Eol Fefalas Keeper of the Kazari RDI Staff Karma: 458/28 8309 Posts
Of Bones, Batting, and Burning
Even as he focused on fighting his way from beneath the twisted abomination of bone, Ch’dau was aware of Kithran’s efforts against the unsettling dolls as well as Mosic’s aid in dealing with all of the attackers. However, aside from the frantic pounding from the other side of the door at the start of the fight, he hadn’t heard nor seen anything of Aranwen. The Bladesinger’s silence concerned him a bit more than her absence but, at the moment, the Silver Cat couldn’t afford let himself think about such things, now. The immediate threat was here. Besides, Bladesingers were formidable warriors and, so long as what Arawen faced on the opposite side of the door wasn’t as horrific as the bone-spider, he was sure that she would manage…
Rrowl be with her!
…He had regained his feet, his blades fending off the worst of the pistoning strikes of the bone-spider’s appendages as he spun back from under the chittering monstrosity. As he did so, he risked a glance at his companions. Kithran seemed to have dealt with the dolls for the time and was climbing a bookcase in an apparent attempt to launch herself at the spider. Mosic muttered words Ch’dau’s ears couldn’t quite comprehend and his little hands worked strange patterns in the air… A spell?... Just as the kazari registered these things, the cleric’s spell seemd to take effect and a beam of golden light speared through the chaos, narrowly missing a third doll that Ch’dau hadn’t noticed until it lept away from the pool of blood at his feet. Before Ch’dau could give much consideration the the white-garbed puppet, though, the bone-spider reared back, intent on spearing the kazari with two of its deadly limbs. At the same time, Mosic abandoned his spellwork in favor of his mace and Kithran flew from the bookcase to land atop the spider’s back.
Snarling a curse, the kazari ducked and spun away from the spider’s attack which had been thrown askew by Kithran’s impact. As the abomination crashed into the opposite wall, Mosic charged in with his mace and shattered a joint on one of the thing’s rear legs. The creature shrieked and tried to right itself even as it turned it’s head and snapped at Ch’dau with skull-lined mandibles. The Silver Cat leapt backward, avoiding the attack, causing the spider to refocus on Kithran as she scrambled nimbly back atop the thing…
“I can’t think of anything witty, right now,” the Little Kitten called, striking at the joint which Mosic’s attack had weakened and kicking at one of the skulls reaching out from its body, “just move, cat!”
Ch’dau growled in response and, as he did, his gaze fell upon an overturned oil-lamp. A savage grin spread across his features, then, and he sheathed his falcata. He tore the cloak from his shoulders with one hand and scooped up the lamp with the other. Then, dousing the fabric with the oil from the lamp, he, too, leapt atop the bone-spider’s back as Kith and Mosic continued their assault. He made for the thing’s head, then, and whipped the oil-saturated cloak around the conglomeration of bones that constructed it. He took a nasty bite and a glancing blow from a knife-edged foot for his efforts but, at last, managed to tightly wrap the abominations head and still its clacking jaws.
“Kithran! Mosic! Off and away!!!” Ch’dau roared, tugging his blades free, once more.
Even as the little Cidal backed away, Mosic blinked up at Ch’dau from the floor below, and the kazari sensed more than saw Kithran leap off of the spider’s back. Once they were both clear, the Silver Cat snarled at the creature’s thrashing head… “And you go straight to whatever hell spat you forth!”… With that, Ch’dau’s blades grated sharply together, causing sparks to fly from the steel and spill onto the oil-soaked cloak.
The thing howled and thrashed as it’s head burst into flames, it’s flailing throwing the kazari to the floor and causing him to lose his grip on his weapons. The loss of his blades didn’t seem to stop the rampaging Silver Cat, though. Ch’dau rolled to his feet and, with a battle-mad roar, charged empty-handed at the thrashing bone-spider. He didn’t even seem to notice the blows he took from it as, with a feral grunt of effort, hauled the thing from the ground and flung it at the chamber doors. The sound of cracking bone, crackling flame, and splintering wood scarcely rose of the kazari’s raging as he took up his falcata, again, and closed on where the broken pile of bones writhed and twitched against the buckled doorway.
The ferocity with which Ch’dau set upon the screeching heap was a sight nearly as terrifying as the spider itself had been and Mosic could only imagine how much more horrifying it might have been had there been any meat on the thing’s bones. What remained of the spider had stopped moving, though, and between the flames and the kazari’s blades and teeth, had been reduced to little more than a macbre pile of smouldering rubble.
“Stop,” Mosic called, tearing across the room and swatting at the kazari’s shoulder with his own cloak. “Ch’dau! Stop! You’re on fire…”
The slavering cat-man chuffed and blinked as the little cleric wailed away at him, extinguishing the flames that danced across the fur of his shoulder and arm.
“..And I’m all but ceratin that thing will be a bother no longer, hmm?”
Kithran rolled, coming to a stop as her back hit the bookshelf, and scrambled back up into a crouched position, ready to lunge again at the terrifying creature. However, as she watched the kazari’s blind rage render the thing naught more than a pile of smoldering bone, the smell of his own burnt fur filling the room, she resheathed her daggers and straightened. Instead, she pulled her shortbow free and scanned the room for those damned dolls. Hopefully they would have been crushed where they stood sentinel at the door, but that would have been much too lucky.
Panic struck Kithran as she noticed several of the fallen books had begun to burn as well. Throwing the bow to the ground she ran to each tome, patting out the flames as best she could. She took a breath, reminding herself that they weren't even on the floor the book was supposed to have been on. Likely none of these were what she sought. But still . . . .
“Kithran,” she heard Mosic shout, “the doll!”
Kith spun around where she knelt, slashing out blindly with her dagger, expecting her mini to be leaping at her once again, but as she spun she saw it was only the now red blood rag. Without stopping her momentum, Kith pulled her other dagger free and in one swift motion flung it at the doll. It leapt back just in time. Kith grit her teeth as the thing found its feet and she threw her new dagger, finally catching the disgusting thing and pinning it to the ground.
Her jaw unclenched as she looked up to find Ch’dau still patting himself out, and Mosic finishing up his healing of the singed, silver feline, “Mosic, if you wouldn’t mind, when you have a moment?” She nodded to his discarded mace and the squirming doll before turning back to the books.
They seemed to be safe for now, and none of the burnt ones had turned out to be the Grimoire of Whispers. Risking her life for a book with a name like that . . . their forger had better be as good as her contact within the order claimed.
And they claimed they were the best, but then didn't they always claim they were the best? She began rummaging through the small piles of books that had fallen on the ground, before skimming the spines of those on the shelf. It likely wasn't here, but she was definitely close. And once she had it, then she could finally go after that--
The roar of both the kazari and the cid pulled Kith from her thoughts and she turned back to them throwing aside parts of the dismantled skeletal spider to get to the door.
“Come along Kith,” Mosic called, “we need to get to Aranwen!”
She cursed herself for becoming so distracted and sprinted over to the others to help. Aranwen was an incredible fighter, but with mostrosities like this thing of Adedre's and whatever it was those dolls and manequins were possibly walking these halls, even she could find herself in trouble alone.
As Kithran and the others began tossing aside bits of the head, strands of a familiar black cloak began to pull away as well. She looked back at the blackened, shaggy cat man, now cloakless, and glared, "Was this my very expensive cloak? Which I graciously lent to you and was going to sell once we were free of this hell?"
The kazari didn't offer so much as a glance her way as he barrelled through the wreckage, "Not now, kibibi, we need to get through this door."
She turned back to her work, "Remind me to yell at you later then, yes?"
Soon enough of the pile was cleared for Kith to get to the door and tear away at the threads wrapped around the handles. Ch’dau impatiently pushed the doors open beside her and Kithran gasped at the figure before the bladesinger, donning that same horrible mask as the thing that had manifested to strike her before.
Kith jumped to the side to get a better angle, “Aranwen, move!” And she threw a dagger at the abomination, cursing herself for not picking up her shortbow, and readying herself to lunge at the thing for another attack.
Posted on 2020-01-06 at 16:13:26.
Edited on 2020-01-07 at 01:28:57 by breebles
Reralae Dreamer of Bladesong Karma: 139/12 2437 Posts
What I want? Morgana purred, Let me tell you. But not like this.
The red haired doll motioned beside Aranwen, and she saw the blood red threads that went from the doll to the shadowed hand that controlled it. The silhouette form of Morgana beside her, the red lips on her black mask smiling.
As those lips moved, Aranwen's eyes dulled.
"Listen to my voice. Don't be afraid. Just relax, and listen..."
* * *
Aranwen made no response to the door, neither its state nor it opening. She only continued to stare at Morgana, her golden eyes cloudy and distant. She finally blinked when she heard her name, but had no time to react before a dagger flew past her.
With practised aim, Kithran's dagger sailed past Aranwen's shoulder and struck the left shoulder of Morgana's apparition.
The red lips on Morgana's face opened, and a high pitched shriek echoed in a spine chilling scream throughout the hallway. Aranwen recoiled at the noise, but immediately stepped forward, bringing her blade up to strike.
The blade struck diagonally across the black mask Morgana wore, but the form faded away before her blade could strike true.
The red-haired doll fell off of Aranwen's shoulder, landing beside Kithran's dagger, which also fell through the air where Morgana had stood.
Aranwen rubbed her forehead with a hand, grimacing as she stumbled backward, nearly falling against the wall. She stood there a moment to steady herself, her gaze turning to Ch'dau, Kithran, and Mosic. She opened her mouth to speak, but no words came. Shaking her head she coughed and tried again.
"Wh-what happened in there?" Aranwen asked, "Are you alright?" she staggered towards the others with steps that grew steadier as she walked.
* * *
A sharp cry echoed through the octagonal room, and the one known as Morgana twisted in pain.
"Easy, easy," the gentle cooing voice of Spiderlily came from beside her, reaching around the strange almost throne of thread to touch Morgana's shoulder, "I thought you said you wouldn't show your hand."
"It wasn't planned," Morgana rasped, snapping her fingers and bringing the threads of her gown away from her shoulder to inspect it. A thin line of blood trailed downward from an open pinprick visible on the exposed skin, and Morgana bit her lip in irritation, "But the opportunity was just too good. We almost had her!" she slammed a fist on her armrest in aggravation.
"Calm down. You are getting your threads caught in a tangle," Spiderlily replied, wiping the small bit of blood away and sealing the wound with a bandage left behind by her hand trailing over Morgana's shoulder, "And the evening is not over yet."
"Yes. You are right, my dear A'nia," Morgana re wove the cap to her shoulder, and once more picked up the red threads that trailed from her fingers, "Another opportunity will come. We will be patient..."
Posted on 2020-01-06 at 17:59:38.
Edited on 2020-01-06 at 19:39:34 by Reralae
Eol Fefalas Keeper of the Kazari RDI Staff Karma: 458/28 8309 Posts
A Trap Unsprung and Puppets Unstrung
Still aching from his injuries but soothed somewhat by Mosic’s pleas to Falloes for healing, Ch’dau worked alongside the priest and Kithran to clear the pile of charred bones from where they blocked the door. As they made their way through the mound, Kithran paused when she came upon a few scraps of charred black cloth.
“Was this my very expensive cloak,” she demanded, “Which I graciously lent to you and was going to sell once we were free of this hell?”
Ch’dau felt her disapproving glare on him but was too busy untangling the heap of bones to bother meeting her gaze. “Not now, kibibi,” he chuffed, lobbing half a ribcage over his shoulder, “we need to get through this door.”
The half-Syl sneakthief sighed in annoyance; “Remind me to yell at you later then, yes?”
“Hmm,” the kazari rumbled, “I can hardly wait, Little Kitten.”
Between the three of them, it didn’t take much longer for the carnage to be cleared from the crumpled casing of the door and, after that, only a few more seconds for Kith to cut the threads that bound the handles. The hinges creaked and the slabs splintered even more as Ch’dau wrenched the doors open but Kithran’s shocked gasp rose above either of those sounds at the sight that awaited them. Aranwen stood with her back to them, seemingly transfixed by a masked, almost shadowy figure just beyond her.
“Aranwen, move!” Kith shouted, a thrown dagger punctuating the words even before Ch’dau could growl and pull a blade free. As Kithran’s blade sliced into the apparition’s shoulder, the thing shrieked causing the kazari’s ears to flatten against his head. As the blood-curdling scream dissipated, so, too, did the shade, causing Aranwen’s sudden strike to split little more than shadow.
As the unholy apparition discorporated, Kith’s dagger and yet another doll fell to the floor and the Bladesinger swooned, stumbling backward. Ch’dau abandoned his grip on the hilt of his falcata, reaching out his paw to steady the bladesinger, instead, as she sought to get her wits about her once more.
“Wh-what happened in there?” Aranwen asked, “Are you alright?”
“A trap,” Ch’dau snorted, his paw still resting on the Syl woman’s arm, though she seemed to be steadying up well enough on her own, now. “We are fine, my khatun,” he said, his head tilting curiously as he regarded her, “How are you?”
((Anything from Ara or the rest, here… ))
The kazari nodded, his hand finally falling from her arm as he turned his eyes to Kithran. “Did you find what you were looking for in there, kibibi,” he asked, gesturing vaguely to the ravaged room behind them.
Posted on 2020-01-07 at 12:29:00.
Edited on 2020-01-07 at 12:43:24 by Eol Fefalas
Reralae Dreamer of Bladesong Karma: 139/12 2437 Posts
Shaken but Resolved
"If we,” Aranwen shook her head, “I - were just a bit quicker at getting through that door…" Aranwen gritted her teeth. It was one thing to survive a trap, but they were not out of danger.
“How are you?” Ch’dau asked Aranwen, regarding her closely.
Ch’dau’s steadying paw was warm, and as he examined her, Ch’dau could see Aranwen’s eyes were a bit slow to look back to his own. She lifted a hand to her forehead, “I am not hurt. She didn’t hurt me. But I feel as if I were being held underwater,” She took a breath, closing her eyes a moment as she centered herself, feel the ground, feel the air, listen to your breaths, she repeated to herself, before her eyes opened, refocusing on the others, “We should…”
Kithran listened to the bladesinger’s stoic answer as she picked up her dagger and the red-haired doll, thinking of the way that mask had been mouthing soundless words to the Sylvari woman. She had never seen anything like it before, and knew very little about magic, but the things that Morgana could do . . . .
Kith looked down at the doll in her hands, and back to the bladesinger, having lost track of the conversation for just a moment.
“Your oaths, Sylvari, will you recite them for me?” Unsure and uncaring if she had interrupted anything, Kithran watched her weary, golden eyes look back at hers.
Aranwen blinked, turning to Kithran, “To reciprocate aid given freely; to take the lives of others who would claim them for malevolent purposes; to do what I can in making safe the path ahead, for those who would come after,” she repeated her original oaths.
The half-Syl took a step toward her, her gaze locked on the woman but her senses ready, searching for another one of those dark shades to strike at any moment, “And you remain loyal to these?”
Aranwen nodded, “If we weren’t, then I would not be able to fight. At least, not with the strength of song that I have been trained to wield.”
Kith grinned, “Right, of course. Then I have just one more question and we can go bound after these scary slitches,” she held the red-haired doll up to Aranwen, “Who is this? In that room we faced a mini Kithran and mini Ch’dau, but this is not you. Why did she use this one for you?”
Aranwen flinched, “... Saeriel, my wife,” She whispered before replying, her voice stronger, “I lost her thirty years ago,” She added, before one eye closed as her face twisted in a look of physical pain. She shook her head roughly, before finally averting her gaze from the doll, choosing to look instead at Ch’dau, “I don’t know her game, but all we know is that she, Morgana, also remembers what happened. That battle we lost.”
Kithran’s eyes widened in surprise as she looked again at the doll, at Aranwen’s wife. Aranwen’s lost wife. She continued, softer, but she needed to know, even if it would turn out to be a lie, “And if this visage or some closer form came into conflict with one of your oaths, what then?”
Aranwen shook her head, “I don’t see how it could,” She replied instinctively, “Morgana might have made a toy doll that bears her resemblance, but we know that’s not her.”
Aranwen rubbed the bridge of her nose with a hand as she squinted, shaking her head once more, “She, Morgana, she told me I wouldn’t be able to open those doors in time. I don’t think they even budged when I slashed at them. She asked me to follow her, she claimed Saeriel was waiting. But that’s impossible,” She looked towards Mosic, “It’s impossible for that kind of a miracle to have happened, right?”
Mosic frowned, unsettled at the thought, “As far as I know, such a miracle is exceptionally rare, and it would have had to have been performed close to the time of death. Not thirty years past,” The cidal priest shrugged his shoulders, “Morgana also does not strike me the kind of being that can invoke the favour of any gods. Most likely to be lying, deceit and falsities are stock and trade for many such unreputable characters.”
Aranwen nodded, relief spreading across her face, “When I refused, Morgana… she…” Aranwen frowned, shaking her head again as she had several times recently, “We were talking. I know that. I remember that. But the words… I can’t… why can’t I…?” She sighed, “Everything just, kind of goes dark when I try to remember. That feeling of, almost like being underwater.”
The warm paw on her arm gave a comforting squeeze, “Will you be able to go on, khatun?” Ch’dau asked from beside her.
Aranwen nodded, “We’re uninjured,” her eyes focused as she took stock of their situation, taking up the role that Ch’dau saw in her, a title she wanted to have truly earned, “We need to keep going; if it was a trap, then the lack of an alarm was to keep us off guard, but it also let us get this far uncontested. Therefore, having survived, we are in a better position to take advantage of the opening that wasn’t supposed to be here. There will be greater resistance going forward, but that is unavoidable. I will join Ch’dau in front; Kithran and Mosic stay behind us. You know the layout, Kithran, so you’ll need to guide us with directions. We’d best be moving. I don’t know how far Morgana’s scream reached, but we think it’s safe to say that we should consider the guard on alert now.”
The half-Syl nodded, more wary than ever of the Syl but left with little choice, and pulled the dark blue hood back up over her head.
Ch’dau’s hand finally fell from Aranwen’s arm as he turned his eyes to Kithran. “Did you find what you were looking for in there, kibibi,” he asked, gesturing vaguely to the ravaged room behind them.
“No, by my understanding it is on the floor above us, anyway, but I had to check. Oh!” Kithran ran back into the room for just a moment before skidding to a stop before them once again, slinging her shortbow over her shoulder, “Thank you for reminding me, I may not yell at you so much later.” She gestured toward the stairs, “After you.”
Aranwen nodded, steady on her feet now as she stepped forward in the direction Kithran had indicated, her blade held ready at her side. She looked to Ch’dau, offering a warm smile, “Together, then.”
On the floor of the study, the doll that was dancing along the floor remained still and unmoving, its dress now returned to a pure white colour...
Posted on 2020-01-07 at 15:31:10.
Edited on 2020-01-07 at 15:46:00 by Reralae
“Did you find what you were looking for in there, kibibi,” Ch’dau asked, his hand falling away from Aranwen’s arm and gesturing vaguely to the ravaged room behind them.
“No, by my understanding it is on the floor above us, anyway,” Kithran answered, “but I had to check.
Oh!” The half-Syl’s dark eyes widened and, suddenly, she re-entered the decimated study to retrieve her bow. “Thank you for reminding me, I may not yell at you so much later,” she smirked, slinging the bow over her shoulder before gesturing to the staircase. “After you.”
Aranwen nodded, steady on her feet now as she stepped forward in the direction Kithran had indicated, her blade held ready at her side. She looked to Ch’dau, offering a warm smile, “Together, then.”
“P’moj’a,” the big kazari nodded, his ears and tail flicking in anticipation as he freed his blades from their scabbards and turned for the stairs.
Given that the fight with the bone-spider had likely negated the need for stealth, now, the Silver Cat prowled cautiously and quietly up the steps with Aranwen at his side and Kithran and Mosic following close behind. As they neared the top of the stairs, Kithran’s voice whispered through the air; “To the right at the landing, then along the corridor a way. There should be another hall that intersects from the left; that’s where we need to go.”
With a quick glance back at the thief, Ch’dau nodded faintly. “Whatever remains of Adedre’s guard will likely be awaiting us, here,” he murmured, his fingers flexing on the hilts of his falcata, “Be ready.”
He was almost surprised when a contingent of guardsmen or, at least, skeletons was waiting for them immediately at the top of the stairway. His eyes flicked to the left, scanning the corridor that ran in that direction for signs of anyone or anything that might seek to attack them from that direction. When he found nothing, he turned his gaze to Aranwen, gave a short shake of his head, and then nodded in the direction that Kithran had told them they should go.
The Bladesinger nodded in response before turning toward the right-hand hallway and blade at the ready, led the party onward. “The witch’s guard is probably depleted enough that they’re concentrated more about wherever she hides,” Aranwen observed, “rather than being scattered about. Still, mind your surroundings and be cautious of every doorway we might pass.”
As they proceeded along the right corridor, the lack of enemies put the group on edge. Aranwen's eyes swept the hallway regularly, though she wasn't sure whether she was more worried about a skeleton ambush, or missing the approach of one of Morgana's dolls. But with the strike that actually seemed to harm Morgana, Aranwen couldn't help but wonder if she might have just retreated entirely. She couldn't imagine Morgana being harmed often.
“Oh,” Kith whispered loudly for the two warriors in front of her, “if we come across anymore of those dolls or mannequins of Morgana’s, try not to focus too much on the physical thing. While I was handling those felt dolls in the study, one of her shades would appear whenever it struck, from a different angle than the doll was attacking. I think the physical forms of her creatures are more or less a distraction in a fight, to cover her real strikes. And, if you can hit the shade that appears when she is attacking, I thi-”
The now familiar sound of chattering jawbones preceded the bones that veered around the corner ahead of them, as several more of Adedre’s skeleton ranks raced toward their party, and into the blades of the bladesinger and kazari.
With a low growl rumbling in his chest, Ch’dau stepped forward into the oncoming skeletons. He easily side-stepped the thrust of a short spear and hacked the boney arm that bore it off at the elbow with a downward slash of his own blade before reaching out and tearing the skull off of the skeleton’s spine. As the remaining bones clattered uselessly at his feet, the kazari advanced again, flowing easily around Aranwen’s strikes to find another skeleton waiting with sword and shield. The Silver Cat feinted another downward slash which caused the bone-warrior to raise its shield in an attempt to block the strike, as it did, Ch’dau stopped the arcing blow from the falcata and, instead, landed a vicious kick on the shield’s center cracking the bones behind it and sending the creature tottering backward to clatter into the wall behind it.
Aranwen's voice rose into song as she brought her blade down upon the skeleton before her, stepping aside it as it recoiled from the blow and sweeping a bone leg from underneath it with her own. In an instant, a fuzzy clawed foot came down upon the skull, and the remaining bones ceased their movement. Aranwen smiled warmly up at Ch'dau, before looking back over her shoulder towards Kithran.
"Are you sure about that?" Aranwen asked, "Shadows that attacked with those dolls? I've never seen such before…"
"Oh, yes I am," Kithran's voice returned sharply, "Its blade came much too close for comfort, I'll have you know."
Aranwen frowned. Though she couldn't claim to fully know what Morgana was capable of, this seemed entirely different from everything else she had seen.
"You ought to know. You were talking to one." Kithran added pointedly.
"I… Don't remember that," Aranwen muttered, her eyes narrowing as her voice returned to her song, and she ran down another skeleton, weaving her blade into an echo of her voice as she struck.
Wonderful, Kith thought, as she chased the bladesinger down the corridor. She felt a hand upon her shoulder and jumped, twisting to look over her shoulder. It was an image of herself that wore one of Morgana's masks grabbing her.
"Here," the doppelganger whispered with Kithran's voice, stabbing with the blade in its other hand at Kithran's shoulder, "See how you like it," it taunted, the lips on the mask moving almost hypnotically with its words, before settling in a smirk.
“What the?!” Kithran jumped back from the eerie form of herself with that ominous mask. She pulled her hand away from her shoulder to find fresh blood dripping from her fingers. She looked back up to the thing returning her gaze, beginning to crouch, as she often did, before striking.
“Kithran,” the priest spoke as she herself drew her blades, “what happened?”
“Mosic, get out of the way!” And she lunged at the thing as it lunged at her. She scanned either side of it, either side of her, but no shades appeared. This one was real.
It struck out at her and she ducked, bringing her dagger up to bury it in the creature’s stomach, but met only thin air and she stumbled forward. Catching herself, Kith spun around, wondering how she could have possibly missed, as the thing now straightened itself.
She glanced at the others, on the other side of it, looking incredulously back at her, “What are you doing?” She pointed at the figure that looked like her, “Morgana is right there! Attack her!” And Kith lunged for her again.
The doppelganger threw her other knife at Kithran in return, leaping to the side to avoid the lunge. The thrown blade sliced across Kithran's other arm, and the doppelganger lifted the mask a bit with her now free hand. Underneath did seem to be a copy of Kithran's face, but it was only lifted enough that the lips were visible. It brought the blade that stabbed Kithran's shoulder, glistening with Kithran's blood, to its smiling lips, "Just a bit more, and I won't need this mask… it will suit you better..."
Aranwen looked back at Kithran, and the space she indicated, frowning and shaking her head, even as she brought her sword at the ready in the direction indicated, "Kithran, there's nothing there," she replied.
Having savagely dismantled the last of the skeleton patrol, Ch’dau turned to see Aranwen and Mosic staring in confusion at Kith. The thief seemed to be locked in combat with nothing. His own expression shifted to match the others as he moved back down the hall toward them. “What are you doing, kibibi,” he rumbled, wondering if, perhaps, she had been poisoned, “fighting the air?”
Kithran scoffed, her eyes trained on the thing stealing her grin and her arm stinging, “Okay, well thanks.” She struck out again at her copy, this time anticipating the dodge and dropping into a low stance, pouncing at her before she could catch herself. Having expected to tackle her to the ground and continue her assault, Kith was surprised once more as she flew through her own torso and into the wall beyond.
She growled in frustration as she turned once again to face the doppleganger, “Any help at all would be nice!” she called behind clenched teeth.
The doppelganger licked the blood from its blade, finally taking off its mask, and revealing it to be a completely accurate mirror of Kithran. She grinned, "Catch!" the doppelganger called as it threw the mask it had been wearing at the real Kithran.
The kazari’s expression became all the more confused and, perhaps, concern when the half-Syl threw herself into a wall. “What in all of Khr’a’s creation is the matter with you, Little Kitten? There is nothing here but we four and a scattering of bones.” He reached out, mindful to do so cautiously lest whatever hallucination had overcome the girl cause her to mistake him for Morgana, and wrapped an arm around her shoulders.
As he pulled her closer, Ch’dau gave her a quick once over to see if there were any fresh wounds or, maybe, a poisoned dart that might explain what was going on in Kithran’s mind. Finding nothing, he eyed her curiously and gave her a gentle squeeze. “Get your wits about you, Kithran,” he purred softly, “I feel we are close but madness will do us no good, hmm?”
The mask, which had threatened to latch itself onto her face, faded as Ch’dau’s words and warmth cut through. And as he spoke, that other image of her, the one bearing her smile and her knives, dissipated as well.
Kithran shook her head and rubbed her eyes, feeling as though tendrils of fog were being pulled from her mind. She looked up at Ch’dau, “Was I . . . seeing things? You didn’t see her, stealing my blood? Becoming me? She looked exactly like me.”
The expression on Ch’dau’s face now was certainly more concerned than confused. “I did not,” he answered with a shake of his shaggy head, “nor do I know where she might have even gotten your blood. You are uninjured.” He gestured at the bone-littered hallway ahead of them; “There were only those in our path. Nothing else.”
Ch’dau glanced at Aranwen and Mosic then, the concern easily recognizable in his features. “Did the two of you see anything?”
Aranwen looked between Kithran and Ch'dau, before she scanned the hallway once more, "When I looked back, all we saw was Kithran wielding her blades…" she looked to Mosic, "But… Morgana… we can't rule out some form of magic at play here, can we?" she wondered aloud, before sighing inwardly, half muttering, "Damn that witch…"
Mosic shook his head; “I saw nothing the likes of which she describes.” The little Cid shrugged, then, his grey eyes lifting to meet Aranwen’s. “You are correct, though, Lady Galandel, magic can’t be ruled out.”
“Hmm,” the kazari grunted, “are there spells, priest, that might protect us from such magics going forward?”
“There are,” Mosic confirmed, “Alas, such a spell is beyond my reach just yet. I might be able to dispel such a thing should it happen again, though.”
Aranwen lifted a hand to her cheek in thought, "If we ever think that something is amiss, perhaps relying on each other's senses might serve to identify real from not," she mused, before turning to examine Kithran, "Are you okay now, Kithran?" she asked.
Kith pushed Ch’dau’s arm off her shoulder, “As okay as you, I suppose, for how much this witch enjoys playing with our minds.” She smiled sardonically, “I agree that we will need to rely on each other’s senses, but so far half of us have had our senses muddled by her magics. It will be interesting to see how helpful relying on each other truly is.”
Aranwen frowned, but she nodded, "You are right…" she admitted, unable to help feeling a bit bitter at Kithran's point that she was likewise compromised. No. It wasn't that Kithran was right, it just unsettled her that she couldn't answer what had happened to her. But she couldn't do anything about that, and she focused on what she could do, "Still, it is better to have some plan at all, rather than having none," she scanned the hallway once more. If Morgana had done something, then one of her puppets had to be nearby, right?
Aranwen didn't see the hooded Kith-doll, almost invisible as it blended in with the shadows just in the stairwell.
Turning towards the forward again, Aranwen took up position at point, "A hall that intercepts from the left…" she repeated, keeping a lookout for any more incoming enemies in front.
Posted on 2020-01-10 at 11:35:48.
Edited on 2020-01-11 at 01:01:49 by breebles
Kith shook her aching head to no avail. She had not felt any differently while Morgana had been twisting her thoughts, it had only been at Ch'dau's insistence that she was able to disperse the fog of the witch’s influence. Yet despite the mirage, the pain from those imagined attacks had felt real. And though her arms and shoulder no longer stung, the pain in her head was very real.
That was no good. In fact it was maddening. That someone could have the ability to warp one’s senses so fully, that with one little incantation they could distort one’s reality . . . it felt like cheating. How was she supposed to defend against something like that? A dagger you could dodge, a wound you could heal. But this?
Kithran tightened her hands around the handles of her sheathed daggers, one far less familiar than the other, and almost scoffed at how ridiculous the thought was. In a place like this, surrounded by the undead and the lunatic puppets of a witch she had struck as a shadow, aided by a massive cat, a bladesinger, and a conduit for a god, that a simple thief should find herself a bit over her head was an understatement. She was beginning to wonder if those sniveling little mages had truly expected her to return in the first place, and decided she would be upping the amount they owed her.
That was a thought. Kith looked to the others in her party ahead of her, the cidal, the kazari, the sylvari, and nearly scoffed again. At the very least Aranwen might be able to pull off the look, but the others . . . .
That was neither here nor there. First they had to get through this labyrinth of horrors with their minds in tact, find the book, survive, and get back to the order. She sighed silently to herself, hoping her head would stop throbbing soon, and followed the others as they drew nearer to her destination.
Posted on 2020-01-13 at 15:51:05.
Eol Fefalas Keeper of the Kazari RDI Staff Karma: 458/28 8309 Posts
Range of the Stalking Ghost Clan; Twilight Forest; Capasha
Khan Jh’gou lounged beneath the roof of his ramada and gazed out at the tents and pavilions that comprised his clan’s camp, watching silently as his people gathered near the forge. He paid particular attention to the cubs of a certain age, today. According to Khr’dun M’khar’s interpretation of last night’s shooting star and the star that lingered in the sky just below Khr’a’s Right Eye, this morning, it was time for those who had seen their seventh Turning to be given over to either the Kh’urs’ War Camp or placed under the tutelage of M’khar, himself. It didn’t seem, though, that there were many cubs, this season, who were of age.
“Only six,” Jh’gou rumbled, stroking his whiskers in contemplation as he turned his eyes to the khr’dun who stood to the left of his divan, “you are certain?”
“I am, my Khan,” M’khar nodded, leaning heavily on his spear and scratching absently at the greying fur of his cheek, “I personally visited their dams, this morning, as Khr’a opened her eye and Her tear did not fade.”
“Hmm,” Jh’gou grunted, his gaze turning now to Kh’ur Ti’han who stood to his right. “And you, Ti’han, are prepared to make your selections?”
“I am, my Khan,” the massive, black-furred Kazari nodded.
“Call them forth then,” Jh’gou commanded, rising from his couch.
“As you say, Khan,” Ti’han grunted, striding forward and pulling his falcata free. As he cleared the edge of the ramada’s roof, the black Kazari raised the blades above his head and stuck them together seven times. A short, barking roar followed in the wake of each tolling of steel and, before the echo of the last roar had faded, the entirety of the Stalking Ghost Clan had gathered before the Khan’s pavilion.
A soft murmuring of chatter rippled through the congregation as M’khar emerged from the ramada to stand at Ti’han’s side. The old Khr’dun chuffed, thumped the butt of his spear on the ground, and issued a short roar of his own. The buzz of conversation faded, then, and a total of six cubs were ushered to the front of the gathering.
The first cub was a male called Faur’khun, named so in honor of the great Ancestor, Fa’ur’qan. He was a large cub for having seen only seven Turnings, standing a full head taller than any of the others who would join him, and easily outweighing most of them, as well. His size, orange eyes, and the grey fur dark enough to almost match the broad ebon stripes that streaked it though made his lineage easily enough to identify; this was Kh’ur Ti’han’s own son. Faur’khan stood, fiercely proud, before his father, the old Khr’dun, and Khan Jh’gou and growled his respect before sinking to a knee and bowing his head.
Next, another male stomped forward from the crowd and came to a stop, flanking Faur’khan. This one lacked the height of Ti’han’s son but was somewhat broader and heavier. The thin obsidian stripes that rippled through his orange-yellow fur marked him as Rrow’cus, grandson of Rrawdas the smith. His own father, Rraw’qath, had gone to The Hunt only months ago; sent there in a border skirmish with the Far Eye clan. His sire’s death had made an angry cub of him, of late, and it showed in his posture, in the way he held his tail, and in the way his ears seemed perpetually pinned against his head. Even the growl he offered, louder but shorter than Faur’khan’s, seemed to carry more rage than respect when it was offered. It was offered, though, and Rrow’cus took a knee beside Faur’kahn.
A pair of twins followed Rrow’cus in joining the line, then. Each of them had ruddy orange fur banded with jagged, deep brown stripes, and they also shared the same bent tails and yellow eyes. These traits they had inherited from their mother. These were Jh’nkei and Jh’gteth, sons of Majasi, one of the Stalking Ghost clans most honored warriors. As with everything the pair did, they offered their snarls of honor and respect in unison and, then, looked to one another and nodded before they, too, sank to a knee.
A tawny furred female called Z’yama presented herself next. The elegantly jagged streaks of grey in her fur and the piercing ice-blue hue of her large eyes made her readily identifiable as the daughter of Khr’dun M’khar’s apprentice, Majhara. She was shorter and slighter, of course, and her growl of devotion was of a higher pitch than the males who had come before her but she seemed no less ferocious for it. As she bent her knee and bowed her head before the Khan, she also spread her arms wide and bared her claws. This was Mofi, great-granddaughter of M’khar.
Finally, the sixth and last cub to have seen its Seventh Turning scampered forward with such eagerness that he almost overshot the line of his peers. For a male of his age, he was rather small in stature and build, scarcely larger than the female who had preceded him. Unlike the rest who sported fur and markings more common among the clan, this one had fur that bore an almost silvery sheen with glossy black stripes that crackled through it as lightning might cleave a night sky. This cub’s eyes, too, were unusual among the clan; as opposed to the oranges, greens, and yellows that predominated the Stalking Ghosts’ families, this little one had eyes of a crystalline turquoise hue. Half-suppressed snorts of laughter and chuffing sighs of disappointment susurrated in equal measure through the congregation as the odd colored little runt skidded to a stop just shy of breaking the line drawn by his contemporaries.
A thump of M’khar’s spear and a gruff bark from Ti’han quelled laughter and sigh alike, though, and, once the silver-furred cub rectified his position, he didn’t just growl his respect to the council, he roared it. This was Ch’dau, an orphan of the Standing Lightning clan taken to foster and reared to age by Kh’ur Jc’kei and Kh’ur Ak’sha, a mated pair of mid-level warriors in service of Jh’gou. As Ch’dau took his knee alongside Rrow’cus, the smith’s grandson jabbed out an elbow, catching the silver-colored cub in the ribs, nearly upsetting Ch’dau’s balance.
“You will be no kh’ur, p’ka m’dogo,” Rrow’cus taunted under his breath, “When the khr’dun’s blade passes over your head, it will glow brighter than it ever has and you will be fetching leaves and sniffing piss for M’khar the rest of your days.”
“V’yo v’yo’te,” Ch’dau snarled softly in reply, not bothering to return the sidelong glance Rrow’cus had cast his way, “I will be a kh’ur and, Rrowl willing, I will kill or cripple you in doing so.Then you will end up the piss sniffer...” the bold little runt almost laughed, then “...or, worse, you will be better suited for nothing more than wiping Jh’gou’s pu’nda.”
Rrow’cus snarled, ruffled his fur, and bared his teeth. The tip of his tail flicked madly, though he managed to keep it from altogether lashing in anger.
Ch’dau responded in kind, seeing to it that his growl was loud enough to be heard by all in the line, neither did he bother to still his tail nor manage to stop his ears from flattening against his head. In fact, at the other cub’s challenge, Ch’dau allowed his eyes to lift from the ground they were expected to be focused upon and turned his narrowed gaze fully on Rrow’cus. The silver-furred cub didn’t simply bare his teeth, he gnashed them and let loose a threatening bark of a roar.
It frustrated the smith’s grandson that this runt of a foundling challenged him so; thus, Rrow’cus let the volume of his own growl rise and, in an attempt to cow the orphan cub into submission, extended his claws into the earth between their knees…
The Khan, his Khr’dun, and his Kh’ur’a Ju’mla all saw it happening. Ti’han and M’khar both had even taken steps forward before Ch’dau launched himself at Rrow’cus. Neither reached the cubs soon enough to forestall the attack - it all happened too fast - but they did manage to stop the fracas before too much of the clan became aware of it. Ti’han snatched Ch’dau up by the scruff of the neck and ripped him free of the thrashing form of Rrow’cus. At the same time, the old Khr’dun stepped in and leveled the spade shaped tip of his spear at Rrow’cus’ throat.
Confronted with M’khar’s spear, Rrow’cus fell into silence and, immediately ceased his flailing, submitting to the elder kazari’s authority. Conversely, and despite being hoisted forcefully from into the air and having Ti’han’s claw-tips painfully piercing the nape of his neck, Ch’dau continued to rage. The silver-furred cub snarled and roared and tore at the air with his claws as if, somehow, he might manage to wrestle himself free of the warrior’s grip and be allowed to finish his enemy.
Amused and annoyed all at once, Ti’han turned the furious cub in his grasp, determined to glare Ch’dau into obedience when the cub met his eye. Instead, the Kh’ur’a Ju’mla earned a wild slash to the cheek and an impromptu trimming of his whiskers for his trouble. The silver cub’s rage subsided only when Ti’han soundly swatted Ch’dau’s head and flung him violently to the ground at his feet. There was a pained squeak and a rasping moan that came from the silver cub as he thudded to the earth and, then, he lay still, eyes wide and mouth open, gawking dumbly at the broad leaves of the forest’s canopy above as he fought to remember how to breathe.
As he tried to convince the air to fill his lungs. Ch’dau was vaguely aware of M’khar chastising Rrow’cus before, finally, lifting the spear away from the other cub’s throat. He caught glimpses, too, of Rrow’cus returning to his pose of genuflection before the Khan. Then, his vision was filled with the snarling visage of Kh’ur Ti’han as the elder Kazari snatched him up, again, and thumped him forcibly down into a rubbery facsimile of the obeisance he was meant to display.
“This is no time for games, little kitten,” the black Kazari barked once Ch’dau managed a breath, “This is the rest of your life or the day of your death!”
“N’sa’mehe, mwa’limu” the cub wheezed, his head still lolling from the impact with the forest floor. He tried to focus on Ti’han’s eyes but was unable to do so; thus, as his vision had yet to clear, Ch’dau bowed his head again and tried to make sense of the loamy earth between the fuzzy images of his knees.
With a snort in reply, Ti’han stomped away, retaking his position at the edge of the Khan’s ramada. M’khar followed, though not as silently.
“Each of these that you see before you,” the old shaman rasped, addressing the congregated clan, as he strode toward the ramada’s edge, “you see as cubs. For seven turnings have you nursed them, hunted for them, and taught them what it means to be a Kazari of the Stalking Ghost...” regaining his position, M’khar turned and gestured at the kneeling cubs with the blade of his spear “...That each has lived long enough to see this day is an honor to you as much as to them!”
“Tu’li’hsh’miwa!” The clan called back.
“Today, as proclaimed by the tear that falls from Khr’a’s Right Eye,” the khr’dun continued, pointing his spear to where the morning star glittered in the sky beneath the sun, “those lessons are no longer yours to teach! Today, these cubs take their honor and their lives into their own hands!”
“Ni’hs’ma ye’tu!” The chosen cubs chorused.
“Today, with a tear in her eye, K’hra sees them as cubs no longer,” M’khar’s spear lowered, its blade leveled at the cubs before him, “and, beneath the heat of her gaze, and with counsel from the Ancestors, each will be offered their path to the Eternal Hunt!”
“Kw’a un’daji!” the clan answered.
Again, M’khar thumped the butt of his spear into the ground and then nodded to Ti’han. The black-furred warrior stepped forward as the shaman chanted softly under his breath, sprinkling herbs and powders over the blade of his spear. Kh’ur Ti’han positioned himself between the kneeling line of cubs and the rest of the gathered clan and drew his blades. “Life has meaning only in the fight,” he barked, raising his falcata high, “Victory or defeat is in the hands of Rrowl! So, on this day, let us celebrate the fight!”
A collective roar went up from the assembled Kazari and, as that roar’s echo faded into the Twilight Forest, a low chant took its place on the air... “M’sha k’to’ka Keziri… Damu kwa Rrowl…”
The chant continued as M’khar stepped forward once again. The khr’dun whispered to a stop before the line of the chosen and, over the soft, snarling chanting of the clan, he called out; “Khan Jh’gou, Khr’a has seen the paths that these Kazari will follow in service to you and your clan! Will you, too, see what The One has ordained? Will you send these forth, knowing that their honor is owed to you but is now their own?”
From beneath the ramada, Jh’gou answered with three barking roars which, for a moment, drowned out the persistent chanting of the clan.
With the khan’s assent given, Ti’han now turned his back on the chanting Kazari and watched as M’khar padded to one end of the line of cubs. The shaman stood before Faur’khun, muttered something under his breath, and held his spear over the dark-furred cub’s head for a moment. The blade didn’t waiver. “Rise, Kh’ur Faur’khun,” M’khar rumbled, “and take your place beside your Ancestors.” Faur’khun did as he was told and rose to his feet. He crossed his arms over his chest, bowed his head to Khan Jh’gou and, then, left the line to go and stand beside his father as M’khar moved on to the next cub.
Standing before Jh’nkei, now, the old khr’dun repeated his murmured incantation and lowered the spear over the first of Masaji’s sons. As had been the case with Faur’khun, the spear’s blade neither flickered or faltered and, as with the first cub, Jh’nkei was ordered to rise and take his place alongside Ti’hun. Unsurprisingly the divination of M’khar’s spear also identified Jh’gteth as a warrior and, at the shaman’s bidding, he got to his feet, honored his Khan, and went to stand beside his twin, again.
Next, M’khar found himself standing before his own great-granddaughter and, even before he finished his incantation, was sure that he knew what the result would be. Khr’a’s Gift ran strong in his bloodline, after all, and there had been but a few in the past one hundred turnings who had not embraced it or had it denied them. Still, the old Kazari’s ears flicked in anticipation as he lowered the spear over the female cub’s head. As the blade leveled, green and blue sparks danced along its edge before the entirety of it shone a brilliant white, gleaming golden as it illuminated Mofi’s fur. “Rise, Mofi,” the shaman purred, his tail swishing happily, “Keziri calls you to accept Khr’a’s gift. Will you answer?”
Little Mofi’s ears and tail also twitched in expression of her glee. “I will, babu m’kubwa,” she purred in reply. The tawny-furred female honored her Khan just as the males before her had but, rather than taking a place alongside them, she slinked toward the ramada and sank down beside her mother, Majhara, joining the ranks of the khr’dun.
M’khar stood now before the two remaining cubs, Rrow’cus and Ch’dau, whose antics had briefly disrupted the beginnings of this honored ceremony. He offered a snort of irritation and a sigh of resignation, calling upon his spear’s divination, again, as he eyed the two. The invocation complete, M’khar leveled the blade once more and passed it over the cubs’ heads. A gasp of surprise punctuated the chanting of the clan when red and yellow sparks flickered over the speartip as it hovered above Rrow’cus, despite being taken aback himself, though, M’khar waved the clan into silence. As the sparks continued to ripple over the spear and fall down about the angry cub’s shoulders, the old shaman regarded him curiously for a long moment but, rather than commanding Rrow’cus to rise, he simply moved the spear slightly to the left and allowed it to float above the silver-cub.
The sparks faded as the blade passed over Ch’dau, only the gleam of the spear’s honed edge remained, and M’khar nodded faintly. “Rise Kh’ur Ch’dau,” the shaman rumbled, “and count, now, the Ancestors of the Stalking Ghost as your own. Honor us and take your place among our warriors.”
Ch’dau bounded to his feet so quickly that M’khar scarcely had time to move the spear and the rambunctious cub’s head nearly slammed into it as a result. “Blood for Rrowl,” the silver-cub snarled, his arms flashing across his chest in salute to Jh’gou before he scampered off to fall in line beside Faur’khun and the twins.
A look of confusion played on Rrow’cus’ features as he remained, kneeling alone before the Old Khur’dun, and his tail thrashed almost angrily as M’khar sighed heavily and took a few steps away.
“To your feet Rrow’cus, son of Rraw’qath,” the shaman rumbled, punctuating the command with a thump of his spear against the earth, “and face your Khan.”
The bewildered expression etched itself deeper into Rrow’cus’ features as he did as he was ordered and, as his young gaze flicked from the shaman to the Khan and back again, it seemed as if anger had begun to co mingle with confusion. “Am… am I not to be a kh’ur,” he almost demanded, “I am to be a warrior like my sire! I..”
“Silence,” M’khar chuffed, “and hear me!
You will join your brothers at the war camp,” the Khur’daun told the scowling cub, “but it is not your destiny to be a kh’ur. Khr’a has put in you a great fire, Rrow’cus, but it is not the fire of the fight; it is the fire of the forge. As this is so, you will go to k’mbi ya v’ta with these others,” M’khar made a sweeping gesture to the cubs flanking Ti’han, “but you will spend no longer than a turning, there. Long enough to learn the weight and worth of steel and blood. When you have come to know these things, you will leave behind the wa’kh’ur’i and return to the clan. I, then, will teach you to use the spark of Khr’a’s gift that is within you and you will follow your path to the Hunt as m’cha’wi m’weu’si!”
“I do not wish to be a blacksmith,” Rrow’cus fumed, “Khr’a’s gift or not! I have spent enough of my life at the bellows already and…”
“Silence,” M’khar demanded, once again thudding the butt of his spear against the ground for emphasis. “Do you dare, son of Rraw’qath, to dishonor your father with your mewling? Do you dare dishonor your babu, Rrawdas, by demeaning his path?”
“No, Khr’dun,” Rrow’cus said, his tone humbled just a bit, “It is just… How does a p’ka m’dogo orphan like Ch’dau get to join the wa’kh’ur’i and I do not? It is not fair!”
“Si’taku m’jusi,” Ch’dau growled at Rrow’cus’ back, “k’tombat’u!”
The epithet earned the silver-cub another swat to the head from Ti’han and a disdainful glare and challenging growl from Rrow’cus.
M’khar ignored them both. “It is fair,” the shaman rumbled, narrowing his eyes and showing his teeth to the scowling, ochre-furred cub, “or do you also seek to challenge She Who Made Us?!”
Rrow’cus’ shoulders slumped and he hung his head. “I do not mean to dishonor The One,” he pouted, “nor Rrowl or Keziri or my Ancestors...”
“Then honor them,” M’khar demanded, “and honor your Khan! Take your first step on the path before you with pride!”
Chuffing in defeat, Rrow’cus forced his gaze from the ground to meet Khan Jh’gou’s. He made his best attempt at the salute the others had given but, even in this, his dejection was obvious and the salute seemed half-hearted at best. He didn’t even wait for the Khan’s nod of acknowledgement before he turned and trudged to where those who had been chosen as wa’kh’ur’i waited and, as he stomped past the Ch’dau, he made sure to jab an elbow into the silver runt’s chest.
Ch’dau staggered back a step from the impact and snarled Rrow’cus but, rather than attack him again, he allowed the snarl to melt into a snorting chuckle. “Who sniffs the piss now, m’weu’si?”
“I will kill you before the turning is through,” Rrow’cus growled.
“I am not your customer, Jacquelyn, I am your tenant,” Kith dropped the bag of coin into the lovely madam’s palm and grinned, “Though I am paying a pretty copper to be screwed, so,” she shrugged.
A look of shock took the dark-haired woman’s face, “Insulting both the lavish room I’ve allowed you, and at the work of my beautiful girls, your best friends, and I daresay your family? Really?"
Kith rolled her eyes, “I apologize, they are very good at what they do.”
“Well, you would know, wouldn’t you?” the madam smirked back at her adorable travel bodyguard and resident thief, “And yet no apologies for that beautiful room of yours? You know I am wasting money letting you lounge around in there.”
The half-Syl eyed the hefty little pouch she had just handed the madam, “Oh, are you?”
Jacquelyn jostled the bag in her hand, “Yes, in fact,” and she tossed it back to Kithran, who caught it just before it pummeled her in the face, “why don’t you just keep this, hmm? You don’t seem to need us.”
The madam scoffed, “Don’t Jackie me, Kithran, this has been a long time coming.”
“Oh, don’t play coy with me, you little thief.” Her hands went to her hips, accentuated by the cut of the dark blue dress she wore, “I appreciate your work, but I am sick and tired of your blatant disregard and lack of respect for The Silken Favor and those of us who work very hard to maintain it.”
“Jacquelyn, I was just--”
“Jacquelyn, stop playing with her!” An arm wrapped around Kithran’s waist and the curly-haired Meera appeared beside her, surprisingly dressed up for an evening in which she was not working, “It’s just after the Reign now.”
“Is it?” a wide smile spread across the madam’s face, washing away all the ire it cast just a moment ago as she looked back at their tall half-Syl, “Happy birthday, Kithran! I hope you didn’t think I was serious,” she said, as though she would have been very happy if Kith had, “You may keep your coin this month, as my gift to you.”
Kith's eyes grew wide with surprise and comprehension as several more voices called out in celebration to her. The room filled with all of those who lived and worked at the Silken Favor, who were not otherwise preoccupied with clients, and all finely dressed for the occasion. Wine was poured, which Kithran politely declined in favor of ale, and presents were presented. Much of what she received were small, glittering trinkets, like those they had seen whenever they had barged into her room to bother her. Kithran’s room was the only one that never received guests, and so by that logic, was the safest to burst into unannounced--the half-Sylvari’s own privacy be damned.
The trinkets varied in shape and size, most being able to fit in her hands, and all very colorful. Some of the women even boasted, in whispered tones, far out of earshot of Jacquelyn, that they had pilfered the items off of clients in honor of the thief. These were the items Kith cherished the most.
The party continued through the early hours, and only when the clouds in the winter sky began to lighten did Kithran finally, happily, pass out in her lavish room.
Kithran awoke in the afternoon to her door being kicked open violently by the short mistress Alina, who had been one of the otherwise preoccupied residents of The Silken Favor from the night before, unable to enjoy the festivities. This was, perhaps, the reason she was still capable of being so loud.
Kith winced and rolled away from the sound, throwing her thick blankets over her head, “What are you doing?” she called groggily, her voice tinged with sleep and dehydration, “Leave unless you've brought me water.”
“I have, actually,” Alina's light voice chirped now just above the thief, who had apparently fallen asleep in piles of her gifts, “As well as some willow bark for your headache, and breakfast for your birthday.”
“Breakfast?” Kith's head suddenly emerged disheveled from her blankets, trinkets clattering away from her into smaller, glittering pools. She pushed herself up into a sitting position, shoving her new collection aside to make room for the tray Alina had brought her. Free of the confines of her comforter, the aroma filled her nose, and her belly almost immediately growled at her to fill it as well. Normally Kith took rather meager meals at the brothel, running a few blocks away to her favorite pub once it opened if she was feeling particularly peckish. But this: a large link sausage, scrambled eggs, a roll, an apple, and quail eggs! Oh dear did she love quail eggs.
After chugging most of her water, she cut the sausage in half and held one side out at the end of the knife to the short woman, “Thank you for bringing all of this, Alina, care to join me?”
She shook her blonde head, “No, thank you, I’ve already eaten. Twice today, in fact, Kith, it’s well past Mid Solanis already. You’ve wasted most of your birthday!” She sat down in a red plush chair near Kith’s bed and stole the remaining half of sausage off of the thief's plate, despite having just rejected it, “And before you really thank me, Jacquelyn ordered me to bring this to you.” She took a bite. "Though I am, surprised she did not send me up here earlier. You know how she loves to toy with you, regardless of the occasion."
Kith smiled as she chewed, “Then I must remember to thank her again, I suppose. And give that back, you haven't earned it.” She reached for the sausage in her friend’s hand, but Alina shoved the rest in her mouth and chewed with her mouth open to show it off to the slow half-Syl. Kith looked devastatingly disappointed, “Wow, and on my birthday.”
Alina rolled her eyes, “Ah thtill gah you suffing.”
Kithran’s eyes lit up and she tossed two of the quail eggs into her mouth before setting her tray aside. “Chew your food woman, good lord, let’s have it!”
Alina smiled at her excitement, trying not to laugh so she wouldn’t choke or irritate the bruising as she swallowed the rest of the sausage, and pulled a book from her pocket about the size of her hands, “Sorry, it isn’t anything sparkly or colorful or anything.”
Kith took the book, made of thin leather covers that opened to a mass of thin blank pages. She looked back up at Alina, amused, “A journal?”
“Well, technically yes, but I thought you could use it to write your songs, or your ideas for songs.”
She nodded, “Yes, you’re always humming, or repeating a lyric here and there as though you’re trying to memorize it, and I thought this might help.” She hesitated, “Is it ridiculous? Will you not use it? I can go steal something better off a client--”
“No,” Kith grinned at her, “Alina it’s perfect.” She pet the soft leather of the cover and her grin became a reminiscent smile, “My . . . my father used to use something like this for just that reason. Thank you.” She set the book beside her and swung her legs over the side of the tall bed, taking a deep breath.
“What are you doing?” Her friend asked, the cheerful lilt having returned.
“I am going to hug you.”
Alina gasped, “But you don’t do that, Kith.” It was well-known and well-documented that their bodyguard thief was more likely to climb the side of a building to get out of returning a hug then succumbing to it. Once Alina had been in the middle of hugging her, and she had managed to get free by pulling herself up onto the stairwell above and climbing out the window.
“I know,” Kith said now, pushing herself forward to embrace her kind friend.
The blonde mistress stood up and stepped back, “No, I mean, you don’t have to do that.”
Kith also stood up, “I’m going to. And I am much taller and faster than you, so running is futile." She held her arms out robotically, "That was a very sweet gift, I have to hug you.”
Alina backed up further and held up her hands, “I’m serious, Kithran Ikhari, do not touch me.”
Kith stopped, finally noticing the sincerity in her friend’s eyes and tone. Alina was normally one of the first inclined to force an embrace on her. Now she looked almost afraid of her.
Her jaw and fists suddenly clenched, watching Alina's arms wrap protectively around her ribs, as she had seen before with some of the girls whose clients had treated them poorly. “What happened?” she demanded, “Who was it?” She was off to her wardrobe before Alina could even answer.
“No, Kith, stop. It was no one. Nothing." She saw the thief glance back at her arms again and quickly lowered them, "And anyway, you know Jacquelyn said you are not allowed to attack anymore clients. What if she kicks you out for real this time?”
Kith tossed a black shirt on the bed behind her, “Then why did she order you up here, Alina? Of everyone available? So late in the day?”
"Well,” Alina examined her fingers, “I was busy earlier."
"Recovering, I'm sure." She threw her shirt over her head and began tucking it into her black pants, "And though others were available all day, and she'd have loved to disturb my sleep earlier, she waited until you were feeling up to it?"
Alina shook her head, "Kith, thank you for your concern, but--"
"Come hug me then," she stopped tying her leather armor and held out her arms once again, "You love making me hug you and it's my birthday and I demand it. So hug me."
The blonde woman made for the door but Kithran easily leapt in her path. Instead Alina wrapped her arms around herself again and looked away.
Kith sighed, placing her hands on the small woman's shoulders, "I am sorry this happened to you Alina, please let me do something about it. Please let me try to ensure it doesn't happen again."
Alina finally looked up at her pointy-eared friend, "Thank you Kith, but you really cannot. He is a foreign official. He will be very heavily guarded. And a Sendrian, no less."
Kith continued tying up her armor, scoffing in reply, "Your lack of faith in how sneaky I am is insulting, Alina. And on my birthday."
"It's not how successful you've been that worries me, it's your stories of accidents and failures that--"
"It. Is. My. Birthday, Alina."
"And I'd like for you to have another one."
Kithran rolled her eyes, "You've told me they are male, Sendrian, and an official. I can waste time snooping about, but I will figure it out. Or you can fulfill my birthday wish and tell me."
"I thought your wish was for a hug."
"You've missed your window."
"Desmond Jaris. That is his name." She glared at the half-Syl for having been forced to disclose his name, but Kithran had oddly seemed to have stopped paying attention to her.
Kith skirted around the little mistress and rushed to the nightstand beside her bed, ripping open the top drawer and pushing aside a plethora of trinkets until she found an old, crumpled piece of paper. She had memorized the names in Tara's terrible handwriting years ago, but she had to be sure. And, sure enough, there was his name, fourth from the top, Desmond Jaris.
Her hands shook slightly as she gingerly folded the piece of paper again and placed it back into the drawer. Kithran had only shown Jacquelyn the list of names once, the day she had left Calestra with her five years ago. Had she remembered, after all this time?
Tossing her pillow aside, Kith grabbed and sheathed the daggers found underneath and made her way to the window. She opened it and looked back to Alina. The woman was small, blonde, and had a face that could be taken for much younger than she truly was, if that was what someone was looking for.
"Are you alright, Kith?"
She realized she was glaring at her friend while she thought of the torture she wanted to put this man through, "No. Yes, I’m sorry. I'll take care of this." She ducked out the window and stepped onto the ledge, disappearing up above the top of the frame.
Alina stared at the empty space Kithran had disappeared into for just a moment, smiling to herself as she turned to leave, when the thief’s face appeared upside down at the top of the window, her thick black ponytail dangling below the top of her head, "Wait, Alina, after you tell on me, can you please tell Jacquelyn I said thank you?" Her head disappeared for just a second before reappearing in the same place, "And please save my quail eggs for when I get back! Okay bye!"
Alina winced as she laughed at the empty window, and moved to take care of their rambunctious protector's leftover eggs.
1st Day, Dhenns, 447 E.R., Ethryn, Ertain, 22:55
It had been a very long day, and it would be coming to an end fairly soon, Kith hoped as she scaled the side of one of the manors set aside for foreign dignitaries. She halted only once in her climb to admire the king’s palace, rising dauntingly high above her. Kith spent little time in this area of Ethryn, but the palace was omnipresent no matter where in the enormous city she was. And here, in the shadow of the colossal building, it was equally beautiful and intimidating. She would love to climb it one day.
Though she knew from Alina's description where she might find Jaris, Ethryn was not exactly a small city. It was one of the largest, in fact, and there was no guarantee the piece of trash would even be here. And actually, he hadn't been when Kith first arrived that afternoon. Considering how long the trip up this way had been, that realization had been incredibly frustrating.
Additionally, Alina had not been able to join Kithran's party because she had been with him for the entirety of the night. If he intended to have another all-nighter somewhere else, she may have to spend more time, more days tracking him down. And who knew when he would be leaving again for Sendria?
She did have some things in her favor. Though Ethryn was larger even then Calestra, Kithran's work had taken her through every inch of it multiple times over the last five years. She knew all of the shortcuts, hiding places, people to trust, those with information, and those who could obtain information. After some hours of scouting and prodding for that information, she learned Jaris would be here shortly, and with a little company. So perhaps he was planning another horrific all-nighter, at least she knew where he would be.
There were a number of rooftop guards, both on this particular manor, as well as those surrounding it, but with swiftness and timing, she was sure she could either evade or subdue them with little trouble. From there it was simply a matter of slipping in through his window and striking while he was distracted, apologizing to the girl he had ordered, and hoping she would keep herself together amongst all the blood Kith intended to spill. Then Kith would slip out once again.
It was a fairly simple plan.
Kithran finally made the top of the manor, catching her breath and resting her arms for a moment in an alcove she had scouted earlier in the day. From here she would follow the path she had eyed on the left side of the estate. There would be some trickiness to avoiding the guards, but she was quick and her daggers were deadly. All she would need to do was avoid them.
First be quick in your mind, darling.
A small smile touched the corner of her mouth as Tara’s voice echoed in her mind. It had been some time. This is for you, Tara.
Kithran drew her daggers and spun around, peeking beyond the corner for line-of-sight on the guard who would be further along the way. When it appeared the coast was clear, she moved forward. Swift and silent, after years of training and practice, Kith moved along the rooftop with ease, her black leather armor and clothing rendering her nearly invisible to any not seeking a thief on a rooftop.
She ducked behind another ledge and crouched down, her head on a swivel for any sign of the guard on this or any of the other rooftops.
Kithran frowned. There was really nothing. No one. None of the guard from earlier. But that was ludicrous, wasn’t it? Where would they be? Perhaps her contact was wrong and Jaris would not be there that night . . . but there would still be some guards--if not a grand amount on this manor, then certainly one or two on one of the others.
She slowly popped her head up to look fully at what she could see of this roof and those surrounding.
She crouched back down and continued forward, her eyes and ears alert for any sight or sound that seemed out of place. Before her the roof slanted up a short way, and then down again on the other side. Below that would be the window through which she would attack the asshole. But as she silently climbed to the top of the slant, another dark figure appeared, crouched in the place Kith would have perched before climbing into the room, and with a massive sword strapped to their back. Before she could react the figure dropped down and Kith leapt over, sliding low down the other side of the slanted roof, no longer worried about the noise she made, and let herself fall over the side, catching herself by her hands and swinging into the open window.
She wanted to be the one to kill him. She had to be. Kith landed softly on the decorative rug inside the room, and all inside immediately noticed her.
Jaris looked at her wide-eyed over the rag that was held tightly in his mouth from behind by a curly-haired woman in a scarlet dress. She stood on the ornate bed, her hands white as she gripped the rag holding the man back. His lecherous eyes winced in pain as the massive sword of a muscular woman with her back to Kith came down across his chest, though it stopped halfway through its course as its wielder noticed her accomplice startled by something behind her.
Kith’s eyes grew wide as she slowly stood up, hardly willing to believe her eyes as she stared back at the curly-haired mage, but unable to deny who she was seeing, “Esme?”
The maiden looked back at her, squinting as though she could not believe her eyes either, “By Fortune’s Smile . . . Kithran?”
The larger woman spun around at the name, and Kith’s shocked expression bounced from Esme to Serena and back again.
The maidens were here.
In their hesitation, Jaris shoved his head backward into the mage’s stomach, and lurched forward, away from the terrifying warrior beside him. Before either could react, Kith threw a dagger into his achilles, causing him to fall forward onto the carpet. He rolled over and cried out in pain, but Kithran was already on him, having sprinted past the others.
“Sir!” A muffled voice called through the door, “A’ ye a’right in there?!”
Kith looked up and grinned, seeing the maidens had already barricaded the door, then dropped her gaze again to the man pleading for his life beneath her. This man, who had been one of many responsible for ruining Tara’s life.
Heedless of his begging, bribing, and blubbering, Kithran pressed the tip of her blade into his neck, leaning forward, “For Tara, and for the countless other lives you’ve destroyed.” And she drove her dagger down hard into his jugular, tearing the blade down toward her as she withdrew it and jumped away. She watched his throat gurgle with blood until it stopped altogether.
A tugging at her arm drew her gaze away from the dead man, and she noticed how much louder the pounding and shouting had become on the other side of the door. Kith turned to the mage beside her, who had pulled her other dagger free of the man’s ankle and now held it out to her. She wiped it quickly before putting it away, “Thank you Esme.” Serena's sprinting toward the window caught her eye and she nodded in her direction, “Should we head after her, then?”
Esme smiled and shook her head, wrapping an arm around Kithran’s waist before she could protest, and pulled her wand free of her pocket, “Far too much trouble, I think.” With a wave Kith felt her stomach yanked forward and up, and with one last jolt her feet crashed down onto the rooftop.
The mage tightened her grasp on the disoriented half-Syl until she sorted herself out, then fully wrapped both arms around her, “Kithran! I can’t believe it’s you! I haven’t seen you since . . . since Tara.” Kithran winced at the memory and Esme pulled away, “Serah said she had seen you once some years ago, and that you were enormous.”
A laugh escaped Kithran, despite herself, “Enormous?”
“Hey!” Serena called from a rooftop over, “We need to move!”
Kith looked down at the dress the Esme was wearing, “Think you can manage?”
Esme rolled her eyes and dashed toward the ledge, leaping across the space there and expertly tumbling into a crouch on the other side, “You think only a thief can run around rooftops?” She called to a much taller Kith than she remembered, and waved her over, “Come along now, Kithran!”
There was more movement from within the manor below her. There was shouting and the clanking of weapons and armor, but Kith’s grin remained wide as she soared across the alleyway to join her two old friends, and grew at the look of pride they had for her when she landed.
Serena clapped her shoulder, “It’s good to see you again, Kithran. And happy birthday. Now, let’s go find the others.” With that she turned and sprinted away once again, an equally congratulatory Esme, and a speechless Kith behind her.
“I can’t believe you found us! And on your birthday!” Esme chuckled as they jogged along, “Shinara truly has some odd plans for you, Kithran. Where have you been for the last five years?”
Kith hid her scoff at the mention of that worthless goddess, “A brothel.”
Esme choked and Serena nearly stumbled, “What--”
She waved Esme’s question away, “The list, Tara’s list, have you gotten to any of the others on it?”
“One, two, and three,” Serena called from in front of them, “You took out number four tonight, which leaves five more left on the list.”
“Yes,” Esme added, in the more pessimistic tone Kith had been used to hearing out of her as a kid, “but they become increasingly more difficult to find or get near as the list goes on.” She smiled again at Kith, and the trio slowed to a fast walk, now that they had put several blocks between them and the manor, “We could use a thief, Kithran.”
The young half-Syl grinned and Esme’s heart warmed at the sight. It had been so long, and she and the others had been so worried for her. When Tara was murdered, each of them took it as their collective duty to take care of her from then on, but other then Serah, the rest of the maidens hadn’t seen more than a glimpse of her Kithran for ten years. She had evaded them completely in Coria, and after Serah had told them she had run away, they didn’t think they would ever see her again. They had felt as though they had failed both Tara and her. Yet here she was, that same blinding grin on her face she had had as a child running after her mentor through the halls of the Long Gamble.
Kithran herself couldn't believe what had become of her day. The maidens, here, fighting along with her. It was all she had truly wanted as a kid. The feeling of seeing them again now, talking with them, it was something she hadn't expected she would ever have the chance to do again, or even want, and she was surprised to find how happy she was to have been so wrong on both accounts.
Her smile wavered. She couldn’t stay with the maidens. She didn’t want to. She didn’t like what their god had allowed done to Tara for her entire life, and she didn’t want to be ruled by what the Laughing Maidens deemed best for her. And she absolutely did not want to follow them back to Coria.
“I’m sorry,” Kith slowed to a stop, “I can't be your thief.”
The two maidens also stopped and turned back to her. Esme frowned, "Why not? We can help each other, we can take those names off Tara's list together."
Kithran winced again at her name, and shook her head, smiling sadly back at them, "I don't want to. I don't want to go with the maidens. I want to go alone."
The dark-haired girl held her hand up to stop any further protest, and took a step back, "I'm sorry. Tell Serah and the others that I miss them. And . . . please don't tell my dad, about this, what I've done, where I am . . . who I am."
"Oh, your father!" Esme's face brightened suddenly in the darkness, "Kithran, you ha--"
"Stop!" She urged, "I don't want to know, I'm not going back. It's too hard to hear about it. I don't want to know." She took another step back toward the Silken Favor.
“I said stop!” She shouted. Her eyes began to sting and she hated herself for it, “I don’t want to know.” She turned and headed back to the far ledge, “Bye.”
Esme watched her, defeatedly, as she climbed over the side of the building, and turned back to Serena, who maintained her pointed gaze at the place Kithran’s black ponytail had disappeared below. “That went terribly,” the mage said, following the other on.
“She should know about her family,” the tall maiden grumbled, “maybe she'd stop this foolishness and finally go home.”
Esme scoffed, "That one? Since when has she ever not reacted foolishly to anything?"
Serena shook her head, "She’s too much like Tara."
"Not enough like her, really. Tara was hot-headed, but at least she trusted us. That one though," she jerked her head to the side, "Fortune knows what she wants.” They continued in silence for some time, both lost in their memories, until Esme’s voice cut through the crisp winter air once more, “How old is she today?”
The burlier maiden looked up, counting the time in years since they had last seen the half-Syl, "Twenty-three."
Esme smiled sweetly at the thought of her childish face, in spite of the sadness she felt for having lost their girl once again, “Happy birthday, darling."
Serena grinned, repeating with Tara's Sendrian inflection, "Daaaaarling!"
2nd Day, Dhenns, 447 E.R., Ethryn, Ertain, 01:27
Kithran’s bag was full. She took what trinkets she could spare the room for, but she would be leaving much behind. It was incredible to her that she could unknowingly accumulate so much. One part of her wasn’t so surprised, as it was part of her daily routine to swipe items from unsuspecting people, but so was selling off the knick knacks for coin.
She sighed, knowing that when they cleaned this room out, they would find a plethora of things that did not belong to her. They could, however, earn a nice little sum for the Favor if they sold the lot, and Jacquelyn would finally be able to put the room to good use again. The next occupant was sure to find some of her more clever hiding places, though Kithran did keep the most expensive items for herself, as well as her new notebook.
Kith went to her window and looked back at the lavish room and the comfortable life Jacquelyn had provided for her over the last five years. She would miss them all, and it was upsetting that she could not be around to keep them safe, but she had spent too much time here. She had been only seventeen when she had left Calestra with the madam, nearly eighteen, but aimless nonetheless.
Now though, now she was stronger, smarter, ready finally to pursue the rest on Tara’s list. She killed Jaris tonight, but the maidens had already taken care of the three before him, and she couldn’t let them have all the fun, could she? There were more of them, but Kithran was stealthier, craftier, and she’d like to see Serah tell an outright lie without giggling uncontrollably. She smiled at the thought.
With one last look, Kithran climbed out of the Silken Favor one last time, and began her trek to Sendria.
Posted on 2020-01-13 at 22:59:24.
Edited on 2020-01-14 at 17:35:36 by breebles
Reralae Dreamer of Bladesong Karma: 139/12 2437 Posts
The Near Encounter
383 E.R, Yaanasul
It had been a couple years since their graduation, so to speak, but Aranwen and Saeriel had only begun to become acquainted with their patrol route around Mealamain. They couldn't help but feel more tense around the western side of their patrol, given it bordered other kingdoms, but neither of them could deny that it was certainly never uninteresting. Most recently, they answered a call for help to fend off some predators that were attacking a merchant convoy. As the convoy moved on, Saeriel and Aranwen stayed behind a moment.
Saeriel sighed, watching where the remaining wildcats had fled back into the forest as she sheathed her blade, "I would rather we didn't have to do that," she observed, "They're just seeking food, after all."
"It can't really be helped," Aranwen replied, checking her vambrace where she had interjected it against an oncoming bite, and frowning at the damage to the leather straps, "Horses would be quite a catch for predators like those."
"Still, I do wonder if a member of Adaron's clergy could have resolved this without it coming to that," Saeriel murmured, indicating the slain cat on the road.
"Maybe. But we're not priestesses, Sae. We can only do what we can," Aranwen reassured Saeriel, reaching over to hold her hand.
Saeriel nodded, a gentle smile returning to her face, "Yes... you're right, Ara."
"Now then, shall we make certain that the convoy has made its stop at Yaanasul?" Aranwen asked.
"Yes. It'll be a nice place for us to rest too, this evening," Saeriel smiled, "We've been on the forest paths a long time."
Aranwen and Saeriel followed the path of the convoy to Yaanasul, a quiet little town in the forest. After checking in with the town guard, they walked onto the paths. Saeriel's gaze tilted upward at the sunset flickering through the tree canopy above, painting the leaves deep colours, and she smiled.
"Wonder if we can find a spot where we can see the stars," Saeriel murmured curiously.
Aranwen chuckled, wrapping an arm around Saeriel, "I thought the idea tonight was to get a good rest indoors this time," she smiled, her golden eyes sparkling with mischief, "Though, how much rest might depend on how much you want," she whispered.
Saeriel blushed lightly, leaning beside Aranwen, "That... does sound lovely."
Together, they approached the inn, but Saeriel suddenly stopped, pulling Aranwen back from the door. Aranwen looked at Saeriel with a raised brow, her head tilted in concern as she saw Saeriel rubbing her forehead, "What's wrong?"
"I'm getting... a bad feeling," Saeriel replied, her voice quiet and barely audible in the evening breeze whistling through the trees, "Like there's a chill..."
Aranwen frowned, "I don't feel anything, Sae, though you've always been more sensitive to the coming of winter. Do you see anything?"
Saeriel shook her head as her violet eyes refocused on Aranwen's golden eyes, "I didn't see anything. It was as if there was going to be a vision or something, but it was just black for a moment."
Aranwen looked back to the inn, before nodding to herself and taking a step back, "Let's camp nearby instead, then."
"We could see if there's another place to stay," Saeriel offered.
Aranwen shook her head, smiling softly at Saeriel, "I trust your feelings. Besides, maybe we will find a spot we can see the stars..."
* * *
Inside, at one of the tables, a sandy-haired little girl lay on the lap of her mother, stirring now and then and twitching in her peaceful slumber. Her mother was a noble looking woman with sharp features, long blond hair that curled about her face and framed it well with a violet jeweled circlet. She wore a red silken dress, embroidered with white threads in patterns reminiscent of a beautiful spider's web. Her gaze lingered on the door to the outside, even as she listened to the man opposite her with one hand gently combing through the sleeping girl's hair.
"- are you listening?" The man she had been in conversation with asked.
The woman turned to him and nodded, "Yes, I am," she replied, "And I think you may find that for how far I've travelled, the wares in my carriage are well worth..."
... The mercantile negotiations continued well into the evening.
Posted on 2020-01-16 at 15:48:41.
Edited on 2020-01-16 at 16:15:00 by Reralae
Eol Fefalas Keeper of the Kazari RDI Staff Karma: 458/28 8309 Posts
Flashback: Cub'dau - The First Test
8th K’pita Jua, M’sha K’Jani, Ku’ge’ka 3003
(8th Day, Iteran, 435 E.R.)
Range of the Stalking Ghost Clan; Twilight Forest; Capasha
Following the Ritual of Choosing, Ch’dau and the other cubs destined for the K’mbi Ya V’ta were allowed the remainder of the day with their families. It was a time meant for saying goodbyes and swearing personal oaths to the elders who had reared them; a time for having one last meal and one last place to sleep prepared for them; and a time for letting go of all the things they had not made for themselves. After this night, they would be cubs no longer and, as such, they were expected to begin life anew and with nothing but what they themselves had earned. Their places in the clan would no longer be determined by the heritage or hierarchy of their kin but, rather, by the strength of their own spirits. That strength would be continually tested, now and until such a time as they were called to join the Ancestors in The Eternal Hunt.
The following day, even before Khr’a’s Right Eye opened on the Twilight Forest, the first test for the newly chosen wa’kh’ur’i had been prepared. When Ch’dau and the others joined Kh’ur Ti’han beneath the banyan tree, each of them found a heavy, elephant-hide pack awaiting them. The packs were sewn shut and each weighed at least as much as the cub who was to carry it.
“All that you will need to find your way on the warrior’s path,” Ti’han had told them as he motioned for the cubs to take up the packs, “can be found within the m’koba you have been assigned.” The big Kh’ur’a Ju’mla’s ears and tail flicked in what have been amusement as he watched the younglings struggle to shoulder the things. “You will carry your m’koba at all times,” he continued, “and will set it down only when and if I command it. Also, you will not open your m’koba until we have reached the k’mbi ya v’ta or if I command it. Failure to abide by these two, simple rules will result not only in dishonor upon your name but, also, in punishment that, by Rrowl’s teeth, you do not want visited upon you. Am I understood?”
“Yes, khan,” the cubs grunted in unison under the weight of their packs as they gathered around Ti’han.
“N’zuiri,” Ti’han rumbled, pacing the line the chosen wa’kh’ur’i had formed. “The camp is a four day march into J’kal’s Jaw,” he continued, “but, if you believe you can keep my pace and keep your m’koba in doing so, I think we might make it in three. What say you?”
Some of the cubs, already straining and swaying beneath their burdens, looked uncertain but, regardless, answered as Ti’han expected; “As you say, khan!”
“Hmm,” Kh’ur Ti’han’s smirk was tinged with skepticism, “we shall see.”
He motioned for the young warriors-to-be to turn around, then, and, as they did, a familiar form emerged from behind one of the banyan’s twisted roots. Ch’asi One-Paw was yellow eyed, tall and lanky, with bronze fur chased through with curling stripes of dark-brown. He had been a kh’ur, once, as evidenced by the single falcata that hung from the broad belt of his dak’tar but, many Turnings ago, he had lost his left arm just below the elbow to the poisonous bite of a Sleeth. The bite had cost him his arm but the infection that followed sapped his strength and, some said, his sanity. Even though he fought his way through the sickness, Khan Jh’gou felt that Ch’asi would never again be able to survive the battlefield and, so, since that time, and despite having no hint of Khr’a’s Gift, Ch’asi had kept with the ranks of the clan’s khr’dun where he had learned the art of healing and served as one of Jh’gou’s most trusted advisors.
“Ch’asi will serve as khr’dun on our s’firi,” Ti’han said as the younglings saluted the older Kazari, “Just as you now refer to me as khan, you will refer to him as either khr’dun or uw’ngo. His word is mine, yes?”
“As you say, khan,” the young warriors chorused. They repeated their salute of the khr’dun and, in one voice, said; “Kr’ibu, Ch’asi Uw’ngo!”
“Sa’lama,” Ch’asi returned, tipping his spear in the direction of the cubs, “M’sha k’to’ka Keziri.”
“Damu kwa Rrowl,” the cubs answered.
“Blood for Rrowl, indeed,” the khr’dun chuffed, leaning heavily on his spear as he moved closer and scrutinized the cubs for a long moment, “There will be plenty of that in the seasons to come, little warriors, spilled by you and from you in equal measure, I think…”
Rrow’cus snorted derisively. “My blood will never be spilled,” he grumbled under his breath, drawing narrow-eyed glares from both Ti’han and Ch’asi.
“Then you are no Kazari,” the khr’dun pointedly retorted, “and, so, will never be a kh’ur!”
“He will not,” Jh’nkei half-chuckled and half-grunted, shifting the weight of his pack on his shoulders, “Rrow’cus is to be m’cha’wi m’weu’si.”
Jh’gteth’s ears flicked in amusement and he, too, chuckled at the barb his brother had aimed at the smith’s grandson.
Rrow’cus’ tail stood up and bristled and a low growl welled in his throat as he glared in the direction of the twins.
“Not without spilling his own blood,” Ti’han snapped, cuffing Jh’nkei behind the ear for the intended slight and doing the same to Jh’gteth for daring to laugh along with his twin.
“Your khan speaks the truth,” Ch’asi nodded, “there is as much blood spilt upon the forge as on the field, little ones. Blades are forged from it, after all, and how can one know how to craft a blade if one has never been cut by one, hmm?”
The khr’dun waved down any presumed responses to his question as he stalked along the line and came to a stop before the silver-furred cub who seemed to be struggling just to stand with the weight of the pack on his shoulders. He watched the foundling stagger and sway for a moment, then, with something of a knowing expression painting his features, let his yellow eyes skim over the others. “This one,” he said, lightly tapping Ch’dau’s chest with the butt of his spear and causing the silver cub to stagger back a step, “already knows more of what it means to be a kh’ur than most of the rest of you might learn in a turning.”
All along the line, looks of shock, disbelief, and, perhaps, indignation painted themselves on the young warriors’ faces.
“Ch’dau?” Faur’khan asked incredulously. “Forgive, uw’ngo,” he continued in the wake of scowls he received from his father and Ch’asi, “but I have handed that runt his own tail more than once…”
“Hmph,” Rrow’cus interjected with a snort and a sneer, “we all have.”
“...How can he already know more about being a kh’ur than the rest of us?”
“How can he not,” Ch’asi asked in return, watching as Ch’dau struggled back into his place in the line and angrily hitched his pack higher on his shoulders. “He has already spilled more blood than the rest of you combined.”
“Most of it his own,” Jh’gteth quipped.
“Perhaps,” the khr’dun nodded faintly, offering a shrug, “but, in doing so, he has already learned how to bleed more than you others, has he not? And I ask you all, little kittens, when have you ever handed Ch’dau his tail and known him to accept it willingly? Has he ever purposely shown you his belly?”
Faur’khan’s gaze turned to Ch’dau, then, and he considered the defiant, blue-green glare that met him in return. Then, with something of a newfound respect for the runt, he offered a shake of his head. “No, uw’ngo,” Ti’han’s son confessed, “he has not.”
Murmurs of agreement wafted from the line, then, some, perhaps, with a more dejected inflection than others. Ch’dau chuffed, snorted, and then grunted as he fought against the weight of his pack again.
“I thought not,” Ch’asi smirked, padding around the line to come to a stop behind the silver cub, “nor do I expect that ever he will.
This runt, as you call him, whose blood you have all spilled, is battle-born, after all. That is an honor that none of the rest of you can claim, is it?”
A susurration of astonishment rippled along the line as all eyes turned to regard the equally surprised Ch’dau. “What,” the bewildered cub blinked, wrestling his pack in order to turn and gawk up at Ch’asi, “Battle-born? Me?”
“Mm,” the khr’dun nodded, “You were not found after a battle, little one, you were born into it. Jc’kei and Ak’sha did not tell you?”
“No,” Ch’dau shook his head.
“Then, perhaps, I will,” Ch’asi chuckled, turning away and moving to stand beside Ti’han, “but not now. Khr’a’s Right Eye climbs higher in the sky and we have wasted enough time with words.”
Kh’ur Ti’han nodded to Ch’asi, then turned his gaze back on the chosen. “Wa’kh’ur’i,” he barked, snapping the cubs’ attention to him, “ku’ende’lea!”
“Ku’ende’lea!” the young warriors barked back.
At that, Ti’han broke into a run, sprinting nimbly through the forest toward where the foothills of J’kal’s Jaw awaited. His charges, weighed down by their packs, chased behind him and, behind them, Ch’asi jogged along, chuckling to himself as he watched the silver-furred runt overtake the ever-angry Rrow’cus.
“Battle-born or not,” Rrow’cus snarled as Ch’dau rushed by him, “I will still kill you before the turning is over, p’ka m’dogo!”
“You cannot kill me,” Ch’dau laughed, suddenly unaware of the weight of the pack on his shoulders, “I am already dead!” The silver-cub flicked his tail tauntingly at Rrow’cus and then left him behind, his little legs churning as he surged forward on the heels of the twins.