voice opinions and make statements. He looked contrite, but decided to take the moment to speak.
“I am not suggesting you apologize, you Holiness, far from it… but the rift between yourself and Master Rhuarc-“ She silenced him with a wave of her hand and gave him a look that could kill. Her next words were cold, authoritarian, and the words of a ruler, and she closed the space between them so she could hiss a cold whisper at him.
“I will not apologize for enjoying a moment of freedom,” She growled at him. Her voice quiet so their conversation did not leave from their privy. “I have already apologized for not returning to Ayab or Max when I lost them, and that is all I will apologize for. Am I not the Holy Priestess of all Azeroth?” she demanded, but her question was more of a statement then a question and Adimar was made aware that under all her insecurity there was a leader within her.
“You are,” Adimar responded softly. Conceding to her demand.
“Then I will not hear any more on this subject. It is none of your concern, and when I am ready to approach Rhuarc and settle our differences I shall, but until he is willing to listen I am not going to speak!” She snapped.
“And if he is never willing to listen?” Adimar dared to ask, and for a moment Aria looked crestfallen. She had clearly not thought of that. Oh dear… what would she do then? If that was the case, then they would no longer be friends… had she really managed to destroy one of her first friendships over something so innocent? It had been a mistake, an emotional moment for her, a moment of freedom… and she had been guilted for it.
“Then….” A look of pain crossed her face, but she masked it quickly and looked back up at him, resolute. She had to stop showing weakness, and she could not allow herself to get too attached to any of the guardians. “I shall never speak to him again as a friend, only as his priestess,” She said, though the hurt in her voice to confront such a possibility, was clear as day.
“My apologies,” Aria nodded her head as Adimar bowed to her. “You are right, it is not my place, and you are the Priestess, and you are our leader,” Aria raised her chin a little higher, doing her best to look intimidating and confident; when all she was, was a frightened woman doing her best to be brave and decisive in the face of insurmountable odds.
“You’re forgiven, and I appreciate your concern. I am glad you all returned safely, if that is all… I suggest you go find rest.” Adimar simply bowed a final time and she turned away from him leaving the area.
She wanted to get away, but with no luck. Rupert and Max remained close and watchful, even as Thad wandered off to catch up with Adimar. Aria would take what little moment she had, until she heard a set of footsteps cautiously making their way towards her. She turned to see who it was, and was slightly stunned to see it was Lara.
“Lara,” She greeted, and even though their youngest guardian tensed and looked ready to run, Aria smiled genuinely to her and reached a hand out. “I can sense something is on your mind. Come, sit with me a while,” Aria welcomed and took up a seat beside the warmth of a large fire. Lara sat down beside Aria and for a moment looked pensively into the fire. Aria waited patiently for Lara to gather her words and her thoughts, and once she did, listened intently to what the girl had to say.
[i “Is there something I don't know about my own guardian, or is just me?"]
Aria smiled sympathetically, and reached out to take Lara’s hands into her own. Sensing the girl’s insecurity and uncertainty. Aria gave her a matronly touch, and gave her a pointed but tender look.
“The Guardians are mysterious. Some are more straightforward and blunt. Others speak in riddles, and some may not speak at all. Water is a powerful force, but also tepid and gentle. It can be calm and quite or it can rage and roar. It can wipe out entire forests, and when it is blocked, carve a new path. I suspect you fear that you are not enough…” She tsked, sweetly and sighed, as if amused by that. “But, oh my dear, you [i are] enough. More than that! You are everything the Fenlyk Guardian needs in its host. You still have much to learn… we all do, and that is nothing to be ashamed of,” Aria told her with a gentle smile and reached out to lift her chin. She wanted to make sure Lara saw the seriousness in her eyes, the confidence she had in her, and hopefully see the potential in her that Aria saw.
“You will master your powers one day, but first you must master your own mind. Do not look at the others as examples of how you should be. Caledon speaks to Saraya because we are always surrounded by Nature, and she is Prya. When she is away from it, I’m sure his voice is not so prominent. It may be the same with Adimar and Rhuarc. Rhuarc was raised a warrior, he has an intellectual understanding of Jai’hash simply from the culture he was raised in. Adimar is different, Adimar was raised in a way he grew up knowing who and what he was. Out of us all he has the most control, and potentially the strongest bond with his spirit. He might be able to help you clear your mind and find ways of speaking with Fenlyk… however, I do have an idea for you,” Aria smirked then, folding her hands in her lap but for the first time that night looking relaxed. “Fish cannot breathe above water… so how can you hear its voice? Perhaps you need to [i dive deeper]…” She said and looked towards the lake.
Suddenly Aria was standing up with her hand held out for her. Taking Lara’s hands she helped the girl stand. “Perhaps try not to force it. When your mind is clear and uncluttered, maybe then you will hear it speak to you,” Aria said this as she looped an arm over Lara’s tiny shoulders and led her from the fire back towards the lake. “Perhaps a nice swim in the lake will help clear your mind?” She asked as they stopped right at the bank, letting the water lap lazily near their feet and the black dirt beneath them. “I have the upmost faith in you Lara, and I see great potential. Do not doubt yourself, and if Fenlyk so decides to remain silent, you must accept that, and focus on the here and now. When it is ready to speak to you, it will,” Aria assured, and scanned the lake one last time before she stepped away from Lara with a warm and confident smile. “I am here if ever you need me. My path is to guide you, guide you all to your potential. I am here for you all, as much as you are all here for me,” Aria finished with a smile, and then without another word left Lara to contemplate all she had said.
Aria walked away hoping Lara had gleaned at least something from their conversation. All around her people were hunkering down for the night. Even Balden was drawing a blanket up to his shoulders from where he slept in the back of the wagon he helped Carrick steer. Once far enough away Aria glanced back out towards the lake, praying Lara could find the start of her path, or even just the whisper of her guardian, and if not that… at least allow her to sense its presence. As she wandered back through camp, her mind drifted back to Adimar’s words and making peace with Rhuarc. Perhaps apologizing wasn’t what Adimar had meant, but to rather make peace with Rhuarc so that they could all continue to work as a unified group. Still… there was a petulant and prideful part within her that did not want to make peace until he made the first move. She had apologized, had tried to make amends by taking extra steps and precautions that it would not happen again. All he’d done was yell at her, and then ignored her when he wasn’t glaring at her. It had left Aria feeling nervous, if he didn’t trust her, didn’t approve of her… would he continue to follow her, help her reclaim the Temple, or might he find her Toh too great and abandon them all?
She shivered at the thought, fear rampant in her blood. She couldn’t afford to lose any of her guardians. Not now, and certainly not ever. She needed sleep though…. But with a heavy sigh as she looked around… she knew there’d be none for her. The fire was bright but the shadows were darker. It was quiet, and for the first time there was no one in sight, except for the perimeter guards, and Adimar and his men who sat near a fire, relaxing while still managing to keep an eye on her. With nothing else to do, Aria found a space near the fire where Adimar and his men sat. They all silenced their jokes and laughter when she approached, and she knew she had stopped their jovial conversation. Why did that make her feel so guilty? So dejected, and outcasted? She never bothered to sit down as they stared at her uncertainly. Feeling foolish, she turned away from them and instead found a spot under a willow tree, close to the lake and looked out at the camp. She had a hollow feeling in the pit of her stomach, like she didn’t really belong anywhere, and she realized it was loneliness. Her guardians all had someone to speak to, someone to laugh with… everyone in the camp had at least someone they could confide in. Aria lowered her gaze to the grass she sat on, and the gnarled bark of the roots that cradled her. She didn’t have that luxury, she could not be perceived as weak, or vulnerable, she had none to confide her secrets and fears in… and the one person that had been her voice of reason had spurned her, would possibly never forgive her. She couldn’t manage to keep a single friend… how did she expect herself to keep an entire country? She scoffed… lecturing Lara about believing in herself, and quieting her mind, and here Aria sat unable to do so herself.
Aria never did find sleep that night, and instead watched the moon traverse across the water's surface. She watched the beginning hues of dawn rise above the horizon and she allowed her mind to wander to everything and nothing at all. It was prominently on the plan, but it wasn't much of a plan. She wasn't sure what to expect once they reached Kil'heed. Which according to Adimar was only two more days of travel. Except the next two days meant a dangerous trek up a crumbling mountain pass to reach the juncture of three separate mountains where the Ancient City was shrouded and protected. It wasn't until Saraya approached her, and claimed her attention did Aria cease her anxious thoughts... even though the tension and fear remained.
"Saraya..." Aria greeted, forcing yet another smile, and listened as Saraya told her they would be taking a wagon, and invited her to join. For a moment Aria thought of declining Saraya's offer, and riding a horse. That idea was dashed away though when she went to stand up and stumbled almost drunkenly back into the tree, from sleep deprivation. She knew then, that she best take up the offer and nodded her head. "Yes, thank you. A Wagon sounds like a good idea. I do not think I am in any condition to ride today," She said softly and took Saraya's arm to lead her towards the wagon. From there she saw Balden rigging up the horses. Carrick was saddling his horse, and Adimar was already dressed and leading the caravan to move out. Aria? Well Aria took one seat in the back of the wagon, and within minutes of them moving out, fell asleep with her head falling against Saraya's shoulder. Sleeping for the first time since they left Tanaka.
Her silent demeanor quickly dissipated when Adimar had appeared from the shadows. She sat up, noticing Rhuarc and Ayab, then a familiar face peered through the trees. She sighed in relief. Carrick had made it safely to her.
Saraya smiled as Carrick sought her approaching frame. He embraced her, burying his head into her neck. She hugged him in return, feeling as though a weight had been lifted from her shoulders. In the distance, though, she saw a certain glare from Adimar, who was mere feet from her and Carrick. There was envy in his gleaming eyes. Saraya felt the atmosphere thicken with his jealousy. At that moment, Saraya knew that this knight just might pose as an slight relief to the caravan.
Still, Saraya was happy that Carrick was back and barely a scratch on him.
While Rhuarc was asleep, Aria and Lara were speaking about a matter amongst themselves. Adimar took over control of the night watch with Ayab, so it left Balden, who sat along the bank, admiring Lara from a distance, and the two lovers to tend to each other. Saraya got to work with cleaning his armour, and bandaging minor cuts.
Though she wanted so bad to speak, she kept her peace as she dressed his wounds. After which, she got right to work on cleaning his clothing. Though opportunity for curiosity took place, she gave Carrick his space. It didn't stop her from satisfying her curiosity, and saw the moon beam light onto his bare skin, and she blushed before turning away. His scars, though his body began deaging, still decorated his back. She preferred it that way. His scars were one of his captivating features. He still bore the time he had on this land. He will be wise with immortal gifts.
Carrick began speaking about the battle then, and the information was alarming. [I "It just seemed too... Easy"] was all that could com from her lips... But, as a person with full knowledge
But, when she tried to break free from her only spell she knew he had over her, the Fade, the decoys, they all evaporated as quickly as she solved it. As if struck with a drugging dart, she felt a sensation she hadn't felt before. Carrick was sliding on a pair of pants he packed for the travel. She noticed he had paused too. The tree that hid them from the caravan swayed softly, and with it, her eyes narrowed to a growing desire. But... It was not the Spirit's doing... What was happening?
Carrick turned to her, and she began to hear his even breaths get heavy. His expression became lustful, and as he inched closer to her, she could see that it was a dark seduction, one of The Fade's limited tricks. Saraya gasped when Carrick pinned her against their swaying tree and closed the gap between them. They were far too gone to figure out their escape.
[center The Carrick she loved was there... But, in the back of her mind, The Fade placed her first ever fear... The Fade... He will harm them with selfish desire... With pain of losing each other... The Fade found her only weakness]
[center [size25 ﾟﾟू⁽ƈ]]
Adimar, making his rounds, was thinking of the obvious... He still believed it was foolish of Saraya to vacate the city... But, as Rhuarc stated early on... It all just seemed too easy. The attack was unorganized, and far too weak... It had to have been an diversion.
Still, as he looked to one of his Knights, one that seemed to know Lady Saraya from her homeland... Giji, was that not his name? When he noticed Giji, he noticed that his attention was elsewhere. As Giji's mind began brooding, his jealousy got the better of his attention. Lady Saraya had popped up in his mind on more than one occasion, and it had always happened when he would stare at Carrick. He envied him. He had Felliope's woman to fight for, to come home to... He then looked to Lara and Aria, before counting the people. Everyone was accounted for... Except two.
As the other knights drank of their rum, and laughed to their easy victory, Giji had slowly advanced towards the trees where he had saw them last. [I "Lady Saraya... Sir Carrick, we must return to the caravan. Dawn will approach soon"]
He finally found Carrick's drying clothes hanging from a nearby tree. Where these were, so would be the guardians he sought. He ventured further, searching the banks for her and Carrick. Her scent of roses caught his nose, and there was an ominous glow not far from the clothes hanging from the trees. As he neared it, he saw an orb, and within it, two bodies... Both of their lower torsos were covered with her kimono, her hair was free, covering her womanhood in her drunken slumber. Carrick had buried his sense of smell in her hair, a hand wrapped around her waist, as if claiming his mate no matter who saw. Giji instantly envied him, it was so much to bear. He had always... But, Saraya was swept away again... Though he was silently yelling in his head, he pulled himself together and cleared his throat to wake them. When it didn't work, he resorted to trying to shake up Carrick... Before he could even approach, a sudden reaction he had gotten startled even him. A sword of Saraya's was aimed at his jugular, and and the holder was vacant in the eyes, yet ready for war. Carrick was crouched, and Saraya was in suit, hiding behind him. Giji couldn't have a few moments of breath before Carrick recovered from his drunken stature. [I "Giji? "] Saraya asked, Carrick's hand protecting her from sight as his vision cleared. Giji, jealousy owning his mind, tossed him his trousers he pulled from the tree. [b [I "Get dressed, Guardian. Dawn approaches"]]
[center [size20 (・∀・)]]
Saraya, though surprised that Giji had found them, was not at all embarrassed about her exposed figure. She, instead, was more concerned with what just happened. She and Carrick... She was overthrown by a desire to satisfy and to be satisfied... A dark thought she had always kept under control... The Fade... It had to be it's doing. She looked to Carrick as he slid on a shirt after pulling up his trousers. She slid the dress on, throwing the kimono onto her shoulders. Carrick, though he was silent, his expression shown no sign of regret. In fact, after he righted his clothing, he hugged her to him, and kissed her slowly, despite Giji's protests to make haste. Saraya nodded to their personal word of getting the people to Kil'heed, and took her hand, taking off to the caravan, waking everyone softly and gradually readied them before waking Rhuarc. [I "Wake, warrior. It is time. "] she said. She rubbed his shoulder, a sisterly way she hadn't recognized. Instantly, she had became big sister to the Fellowship... Though she felt she hadn't done her part in the matter, she still felt that they needed one, and accepted with grace. After Rhuarc had awakened, she smiled to him before moving to Lara, doing the same sisterly maneuver, and she had awakened the same.
Ayab had awakened, a bit shockingly that she would be so kind, but all the same, Saraya had gave him the sister he needed as well... Balden was awakened by Carrick as she made it towards Aria... For her, she felt the biggest obligation. But, as she looked, Aria was not at the cot, but at the bank. Something troubled her greatly... And with mere hours, it seemed that her fear of Malik's plans... They may come to pass, and the Guardians would be no more... Saraya looked to Carrick, who shown the same concern on his face. She went to her, and snapped her out of her trance with what she knew she would respond to...
[center [I "My Lady... We take a wagon... Would you ride with us? "]]
For each tear that fell down and warmed the cold cheeks, an image flashed in her mind which warmed her cold feelings. The images were of those times which she had spent with her parents doing fun things; being a family: a stroll along the beach as the waves calmly swept towards and away, cooking together, out on the ocean on a boat, strolling through the city, so many still life images and so many tears of joy. Some would say that there is no use crying about the past, but the memories most joyful are heart lifting in times of darkness. They gave hope, something of huge importance because as long as hope never died, darkness could not rule.
One last tear, and one last image before she had opened up her eyes back up to the real world. She hadn't even opened them fully when she felt a finger on her cheek, it did cause her to startle a little bit. The finger belonged to Balden, looking at him she could see he was trying to care for her. And then he started to talk, and she listened carefully.
His voice, 'twas a solemn one as he began about his own past. In many ways the two of them were different from each other. Her father and mother hadn't left and/or died when she had been young, instead she had been with them for 16 years before an unexpected and painful separation. In a way, she hadn't abandoned an entire village as the only target was herself those three years ago, but in a way she had abandoned the place where she had lived. Despite the differences, there were similarities which brought the two of them closer.
But the way he then tacked on the conversation. Lara supposed in a way that he was right about their whole group being one large family, but a very divisive one at the moment. She did scoff when Balden talked about the Jais, particularly Ayab. Ayab seemed to resent her openly, and it did not appear as if he were ever going to change his mind about that. Something are probably just not meant to be. Sad, but there's nothing to do except to go along with it.
Although she really wasn't sure why Balden had mentioned the part about Saraya pairing up with Carrick. She had noticed it, but it wasn't something she had seen out of the blue for the first time. If the two of them decided to have a close relationship, then let them have it. As long as it didn't end up getting the rest of them killed; now this she would have a definite problem with, but hopefully it never came. Although with the recent luck raining down on the group, it was likely that something quite irregular would be happening.
And then he suddenly switched to talking about Adimar. What he said was true, Adimar did seem to be quite secretive about some information. Even though it was annoying in a way to be kept in the dark as to where his intentions were concerned, thinking about the enemy that all of them were dealing with, not too hard to see why Adimar would be withholding information.
But when Balden said, "and he seems particularly interested in you ", she was confused for a second. She didn't really know what that was supposed to mean, no inkling whatsoever. At the same time she saw Balden blushing, fidgeting, and quieting down all of a sudden. She turned her head away as she realized the true meaning of his words, with her face turning into confusion as she tried... Balden, he had said... That would mean he was jealous of Adimar loving her, and he himself was also in love with her... Adimar had never said anything or done anything which suggested what Balden was suggesting... All this, all this was too confusing. She didn't know what to say at all...
With difficulty she straightened her face back and stood up. [+purple "Let's get back to the others and lead them to this spot."] She tried to keep any nervousness and fear out of her voice when she spoke those words, but she feared that some of the nervousness and fearfulness had been imparted into those words.
The ride back had been silent, she didn't talk and didn't pay attention except to the road and her thoughts. Just thinking about what had just happened, it just caused her back to shiver from just thinking about it. On the other hand, it did explain some of Balden's earlier behaviors around her, but maybe Adimar was much more skilled at hiding those behaviors from people. Just a mind boggling, confusing muddle in an unknown foggy marsh.
The journey back was without incident, and so was the journey when she had led the caravan to the spot she and Balden had found before. As night descended, campfires began to burn; Lara snuck off into the dark to the shore of the lake and to think alone.
After deciding she couldn't make heads or tails out of anything that had happened with Balden, Lara decided to have a chat with her guardian. Sitting by the shore of the lake, she closed her eyes and began mentally attempting to start a conversation. No answer. She tried different words, different phrasings, she even used her native tongue, and still nothing. Opening her eyes, she did want to ask the priestess something.
Standing up and shaking off the dirt, she walked towards the campfires. She walked around each one until she found the one where the priestess was. The priestess looked at her when she heard the footsteps, but it didn't appear as if this was a good time because of the tired expression on the priestess' face. Lara was about to walk away and let Aria rest, but it looked like Aria saw something troubling her and motioned for her. Lara sat down near Aria, and looked into the fire for a few silent seconds. Then, she looked up at Aria. [+purple "There is something troubling me, it has to do with the Fenlyck guardian."] Lara paused, [+purple "Everyone else seems like their own good terms with their own guardian. Me, my guardian won't even talk to to me. I just tried talking to it by the shore of the lake, all I got was silence. Is there something I don't know about my own guardian, or is just me?"] Saying the last part, Lara had looked down on her hands and had opened them so they were facing palms up towards her eyes.
With his men on his heels, the Jai at his side, and the disavowed Templar with him, Adimar felt a rush of adrenaline. He was riding into battle. It had been so long since the last time he faced one of Malik’s Malcontents. He could feel a smile tug at the corner of his lips as they galloped down the dirt road and within the hour they saw the hoard of 50 men riding towards them. Their armor gleamed with Malik’s crest, and the infuriating colors of violet and black. He, however, smirked. There was fifteen of them and fifty of Malik’s men. They were vastly outnumbered, but their skill was enough to make this a fair fight. Rhuarc shouted a bit of good advice to the group of fifteen that rode with him and Adimar nodded in agreement, and withdrew his bow.
“No survivors,” he murmured darkly. He was an Archer by trade and so between himself and Ayab they sent the first volley of arrows. Rupert and Thad, and a few more archers in the group sent their own arrows towards the Malcontents. Their arrows rained down killing several men, and still they volleyed arrow after arrowed towards the scouting party until they were so close they all abandoned their bows for steel. By then their arrows had thinned the group out. Adimar rushed into the fray his sword raised high and brought it down on a man wanting to send a spear into his horse. He killed the man, but the man killed his horse, and sent Adimar tumbling towards the ground. He rolled expertly and jumped back to his feet. Swinging his blade to parry an attack, before spinning and cutting a man’s arm clean off. He kicked his leg high and with a powerful shout, he sent a powerful wave of air kicking up dust and gleaming with arcane magic towards those that surrounded him. They flew back, frosted and temporarily immobile. Beside him Thad had dismounted and was on the ground with him covering his back, while it seemed Max and Carrick were making quick and dirty work of their enemy.
Instinct took over in Adimar, and his already blue eyes gleamed electric and with a shout he jumped into the air with a gush of wind and vaulted over the heads of some of the fighters. As he jumped he spotted below, Rhuarc surrounded. He was a fearsome figure on the battlefield, but behind him stood a dangerous threat. With sword raised high, he brought it down on a man about to fell Rhuarc. He landed with his sword in the man’s chest. It landed with a sickening thwack to the ground and Adimar ripped his blade up, flinging blood with the motion. The two men locked eyes briefly, before resuming their fight. Rhuarc with his blade of fire and Adimar with freezing gale force winds that pushed back enemies from swarming them. Rupert made his way through the group still on horseback and swinging his flail about, killing men left and right. Just as Rhuarc’s flame died, Adimar’s wind died eventually too. He was breathless and sweating from the exertion of mana used to fuel his arcane gifts. He knew he had just enough left to summon a storm, but their situation was not so dire it required such a thing. So instead he conserved what he had and used the wind to propel him quickly through the battlefield. By the end of the battle, there were only a few men who dropped their weapons and turned running, but Adimar and Ayab’s arrows made quick work of them, dropping them dead in the middle of the road.
By the time the battle was over, the sun had set, and his blade dripped with the blood of malcontents. Just as it should. Heaving for breath, his face dirty and covered in sweat, he turned from the massacre and saw Carrick breathing just as heavily and wielding a heavy Battle Axe. They were all covered in the blood of the enemy, and their own. All of them sporting wounds, but with minimal loss. Adimar only lost three men. Considering there was only 15 of them against 50? He thought he’d had an acceptable loss. Adimar was the only one without a single scratch on him, the blood he wore was the blood of Malik’s men. Carrick on the other hand, was sporting a bleeding nose, now crooked and split over the bridge from where he was punched in the face with a shield. Thad had a good goose egg on his head, Max had a few cuts on his arms and legs, and Rupert was sporting a busted lip and black eye. Despite all that, each and every one of them stood tall and proud.
[b "These men were indeed scouts but something doesn't feel right about them.”]
Adimar frowned looking towards Rhuarc who looked, dare he say it, nervous. He watched as the massive Jai bent down and surveyed a fallen body. “Search the bodies for clues, quickly before the last of dusk leaves.” Adimar commanded. His men hurried, searching bodies, but all came back empty handed. Instead Adimar ordered they steal the armor and gear that was the least damaged for it might come in handy later. Adimar did not feel defeated though, and turned towards where his most loyal men stood with Carrick and the two Jai. “We’ve done good work on this day, and your powers grow stronger,” Adimar commented of Rhuarc, but the Jai seemed restless and eager to return to their group.
[b "We should return to the others now, even at this rate it shall be well into night before we return."]
“Agreed,” Adimar murmured and looked out at the field of death they had made.
“The priestess is without two of her guardians,” Carrick said, cleaning his blade and looking between
Adimar and Rhuarc. “While I do not lack faith in that of Lara or Sarya…we can’t leave her unprotected for too long,” Adimar studied the Blacksmith and agreed. With all of them in agreement they quickly took to their horses and galloped back towards camp.
They were greeted by a sentry half a mile from camp, not that it mattered, even from here he could see the fires and he shared an irritated look with Rhuarc, and both of them seemed to decide to hold their tongues for the time being. As soon as they entered camp and began to dismount their horses, the camp came alive with chatter. Everyone eager to see if the group returned whole and unscathed.
[i ‘Danger lurks among you…’] Adimar tensed where he stood removing his weapons from his horse’s saddle and looked around. The voice of Volshiv whispered in his mind. [i ‘It moves unseen, even I cannot see it, but I sense its darkness. Be wary, Guardian… trust no one.’] Adimar’s brows furrowed, his eyes scanning those that milled about within the camp, but he decided to keep it to himself for now and instead marched further into camp with Rhuarc and the others towards the center bonfire. Aria who was sitting there immediately jumped to her feet a look of shock and relief clear on her fair features. She was not looking at him though, but to the man on his right, Rhuarc. Who, much to Adimar’s shock, turned abruptly and left for his own tent. As if just knowing she was still unscathed was enough verification for him that they had arrived quickly enough, but he dared not linger. Adimar said nothing and continued his approach towards the Priestess.
Carrick rushed ahead of him to collect Saraya up into his arms. Exhilarated from battle, men usually wanted one of two things: A Hard drink or to lay with a fine woman… he wouldn’t be surprised if Carrick was a man who did both. That was not to say he didn’t have men in his ranks who laid with other men, Adimar did not care, so long as he did not have to see it. He did however warn him men not to lay with a comrade. He was not about to have that sort of dilemma on his hand of scornful lovers within his ranks. He watched Carrick for a moment, envious that the man had a woman to find solace and peace in. What Adimar wouldn’t give for a wench to fool around with for the night…
[+red "Aye, we shall aid you in defeating this threat."] It should be a fairly tsraight forward endeavour dispatching the small number of scouts, in addition to two guardians and all the abilities that entailed they had a number of hardened veteran warriors with them, this was likely going to be a short battle. With a kick to his steed's flanks Ayab and Rhuarc wheeled their mounts around and followed Adimar, Carrick and a number of the soldiers that were guarding the caravan and headed towards the threat. With the report that their own scout had given detailing how quickly the enemy was approaching coupled with the haste that their own group was making in confronting them in only took an hour or two before a number of riders could be seen in the distance, a trail of dust being left in their wake. [b "Ready yourselves, leave no man alive if even one escapes and brings word of our position to the False King then all is lost."] Rhuarc eased a spear from the case at his hip and adjusted his grip on the weapon, as soon as he was in range then he would loose his weapon. A glance over towards Ayab showed the other Jai readying his bow in a similar fashion, neither of the men were particularly accustomed to horseback travel or combat but the weeks travelling had at least got them used to riding the beasts, fighting may prove interesting.
As they rode closer to the inevitable battle Rhuarc heard a bowstring loose as several of the Volshiv guards, along with Ayab, Sent a hail of arrows towards their foe with several hitting their mark. A grin broke out on the Jai's face as the thrill of battle spread through his body, it had been too long since he had fought. The grin only intensified as he had to manoeuvre his horse to avoid the arrows that Malik's forces responded with, a mighty heave from his arm released the spear which missed the mark he had intended for it but making adjustments in his head the next spear he threw found its target and impaled one of the scouts in the chest as he fell off his mound to lie dead on the ground. Ayab loosed arrow after arrow, many hitting their intended target before the gaps closed significantly and the pitched battle became more melee orientated, forgoeing the spears that had served him well enough up to them Rhuarc drew the heavy black steel blade and set the blade aflame.Between furiously parrying blows of steel from the enemy and cutting down any he could see Rhuarc glanced around occasionally saw Ayab cut down a man with his hand axes, or Adimar using both his Arcane skills and his skill with the blade to dispatch any number of foes.
As the sun started to fall in the sky the battle came to an end, it was a simple affair and truth be told the result of the battle was never in doubt. Rhuarc nudged his horse towards his countryman, Ayab was sporting a deep gash along his chest, it was not life threatening but looked painful, it would make a fine scar once it had healed, a most honourable mark. Rhuarc took stock of his own injuries, he had a few minor cuts and gashes, along with a heavy bruise across his jaw where one of the scouts had swung out and struck him with a cudgel, his jaw was tender but he didn't think it was broken. The most serious of his injuries was where the two arrows had hit him in his left shoulder, he had taken the shafts out and wrapped a strip of cloth taken off one of the scouts as a bandage. Hopefully it would take little more tending and heal nicely on its own. [b "These men were indeed scouts but something doesn't feel right about them."] The Jai searched the bodies of the scouts sent against them, they were lightly armoured and armed, as would be expected, their pockets held no scraps of parchment or any other orders and their armour all bore Malik's seal, not uncommon for his soldiers. Everything seemed perfectly plausible but something nagged at Rhuarc, he had fought many battles over his life and his instincts told him something was wrong, he couldn't put his finger on it but it nagged at the back of his mind. Hopefully in time it would reveal itself. [b "We should return to the others now, even at this rate it shall be well into night before we return."]
The sun had set hours ago by the time Rhuarc had the camp in sight and he was astonished at what he saw, eight large fires encircled the entire camp and shed light for a good distance all around...it was madness. Any experienced soldier would have known that lighting even one fire was a terrible idea. Whoever had lit those fires had made a grave error. They knew an army was coming for them and here was a beacon that would point them out for miles, avoiding detection would be impossible, not to mention any sentries or watchmen would be near worthless, fires ruined night vision. Rhuarc would hold his tongue for tonight but going forward he would make sure that fires were lit only if necessary. As the battered group entered the camp with only a few losses and injuries Rhuarc saw Aria very briefly as she sat by one of the fires, he tensed his jaw in irritation and a shot of pain shot through his body, ignoring the High Priestess. The night was too late for Balden's sword training and he was too tired after the skirmish anyway. Rhuarc needed rest to recover from the battle. As Rhuarc drifted to sleep the battle went through his head and he suddenly knew what was wrong...the battle was too easy.
The Fade watched surveyed the camp the caravan trail made, sentries patrolling, the fires being made and even the movements of the Guardians. He was here for the High priestess, Malik would reward him greatly for her, maybe he would even allow the Fade part of her torture. That would be delicious. The great fires surrounding the camp had aided him to no end, while they illuminated the surrounding land, it had cast flickering shadows on the interior of the camp, bright light cast deep shadows and that was his weapon. Being able to travel through that darkness made everything so much easier, as had his ploy to remove many of the fighting men. The Volshiv and Jai Guardians, along with the other pet Jai, the blacksmith and a number of soldiers had been drawn into his distraction of that little scouting party. The Fade had commanded them to die and they had done just that, he needed the threat of those men removed for the time being and now he was ready to make his move. One man had already discovered who this seemingly poor man in the cloak was when he glanced the Fade's face, one quick movement of the whip held at it's hip was enough to silence the man forever, no one could discover his secret before he needed it revealed. The corpse had become swollen, bloated and stained black as soon as the Fade's weapon broke the skin and drew blood, naturally the body had to be hidden so no one could discover that there was an enemy amongst them.
Tonight the Priestess should be his. It would be easy to kill her now but Malik wanted her to himself, he was a cruel man a feeling the Fade could not only understand but was one of two emotions he could truly feel. Cruelty and Hate, that was what the Fade was. His mere presence within this caravan would slowly start to infect others with cruel thoughts and reveal malice in their hearts, if the fools knew what signs to look for then they would know that he was here already but all of these fools were powerless. Once infected with his malice it was no easy thing to remove such darkness. If not dealt with in due time, they too would come to be a Fade. The Fade could already feel his cruelty take seed in the blacksmith's apprentice, that was merely an added bonus. The Fade blended in with the other caravan followers, no one should suspect who he was, stealth and intrusion were part of the reason he had been created, to get where no one else could. One sentry that was patrolling the camp turned a corner and passed by the Fade being none the wiser that such a dangerous foe lay mere feet away from them, this was his moment to strike, this was the time to take the Priestess to Malik. Just as the Fade was about to head towards the centre fire where the High Priestess lay, the Caledon Guardian showed themselves by her side, that made his task more complicated but not impossible, until the others returned from the scouting party distraction. The return of two more guardians, and the other soldiers, was a problem, especially the blacksmith, he had changed since the Fade had first observed him in Tanaka, he had somehow bonded with a Guardian. No, maybe his attack should wait until a more amenable opportunity presented itself. Until then the Fade would continue to wait a viper among the caravan, unseen, invisible and incredibly deadly.
[right [pic http://i64.tinypic.com/s6kvnm.jpg]]
Saraya's senses were acute as she pulled out a pipe before riding, and began smoking. It was her habit. The smell of danger was afoot, and she needed to be as calm as humanly possible and more. She rode like the villager of The Jch'Bas, the most mysterious and most enlightening colony on the east of her beloved homeland. Her hands hadn't touched the reigns, and one hand was tucked in her kimono, as if an samurai sitting on the empire he himself built, and must honor it. She felt no pain in her side, and it was good. The Fade was following. It was good Aria was amongst her people, riding in between. Some archers were on the wagon as we'll, to provide light anywhere needed. Torches were burning proudly, a defense on her part. She used some of her power to burn slowly, and it helped in their hastily get away to Kil'heed.
She slowly began to lag behind, sensing that was it was nearing. Saraya was no fool, she could tell that Rhuarc was utterly upset. Of what, she did not know. To some degree, she couldn't blame him either. It was a dastardly task she asked of them... But this will teach them a lot on honoring their oaths, truly understanding their positions in this fight. They were the only ones capable to taking on the False King. This will wake everyone up on her understanding. If he gets ANYONE in the village, it would have easily manifest AND developed an army of her own kin to kill her and her comrades and take his prize and surely be the doom to all of their homes. The Fade will corrupt, poison the mind and rob it of yourself. Then, how can you fight an army of your own people, not to mention whatever was coming?
She glanced back at Carrick. She saw changes in him. He was more stubborn about being away from her unless it was necessary. He gave her a wink, and a flattered smile formed. She felt his heart thomp in an echo of hers. It felt as though they were...
Ayab and Rhuarc's heated argument caught her attention. It had to be concerning Aria. Saraya stayed near the priestess, for the works of Malik still held effect to her, despite her successfully creating a barrier in her mind. Not before that, Adimar's steed halted abruptly. Some of his soldiers had came from the city, bearing news of scouts. Saraya had halted her steed some, hearing that he was going to turn back, taking Rhuarc, Ayab... And her precious Carrick, for he volunteered.
Her heart ached for a moment, but knew that he would return... Aria had offered her steed and demounted, and he swapped spaces with her from his wagon. She braved herself for his departure, only to hear him trot slowly towards her. Her eyed glittered with worry and hope for him to return. He reached forward and took her hand in his. His lips touched her knuckles, flattering the beauty as his eyes stayed on hers.
[b "Stay safe, my love... "]
Saraya looked at him with a sadness he had seen only once. In the barn, surrounding fresh blood and fresh in sight had she seen him show a face of sadness when the priestess recalled her becoming. She made sure she didn't show signs, so she nodded slowly. [I "Please... Return to me, my love"] she spoke softly to him. He nodded to her and gave her a warm smile. [b "I will be back. Keep an eye on our priestess "] he said, as if a pact between only them. She nodded in confirmation before his smile broadened. Hr then leaned forward and kissed her cheek. She closed her eyes to the pleasure of it, before he turned and trekked away with Adimar. She looked back, then sighed as she knew that they couldn't stay there. Not for long. [I "Let's move out... "]
The caravan started moving, her keeping near the rear to keep her eyes on the group. Balden had already found Lara, and according to the priestess, they needed a guide to someplace without sight. Saraya was silent, but the atmosphere was thick, and Saraya only knew that they needed to be safe.
Lara and Balden found a spot to camp for the night. Saraya was grateful, ready to put her plan into action. [I "We will need eight fires in a circle. Be sure to leave room for one in the center. There will The priestess rest"]
Soldiers complied and did their jobs, the villagers helping in any way they could. All the while, Saraya set up a barrier about them, shrouding their scent and making sure the light prevented those unseen. It stretched a good length from the bank out to surrounding elements, and she was ready to perform her duty.
Night blanketed the leaves of the forest. Saraya was against a tree, near the villagers and her priestess. Lara and Balden went to the banks, so she was to watch. The fires brightened up around her, and the shield had proven successful, for there wasn't a predator in sight. Still, she kept her eyes open, her head clear. She hadn't heard from The Sprit since the attack. It had been obvious that he was waiting. But, waiting for what?
[I Spirit, you have been silent, long enough. I am in need of company this night...]
A moment she waited before she had gotten a response.
... And, the response was a long, slow, and disheartening. Saraya had to take this with no mercy. The spirit was hiding more than he would speak, and after his rambling... [b ... This sort of journey will put you both in harm's way...]
[I Me and Carrick will be alright, kind spirit]
[b I do not speak of Carrick... I speak of...]
Saraya was confused. If it wasn't Carrick he was speaking of... Then...
[b Everything that was taken from you by The False King, I shall return to you. I shall speak no more of this...]
Saraya was perplexed of his sudden silence. There was still something he wasn't telling her... What did he mean by 'everything that was taken by the false king, he shall return to her? '
Night bustled on, and Saraya couldn't sleep. She watched as the villagers slept, and only few among them sat awake. To them, she gave bread, and went to the banks of the waters. The spirit has been very upset lately... Not at his host, but the evil. She than began trying to decipher what the spirit meant. She lost Felliope to the evil's forces... And their son... It ached a little less than usual to think of what she lost... There, she realized what the spirit meant. But... She believed herself barren after that attack, after losing a innocent life in her womb. She thought... The spirit had been hiding so much from her. Why tell her this now?
She sat at the bank, her hand lazily went across her stomach, remembering the proud soundness of it, the pride she had that the child would be big and healthy. She shut her eyes and nodded. She wanted to have her family again. She sniffled once, a wave of emotions washing over her. The spirit... She was so unworthy of his gifts... But, thankful nevertheless. And, for the first time... She began to smile through her ocean of tears.
She then looked up to the moonlit sky, thinking of Carrick, hoping to the Gods that he would return to her. She then looked to the priestess and stood. As she walked towards her, she could feel a bit of a cool breeze, like a sigh of relief. [I "Aria... Come with me... "] she said, waiting on the priestess to stand.
But, Aria was not really speaking with her, either... This puzzled Saraya. Instead, Aria had walked past her to seek audience with Lara... Saraya sighed. It was better to keep to herself for now... Besides, it was her mission... But, why was everyone so distant from her?
Out of that knowledge, Saraya had sat back at her tree, and continued her duty. If she was not to speak until Carrick returned, that is fine. She had been isolated before... Was it safe to say she could stay that way, too? Saraya could feel awkward emotions left and right. Maybe, it was best that she stayed to herself for now... The mission was most important, and the Priestess will eventually come.
Balden had to hold on for dear life as Lara took off the moment his backside hit the supple leather of the saddle. He watched as they rushed past people and wagons upon wagons filled with people and supplies. The soldiers they rushed past paid them no mind, too busy taking up a defensive positions around the caravan while Adimar and the others rode out to stop the advancing regiment. They rushed past Aria at the front of the caravan, and Balden twisted in the saddle, one arm firmly wrapped at Lara’s waist and waved to Aria. For once smiling at them as they took off. It wasn’t long before the caravan was gone from their vision and long behind them. Balden assumed Lara enjoyed finally having a task, and while they didn’t speak, the silence between them was one of content. They were both busy looking about as they charged down the road. They needed a safe place to camp, a place they could hide out until Adimar’s group returned… he hoped they returned. Adimar seemed, to Balden, the most competent Guardian out of them all. He had training where the others did not, and he knew what he was, what he was capable of… and the others as well. From what he’d heard though, Lara was apparently a natural with the Arcane, summoning a water spirit out of thin air. Adimar had told him only an advanced Mage could have pulled the water from the air. If that were possible, Balden knew that Lara must be very powerful… they just hadn’t tapped into that power yet.
They rode nonstop with barely a word spoken between them, for what seemed like the entire afternoon, and Balden wondered where they might find a place to hide. There were next to no trees, just wide open spaces showing the low valley before the high peaks of Volshi, which loomed ominously in the distance shrouded by mist and fog. Without warning, Lara turned the horse towards a northern path, as if being led by an invisible force. Coming up over a hill the saw that the elevation was climbing higher and the little hills were now becoming rolling hills, growing higher and higher. Not to mention, they saw a forest. Lara stopped the horse only once to eye the treeline. Her expression was unreadable to him, but he saw something flash in her eyes, and he too looked towards the looming forest with curiosity. It was then she rode right for it, as if reading his thoughts to go check it out. What they found had Balden’s eyes bulging wide. It was a hundred yards in, but the trees thinned out enough they’d be able to lead wagons in and shelter the whole caravan at the wide pond.
[i "I think we've found the place Aria was seeking. "] Lara murmured. Balden dismounted first and then Lara, both of them looking around the space. Balden took the horse’s reins in his hand and led it towards the waterline allowing the creature to get some water. His eyes roamed over the space. He’d say they found it alright. This was great news! Aria would be so pleased to know they had a place to bunker down for the night, but how had Lara known to go North instead of continuing East? Perhaps her guardian had led her the way. That was when he spotted her sitting down on the edge of the water, playing with the fish. Upon closer inspection, he saw that she was crying.
Crying? Lara crying? Whatever for?! He hesitated approaching her, nervous and unsure about how to address those tears. He knew seeing them made him uncomfortable, and that finally being alone with her had his heart pounding and his palms sweaty. His last attempt to ‘woo a lady’ had ended in his public humiliation at the girl’s hand, and those of her courter. He’d learned that day that some girls could be just as nasty and mean as they were pretty. Lara was none of that. She was all pretty and all good. He was confident that even if she did spurn any advance he might make, if he was brave enough, that at least Lara wouldn’t humiliate and belittle him. He was pretty confident he could handle that sort of rejection, but for now that wasn’t what he was worried about. Lara needed a friend, and he knew he could do that.
He walked over to her and without a word sat down beside her, one hand reaching out with a crooked finger to collect a tear from her cheek. For a moment he said nothing, just met her gaze and knew then what sort of pain she was feeling.
“My family is gone too,” He told her solemnly. Perhaps knowing she wasn’t the only one who had felt that sort of pain would help her. “I could tell you were thinking about them. I’ve worn that face a time or two before. I don’t really know my father, and my mother died when I was young. I was taken in by a blacksmith and his family that knew my mother. I was training to forge weapons the way he did, and Carrick too. Then The Mage attacked the village and I only had the time to abandon them all to warn Elder Rigby and Aria.” Balden shrugged, but he knew that Lara probably wouldn’t open up unless he did. “I like to imagine what life would be like for me if my father never left, or if my mom never got sick… sometimes I liked to imagine I was actually the son of the Blacksmith who took me in… he always treated me well, but made it very clear that I was not part of his family,” Balden said giving Lara a sideways glance. “I’m starting to think Family can mean more than blood though. We’ve got a nice little family I think, don’t you?” Balden said looking back out at the water. “For me, Carrick and Rhuarc are the closest thing to big brothers I’ve ever had. I like Ayab a lot too, he’s a lot funnier than you would think,” he chuckled at Lara’s scoff and grinned at her. “It’s true, you two just got off on the wrong foot. He’s warming up to you though, I can tell,” Balden assured her. “Ayab and Rhuarc took a little getting used to for me too. Completely different culture, but once you get to know them –they’re just as normal as the rest of us. They just hit harder and yell louder. I like Saraya, she’s kinda bossy, but in a good way. Ya know? If wasn’t the good way I don’t think Carrick would be so wrapped around her finger,” He chuckled “And really? Who saw that one coming?” he was being sarcastic, it had been so obvious of Carrick’s attentions to Saraya and her own towards him. Their kiss that afternoon simply confirmed it. “I don’t know about Adimar though. I think he’s keeping information from us… and he seems particularly interested in you…” Balden’s words trailed off then as his laughter died and he began to fidget with the grass between his legs. “Can’t blame the guy… what’s not to be interested in?” He murmured softly, nervously, but he’d said it at least. In not so many words and with a crimson blush to his cheeks, so much his ears turned red, he had informed Lara he was interested. He didn’t want to hide his infatuation, but he didn’t want it so blatantly obvious either.
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