Eol Fefalas Keeper of the Kazari RDI Staff Karma: 462/28 8466 Posts
Hidden Corruption: Aftermath
22nd Pfier (Merday), 453 E.R. Gates of the village of Crandel
"Tha's tha, then," Captain Malk stated flatly. "Gods protec' us," The captain made a sign to ward off evil as as spoke, "and ye as well. Wilf 'ere 'as some provisions fer yer trip; Mort winnae 'ear of takin' a single falchon fer tha lot. Safe travels to ya."
Ch’dau nodded faintly, his gaze travelling to the wagon upon which a portion of those provisions had been loaded and lingering, for a long moment, on the cloaked form of the broken bladesinger who sat, almost catatonic, on the buckboard. “Our thanks, rrow’ka,” the kazari sighed heavily, turning his eyes back to Malk and resting a paw on the man’s shoulder, “for all that you and the people of this village have done. Thank Mort for me, again, too, yes?”
“I’ll do jus’ tha, Ch’dau,” Malk answered, his own gaze flitting back from his regard of the Syl woman as he smiled, almost sadly, up into the cat-man’s eyes, “an’ if you lot e’er find yerselves back this way, I’ll be sure ta fergit bout th’ beast-tax an’ peace knots, eh?”
“That would be appreciated, Captain,” the kazari chuffed – it was the first time in weeks that even the hint of a chuckle had played in his voice. He glanced over his shoulder, again, taking in the sight of Gib and Cedric standing beside the wagon, a goodly portion of the provisions weighing their packs. “I do not think that Aranwen and I will be back through here any time soon, though.”
“A shame, tha,” Malk sighed, “but I reckon I un’erstand. Ya take care o’ her, aye? An’ yerself?”
“I will,” Ch’dau nodded, “And you continue taking care of Crandel, yes?”
“O’ course. I’ll send word should anythin’ go awry.”
“You do that,” the kazari rumbled, clasping Malk’s forearm and, then, turned to make his way to the wagon. Gib turned as Ch’dau approached, offering a wan smile and a curt nod; Cedric, though, kept his attentions on Aranwen, speaking to the withdrawn Syl in soft tones despite the fact that she didn’t respond.
“You’re sure about this, my friend,” Gib queried, glancing first at the gates and then at where Aranwen was perched before turning his eyes back on his kazari friend, “You would be an asset in our search, I’m sure.”
The hint of a smile tugged at the corners of Ch’dau’s mouth, too, but he sighed and nodded. “I am sure, friend Gib,” he replied, gesturing vaguely at where Ara sat, “Our khatun is… broken… by what has happened. I need to be an asset to her, right now. Take her somewhere that she can collect herself and, at last, realize that she has not failed us the way she thinks.”
He offered an uncertain shrug at that and met the war-priest’s moss-colored eyes; “Perhaps, by the time your search bears fruit, she will be ready once again.”
“We can hope,” Gib nodded, “and we will pray.”
“As will I.”
“Where will you go,” the cleric of Therassor asked, then, “do you know?”
Ch’dau nodded. “She has spoken to me, from time to time, of a village to the east of the Three Kingdoms that has long held some charm for her,” he said, “Meadowbrook, she called it. I think we will go there.”
“Then that is where we shall look for you when we have news,” Gib sighed, falling into step beside the kazari as he continued toward the wagon, “By the Honored General’s grace, it shouldn’t be long.”
“I truly hope not,” Ch’dau returned, “Time is not a thing we have an abundance of, now. Any of us.”
“A fact of which I am sorely aware, my friend,” Gib nodded faintly and, as they reached the cart, tapped Cedric lightly on the shoulder, “We’ll be sure not to waste a minute.”
Cedric turned and blinked, his young face showing far more age than it had even two weeks ago, now. “So,” he smiled sadly, “you’re really going, then?”
“We are,” Ch’dau confirmed, his blue-green eyes flicking past the son of Solanis to Aranwen and back, “I believe we have to… for now, at least.”
Cedric’s smile melted into a frown for an instant but, soon enough, he nodded, and the smile returned. “I suppose so,” he said softly, “We’ll miss the both of you, you know?”
A soft purr rumbled in the kazari’s chest and he reached out a paw to haul the young cleric into a crushing embrace. “And we will miss you, v’dogo t’mbili,” he replied, tousling Cedric’s hair before releasing him from the hug, “but I am also sure we will see you soon.”
“You know where you’re going, then?”
“He does,” Gib confirmed as Cedric took a step away from the cart, “we’ll find him easily enough when the time comes.”
“You damn well better,” Ch’dau smirked, reaching out, now, to pull Gib into his arms, “I will be waiting. We will be waiting.”
Gib returned the big cat’s hug and added a few, solid claps on the back before letting go. “Very soon,” he promised. “You mind yourself out in the world, Ch’dau, and take good care of her,” he nodded to where Aranwen hid beneath her cloak, “and the time will pass before you know it.”
Ch’dau nodded, perhaps smiled a bit, and then climbed up onto the buckboard beside Ara. “The two of you mind yourselves, as well,” he said, taking up the reins, “I shall be watching for you.”
The two clerics took a few more steps back, then, and, as the kazari flicked the reins and urged the mules on, lifted hands to bid one more farewell to the Silver Cat of Coria and the Sylvari woman, as the cart clattered away through Crandel’s gates.
As the town receded behind them, Aranwen, her golden eyes almost muddy, now, and rimmed with red, finally turned and peered at Ch’dau from beneath the hood of her cloak. “Where are we going?”
“Meadowbrook,” Ch’dau answered softly, “That is where you have told me you wish to go, is it not?”
She nodded and a shuddering sigh escaped her as she leaned in and buried her face in his fur. “Thank you, melamin,” she shuddered, her voice cracking, “for not forsaking me after… after…”
“Shhhh, m’penzi,” he purred, wrapping an arm around her and cradling her against him as she sobbed anew, “I would never forsake you. Just as you have never forsaken us.”
“She’s… gone…” Aranwen’s wracking sobs were muffled by her face being pressed into Ch’dau’s chest, “I’ve failed her… failed you… all is… lost…”
Her pain was his, as well, but, for Aranwen’s sake, Ch’dau couldn’t let himself wallow in his own perceived failings. Instead, he could only pull her closer and nuzzle her reassuringly as he purred softly. “This is no more your fault than mine, dear one,” he said, stroking her hair where her hood had spilled back, “We will find her, Ara, and bring her home where she belongs. I promise you this, yes?”
Her slender fingers twisted in his fur, at that, and he felt her face twist against his chest as if she were turning her eyes to his. When he looked down to meet them, though, her golden gaze was obscured by the chaotic spill of her oaken hair and a makeshift mask created by the rumpling fabric of her cowl. “You can’t,” she insisted hoarsely, “You can’t promise that! I couldn’t keep her safe and neither could you! How can you promise to bring her home when we don’t even know where she is?!”
Ch’dau had no answer for that. At least, no answer that the broken bladesinger would benefit from hearing, now. He stifled a sigh as he lifted a hand to gently stroke the hair and hood from her face, leaned over a bit to kiss the stream of tears from her cheek, and, then, nestled her still closer to him as his eyes turned back to the road ahead. “I can promise it, my love,” he muttered after a moment, “because Khr’a saw fit to keep me alive to see it happen…”
The last moments he had seen Kithran’s face, detached and disinterested as she had run him through with Aranwen’s own blade, played in his mind, then, and he finished the thought without letting the words fall upon her ears. Even if I have to kill her, he mused, his heart breaking at even having to imagine such a thing, I will bring her home.
…He cradled her head in one massive paw, pressing her back into the scar-streaked fur of his chest, then, and purred softly, evenly. “Rest now, m’penzi,” he rumbled gently over the purring, “we have a long road ahead of us and you need not think of these things for a time.”
Posted on 2019-12-11 at 12:02:49.
Eol Fefalas Keeper of the Kazari RDI Staff Karma: 462/28 8466 Posts
Journey to a new beginning
12th Ternoth Ore, 453 E.R. The Outskirts of Calestra, Coria
Their route had led them, roughly, along the course of the Thrace river, skirting wide past the Lake of Heroes, the rutted track splitting the land evenly between that lake and the walls of Mycen Castle. As dusk settled over Coria, the kazari driving the cart reined in the mules just as the road crested a hill, providing an expansive view of the eminent trade-city of Calestra, just a few miles distant.
He had vague recollections of the city, of course – Castle Greymonte, the home of his mercenary company, was nestled behind its walls, after all – but it was not his own memories of the place that gave him pause, now. No, he imagined the Wyverns would take him in, again, should he drive the cart up to the castle and ask sanctuary for Aranwen and himself, especially if Roddric still lived and was posted there. Rather, it was the tales of her own time in the city that Kithran had shared with him that had coaxed him to a stop atop this knoll. He couldn’t help but wonder, as he watched the lamps flicker to life, in window and along walk, if he might find his kibibi’s true father in the market… or, if he might encounter one of the Laughing Maidens on the streets, who might share stories of a dark eyed, dark haired girl who had been such a delight to their company all those years ago…
I will bring her home, he sighed inwardly, vainly hoping that the unspoken words would reach whomsoever may need to hear them.
…Even more than chancing upon Randel Aldeath or one of Shinara’s flock, though, Ch’dau worried at crossing paths with another bladesinger. He didn’t know if word of the happenings in Ertain had made it this far, as yet, of course, but, even in the weeks that had passed, he was sure that Aranwen was not yet ready to face, let alone accept her place in, her order. She didn’t need that kind of scrutiny, just now, he was sure, and he wasn’t prepared to subject her to it no matter how remote the chance.
The skies grew darker and the lights of the city began to flicker like stars as the shadows deepened. The sigh that escaped him, too, stretched out into a yawn, then, and he glanced back into the bed of the cart where Aranwen slept, for a change, curled in a pile of blankets amidst what remained of their supplies. “I think this is as far as we go, tonight, m’penzi,” he purred softly before clucking his tongue and taunting the mules off the road.
He drove the wagon to the fringes of the forest to the left of the track, then, and spent some time setting up a simple camp beneath the canopy. Once he had loosed the mules from the cart and tended their needs, Ch’dau climbed into the back of the wagon, scooped the sleeping Syl up in his arms, and carried her to the small tent at the forest’s edge. As he lay her down on the bedroll, he felt her stir, and her arms went around his neck, keeping him close for a moment.
“Where are we, now,” she asked, her voice weary and still not quite fully awake.
“Calestra,” he purred softly, easing her onto the bedding without breaking her hold on him, “nearly.”
“I don’t want to go into the city,” she moaned, her eyes opening to narrow slits as they peered up into his.
“I know, love,” he nodded, stroking her cheek before lifting a hand to gently pry her grasp loose, “This is why I have made us a camp under the trees, hmm?”
“Diola lle, melamin,” she whispered, her eyes fluttering shut again at his tender attentions, “I…I just…”
“Shhh,” the kazari purred, “I know… I know…” His hand abandoned her cheek just long enough to draw the tent flaps closed and, then, he lay down beside her, readily accepting her as she scooted closer and nestled into him. “Come the morning, I will go into the city and make sure we have what we need for the rest of our trip, yes?
You can stay here and, when I am finished, we will be on our way, again. We will not even take the road through. We will go around instead.”
“Okay,” she sighed, nuzzling into him as she drifted back into her rest. “Will you… look for her, there?”
“Of course, Ara,” Ch’dau answered, wrapping her in his arms and coaxing her deeper back into her troubled sleep, “as I do wherever we stop, yes?”
“Quel esta, melamin,” he purred, “dawn will be on us soon enough.”
Posted on 2019-12-11 at 19:17:28.
Eol Fefalas Keeper of the Kazari RDI Staff Karma: 462/28 8466 Posts
She had struggled to find that peaceful place in her slumber for a while. She had tossed, turned, cried out, and simply cried in those first hours he had held her and tried to soothe her. After a time, though, as it had been for the past weeks, Aranwen became exhausted in the fighting of her memories and drifted away, once again, into stillness and quiet. For a while after she had found her peace, Ch’dau lay there with her, cradling the Syl woman against him and finding some small bit of tranquility in the soft, even breaths that blew through his fur. For him, though, sleep didn’t come, and, after an hour or so of staring up at the fabric of their tent and trying to lose himself in the ebb and flow of Ara’s peaceful breathing, the kazari found himself too restless to be still any longer.
Slowly, quietly, he slipped himself from beneath her, replacing his bulk, bit by bit, with piles of blankets and furs that she clung to just the same. Finally, nestling a particularly folded pelt beneath her head even as he held it in the exact position it had rested on his chest, he slid fully from under the broken bladesinger and pushed her hair from her cheek before softly kissing her there and, then, slipping out into the night air beyond the tent flaps. The mules started to bray at his appearance, but he silenced them with the faintest of growls, nodding as the stilled their racket and went back to chewing the oats he had spread beneath their tethers.
“Hm,” he grumbled, stalking to the very edge of the forests canopy. He stretched, turned his eyes toward the walls of Calestra, and blinked at the few lights that still glimmered beyond. After a moment of contemplating those earth based stars, he turned his gaze to the heavens and studied the older ones, there, for a while, before he met Khr’a’s left eye, not quite full in this season…
“You are home, now, Kazari,” a near forgotten voice seemed to whisper from the moon’s soft-lidded glow, “This place you will learn.”
…“What is it I am to learn,” Ch’dau whispered to the sky, “and why must she be punished for me to learn it?”
He waited for an answer but there was none forthcoming. After a few more minutes, his neck weary from being craned skyward, he snorted and cast his gaze to the stars presented by the still distant city instead. There are no answers from the sky, he decided, then, and, likely, no true answers to be found there, either. He crouched in the grass, then, his eyes never leaving the distant lights of Calestra and the thumb of one hand tracing absently over the scar left by the blade with which Kithran had stabbed him. As that digit reached the end of the scar, though, he glanced back at the tent where Aranwen yet slept. His lung filled slowly, as if they might, in the next moment, empty into the world as a heavy sigh. Instead, the cat-man’s head swiveled back around, took in Calestra, once more, and dipped to the grass and clover between his feet.
Half an answer is better than none, he reminded himself, echoing a phrase which a delirious Ara had muttered to him not a week ago when they encountered a troupe of scarlet-clad women on the road, Gib would consider every word for what it was and was not. Would you do less… for your daughter?
He fell back into the grass, then, his haunches making a nigh audible thunk as his gaze lifted from the ground between his feet, and he sighed as his gaze turned back toward the city. “For our daughter,” he muttered on that heavy breath, “No, m’penzi, I will not.”
He tugged one of his falcata free of it’s scabbard, then, and, still eyeing the city, retrieved a whetstone from its pouch on the belt of his dak’tar. As he honed the blade’s edges, he wondered what he might say should, come morning, he encounter Randell Aldeath or one of the Laughing Maidens who had known a younger Kithran and, in the end, he could think of nothing. Similarly, too, with the tending of his send blade’s edge, he could imagine nothing he might say to initiate conversation with either of the parties who might have the most concern for his lost kibibi. It was only as he reached for the dagger Kitrhran had given him, all that time ago, in a dungeon in Sendria, that Ch’dau found purpose and an answer in the question he had earlier posed to Khr’a…
Their truth is the same as yours, kazari; and it is the truth. The truth, as you know it, is all either of them might need.
…His prayer answered and his lids heavy, now, The Silver Cat lifted his eyes to the heavens, again, and nodded. “And should I see them,” he rumbled, “I will see that they know.”
He touched the empty scabbard where the dagger once lived, then, and got to his feet. Stretching against the ache of his newest scars, he turned his gaze on Calestra, once more, and yawned in her face. I shall see you in the market, he thought, his joints crackling in answer to the stretch, or at The Long Gamble… His eyes tore from the fewer and still distant lights as he stalked back toward the tent… or not at all.
He ducked through the flaps, secured them behind him, and, just as gently as he had placed them, removed the body-double blankets and furs he had piled around Aranwen. Just as he thought he had replaced himself back into her embrace without her notice, she shifted against him, grumbled something incomprehensible, and then opened her golden eyes and fixed them to his turquoise ones.
“Where did you go,” she asked.
“Outside,” he answered, his arms folding around her and pulling her to him, “I thought I heard something. Did I wake you?”
“No,” she sighed, her cheek rubbing against his chest, “I don’t sleep any more… not really…”
“You should,” he purred as her body draped over his and her breathing slowed, again, “It would do you good. Morning will be here soon.”
“Mmm,” she cooed.
“Mmm,” he answered, his eyes closing as her weight pressed comfortingly on him.
Posted on 2019-12-11 at 23:34:32.
Edited on 2019-12-12 at 08:44:58 by Eol Fefalas
13th Ternoth Ore, 453 E.R. The Marketplace of Calestra, Coria
“What about her?” the orange-haired, freckle-faced young girl asked, pointing to a well-dressed Sylvari woman, who seemed to rise above most of the crowd both in stature and her own self-worth.
The black-haired boy shook his head, “No, that’s too easy. A real Lover would never pick such low-hanging fruit like that.
The girl narrowed her eyes at the boy, “Serah told us to not get mixed up with the Lovers of Fortune though, Danny!”
“Tch, Serah is so boring. Why do you think we’re here?! We’ve gotta show them that we’re ready!” He looked back out from the stalls, between which they hunkered down in the shadows.
“I thought it was just for fun.” The girl pouted, “Taking pretty stuff is fun.”
“It is fun, Chora, we’re just going to make this fun thing into an even funner thi--oh, wow, what is that?!” Danny pointed out into the growing marketplace crowd, at a figure shaded in a cloak, but imposing all the same. Where the Sylvari had been long, thin, and elegant, this figure was tall, bulky under the cover of that cloak and his pack of wares, and intimidating despite his attempts to shrink his presence.
Chora hopped beside the dark-haired boy and followed the direction in which his finger was pointing. She squinted for just a moment before she gasped, “No, Danny, no!”
Danny grinned, “Yes. Imagine what the Lovers would think!”
“You mean when we’re dead?!”
He scoffed, “We’re not gonna die, Chora. Besides,” he held up a hand and wriggled his fingers in front of her, grinning wide and bright, “when we work together, no one can ever catch us!”
His grin was catching, and Chora couldn’t help but reflect it back to him, raising her hand up to his to wriggle her sticky fingers with him, “Alright fine, but just as long as we’re not going to do Cry Bab--”
“We’re doing Cry Baby!” Danny declared and Chora dropped her hand back down to her side.
The orange-haired girl thrust her hand out at the looming man, “Cry Baby will never work on someone like him! Look at him!”
“It’ll work Chora, trust me,” he said looking back out as he approached through the throng of merchants and buyers.
Chora crossed her arms, “But it’s going to hurt.”
“But it’s going to be worth it.” Danny began to hop up and down as nervous adrenaline began to course through his small body, “Alright, you ready, cry baby?”
“I guess so,” she pouted, and dropped into a crouch.
“Try to keep up!” He said and shot into the river of people milling around the marketplace. Dodging carts, wayward elbows, and other children darting in and out of the crowd, Danny eventually found himself just behind the enormous, shadowy man. His strides were long and steady. And though he was larger than most everything around him, at least to Danny, he didn’t seem to find it too difficult to wade, in this measured way, through the dense crowd. As the boy quickened his pace, he noticed the object of his desire: a coin purse, a decently filled coin purse, hanging at his side.
His heart racing, Danny took a deep breath and shoved himself into the man’s side, releasing and pocketing the coin purse in one swift motion.
“Oh, jeez sir! I am so sorry, th-the crowd pushed me, I’m so sorry! I--” and then the boy’s voice caught in his throat, as he finally looked into the man’s face. It was no man at all. The face was massive, and shaggy, it was as though a giant tiger were staring back at him from beneath that cowl, and Danny’s dark brown eyes grew wide.
“Do not worry, v’dogo t’mbili,” the creature smiled with its mouth closed, “But this is a busy place, you would do well to mind your . . . surroun...dings” and oddly, the creature, whatever it was, its turquois eyes also seemed to go wide as well, as he looked back down at Danny.
Coming out of his stupor, and filled now with an eagerness to get away with his prize, as well as to be far, far away from this thing when it came to realize what he had done, the boy said, “I-I will sir, thank you sir!” and ran off into the sea of creatures.
Chora watched from several yards away as Danny finally fled, after waiting way too long in her opinion to do so. The black-haired boy ran by her, and sped away, as she watched the large man watch him as well, until finally he could no longer see him. He then began to continue walking in the direction he had been going, and Chora thought that perhaps he would be one of those not to notice what had been done until it was far too late. However, after one more step he looked down, patting his side and looking back up in the direction Danny had run. Chora crouched once more, watching him move her way, before suddenly and unnaturally he burst forward through the crowd. Surprisingly and ambly he was able to weave through their numbers, knocking a few to the side here and there, but hardly any slowing his pursuit.
Now it was Chora’s turn, and she had never seen anyone move like this. Like a bull through sheep. This was going to hurt indeed, but at least then it would be even more convincing.
When the time came, Chora jumped out, right into the massive man’s path. His reflexes were sharp, quick. He had almost been able to avoid the mass of orange curly hair that shot out in front of him, and perhaps he was able to lessen the blow, but Chora was still knocked several feet away, and immediately began to cry. On queue people around them began to stare, glaring both at the large man who had trampled a little girl, as well as at the child on the ground in their way. Soon the crowd began to move in again, swarming the girl, and threatening to trample her themselves.
Chora was getting ready to move, clearly having created enough of a distraction for Danny to get away, but suddenly the man was before her, still looming though he was now crouched, making his body wide so as to force people to give her more space. It was then that she noticed, as Danny must have before her, that this was no man, his whiskers twitching as he leaned down to speak to her.
“Forgive, I was in pursuit of something taken from me and had not . . . been minding my surroundings.” He offered her a paw, “Are you injured, little one? ”
Her freckled face, covered as well in drying tears, stared at the soft, padded paw for just a moment before scrunching her face and hopping to her feet, as if she had not just been weeping openly in pain. She backed slowly away from him, toward the wall of people, and a grin slowly curled the side of her mouth, her hazel eyes lighting up. The creature squinted at her, shook its shaggy head and rubbed its eyes, as if it had seen a ghost. And while it was distracted, Chora hopped into the crowd and sprinted away. She dodged all oncomers, trying to put as many of them and their wares between them as she raced home.
She did not risk the time it would take to look back, she did not want to see that creature again, whatever it was. She did not see it watch her flee. She did not notice it following her orange hair, more measured than he had Danny, through the crowd.
And she did not realize it had seen her meet her brother and orange haired mother before their family stall, the words Aldeath Family Tobacco and Spice painted on the side.
Posted on 2019-12-12 at 15:53:07.
Edited on 2019-12-14 at 02:49:24 by breebles
Bromern Sal A Shadow RDI Staff Karma: 154/11 4182 Posts
Harrumphing, Moreno settles against the stiff-backed, uncushioned, wooden chair and stares into the candle's waning flame. Before him, strewn across a desk far too small to hold all of the books and scrolls, is the combined total of his study materials. Focusing on the one clue that he has to work with, Kithran's pregnancy, the scars of his battles with the undead minions of the death cult and the party's encounter with those worshipping cultists in the underground temple are more than physical. Weary, moss-colored eyes drift to the thin window placed high in the wall from which a pale glow of moonlight is barely visible in the night sky and his mind drifts back to the events leading up to the present.
Primal urges to survive no matter what had been the fuel that had kept the priest of Therassor from succumbing to his despair after Davena—aided by a turned Kithran—had escaped justice leaving them to the horrors in a collapsing temple. Gib had never seen the like. Even in his studies at the Temple as an acolyte, he had never encountered a tale depicting the terrors of that day. When he is able to sleep, his dreams are wrought by replays of melting flesh, screaming people, merciless souls hungrily seeking their next victim, slabs of stone obliterating nearby people; one second they are running, terrified by the hunting ghosts and the next, there's a boulder where they once were and everything nearby is splattered in gore. And there they were, his surviving companions, wounded, suffering as much from the cuts and clawed gouges in their flesh as the stabbing, painful realization that their own Kithran had betrayed them. Moreno hadn't even had the time to appreciate Cedric's quick thinking in getting to Ch'dau to save his life; the Collapse had happened all too quickly.
With Aranwen out of action—the look on her Syl face haunting and hollow—Gib had been forced to take charge. Thoughts of the decisions he made over the course of the next couple of weeks are constant pins poking at his confidence. Was he right? Did he do enough? Should he have eliminated that foul cultist that had survived with them? Of course, they wouldn't have received the full story had he, but sharing the stale air in the crumbled temple with the man had been poisonous. Still, it was through that man's story that they learned of the Anchor and Kith's part in it; a bug planted in the warrior-priest's mind that picks and scratches at his every waking thought.
Shifting forward in his appropriated chair, Gib draws in a deep breath and uses the heels of his hands to rub away the grip exhaustion has on his eyes. Time is of the essence. Before, when they first encountered the undead on the road outside of Crandel, time wasn't even a concern. Then, their ignorance protected them from the ghastly truth of the situation they sought to stave off—an agenda that they knew nothing about.
Memories of Atharis' body lying torn open on the ground flit into the forefront of his mind. I died, the spirit of his fallen friend declares accusingly, and for what? Next to the young wizard's mutilated form lies a Cidal, slowly being devoured by ghouls. Midge's small ghost rises from the carnage and joins the young wizard's. Have we died in vain, Gib? Anger and loss fill his chest like waters pushing through a broken levy. Vocalizing the emotions in a primal growl the Kazari might have been proud of, the newly advanced Corporal-Elect of Therassor slams his hands onto the desk sending a jolt through the items spread across its surface.
"Frustration is the enemy that defeats the seeker," the Sergeant of Knowledge chides from behind the podium at which he labors, his threadbare voice strangely echoing in the cavernous chamber.
"A scant collection of available knowledge is the main force," Moreno replies in his deep timber, meeting the higher ranking clergyman's disapproving gaze with an even stare. "Frustration is the bloody aftermath of the battle.
"I've torn this library apart in search of information, Sergeant. There's nothing here."
"If information about bringing an incarnation of a god to this plane were prevalent, Corporal-Elect, I'm afraid we would have a much larger problem than that which we face this day."
Sighing, Gib concedes, "Be that as it may, this—" he waves a hand dismissively over the materials before him, "—has proven to me that our Mighty Lord has never intended to manifest Himself in such a way. There isn't even so much as a scribble indicating that walking Audalis was even a spark of a thought for Him."
"Rest assured, soldier," the skinny priest replies, "If D'hurgen succeeds, Therassor will meet him on the field of battle despite your inability to discover a plan to do so. There are many things that are above your rank and understanding."
"I spoke with the Most Holy Field General Gerrtalt and expressed to him the direness of these circumstances," Gib retorts with a curled lip barely visible under his heavy black mustaches. "This is the most exhaustive library in the Church. If there are plans to counter the god of death's earthly incarnation being born to my friend, they are surely hidden well."
"Not all knowledge is kept in a library..."
"You were ordered to help, not play at riddles, Filas," Moreno growls and pushes himself up from the chair to stand defiantly before the smaller man.
"Mind yourself, soldier," Filas, Sergeant of Knowledge, cautions, his narrow face imperiously lifted to stare the Corporal-Elect down. "I have opened halls that have been long ignored, even that is reserved for those of higher standing and position than you may ever dream to achieve, and have helped you search the tomes with my own eyes. Forget not your place with me, Moreno Enderedre."
Matching stare with glare, Gib breathes fiercely through his crooked nose for a few beats of the heart before dipping his head a little in deference and stating through clenched teeth, "My apologies, Sergeant. We've been at this for days on days and have yet to discover anything of value. I do not even know if this... this pregnancy has a normal gestation period or if, because of the divine element, it is escalated. I do not know how much time we have let alone where Davena may have stolen Kithran away to."
Dropping his clenched fist to grip the hilt of his sword, the warrior-priest continues, "Sitting in these musty halls reading text after text, following rabbits down holes and crows into shadows... I long for a simple battlefield."
"Battlefields are rarely simple," Filas reminds him with a sorrowful note of remembrance. "But I understand. The hour is late. The acolytes have already retired and without rest, your mind isn't as sharp as it could be. Take my advice, Corporal-Elect. Seek out your bed. Return tomorrow with fresh eyes and a renewed vigor. I will commandeer another class of acolytes to assist in the search and we'll magnify our efforts. I'll also send a runner to the Great Library to see what has been found by the squad researching there. We are not beaten yet."
Releasing the death grip on his sword, Gib turns a dejected eye back to the mess of literature before him. "I would like to but I haven't been sleeping so it is a waste of time to try.
"Another day has passed with no news from Cedric of Solanis, no word from our counterparts who are searching through other libraries. It's been weeks since my companions parted ways in Crandel. I'm left with handfuls of nothing for all of our efforts. I need to find a better way to be useful."
"You can certainly use time in prayerful contemplation as armor against frustration," Sergeant Filas slyly brings the conversation roundabout. "Perhaps pray for some guidance on how best to address your superiors even when beset by that pesky enemy, frustration."
Closing his heavy eyelids and shaking his head, Gib steps out from behind the desk and positions the chair beneath it. "I'll leave you to your books, old man. For now, at least. The chapel is a clarion call that I must answer. You should seek out your own bed. Therassor knows you'll be waking soon enough to piss."
Filas chuckles, his smile twisted by the scar that cuts through his lips and jaw, as the warrior-priest makes his way past the podium. Rubbing the back of his neck where stiffness has taken root, Gib makes his way through the tables, bookshelves, and cases containing histories, philosophical musings, scripture, and more esoteric documentations. The walk is made longer for the winding path through the collections eventually spilling the troubled bearded man into a torch-lit corridor. The chapel is near the front of the temple within easy access for those coming in from the parade grounds, but from the library, the journey takes much longer. Passageways leading to dormitories, classrooms, and more mysterious chambers wind through the majestic and stately temple. White marble columns and statues, silver metalworks, mosaics depicting glorious scenes from scripture are everywhere and eventually, the halls grow in height and splendor with their vaulted ceilings and intricately detailed reliefs.
The beauty and majesty of this edifice are lost to the harrowed Corporal-Elect. Each battle scene he comes across turns into that fateful battle wherein they had failed to stop the end of the world. Every carved marble scene, miniature though they may be in their alcoves, are a monumental reminder of how great his god is and how ineffective he has been. The halls are empty as the clergy have long retired for the night but they echo with the words of his friends, filled with despair as they discussed Kith's fate during those days underground, digging themselves out. Words flit about in whispers like the spirits released when Davena's denizen had destroyed that crystal... words that melt the flesh of confidence away leaving the bones of doubt.
Scratching at the stubble growing on his newly shaved head, Moreno stops before the intimidating double doors to the chapel and considers the scenes worked into the hardwood. Here, the image of Therassor in his glorious armor bearing Meritorious, his trusted sword, is depicted leading a charge against horned demons. The demons are, of course, falling beneath the hooves of the cavalry and being pushed back by the pure righteousness of the warrior god. Here, Therassor and his faithful are winning the day.
So many times before, when he had been a younger more optimistic man, this scene had excited Gib. Now, standing before it with his head shaved in mourning and his black beard shaggy and grown out of his normal point, Corporal-Elect Moreno Ederedre feels shame. A shame that is as effective as a stone wall in keeping him from entering this holiest of places. A shame that mocks him with shadows and intimations of what could have been had he but been stronger. Heavy is his head as he raises it to peer up at his beloved god's image.
"I commended my soul to your charge on more than one occasion, my General," his husky words are hacked free of his mouth, sharp and splintered. "Why did you not take me to your halls then? What deeds had Atharis and Midge performed that earned them their places but not me? And now... now there is no relief, no hope to be found? I walk a battlefield of bones and hear naught but their crunching beneath my boot. Where are the birds? Where are the blue skies? It is blood that I see covering the land, Mighty General, and I cannot see the field for it."
"Let me know if that door has an answer for you," a tenor says quietly from behind him and to the right.
Giving a start, Gib turns with embarrassment to see the angular form of Right Major Alesh approaching from an adjoining hall. Alesh is an athletic woman, broad in the shoulders and narrow in the hips. Her curly, dark brown hair is cut short and shaved to above her ears, a portion of it tied up in a topknot. She isn't a traditionally beautiful woman with sharp features hardened by time in the field but she is said to be a brilliant tactician and very capable swordswoman. And although she isn't every man's dream to look at, what beauty is there has been accentuated by her confidence and airing. Standing a full span of a hand shorter than Moreno, she looks up at him as she draws within his blood circle.
"I've held many a one-sided conversation with that door in my time," she smiles wryly, "and will be quite offended if it decides to answer you when it has been ignoring me all these years."
Unable to smile in return, Gib bobs his head in understanding.
"You're Corporal-Elect Moreno Ederedre, correct?"
Again, Gib nods.
"I was there at your advancement ceremony," Alesh hooks her hands in her swordbelt and drops her weight to her left. "You've stumbled upon quite the conspiracy. Do you mourn your lost companions or the lost war?" Her inquisitive brown eyes look to his shaved head, accentuating her question.
Gib considers the query knowing that the war to which she refers is the one they are fighting to keep D'hurgen from Audalis. "Can it not be for both that I have presented myself such?"
"Surely," Right Major Alesh narrows her eyes, "but I didn't take you for a fatalist. The tide of war can change at the outcome of a tiny battle, Corporal-Elect. I've seen it—experienced it—even read about it. The principle is taught in every strategy class within our ranks and yet here you are seeing valleys of bone and blood caught up in the hole you currently find yourself in when you should be seeking the higher ground."
"A task that I've been about for weeks now," Gib responds cautiously, folding his arms across his chest.
"It is a forever task," Alesh spreads her arms wide and raises her eyebrows incredulously. "Any field commander will tell you that. Battles are unpredictable. The enemy strategists will have their own plans devised and will throw them at you when they deem the time is right. Have you forgotten the lessons found in the Book of Epectir?"
"Be resilient as the water," Moreno responds tiredly, "for it will eventually win over any stone thrown in its path."
Alesh strikes Moreno's shoulder with the back of her right hand, "There you have it! This is the problem with defeat, it breeds self-pity. You need to overcome that wound and pull yourself up by the boots, soldier. Therassor would expect nothing less. By the Nine Hells! You shouldn't either."
"And what does a field commander do when all signs point to utter defeat?" Gib strikes back in a low and quiet voice.
"That's easy," Right Major Alesh grins and settles back on her boot heels. "You fight like you've got no tomorrow, for if you do not fight, you have no tomorrow."
"More wise words from the Book of Epectir?" Corporal-Elect Ederedre presses.
"No," Alesh keeps on grinning while she starts to walk past him. "That is from the Book of Alesh."
Turning so he can follow her exit with his eyes, Gib shakes his head, "You don't know the weight—"
The Right Major stops and spins on her heel to glare imperiously at the man, "By daybreak, I leave for Daviena Castle to assist in the preparations for this dreadful event. Do not think that just because you're neck-deep in dusty old tomes the rest of us are sitting on our laurels. There are parts to be played by every man and woman in Ertain. Messages have been sent to spread the news of your discovery as far away as the Syl forests beyond Coria. Do not presume that this burden is upon your shoulders alone. That mantle is very unbecoming a servant of the God of Righteous Battle."
Taken aback, Gib holds his hands up before his chest, "I did not know."
"Of course not!" Alesh shoots back with a furrowed brow that sets her fiery eyes deep in shadows. "You are a Corporal-Elect. There's no need for you to be privy to anything except that which is within your jurisdiction." Her expression softens. "War finds all people. There's no running from it."
Dipping his bald head in acceptance of her words, Gib presses his lips together. He hasn't considered that the work he was doing wasn't the only work being done, that the Church of Therassor wouldn't be doing more. For the first time in weeks, he feels a little lighter. The burden of finding the answers, or preparing the world, is no longer on the shoulders of the cave-in survivors alone. For a moment, hope spears the chest of despair allowing a little light through.
"Therassor is waiting to give you council, Corporal-Elect," Alash holds her left arm out and points towards the chapel doors. "Listen closely."
As the accomplished woman strides into another corridor, Gib turns back to the chapel doors. Standing erect, he pulls the doors open and proceeds down the long aisle between the pews towards the dais at the end. The chapel room is a grand rectangular display of Therassor's might. The pews are divided into three sections by massive white marble pillars upon which, two thirds of the way up their height, lifelike carvings of stone soldiers blowing trumpets and wrapped in the livery of their god lean out from the base. Overhead, arched vaulted ceilings are painted with visually stunning depictions from the Histories of the Righteous, A Scripture of Therassor. Multiple smaller altars run along the walls of the chamber providing places for more private worship, each contained within a small, dark cherry wood booth with gothic ornamentation along the tops. Centered at the end of the chapel and upon the five-step dais is the main altar, broad and ornate, gilded in silver and dark cherry wood, its surface covered by a blood-red silk cloth hemmed in silver thread. This altar is surrounded by candelabra standing upon staves eight feet in height bearing an impressive one hundred light candles—one hundred for the Hundred Martyrs. Behind the altar is an alcove bearing the seats of the Council of Therassor at the head of which is the always empty Mighty General's chair. Even the Most Illustrious High General sits to Therassor's right. Behind these chairs is one of the crown jewels of the Faith, the forty-foot by one hundred foot stained glass windows depicting Therassor with Meritorious held boldly before him, his armor radiating righteous light, his helm's visor open so that his eyes can bear witness to all unrighteousness that the council may seek to battle it.
Drawing up to the altar, Gib draws his sword from its scabbard and brings the crossguard to his lips. "Holy General, Mightiest of Battle Lords, I have come to seek wisdom."
Kissing the holy symbol upon the crossguard, Moreno sets the blade upon the altar, piercing end towards his heart. Bowing his shaved head, the warrior-priest whispers his heart's desires to his god. "I've lost so many of the battles that should have won you the day, my Commander. I cannot see for the blood that veils my eyes. Clear my vision. Let me see the field's potential. Grant me insight and wisdom that I may serve you well. The enemy of righteousness has taken to horse, his armor is solid and proven, his spear is sharp and unbroken. The world lies before him, defenseless, breast bared, ready for him to strike the killing blow. I would have it be otherwise.
"Again, I commend my soul into your service. Show me how to defeat this enemy."
Posted on 2019-12-12 at 23:42:10.
Reralae Dreamer of Bladesong Karma: 142/12 2505 Posts
The sound of silence
It was quiet, but for the sounds of Adaron's creatures nearby. At least, that's what it seemed to any passerby. Aranwen twisted and tumbled in that not-sleep she had slowly grown accustomed to.
She was back in the dark underground. Her hands swollen, raw and bleeding from the stones she pulled from the path towards the surface. She dug, and she dug. The others even had to bind her to force her to rest on occasion. But the others were what mattered. She had to get them out of there. It was all she could do.
Then, when they finally broke the surface... The others were relieved and stepped out into the sunlight, wincing from the harsh sunlight hitting their dark acclimated eyes. But Aranwen hadn't moved. When she spoke, her voice was hollow, defeated, without heart.
"I am an oathbreaker. By rights I should be dead."
Though she didn't make a move to leave, she didn't resist when Ch'dau picked her up...
Aranwen panted, uncovering herself of the blankets around her. With shaking limbs, she staggered to her feet, and slipped out of the tent. She covered her eyes from the blinding sun, the right eye, and looked towards the ground as she made her way beside a tree nearby.
As she leaned against the tree, she sighed. She felt the bark, and thought of the forest she was born in. So very long ago. A little girl who pretended to be a bladesinger, branch in hand and voicing off key notes while running around.
Aranwen paused in recollection, leaning over to pick up a tree branch of roughly appropriate size.
All at once she was no longer in the Sylvari forest, and instead in the dead forest at Crandel. Her hand clenched tighter, and the dead wood cracked in her grip. In her mind and her movements, she relived that ill fated battle. The branch snapped against a tree in her path, and she heard the thunder of Davena's spell.
She threw herself forward, as if to grab the priestess and bring her to the ground, stabbing downward with no care should she stab her blade through her target and into the ground...
And she sobbed as she stabbed the ground, again, and again, with a broken branch in hand.
13th Ternoth Ore, 453 E.R. – Dawn Ch’dau and Aranwen’s Camp
Ch’dau had risen before the sun, found his way into the back of the cart, and rummaged through their remaining supplies to gather something of a breakfast for Aranwen. Some dried fruit and nuts, a bit of salted fish, and a half a loaf of bread would have to do, today… at least until he got back from the market. Provisions gathered, the gray kazari stoked the embers of the campfire back to flickering life, heating what he could of the repast and setting a small kettle of water to boil above the flames as he led the mules to water. When he returned from the river after having staked the creatures there, he found Aranwen huddled by the fire, tending the tea.
“You’re going into the city, then,” she asked without looking back at him as he approached.
“I am,” he said, pausing for only an instant before settling himself down beside her and stretching his paws out to the fire. “We are still a week or better from Meadowbrook and, aside from a lunch, later, and dinner thereafter,” he waved a hand at the meal he’d prepared, “We have not much more left than this.”
Her nod was slow but understanding. “You know why I can’t go with you, yes?” She turned her eyes in his direction, but not her head.
“I do,” he rumbled in reply. “I do not look forward to treading Calestra’s streets, myself, but, if we are to continue to Meadowbrook…” His massive shoulders rolled into a shrug.
“Will you be alright here, by yourself, for a couple of hours,” he asked, slicing a piece of bread from the loaf and passing it her way as she snatched up a piece of fish that had been warming on the skillet.
“Where would I go?” she sighed wearily, her muddy, golden gaze sweeping the horizons about them. “There is nothing here for me.”
Ch’dau wanted to disagree; wanted to tell her that there was more of Kithran in the city up the road than she could possibly imagine; but, at the same time, wasn’t willing to test her still tender emotions. “I am here, Ara,” he purred, drawing her gaze and weak smile with the words.
“Which is why I am, still,” she returned, leaning into him. “Thank you for that.”
His arm drifted around her shoulders and he reveled in her warmth while, simultaneously, mourning the diminishing of it. “Of course, my khat…” he reached out, snatched a hot piece of salty fish from the frying pan, and swallowed it painfully down before he could finish, “…my love,” he corrected.
He had only addressed her as khatun twice since the temple had collapsed about them, and, both times, she had vehemently demanded that he not. She no longer felt worthy of the title, it seemed, and, while he understood, he disagreed with her on that point, as well. That was an aspect of this broken Aranwen that he hoped to deal with later, though. There were smaller steps that needed to be taken, first… He just wished he knew exactly what those were…
Beside him, the Sylvari woman scoffed as she stared into the dancing flames of the fire. “Do you think you’ll trade those pelts, today,” she asked after a moment.
“There should be a market for the furs, at least,” Ch’dau nodded faintly, slipping into the easy and unimportant topics that kept her occupied… and talking… “It is Calestra, after all.”
“You can find whatever you want and more in Calestra,” Ara whispered, her gaze distant as she stared through the flames and recited Kithran’s oft repeated words.
“So it has been said,” Ch’dau answered just as softly.
“You will only be gone a few hours,” she asked, then, blinking slowly as her eyes turned to catch his, “and then we’ll be on our way?”
“Three hours,” he chuffed, smiling softly at her, before his gaze turned appraisingly to the city, “four at the most.” He snatched up a crust of bread and plucked another piece of fish from the fire. “And I shall bring you a proper meal, as well, before we break camp.”
13th Ternoth Ore, 453 E.R. – Early morning Calestra’s Market
Wrapped in his cloak, Ch’dau prowled the market square as unobtrusively as he was able. He had traded off most of his pelts, already, and fattened his purse as a result, without drawing undue attention. He began to give thought, then, to replenishing the wares that would see him and Ara the rest of the way to Meadowbrook. As such, he wove his way through the crowd in search of those merchants, he remembered, would be able to provide such things. His pack was half filled with replenishments when the boy had run into him…
“Oh, jeez sir! I am so sorry, th-the crowd pushed me, I’m so sorry! I –”
“Do not worry, v’dogo t’mbili. This is a busy place, you would do well to mind your . . . surroun...dings…”
At the same time, the kazari and the boy blinked at one another, surprise, fear, and vague recognition flashing in both of their eyes for a brief moment.
“I-I will sir,” the boy spluttered before Ch’dau was able to fully process the lad’s appearance. “Thank you sir!” the boy chirruped, flitting off into the surging tides of the market.
The kazari shook his head as the boy disappeared and, at first dismissing the encounter as a random thing, turned, himself and started back about his business… until he remembered that he was in Calestra. His assured steps ceased, then, and his hand went to where his coin-purse should have been. When he didn’t find it where it should be, Ch’dau growled at himself and sent his eyes searching for the boy that had just picked his pocket.
He caught sight of the little footpad, soon enough, and began a determined pursuit. He was nearly upon the boy, ready to snatch him off his feet and shake out his pockets, in fact, when a little red-headed girl stumbled into his path. So intent had he been on catching he boy and regaining his purse that he had not even noticed the little orange-haired girl, at first, and, apparently, had trampled over her as he chased the dark-haired lad.
Despite the fact that a number of them had shouted their outrage at his trampling of the little monkey-girl, the humanoid crowds of Calestra’s marketplace, in general, refused to give way and threatened to trample the girl in a far worse fashion than he had. As she sprawled at his feet, screaming and sobbing, Ch’dau crouched in front of her, spreading himself out as much as he could to ensure that the rush of shoppers wouldn’t consume or crush her.
“Forgive,” he purred, offering a paw to the wailing little girl, “I was in pursuit of something taken from me and had not . . . been minding my surroundings.
Are you injured, little one?”
The tiny monkey scrunched her face at him, then, the sobs melting seamlessly into an impish smile… an all too familiar impish smile… before she bounced to her feet and raced off into the crowd much as the boy had done.
It cannot be, Ch’dau mused, rising back to his full height as sluggishly as if he were dreaming.
He blinked after the easily visible spring of carrot-colored locks as they wove through the crowd and followed, even as he pieced together the similarities and strange familiarity of each child… No… There was something of Kithran in both the boy and the girl, he realized, as he followed the flame haired child through the throng. The shape of the boy’s face and the impish smile of the little red-head… it was all too coincidental to be a coincidence… or was it?
He had nearly talked himself out of believing that these two thieving children could be, somehow, affiliated with Kithran, dismissing it as chance and circumstance, until the little girl’s flight had led him to a stall beside which hung a painted sign that read, as far as he could tell, ‘Aldeath Family Tobacco and Spice.’
Beneath his hood, Ch’dau shook his head, even as the two children tried to hide behind the flame-haired woman who was obviously their mother. “The game is over v’dogo t’mbili’I,” he snorted, almost chuckling, as he thunked up and drew to a stop just before the rather surprised looking human woman, “return what you took and nothing more need be said, hmmm?”
“What’s this, then?” the red-headed woman snipped, then, her arms instinctively going back to shield her children from the presumed threat of the massive figure before her. “Why’re you chasing my loves through the streets as if…”
Ch’dau lifted his eyes to the woman’s, then, allowing her to see what was hiding beneath the hood, and smiled softly before looking around her, once more, and eyeing Danny and Chora. “As if they have too much of their sister in them for their own good?”
Lina’s blue eyes widened at this creature that had chased down her children, confused at his mentioning of, their . . . “What are you talking about? Explain yourself”
“Your boy,” Ch’dau snorted, his head ticking to indicate the dark-haired kid standing behind her, “stole my purse. And your daughter,” the felinoid head tipped toward Chora, then, “helped him escape.
I suppose they are both lucky that I recognized family traits,” he chuckled softly, “else I might have eaten them both.”
The orange-haired woman suddenly gasps, “Their sister? You’re . . . .” Lina’s grip on Danny and Chora betray them, as they are wrenched forth from behind the protection of their mother, and shoved before the enormous cat-beast, “Give the Kazari back his purse and apologize.”
Danny’s eyes shot up to his mother’s face, “Mooom--”
“I don’t want to hear it from either of you today, you little trouble-making snap peas, we’ve talked about this already.”
The black-haired, dark-eyed, near replication of a younger Kithran Aldeath growled low under his breath as he reached into a pocket Chora had sewn poorly but effectively into the inside of his vest, producing the creature’s coin-purse. “I’m sorry mister K’sary,” he mumbled.
“Sorry mister K’sary,” Chora echoed.
Before the silver cat had a chance to correct them, Lina’s grip on the two released and she grabbed his furry forearm instead, “Please, come with me.” And she tugged him toward the side of the stall, “Randel, their, her, Kithran’s father, he’s just back here. Oh, I apologize!” she said without breaking pace, “I am Lina Aldeath, and those two wiley snap peas sneaking around in the shadows behind you are Daniel and Chorus.”
“I’m Danny!” a distraught voice called from behind him.
“I’m Chora!” a small, fiercer voice followed.
“And this,” Lina continued as they approached a man leaning over a table to trim some kind of odd, small plant, “is Randel.”
The tall man’s back straightened, as he turned with a smile at the small band come to disturb him. A familiar grin touched the mouth of the stubbled, older man, his black hair now streaked with grey, and the laughing lines by his eyes set deeper. He wiped his hands on a rag as he approached and held out his hand, “Hello there, I apologize, I hadn’t been expecting any visitors.”
Lina looked up at the Kazari, “There are not many eyes back here, would you take your hood off?”
Ch’dau’s gaze warily swept his surroundings, verifying Lina’s claims before he complied, lifting one hand to pull the cowl free of his head.
“By Fortune's favor,” Randel whispered, taking a step toward him and looking around. He looked behind the Kazari, behind Lina, tried to see beyond the corner of the stall. Eleven years, it had been eleven years and now the fabled Silver Cat of Coria stood before him, the one Serah had wildly claimed was off fighting evil his daughter and a Sylvari warrior just a year or so ago, “Where is she? Why are you here without her? Serah said you and a bladesinger were protecting her.” His voice rose, but Ch’dau could see there was no anger or threat behind his words or his dark eyes, only fear and hope. Desperate, desperate hope, “Why are they not here with you? Will you take me to her? Where is my daughter?!”
With each question in the man’s barrage, the expression on Ch’dau’s face darkened, grew sadder, perhaps, and, with a heavy sigh, the cat-man let his eyes fall away from the man. He stared at the ground between his feet for a moment, then lifted his gaze to regard each of the Aldeath family in turn before settling, at last, back on Kithran’s father. “I cannot take you to her,” the kazari rumbled, his tone soft, almost apologetic, “for I do not know where she is. We… uh… I… lost her… some weeks ago.”
Surprise took the older man's features, and he rubbed the side of his stubbled cheek, seeming to have aged another ten years in the last few minutes, "Lost her?" He nodded heavily, having shared for eleven years in the weight of those words. "But she is alive then? Please, tell us what has happened to her."
“That is a tale long in the telling, Randel Aldeath,” the kazari said, his gaze flitting to Danny and Chora, then, “and not one for children.”
Lina made her way to the brother and sister, motioning them to scurry off.
"Hey! Why don't we get to know?" Danny shouted indignantly, his dark brown eyes glaring boldly at the creature he just been fleeing from, "Kith is our big sister too!"
Ch'dau crouched down, then, and motioned the children closer with one hand as the other reproduced the coin-purse. “Perhaps you snap-pea monkeys would like to earn some of the coin you tried to steal, yes? I have need of supplies, still,” he said, smiling gently at the pair and offering the purse back, “If you would fetch me some of them while I speak to your father, I will reward you when you return.”
Chora snatched the coin-purse before Danny could even open his mouth, "We will do it!"
Danny's mouth fell open, "But Chora!"
The freckled face grinned back at her brother, "We can know later, Danny, but for now," Her grin grew mischievous as she dangled the purse in front of the boy.
His eyes brightened at the possibilities that had just risen before them, and he turned back to Ch'dau, grinning wide, "What do you need, sir?" And with the list of the Kazari’s wares, the two ran back out into the Calestra streets.
The smile on Ch’dau’s face went sadly nostalgic as he watched Danny and Chora bounce back off into Calestra’s market and, again, he sighed as he rose back to his full height and turned to Randel. “You may wish to sit,” the kazari suggested, “As I said, this is a long story and, unfortunately, not at all a happy one…”
For the next hour, Ch’dau related the tale of what had happened in Ertain, answering any questions he may have been asked throughout the telling and, at the end of it, bowed his head, again.
“…and, then, she was gone,” he rumbled, a thumb absently tracing over the scar that remained from where Kithran had stabbed him. “I am sorry.”
Randel was silent for a moment, his gaze drifting unseeingly past the Kazari, past his stall, past Calestra, back to the sound of Kithran humming absently behind him on their long days on the road. He covered his face in both hands, barely registering Lina's reassuring hand on his back, and saw Kithran's adorable glare when he had caught her trying to get away with something, her unbridled joy when he let her. "My little peach," he whispered silently into his hands, and finally let them fall to his lap, and regarded this creature who had cared for Kithran when he could not, "Thank you, Ch'dau, for your tale and for protecting Kithran as best you could."
He stood and walked to him, his hand extended once more, "I expect it is not finished, that you will bring Kithran back to us." He raised his dark eyebrows and it was clear it was more of a kindly spoken command, than a question.
Firmly clasping the man’s arm, Ch’dau nodded. “It is far from finished,” the kazari chuffed, levelly meeting the man’s gaze, “and you have my word that I will not stop until Kithran is back where she belongs.”
Randel nodded, "What is mine is yours. For all you and your bladesinger have done for our family, for our Kithran, for what you will do, there is nothing I can offer that will be enough."
The Silver Cat raised a paw, gently dismissing Randel’s generosity. “You owe me nothing, friend,” he said, “Aranwen and I love Kithran as our own and we would seek nor accept any reward for that.”
“Then it sounds as though you are family,” the merchant replied with a tight smile, “and as such the offer remains. Not a reward, it simply is how it is.” Randel paused, taking in the Kazari’s story once more, and his voice lowered, "May I meet her? Kithran was dealt several unlucky hands when it came to mentors and . . . mother figures. I can't imagine how much she must love and respect your Aranwen. I would like to meet her, to thank her."
The Kazari may have tensed a bit in reaction to that request, his blue-green gaze ticking almost uncertainly away as he considered what Ara might think should he return to their camp with Kithran’s family in tow…
Especially the boy, he thought, He looks so much like her.
After a moment, though, and with a faint sigh whispering over his lips, Ch’dau looked back to the expectant Randel and offered a nod. “Of course,” he rumbled, his ears flicking faintly, “Though, she will not come into the city of her own will and I will not force her to do so. If you would like to meet her, you will need to come with me back to our camp.”
Randel nodded once more, and turned to his wife, “Do you mind, dear?”
The orange-haired woman walked to him and took his hands in her own, “Of course, Randel, take as much time as you need.” She kissed his cheek and looked with the other two as the sounds of laughing and small, quick feet raced toward them.
Danny was sweating as he dropped the large sack of items down before the Kazari, and Chora was in a similar state as she dropped her smaller one. Both had mouths outlined in chocolate, “Here you go, mister!” Danny announced, his veins coursing with sugar.
“Here you go too, mister!” Chora said, and produced the coin-purse, tossing it up wildly at the Kazari.
Ch’dau snatched the small pouch out of the air, noticing how much lighter it had become. He gave them a feline grin, and dropped into a crouch before them, “Thank you, v’dogo t’mbili, you have honored me today with your assistance.” He poured out a few coins for each of them, watching as their eyes lit up once again at the unbelievable luck they had ran into this day.
“What do you say?” Lina called from behind him.
“Thank you!” The two shouted in unison before counting their treasures together.
Ch’dau watched their sugar-induced excitement, Chora bouncing around unable to control it, and he stood once more. “I can only assume,” he rumbled low as he turned back to Randel, “that this kind of behavior is a result of you, Randel.” And he chuckled at the merchant.
The ghost of a grin finally returned to him, “As for their sticky fingers, I cannot claim that--for these two at least I think I can blame the Lovers of Fortune for their tales of the exploits of the legendary Kithran Aldeath. There was a time no roof was safe from that little peach.” His smile became reminiscent of the arguments he had had with the little girl over her adventures, “However, the impatience, the excitability, perhaps a bit of the wit, I can proudly claim those.”
The silver cat nodded, and looked off in the direction the Sylvari woman awaited his return, “Shall we?”
Randel’s face grew grim once more, and he returned the nod, the two then making their way to the bladesinger.
Posted on 2019-12-13 at 13:46:07.
Edited on 2019-12-14 at 03:08:49 by breebles
Bromern Sal A Shadow RDI Staff Karma: 154/11 4182 Posts
Visual chaos. A bedlam of horror. A concert of death. Peramont doesn't have the vocabulary to describe the scene unfolding about him as any of those three. To him, the battle waging between the factions is needless and stupid. And yet, he has to wonder whether his fellow cultists are still paying homage to their god while slaughtering each other. Stepping as deep into the shadows at the edge of the cavern as he can, the former stablehand out of Morad crouches down and bites back his fear.
Where did these people come from? Is that a cat... man? Why is everyone fighting each other? We are so close!
From his hiding place, Per (as his friends call him) struggles against the desire to bolt and run, a decision that spares his life. Mouth agape, he watches the events unfold and turn from a senseless battle to a horrific slaughter, and then the ceiling falls.
By the gods! Was that Teren? Crushing stones remove companions from existence one after another. Look out, Ahmeth! Oh no! Degred! Pockets of darkness swallow up the carnage and Peramont's body begins to shake with silent laughter. Should have gone the other way, Ghuro. Then maybe you wouldn't be flat now. Oh, ho ho! Nambrit! Bet you wished you didn't have that stupid cloak now. The sheer amount of death triggers within him macabre humor. Each death is a comical offering to D'hurgen. And then the ghosts start flying. D'hurgen's black eyes! Tucking his head between his knees, Per begins to fervently pray, the irony of his action completely lost to him.
Darkness doesn't begin to describe what Peramont opens his eyes to when the cavern falls silent. Where am I? This D'hurgen's Catacombs? Am I dead? He can see nothing, not even his own hand in front of his face. He can hear nothing but the eerie silence that follows a cacophony.
"Cedric?" a deep voice that Per can associate with the priest of Therassor he'd witnessed waging war on his cult family calls out from somewhere in the general vicinity of in front of him and to the right.
"I'm here!" an unfamiliar voice calls back.
"Will Solanis bless us with some light?"
Fear rails against Per's ribcage once more. If they have light, they'll discover him and kill him. Frantically feeling about him, the cultist finds the wall of the cavern and use it to pull himself into a standing position. Smaller stones tumble from his path, clattering about as light flares into being behind him causing the black-robed man to freeze. Slowly turning his head to look over his left shoulder, Per pulls back the curtain of stringy hair. A terrified, wide eye stares over his shoulder at the pocket of illumination.
Four figures are huddled together. A woman...The Syl lives? The cat-man...And the demon cat? The cleric of Therassor, and a cleric of Solanis. His breath caught in his throat, Peramont remains as still as he can unwittingly doing the one thing that could keep him from being discovered. Despite the strain on his neck and eyes, the cultist continues to watch as the only other survivors he's aware of begin the process of tending to each other. After an amazingly long time, the divine light vanishes casting the cavern into complete darkness once again.
They could hear me if I move. I don' even know wheres t'go! Despair grips his mind rendering him immobile. Time is lost to him as he stands worrying over the slightest sound, the extremely faint murmur of the other survivors, and his own breathing. Muscles scream out in heated complaint at his motionless state. His left knee begins to tremble, then a painful twitch catches in his hip. Soon, his whole body is trembling. I can't stay like this fer-ever... I gotsta sit. Lowering himself with the caution of a mouse caught in a cat's gaze, Per finds the ground with his hands and lowers himself into a crouch, then gently settles on his left buttock and maneuvers into a very uncomfortable fetal position. Despite being beyond tired, the ex-stablehand cannot find sleep at first. His enemy is nearby and he's been told that he snores. If he falls asleep, he's as good as discover--sleep ignores his fears and takes him anyway.
Jerking awake, Peramont immediately senses that something is wrong. I ain't in my cot. Tha's what's wrong. Why ain't I in my cot? Even as his initial assessment settles in his mind, he realizes that there's light illuminating his eyelids flooding his vision with red. Furrowing his brow, Per pushes his stiff body upright as he opens his eyes. I'm on the bloody floor! Why am I on the floor? Memories come flooding back at the same time as his gaze adjusts to the light, his vision focusing on the bearded face of a helmeted warrior. Looking to the right, Peramont starts at the closeness of the cat-man.
"Good morning," the deep-voiced cleric of Therassor says flatly, his narrow eyes reflecting the light glowing from his bared sword's crossguard. "Rest well?"
The question is accented by a rumbling growl emanating from the chest of the cat-man. Peramont swallows nothing as his mouth is completely dry. Thump, thump, thump, thump, thump... the rapid beating of his heart floods his ears; wide, bulging eyes lock onto the silver cat's face. "Is... is... h'," Per's voice is a raspy whisper unable to spit the words out.
Following the cultist's gaze, the priest stares at the cat-man for a moment, piecing together the question Per is attempting to form.
"Is he going to... what? Kill you? Eat you, maybe?" The cleric finishes for Peramont with a disinterested tone that somehow releases the black-robed cultist from his morbid stare. With a nod, the ex-stablehand gives a brief affirmative as he returns his eyes to the holy warrior.
"Not yet," the bearded man replies. "So long as you prove useful, at least."
"I'll tell ya anythin' you want t' know," Per rushes to comply.
Thus begins the "usefulness" of Peramont Weschiller. He picks up on the companions' names after a while: Gib, or Moreno, is the priest of Therassor. Ch'dau is the cat-man, something called a Kazari and he's scary. He keeps growling at the cultist, taking pleasure in seeing him jump, squirm, and be otherwise unsure. The quiet Sylvari woman is named Aranwen, but she is more standoffish than the rest and pays him very little mind. The kindest of them--and thus, to Per's mind, the weakest--is the younger priest of Solanis, Cedric. So it is to Cedric that Peramont--a man not known for his wiles--attempts to attach himself as they work to dig themselves out. Between Cedric and Gib, the party is well-fed, watered, and injuries healed. The two priests also provide light but for the most part, the group works tied together in the dark with Peramont telling the tale of why the cult was there and what the ceremony was.
The party accepts what he says with very little interruption. When Per runs out of things to talk about that are based in fact, he begins to make up additions, desperate to remain useful with one eye always on the Kazari. At one point, his story must have gotten too far-fetched and it earns him a slap to the ear by the warrior-priest. The blow isn't hard enough to even knock him off balance, but Per decides then and there that he won't elicit such a warning again.
He's lost all track of day or night and has no concept of how much time has passed. The priest, Cedric, has continued to show him kindness, making sure that he eats and even stepping between Ch'dau and Peramont once when the cultist accidentally dropped a stone on the cat-man's foot.
"He wants t' kill me, that one," Per whispers to Cedric during a meal break.
The young priest glances at the Kazari who is devouring his meal nearby and then looks back to the cultist, "All life is valuable."
"Then you won't let 'im? Won't let none o' them?" I gots 'im now. Got me an ally.
"They won't kill you if you don't do anything to provoke them, Peramont," Cedric quietly replies.
Work continues. Gib asks many clarifying questions that unwind the fact from fiction. Ch'dau keeps him hopping. Aranwen keeps working at the digging. Cedric keeps "falling into his trap." And then, during one of the work periods just after a time of sleep, the Kazari pulls a free a stone that sends a stream of pale light in a ray piercing the inky black. Surprise and hope flood Per's whole body. Giggling, the ex-stablehand renews his efforts as do the others. Their freedom doesn't come fast enough but it does arrive and Peramont happily spills out into the cool morning air as soon as he is able. Still tied to the others, he begins to tug at the knot only to freeze when the heavy hand of the warrior-priest on his shoulder.
"You're still useful, right, Peramont?" Gib asks ominously.
"Oh," the cultist nods frantically, sending his long, greasy hair bouncing about his shoulders. "I am, Master Moreno. It was jus' pinchin', the rope was."
Receiving a series of pats for his lie, Per resigns himself to assisting the others out of the hole. For a number of moments after they all achieved freedom, breathing fresh air for the first time in an indeterminate amount of time the five victims of loss shuffled about, to the cultist, who is himself caught up in the rapture of the fresh air filling his lungs, lost in their own elation. Rapture grows within him to euphoria and he begins to laugh. At first, the laughter is slow, real, and honest. Then, it increases in tempo and causes him to wheeze into coughing fits. Dropping to his knees, he falls forward as his robes get caught beneath him and pull him forward awkwardly, planting his face in the mushy earth. Rolling onto his back, his clothing twisting about him, Peramont spreads his arms wide and calls to the skies, "Thank you, D'hurgen, my dark lord!" I've survived.I live to serve you again, Walker of Shadows.
Forgetting himself, Per sits up, spreads his hands wide, and looks for Cedric. Gib, standing by a tree, covered in dirt, shaggy-looking with his thick facial hair, staring at the cultist with a flat expression... Aranwen, hollow and covered in grime, also staring at the manic man in the leaves... Cedric, concerned and confused, equally as dirty and a little funny to the cultist of Death who finally sees the irony in a cleric of the sun god dirty and soiled from being removed from the sun for so long. Why're they all starin' at me?
"What?" Peramont dumbly asks.
"That was quite the display," Gib remarks dryly.
"I'm happy t' be above ground," Per shrugs and scrambles to his feet, adjusting his robe into a more comfortable draping. He doesn't bother with brushing the leaves off as he's long since lost any cares about cleanliness.
His answer doesn't appear to stimulate any emotions in the priest of Therassor. Aranwen... Is she mad? Aranwen is actually staring at him with a fierceness that Peramont hasn't seen in her since she engaged the Mistress. Cedric looks troubled prompting the cultist to ask, "What's happenin'?"
"We've got a problem, Peramont," Gib responds, shifting his weight to his right side and resting his hand on the hilt of his sword.
"What's that?" the dim cultist tilts his mangy head to the side and squints at the priest.
"What to do with you," comes the simple, emotionless reply.
"Whoa," Per holds his hands up in front of him and takes a step backward. "I helped. I was useful. We spent all that time down there t'gether... jus' let me go."
"So you can run off and rejoin your Mistress?" Moreno presses in his bass monotone.
"I don' know where she went. I swear. I'm jus' gonna head back t' Morad, take up my ol' life again," Per smiles wide displaying his overly long, crooked, black and yellow teeth. "I'm no trouble t' no one."
"Sounds peaceful," Gib remarks quietly.
The staring continues and Per feels the insides of his stomach start to crawl. They're gonna kill me now. Glancing at each of them, Peramont chuckles nervously and shifts his eyes past them, searching for an opportunity. Gotta bolt. Gotta get outta here an' fast.
"You're free to go," Moreno shrugs his shield into a more comfortable position and raises his eyebrows at their captive. "Go find your peace."
"What?" Peramont gapes. "Really?"
"Do you want to return to Crandel with us?" there's a tone to the question that stimulates an immediate, stumbling response from the cultist.
"No! No... I'm good--grateful, even," Per begins to back away at a walk. "You all take care of yourselves."
The staring continues. Feeling like his opportunity is passing, Per spins about and runs. Elation returns as he twists in stride and rounds a tree, moving as quickly as he can as far away from them as possible... running a few steps past the point where Ch'dau's falcata removes his head from his body.
"Go see your god." The last words that the cultist registers are uttered by the scary cat-man.
Posted on 2019-12-14 at 00:24:34.
Eol Fefalas Keeper of the Kazari RDI Staff Karma: 462/28 8466 Posts
Randel, Ch'dau and Aranwen
13th Ternoth Ore, 453 E.R. – Late Morning The Outskirts of Calestra
Ch’dau and Randel had walked in silence along the road leading out of the city for some time. At one point, though, Kithran’s human father had begun to speak, asking the unassuming question here, making the random observation, there, and, before long, he and Ch'dau had fallen into an easy banter. Though it was assured that Randel had more than one question regarding his estranged daughter and Ch’dau, too, had just as many, the subject was rarely broached. They spoke of hunting and fishing and spices and trade. Only a smattering of times in the time it took to walk from the city to the hill did Kithran’s name ever come up and, each of those times, it was because some of their other words had sparked a memory of her. Ch’dau had actually delighted in some of Randel’s anecdotes about his “Little Peach” just as Randel had marveled at the exploits of Ch’dau’s “Little Kitten.”
…”And she always hated when I called her that!” they unintentionally chorused near the end of each story.
As they neared the top of the hill, Ch’dau went silent and his eyes began roving about the fields and forest that cradled Calestra…
As if searching for something, Randel suspected, or expecting it. At that thought, the man fell silent, too, and mimicked the kazari’s watchfulness. He was almost disappointed that, when some half a mile later, nothing more had happened than Ch’dau suddenly veering from the road and making for the forest.
Then again, he thought, and given the tales he’s told, I suppose I’m happy about that.
…”We camp just ahead,” the kazari’s voice broke Randel from his musings.
His vision cleared, then, and he looked up from the nether point into which he had been staring. A short way ahead, huddled beneath the fringe of the forest, was a simple cart, a pair of mules, and, just beyond those, a small tent and the remains of a fire. Beyond even that, just a few feet deeper into the woods, a Sylvari woman knelt, weeping and wailing mournfully as she stabbed a broken stick into the ground over and over again. The sight gave Randel pause, of course, but the Kazari’s massive paw thumping into his chest stopped him completely.
“A moment,” Ch’dau rumbled when the merchant’s eyes lifted to meet his, “please.”
“O… Of course,” Randel nodded. He watched as the Kazari strode for the campsite, pausing only long enough to toss the supplies he’d brought back into the cart before making his way to the bereaved bladesinger.
The Silver Cat crouched down next to the woman, gently gathering her up in his arms even as she fought against him. “Breathe, m’penzi,” he purred, prying the stick from her hands and tossing it away, “Hear my voice. You are not there. You are here…”
The Syl seemed to blink in recognition, then, and while she still sobbed, the tone of it became softer and the screams of grief and rage filtered from it as she buried her face in the cat-man’s chest.
“…Hear my heart beating for you,” Ch’dau sighed softly, clutching Aranwen to him, “Feel the ground beneath us. Breathe. You are here.”
She seemed to collapse into him after a few more moments of his tender coaxing and, as she did, her sobs diminished all the more. The Kazari cradled her and continued speaking but his tone, too, was now so soft and low that Randel hadn’t managed to actually hear his words.
Another few moments passed before Ch’dau looked up from the oaken-haired Syl in his arms and turned his eyes toward the awaiting merchant. The cat-man gave a short, assured nod, and, at that, Randel straightened his tunic, drew in a steadying breath, and made his own approach.
Aranwen tensed in Ch'dau's arms as she saw the stranger approach, her eyes looking to the man's shoes first. Well kept and well made, not very travelled. She looked upward, until she saw the man's face. As her muddy, golden eyes looked to his brown, they focused, looking across the man's features. Then they widened in recognition, just for a moment. But as recognition dawned, her face fell.
"You are…" Aranwen whispered, before she gave a deep sigh. Slipping from Ch'dau's embrace, she fell to one knee before Randel, her head bowed as she awaited condemnation.
Ch’dau had spoken partially of the Sylvari woman, in the tales he told as they made their way to the campsite. He spoke of her strength as a leader, drawing those around her closer to each other in order to boost one another on the battlefield and in their everyday; he spoke of her grace and wisdom as a warrior and counsellor; and he spoke of the love and care she gave the Kazari and their “Little Kitten” everyday.
The latter was most evident now, as he stood before her, her red-rimmed eyes cast down in the guilt and horror that consumed her. Randel’s heart poured open for her.
The tall merchant dropped to a knee just in front of her, and cocked his head down, trying to find her eyes once again, “I am Randel Aldeath, Kithran’s father.” He began low, tentatively reaching out for her shoulder, ready to snap his hand back once again if she denied him, “And I believe I owe you the world, for being her mother.”
Aranwen shuddered, shaking her head as a hollow laugh left her lips, "Me?" her head tilted up, her golden eyes focusing on the man in front of her, "I am no mother. Would a mother lead her child into darkness, that it would consume them?" she snapped, "What I have done… I have done worse for her than that one who left."
Aranwen's voice fell, her face tilting to the ground once again, and she whispered, "Besides, she was never fond of Sylvari…"
A faint chuff escaped the Kazari, at that, and he offered a shake of his head. “She was fond of you, though, Ara,” he rumbled softly, padding a step closer to where Aranwen and Randel knelt, “and, like me, she followed you of her own free will.”
A memory came to Aranwen's mind in the haziness of her despair. The first time when Kithran accepted her touch. And she thought of when she took the steps into the damned den of the cultists, Kithran just in front of her, but with Aranwen ready to intercept any attack that came at them. At least, what she wished was any attack.
"I know, melamin… I know you both did," Aranwen murmured, "For my part, I made a promise to protect her, even if I never spoke of it to her. That oath is…"
She took a shuddering breath, "And yet…" she looked up to meet Randel's eyes, "You, the one who raised and still care for her, you hold no rancor against me?"
“How could I? You’ve willingly walked through hell for her, and I’ve no doubt that you would do it again.” And the pain he had been living with himself, that had settled in him, never to give him peace, suddenly rushed forth, and his own eyes dropped to the ground, “If not for me, you wouldn’t have had to feel this pain, Aranwen, and I am sorry for that.” His free hand went to his face and his voice filled with emotion as he continued with the grief that had haunted him, “If I had been a better father, paid more attention, protected her better, maybe then she wouldn’t have left me. Maybe I wouldn’t have lost her. I didn’t even know where . . . I didn’t know why . . .” His voice trailed off and his head fell lower.
Aranwen tilted her head, “She has always strived to walk on her own two feet. You allowed her that which she wanted - freedom and independence,” a chuckle escaped her lips, one holding warmth that she almost seemed unable to provide, “Perhaps she looked more grown to you, but to my eyes, she was still as a child in many ways. Children will always choose the path that draws their eye, no matter how dangerous that path truly is.”
I only hoped to protect her on the path she walked...
He nodded, his face still in his hand as he regarded one of the only beings in all of Audalis who might understand what he had been carrying inside himself for so long, “I just wish I knew why.”
After a moment Randel wiped his face and took several long breaths, meeting Aranwen’s eyes once again, “I don’t know all of your pain, but I see much of mine in you,” he paused, trying to find his thoughts, and placed his other hand on her other shoulder, “One of Kithran’s best and most exhausting traits has always been her persistence. If you’ve spent more than a minute with her, you know this.” A smile touched the corner of his mouth, the way it often had touched hers, as his eyes faded into the memory of his daughter, “I have no answer to what might lie ahead of you Aranwen, I don’t know what your path will look like, what will begin to ease the grip this pain has on your heart, but please, take this lesson from her. Keep persistent. Just keep persistent.” And Randel leaned in to embrace the Sylvari woman.
Aranwen flinched at the embrace, at first, still wary in spite of the warmth she could otherwise feel coming from the man. But, after that initial response, that initial reaction, she began to relax, “I will... try,” She murmured, closing her eyes as she leaned into the embrace. And in feeling the genuine warmth from Randel, the father who she was all but certain would have wished her life in exchange for losing his daughter’s, the tears she shed were of relief, rather than sorrow. In the depths of the shadows that shrouded her broken heart, the embers that had all but ceased to burn began to give a faint glow.
Ch’dau watched for a moment, his heart warming at the scene that played out under the trees around their humble camp. A satisfied purr reverberated in his chest and, as Randel and Aranwen embraced, the Kazari padded quietly away, returning to the cart in order to properly tend to the supplies he had brought back.
It is good, he thought as he climbed into the back of the cart, that they have met… that Ara has heard those words of comfort directly from the Little Kitten’s father.
He crouched down, opening the packs he and Randel had carried back from the city, and began sorting through the contents of each and relegating the provisions to their proper places in the few small trunks that lined the cart’s low sides. He couldn’t help but chuckle softly as he came to realize that there was less here than the weight of his coin-purse might have suggested when it had been returned to him and, remembering the chocolate streaks that had ringed the mouths of Danny and Chora upon their return, shook his shaggy head. Just like their sister, he purred to himself. They likely kept some of the coin, as well, before I had even offered it.
He grinned, in spite of the children’s trickery, and, as he stowed a bundle of turnips and other vegetables into a crate, turned to glance back at where Randel and Aranwen continued to converse. His gaze flitted away from them, then, and tracked back in the direction of the city for a moment before lifting skyward to check the position of the sun. Oh, kibibi, he sighed inwardly, if only you were here to see this… To see the love for you that is held in the hearts that truly adore you for who you are and not what you can offer in service to some misguided godling…
His purring was interrupted by a sharp lump that had suddenly formed in his throat, and he snorted in vague irritation as he swallowed it sharply down. “I hope that when I find you,” he grumbled under his breath as he forced his attentions back to tending their provisions, “that nothing keeps me from bringing you back here to meet your brother and sister.”
Soon enough, the supplies had all been transferred from the sacks and into their appropriate places in the back of the wagon. The Kazari had kept enough food out, though, to prepare a meal for three and, after securing the crates, climbed out of the cart and padded back towards the embers of the camp’s fire with those things nestled in the crook of a furry arm. He stoked the embers to new life, piled on a bit more kindling, and hung a pot of the rejuvenated flames before settling down beside the fire to peel and chop vegetables and a slab of fresh meat for the stew he would prepare. All of this, along with a splash of wine and a healthy helping of water were poured into the pot before, once again, his gaze tracked to where Randel and Aranwen sat talking.
“Forgive,” he called to the pair, stirring the stew with a wooden spoon as it began to bubble, “but I doubt, Aranwen has eaten since I left this morning and, Randel, I am almost as certain that you must be hungry following our walk back from the city. Come. Eat.”
The party gathered around the stew the silver cat had prepared for them, and shared the meal and light talk as the afternoon waned. To the Kazari and Sylvari, the merchant seemed almost immediately at ease amongst them. Though this was likely in part due to the pain and loss they shared, the familiarity he brought to the pair’s small group was nigh unsettling. For Randel, it was no wonder Kithran had found these two--a mythical creature and a legendary bladesinger? Of course, you lucky little peach, of course. He could only wonder whether her awe or excitement outweighed the other.
Their meal coming to completion, Randel’s dark brown eyes found the bladesinger’s striking golden ones once more. While she had been silent most of the time, he was grateful she did not feel the need to shrink away from him again, “Can you tell me, Aranwen, and I apologize for my lack of education here, but do bladesingers reserve their singing voices solely for the battlefield, or are they able to sing for the hell of it as well?”
The tips of Aranwen’s lips curled into a soft smile, “Well, that’s up to the individual,” She spoke, her voice still soft, but far less wispy than it had been, “Some only sing with their blade, others sing as they wish. For myself, I like to have blade in hand, even if only to dance with it in a moment of peace, rather than battle...” she grew a bit silent, holding one hand to her chest.
Randel smiled, “I am happy to hear it. Music is a Corian staple, whether one can find a key to hit or not. Kithran and I used to sing together to pass the days on the road. We would make songs together, or create them on our own to share with one another.” He set his bowl down and leaned forward, his smile beginning to tug hopefully at the corner of his mouth, “I was wondering if it would be too much to ask for you to share a song from me, once you find her, to let her know that I love her, and have never stopped thinking of her? Are you able to do that for me?”
Aranwen’s own smile faltered, “I cannot promise,” She replied, “I haven’t been able to sing in… a while...” She averted her gaze, "Not since…" the last stand. Her last song. A song cut short by spell, before she could put an end to the priestess. She shuddered where she sat, her golden eyes misting over. It was something she did miss, but she hadn't felt able to.
“I cannot promise,” She repeated, weighing each word as she spoke, and finding a hint of hope in them, “But I will… try…”
Ch’dau’s eyes widened a bit and danced expectantly between Randel and Aranwen. He hadn’t heard her sing in what seemed like an eternity. Now, at the behest of this man with whom they shared a love and a loss, the kazari’s hope of hearing the sound, again, swelled.
“Thank you.” He straightens his back once more, the merchant’s smile faltering just a little, “I began working on this years ago, shortly after realizing . . . well, you know.” He breathed a heavy sigh, “It became a mantra of sorts, in my darkest times, and eventually it became a comfort in and of itself. It was all I thought and felt for my daughter. There are no words, simply the tune. I will sing it as many times as you need. Are you ready?”
At the bladesinger’s small nod, Randel cleared his throat and closed his eyes, imagining the first note in his mind before he began. The song began low, soft, simple. The notes were deep but light, easily falling into one another to create a string of melody that built and rose in tempo and key. Randel’s brow furrowed above his closed eyes as the song met its apex, the time kept the same throughout but the notes and their connections coming quicker, falling earlier until finally they declined back into their comforting tones. The beat steadied and warmed, and eventually came to an end. Randel took another deep breath, before finally opening his eyes back to the two across from him, “What do you think? Will you be able to share that with her?”
As Randel sung, Aranwen’s eyes closed, her brow furrowed in concentration as she attempted to commit the melody to memory. Though she didn’t watch, she held her right hand beside her, its movements following along and measuring each note and its placement upon the scale. At the conclusion, she opened her eyes, “One more time, please,” She requested.
Once again, as Randel sang, Aranwen followed the song, concentrating intently on the notes and the rhythm of the melody. This time, however, rather than just her hand, Aranwen followed the notes with a silent humming, almost inaudible with Randel’s vocal performance. With a nod, she opened her eyes, “I think I have it,” She murmured.
Though Randel’s voice had soared above Ara’s, Ch’dau delighted in hearing her humming along with the man’s tune. It wasn’t singing in the way he had become accustomed to her do it over the years, of course, but it was more than he’d heard from her in a month or better and that was enough to bring a soft smile to the kazari’s face.
Randel nodded, an appreciative smile on his lips and in his dark eyes, “I cannot thank you enough.” His face suddenly fell into concentration as he began to look around at the ground beneath them. He stood and walked toward them, searching the ground some more before crouching in front of Aranwen, “I may not have any weapons on me to help make the singing more comfortable for you, however,” and that familiar grin touched the side of his mouth as he picked a piece of grass from beneath him and set it on her knee, “I do have a blade, if you need one.”
Aranwen stifled a giggle in her hand, "And a lovely blade it is," she returned with a gentle smile. Sadness lay beneath that smile, however, as she reflected on how long it had been since she held steel in hand that wasn't a product of delusion. It was for the best, though; she was aware enough of her current condition to know that it would only be a danger to Ch'dau or herself.
Ch’dau snorted and shook his head as he got to his feet and began gathering up the leavings of their lunch. “Now we know where Kithran’s odd sense of humor comes from,” he rumbled, padding for the cart. Still chuckling, he gazed skyward, then, and checked the position of Khr’a’s right eye before wandering back toward Aranwen and Randel.
“If we are to make it any sort of distance toward Meadowbrook, m’penzi,” he chuffed, resting a hand on Ara’s shoulder, “we should break camp soon, yes?”
She glanced up at him and offered a faint nod and he smiled in return. Her golden eyes still held the sadness he had become familiar with since Crandel, of course, but, at the same time, they were a bit brighter than they had been in some time. Ch’dau imagined that Randel’s presence had a great deal to do with that and, his eyes lifting from Ara’s face to Randel’s, he offered a nod of silent thanks.
“If you can wait until I have our belongings packed, my friend,” he rumbled, “We can offer you a ride as far as Calestra’s walls. I would be honored to spare you the walk.”
The elder Aldeath returned the nod and a smile. “And I would be honored to spend that much more time in your company,” he said, “Might I offer you some help in packing?”
“Mm,” the kazari grunted, “Thank you.”
Soon enough, camp was struck, the fire doused, and the mules hitched back to the cart. Ch’dau let Randel have a seat on the buckboard next to Aranwen and walked along beside the wagon as it rattled down the road toward the city. Once they had gotten as close to the walls as Ch’dau dared, he called the beasts to a stop with a firm tug on a bridle. “This is as far as we go,” he rumbled to Randel, tipping his head in the direction of a smaller, less used road that would skirt the city’s walls, “Our destination awaits us along this path.”
The dark haired man bobbed his head, offering a warm if somewhat saddened smile. “I understand,” he sighed, leaning over on the bench to wrap his arms around Aranwen, again.
“It was a pleasure… an honor,” he corrected, releasing Ara from the embrace as he turned and clambered down from the wagon, “to have met you both and to have shared in your stories of my daughter. Thank you, again, for everything.”
The Silver Cat shrugged and nodded in reply as Randel stopped before him and looked up with a wry grin tugging at the corners of his mouth. “Tell me, Ch’dau,” he smirked, “do Kazari hug?”
“No,” Ch’dau snorted, “they do not.” Then he chuckled, reached out a paw, and dragged Randel into a furry embrace. “I make this exception for you, Randel Aldeath,” he chuffed, “tell no one.”
“Of course not,” the man chuckled, patting the massive cat-beast on the back before slipping from his grasp, “your secrets are always safe in this family.”
“Secrets, perhaps,” Ch’dau winked, climbing up onto the cart and taking the reins, again, “Pockets, not so much.”
Randel laughed and nodded. “Just so,” he replied, taking a few backward steps toward the city walls. “Stay in touch,” he called, lifting one hand to wave at them as Ch’dau flicked the reins and the mules began hauling the wagon toward the smaller road, “and stay safe on your journey.” His dark eyes met Aranwen’s golden ones, again; “And, remember; Keep persistent. Just keep persistent.”
Aranwen gave a slight nod in return to Randel, and her golden eyes watched him as he departed on his path. As the wagon began to make its way along the less used path, Aranwen leaned in to rest her head at Ch'dau's shoulder.
"Will… Will I be able to sing, again?" she murmured to herself, her eyes closing as she relaxed.
“You sang, today, m’penzi,” he reminded her softly, letting go of the reins with one had in order to wrap his arm around her, “and it was beautiful.”
Aranwen gave a soft smile, "Thank you, melamin."
“Of course,” he purred, inclining his head to nuzzle her, “You will find your voice, again, Aranwen Galandel. Of this I have no doubt.”
As she rested, feeling the steady rhythm of the wagon beneath her as it carried Ch'dau and her onward, she took in a breath. The soft sound of her humming was faint over the wagon, as she began to practice the song she had just learned.
Ch’dau fell into silence, his ears and tail flicking happily as he listened to her humming, again. He was perfectly content to listen for as long as she wanted to sing and took comfort in the fact that she had even bothered to try. He had lost himself in the gentle strains of her voice and was slightly disappointed when, after a while, the song abruptly stopped.
He glanced over at her to find her regarding him, almost curiously. “What was that about pockets not being safe,” she asked, her golden eyes blinking in wonder.
“Heh,” Ch’dau chuckled, realizing that in the course of Randel’s visit, no mention had been made of Danny and Chora. “Ah, yes,” he rumbled, “When I was in the market this morning, Kithran’s little brother picked my pocket and her little sister facilitated his escape. This is how I came to find Randel to begin with.”
Those golden eyes almost seemed to sparkle again as they went wide at the revelation. “I wasn’t aware that Kithran had any siblings,” she said.
“Hm,” Ch’dau nodded, “I am not sure that she does, either. We will tell her about them when we find her, yes?”
Ara smiled softly and nodded in reply, her gaze drifting toward the city for a moment before returning to Ch’dau. “Would you tell me about them, now?”
The kazari smiled, too. “Danny and Chora,” he began, “both far too much like our Little Kitten for their own good…” As the wagon clattered on toward Meadowbrook, Ch’dau told Aranwen the tale of how he’d met them, what they were like, and how, in the end, it had been because of them that Randel had returned to their camp with him.
Posted on 2019-12-15 at 12:48:12.
Reralae Dreamer of Bladesong Karma: 142/12 2505 Posts
18th Ternoth Ore, 453 E.R. – Late Morning
Central Sylvari road north of Alfarin
Crossing over into the Three Kingdoms was akin to diving into the depths of the ocean to Aranwen. For all the familiarity the forest held for her, it also held regrets and no small amount of apprehension. She seemed even more withdrawn whenever they passed by Sylvari, whether a part of the border patrols, or villagers and townsfolk, barely speaking if at all to the Syl.
And yet, as Ch’dau brought the wagon deeper along the path between the Central and Southern Kingdoms towards Meadowbrook, quite out of the blue Aranwen spoke up, “Melamin, please, stop here a moment.”
When the wagon came to a halt, Aranwen’s head, hidden under the cloak she wore, turned towards the right, towards a path to the side of the road. Her breathing was quicker in her hesitation, and her hand found Ch’dau’s paw to steady herself, “There is… something… I’d like to do.”
Such vagueness was strange, coming from Aranwen. Even in her most delusive state, she tended to speak in definite terms, things she knew, things she felt, things that she remembered, or misremembered as the case may be.
“Just say the word; what is it?” Ch’dau asked in return, giving the small Syl hand a gentle squeeze in his paw.
Aranwen bit her lip, her hand trembling a bit, as she replied, “We are passing by Alfirin,” She replied, “I’d like to… stop there a moment. Not long… I hope.”
Though curiosity tugged at the corners of his face, Ch’dau nodded, guiding the wagon onto the side road towards the quiet Sylvari village of Alfirin. Aranwen’s place of birth.
Aranwen looked up towards the sky, taking in the position of the sun, “They will be in the garden about now,” She mused, “Front or side door?” She wondered, “Or do I go to her directly?”
Aranwen’s other hand went to her face, pulling the hood just a bit more over her eyes, “No, no no. Just in, and out. Fewer questions… questions I can’t answer.”
As Aranwen fretted over making her half-thought through plans, Ch’dau let go of her hand to reach his arm around her, “Relax, m’penzi,” He offered with a soothing purr, “Whatever is there, there is nothing to be worried over, yes?”
Aranwen sighed and gave a slow nod, “I just don’t know what I would say.”
All too soon for Aranwen, the wagon reached the outskirts of the town, and Ch’dau brought the wagon to a stop. To his surprise, Aranwen slipped off of the buckboard, unaided, before he had done the same, “I will… I will be right back, melamin,” she offered.
Ch’dau gave a frown, “Will you be okay on your own?”
Aranwen shrugged her shoulders, “I don’t know,” She admitted, “But… I want to… Need to do this.”
The cloaked Sylvari woman, though not as proficient with staying to the shadows as Ch’dau or Kithran were, walked forward, keeping to the trees to keep them between her and the village proper. It was all so familiar to her, no matter how long ago it was. Over a hundred years. She remembered which house to go to. The Galandel estate, so to speak, a humble two floor house beside a small plot of land that served as a large garden.
Keeping to the shadows of the house, Aranwen looked aside towards the garden. As she expected, she saw two older Sylvari there, methodically tending to the garden with care. Though she wanted to approach them, to see them, perhaps put at ease any worries they had for her, she couldn’t bring herself to. Instead, she took the side entrance, opening the door slowly while leaning on the hinge. A small trick she learned when she was little to keep this particular door from squeaking as it opened.
Inside, she breathed a sigh of regret. This is what she had left behind, over a hundred years ago, a peaceful village and a peaceful life, to pick up the blade and song. She wanted to protect her family, she wanted to put what strength she had towards helping others. Much like Saeriel. She walked further inside, one hand on the old wooden railing as she walked upstairs, wincing as one step creaked underfoot.
“Forgot about that one,” Aranwen muttered to herself, moving on and walking into her old bedroom. It was about as it had been left, undisturbed, but still well kept with the absence of dust.
Kneeling down beside her bed, she reached under it, and dragged out a long, wooden case. Her hands shook as she picked it up, and she could feel the sweat trickling down the side of her face. Her face twisted in pain as she wrapped her arms around the wooden box, holding it close to her. She didn’t even notice the soft footsteps behind her.
“Who’s there?” An oaken haired, and verdant green-eyed Sylvari asked, brandishing a broom.
Aranwen tensed at the voice, but immediately relaxed when she recognized it, “Don’t worry, Admara.”
The broom fell out of Admara's hands as her eyes widened in shock, “Aranwen?!”
“Shh!” Aranwen turned to the other Syl, holding a finger to her lips, “I’m not here, okay? I’ll be gone in just a moment.”
Admara shook her head, “You think I’m going to let you go that easily?” She asked, stepping forward and grabbing hold of Aranwen in a close embrace, “It’s been far, far too long, sis.”
Aranwen tensed in Admara’s embrace, but having been caught by her little sister, she sighed and relented, letting the wooden case go in order to hug her sister properly.
“You’ve grown,” Aranwen smiled.
“Ara,” Admara paused, looking into Aranwen’s eyes, “Your eyes…”
Aranwen averted her gaze, and Admara lifted a hand to Aranwen’s cheek, “You don’t look very good,” the younger Galandel spoke softly, “Are you sure you have to go? You could rest here.”
Aranwen nodded, “Melamin is waiting for me, I told him I wouldn’t be long.”
Admara’s eyes widened, “‘Him’?” She asked. Aranwen nodded once more, and Admara gave a cheeky smile, “Well, I’m not letting you go until I meet him.”
With a sigh of resignation, Aranwen nodded, “Okay, but I wasn’t here, got it?”
“Just like you were in bed all those nights a century ago, and not out in the woods with a pretend sword after dark?”
Aranwen groaned softly as she rubbed her forehead, and Admara gave a soft laugh, “Don’t give me that look. Your secrets are safe with me, as always,” she smiled, keeping Aranwen in a warm embrace.
With some effort to untangle herself from her younger sister, Aranwen picked up the wooden case, and the two of them quietly slipped from the house. As they approached, Aranwen couldn’t help but feel a pang of guilt as she saw Ch’dau pacing beside the wagon. She was gone longer than she had meant to be.
“Dear Adaron, he’s huge,” Admara’s eyes widened as she saw Ch’dau, and she gave another cheeky smile to her sister, “Sooo, how long?”
“We met the other year,” Aranwen replied.
Admara’s viridian eyes sparkled mischievously, “That isn’t what I was asking.”
Aranwen stopped mid step and glared at her sister, to which Admara laughed, “Come on, lighten up, sis,” And seeing the Kazari’s eyes wander over to the two Sylvari approaching, Admara waved, “Hello sis’s future husband!”
Aranwen held one hand to her forehead with a deep sigh, even as her cheeks flushed red, and as they reached Ch’dau, she gave the Kazari an apologetic look, “Ch’dau, this is Admara, my little sister. Admara, this is Ch’dau, the Silver Cat of Coria,” she introduced each other.
Ch’dau’s ears twitched and flattened all at once at the Sylvari girl’s call, and his tail coiled with the apprehension. Tentatively, he drew back his hood and extended a paw to Admara, “Well met…” He blinked and turned his eyes to Ara, then, “You have never told me you had a sister…”
Aranwen rubbed her forehead, “She was only about this tall, last I saw her,” She replied, holding a hand to below her waist height, “And it’s been-”
“Waaaay too long,” Admara interrupted Aranwen, poking her older sister in the side. As she took Ch’dau’s offered paw, she leaned forward as if to gossip, “Can you believe she was trying not to be seen? If I didn’t know better I’d say she was avoiding me.”
Aranwen sighed, taking the long oak box she had carried with her and placing it on the wagon, “Not you, specifically,” She replied, averting her gaze, “Has there been word from Ertain, here?” She asked.
Admara’s playful smile faltered, and she nodded, “Yes. Mom and dad are worried sick about you. We didn’t know where you were, even if you survived. It really is good to see you.”
Aranwen nodded, “Then…” She bit her lip. She had a lot she wanted to ask, but she was also afraid of the answers that she might receive.
At the mention of Ertain, Ch’dau instinctively stepped toward Ara and put an arm around her. He wondered, of course, about the box but, before that, he worried over Aranwen’s state of mind, even when she, herself, broached the subject of what had broken her.
Admara sighed, “Look, sis, I don’t know what’s going on with you, but I know you. Thirty-two years ago, you came home, with that box in your arms, and you hid it under your bed. You never touched it since, and I never opened it. Suddenly, you to come back, now, and take it…” She tilted her head, “Are you okay?” She asked.
Aranwen averted her gaze, shuddering a bit in Ch’dau’s arms. Admara’s eyes softened, and she nodded slowly, “Ah…” She stepped forward, once more wrapping her arms around Aranwen, “Sis, I might not know what’s going on, or why you’re hiding, but you don’t have to hide from me, okay? You haven’t been yourself in thirty-two years. At least, tell me where you are going. Even if you have your reasons to hide, I want to know where you are going to be, so I can see you later.”
Aranwen nodded slowly, “Meadowbrook,” She replied, “We were just on our way there.”
Admara nodded, “That’s not too far, at least,” She breathed a sigh of relief, “Your secrets are safe with me, as they always have been,” She repeated, her voice reassuring and gentle, “Are you sure you don’t want to stay and rest here? Even for a bit? Mom and dad are worried.”
Aranwen shook her head, “I can’t,” She replied, her voice cracking, “I don’t…”
Admara sighed softly, “You don’t want them to see you like this,” she murmured. At Aranwen’s nod, Admara hugged her closer, “Okay then. I’ll still visit you, at least. Take care of yourself,” She offered, before looking up at the large Kazari beside her, “And I’m trusting you to take care of her when she doesn’t,” She winked.
Ch’dau tilted his head as he regarded the youngest Galandel. This strange woman who seemed so different in personality as Aranwen, and yet, as he looked between Admara and Aranwen, and saw the genuine concern and caring nature in Admara’s eyes, he could see how they still resembled the other. He nodded his head, “I will,” he promised to Admara.
“Good,” Admara smiled, “Well, I’d best let you get going. But don’t think I’m not going to come by later to get the stories!” she gave a playful grin.
Aranwen rubbed her forehead once again, as she had several times before in recent moments, “They’re not all good stories,” She spoke softly.
Admara shrugged her shoulders, “I know that,” She replied, “But I still want to know. And I want you to know that you are not alone,” She smiled up gratefully at Ch’dau, “You have your love,” She looked back to meet Aranwen’s eyes, “You have your confidant of a little sister, and I know there has to be others.”
Aranwen couldn’t reply, as she leaned beside Ch’dau, her eyes closed as she cried. Soft, gentle sobs of relief. Admara gave a wave, before turning and dashing back to the village, with a skip in her step.
“So, that was your sister,” Ch’dau chuffed, shaking his head at how different Admara was from Aranwen.
“A little whirlwind that upends everything she runs into,” Aranwen chuckled, a smile tugging at her lips, “She’s much taller now, but she’s still much the same. She may yet become one of Haren’salkya’s Maidens,” She whispered, “When she comes of age.”
“Certainly has the spirit of one, it seems,” Ch’dau observed, his eyes roaming to the oak box that now lay upon the wagon, “What was it that you brought back with you?”
Aranwen looked up into Ch’dau’s eyes, her own eyes damp with tears, “Materials,” She replied, “If you wish to work with metal, this is perhaps the best steel as we may be able to get. If they can be made into new things, tools to tend to crops and life, then… I think… I think that will be good.”
Aranwen laid one hand on the oak case, and averted her eyes, even as she slid the lid off of the box.
Inside were two beautiful blades, one overlaid upon the other, made of finely wrought steel.
Posted on 2019-12-16 at 10:05:48.
Eol Fefalas Keeper of the Kazari RDI Staff Karma: 462/28 8466 Posts
Home is Where the Heart Is
27th Ternoth Ore, 453 E.R. – Mid-Morning The Village of Meadowbrook
For several days, Ch’dau and Aranwen’s wagon had followed an ancient track that ran along the banks of the Rapture of Light River, leading them north and east out of the Sylvarian Forest. With the woods behind them and the misty crags of the Chakran Mountains rising in the distance ahead, the couple had kept to the riverside road, avoiding any of the more travelled thoroughfares, for a few more days, still. Finally, as Khr’a’s Right Eye opened and peered over the Chakran summits, chasing the mists from the surface of the lake into which the river flowed, the Kazari and the Syl caught sight of their destination.
Nestled between the lakeshore and the foothills of the looming mountains lie the tiny, rural village of Meadowbrook. Simple earthen ramparts, topped by rough-hewn wooden bulwarks skirted the little town and, inside those walls, scattered amongst the fields, farms, and fisheries, were perhaps no more than three dozen buildings of various form and function. Most of them appeared to be simple, cottage like dwellings but there were other, larger structures, as well - a town hall rose in the center of the village, looming over the broad, cobbled street that ran from gate to gate through the town; several small shops huddled around what appeared to be a market square and, flanking the market one one side or another, were stables, a smithy, and what appeared to be a smallish barracks of some sort.
Aranwen relaxed as she caught sight of the town proper, leaning beside Ch'dau and exhaling softly, "It's just as I remember. Sometimes we'd receive metal from here at Megilindor Nost, and on my patrol route I always took the opportunity to take a brief look to here," she reminisced, "Even if not truly part of the Three Kingdoms, it was also a place I wanted to keep safe."
Ch’dau smiled faintly, pleased to hear the soft nostalgic tone in which Aranwen spoke of the place, as he looked over the village. “It is even smaller than Crandel,” he observed, watching the various inhabitants of the place scurrying about in their morning routines before the road descended a hillside and the timbers of the town walls obscured them from his sight for a moment, “and it looks much more peaceful. A good choice for our new home, m’penzi.”
As the wagon rattled along the road toward the south gate, he turned his eyes to Ara and chuckled; “You do not think the villagers will be too terrified of a cat-beast settling among them, do you?”
Aranwen shook her head, wrapping one arm behind Ch'dau, "If we bore them ill intent, they'd have reason to be, but we are only arriving as others seeking a quiet respite. I am sure they will understand; many here, I think, chose this place for the same reason."
Ch’dau nodded and chuffed softly. “This is good,” he purred, “we have come this far to avoid trouble, I would hate for any to be stirred by my presence.”
His gaze tracked skyward, then, and, as an early autumn breeze blew off the lake, wrapped an arm around Ara. A small chuckle escaped him as he recognized and recalled the positioning of the sun and the seasonal turnings of the weather. That chuckle became a broad smile and his eyes turned back to the woman at his side; “Do you know what today is, my love?” When she blinked up at him, he leaned forward and pressed his forehead to hers; “It was on this day, all that time ago, that Kithran and I landed at your feet in Sendria.”
Aranwen blinked once more, and recognition dawned in her eyes, "This day?" she asked, before she leaned in to Ch'dau's warmth, "What a day that was, too. To think we'd come across one another in such a place, in that chaos," her eyes grew a bit distant as she recalled, "I am glad for that, to have met you, and Kithran," she held Ch'dau close. She only wished that Kithran was also here, too.
“Mm,” he rumbled with a nod, “I, too, am grateful for that day,” he purred, “I found a new clan in that chaos. A family that I never would have thought to have on these shores…” He sighed softly, his paw giving her shoulder a tender squeeze as his thoughts, too, went to Kithran. “...My life began anew on that day,” he muttered after a moment, “I suppose it is appropriate that we find another beginning, in another place, on that anniversary, yes?”
"Yes," Aranwen agreed, her eyes closer to how they looked a year ago, that warm golden sheen as she looked to Ch'dau's blue eyes, "To begin, again…" she leaned upward into a gentle kiss, "It will be nice."
He savored the touch of her lips for a long moment, purring softly as he lingered in their sweetness. “It will,” he agreed, pulling back to stare into her gleaming golden gaze and smiling, too at how bright her eyes seemed, now, “Na’ku’penda... m’ke.” His smile preceded a chuckle that seemed driven by that last word.
Ara blinked, again, a vague expression of confusion playing on her features. Na’ku’penda, she had heard from him many times in the past months and had learned that it was kazari for ‘I love you.’ That last word, though… she couldn’t recall having ever heard him use it before. She searched her mind, trying to find her own way to a translation but, after a moment, shook her head and looked curiously at him. “M’ke,” she asked, “what does that mean?”
Ch’dau chuckled even more, and shook his head at the memory of Admara that had prompted him to use the word. “It means my wife,” he smiled. “Forgive if I assume too much, Ara,” he chuffed, then, “I just recalled your sister’s words from days ago and…”
Aranwen's eyes widened a moment in surprise, but just for a moment, immediately softening with a bashful smile that accompanied her cheeks deepening in blush, "Let's not tell her about that detail," she giggled helplessly, "She'd never let us hear the end of it," she let her warm cheek rest against Ch'dau's fur, and nodded, "my husband," she spoke in acceptance as she embraced Ch'dau again.
“I imagine she would not,” he rumbled. His ears flicked and his tail lashed happily even as his purring grew louder. He stroked a thumb across her cheek as she leaned into him and, as they approached the town’s gate, kissed her once more. “I will speak nothing of it to her until you do,” he winked.
“Ho, there,” a voice called from up ahead, forcing Ch’dau’s attention from Aranwen and to the pair of men who had just emerged from behind Meadowbrook’s walls. The taller of the two, a dark haired human clad in piecemeal armor and carrying a spear stepped into the wagon’s path and lifted a hand. “Well met, travellers,” he said as the wagon came to a stop.
“Well met,” Ch’dau nodded from beneath his hood his gaze ticking to the shorter man for an instant before returning to the other.
“Where ya comin’ from,” the tall man with the spear asked, reaching out a hand to scritch one of the mules on its nose.
“West,” Ch’dau replied, “most recently, Alfirin.”
The shorter man, stockier than the other, wearing a not well maintained mail shirt and carrying a cudgel in one hand approached Aranwen’s side of the wagon. “An’ what business ya got in Meadowbrook, then,” he queried, resting his empty hand on the buckboard, “Jus’ passin’ thr… Oh, Mother!!!” The short man staggered back a few paces, blinking in either fear or disbelief as he’d gotten a look under the wagon driver’s hood.
At that reaction, the man with the spear, too, backed away and, awkwardly readied his weapon. “What, Oric,” he demanded, “what is it?”
“I… I…” the one called Oric stammered, still blindly backing away from the wagon, his fingers fumbling on the haft of his cudgel, “I ain’t quite sure, Brif… What’s them big cats called? Tigers? I think it’s a tiger!”
Ch’dau shook his head, snorted out a chuckle, and slowly raised his hands toward his hood. “I am Kazari,” he chuffed, drawing the cowl back but keeping his hands raised as he looked between the two guardsmen, “and I mean you no harm.”
Oric and Brif gawked at the beast-man and exchanged uncertain looks with one another, then. They seemed to relax a bit when the Kazari made no move to so much as turn on the wagon’s seat but, still, they had yet to ease their weapons down. “A’right, then,” Brif nodded curtly, “I ask ag’in, Mister K’zari; what’s yer business in Meadowbrook?”
“I am called Samuel,” the cat-beast replied, then, inclining his head to the Sylvari woman beside him, “and this is my wife, Sara. We had heard that Meadowbrook was a welcoming place and had hoped to make a home here...”
Again, Oric and Brif exchanged indecisive glances with one another but, this time, the trembling grasps they had on their weapons eased and the tip of Brif’s spear pointed toward the road at his feet, now. “A home, ya say,” he blinked curiously, “Ya wanna live here?”
Posted on 2019-12-16 at 15:12:36.
Edited on 2019-12-17 at 09:50:32 by Eol Fefalas
“The Sylvari bladesinger and the giant cat man creature were back-to-back,” Danny said intensely from atop a box, as he and Chora reenacted the scene before their audience, “They sliced, they swung, they roared!” The red-headed girl let out her best imitation, and Danny continued, “But the hordes of evil continued to press,” Chora waved her hand around, slashing the imaginary creatures with her imaginary blade, falling back into the shadows behind her, cast by the candlelight before them, “And soon, it seemed as though the darkness would win,” and the girl fell around a corner, disappearing from sight.
Danny let his last words drift among the small crowd of the youngest Lovers of Fortune. Though a little older than him yet, he could tell he had them captivated. Let your audience come to you, peppercorn, he could hear his father saying in the back of his mind. And when he saw them slightly begin to lean forward, waiting on him to continue, he knew they had.
“And then,” he said in a whisper, so soft his audience grew even nearer, “from the darkness they thought they would fall to . . . FSEW FSEW FSEW!” He shouted, imitating arrows flying through the air, and the crowd bounced backward where they sat on the floor--both from Danny’s surprise exclamation, and the pebbles that now came flying at them from around the corner.
“Arrows rained from the sky! Falling down into the horde surrounding the duo, giving them just a little breath, a little chance, to maybe not give in to the pack on either side of them. But was it enough?” A silence fell again, until a small voice from around the corner shouted, “No!”
And again, louder, Danny asked them, “Would it be enough?!”
“No!” the crowd called back this time.
“Lucky for them, they had one of the Scarlett Mistress’ own to back them up!” The group cheered at the sound of Shinara’s nickname, “Again, from the darkness that surrounded them, a tall, graceful, beautiful, half-Sylvari, thief--and our big sister--” Chora popped her orange-head from around the corner to join Danny in smiling and waving proudly at their audience before disappearing once more, “rushed through the small path she had created with her arrows, ran up the cat beast as though he were a ramp, and flew into the air, only to come crashing down upon the bad guys! Daggers shredding all who were unlucky enough to stand in her way! Kithran Aldeath!” He shouted, hopping off the box in time for Chora to run out and use it as an imaginary cat man, launching herself nearly onto the crowd, and swinger her arms around, stabbing wildly at the imaginary evil foes that had surrounded her sister.
Danny hopped back onto the box, “Our sister Kith stabbed stomachs, legs! She swiped legs, pierced eyeballs and cut out tongues!”
“Ew, Danny,” Chora said, pausing for a moment in her swinging to catch her breath and glare at her brother. The young crowd, hiding their own disgust, giggles at the scene.
“You didn’t say she did all that when we practiced!”
“But she did! Just keep going!” And Chora continued, “Because of Kithran, messing with their foes here and there, knocking them off balance, catching them off-guard, the day, and the lives of the ferocious Kazari and incredible bladesinger, were saved.”
Danny jumped down from the box and held hands with Chora, as they both bowed before their applauding audience.
Danny and Chora absorbed every word their father had told them of their sister, from what he had learned in his afternoon with the Kazari and the bladesinger. While they had been disappointed that they couldn’t have also met the bladesinger because she wasn’t feeling well, their eyes had lit up at the news that their big sister actually knew one and was friends with one.
All of their lives they had been inundated with the stories the Lovers had told them when Serah let them run around the Long Gamble. Their father’s stories of her childhood had been funny--their sister getting caught for one thing, but tricking everyone by actually hiding the real thing--and Serah’s were sweet, what with how smart Serah thought she was, and how nice and sad her relationship with her late mentor, Tara, had been.
The Lovers stories, however, were always exhilarating--and not just the ones in Calestra. Coria City, Elanfalee, Ethryn, even the ones in Felarin had stories of their sister climbing things she should not have even touched, sneaking into places she should not have breathed near, and falling through the rooftops of people far too wealthy to even look her way.
Those stories, they knew inside and out. They had begged to hear them over and over again. But now, they had some stories to share, and the young and older Lovers of Fortune were the ones now begging for more.
Danny and Chora skipped home that night, laughing and reenacting their favorite parts of the story as one of the older Lovers ensured they made it back safe. It was the third night and third story they had shared, but one of their favorites. They didn’t have many more left to share, but they were looking forward to retelling them again and again.
Eventually the two settled down into a walk, looking down and admiring the sparkling circle of stars, of varying shades of red, pinned to their collars. The symbol of Shinara. A gift received upon their acceptance as Lovers of Fortune. Kithran had been one of the youngest to join at the age of ten. At nine and eight, the youngest Aldeaths now held that crown, however honorary it might be for now.
“Do you think she’ll ever come and meet us?” Chora asked, looking up from the pin at her black-haired brother. Everyone always said he looked just like their sister, but Chora always found that kind of funny, since he was a boy. Regardless, she did feel a pang of jealousy. With her red hair and freckles, she had taken after their mother for the most part. Except when she smiled.
“Yeah, of course she’ll come and meet us! She just didn’t know about us, and then she got lost on their last adventure. But when Araw . . . Aran . . . Ara feels better, she and the cat guy and their friend with the shield,” Danny hops down into a defensive stance, pretending to hold up a shield, “And their friend who can control light, they’re gonna go find her and bring her here so she can meet us!”
Chora sighed, “It’s going to be so long though. Why do they have to wait so long? What if our sister gets more lost the longer they wait? What if she can’t get back?”
Danny was quiet for a moment. This was something he had worried about for some time as well--at least for the last few days since their father had told them about it. He pat his little sister’s back, “It’s okay, Chora. She’ll come back. You met Ch’dau! There’s no way anything will get by him, let alone all of their other friends!” He gave her shoulders a little squeeze, “Just remember to keep reminding Shinara to keep giving her luck.”
“Be persistent?” Chora smiled, echoing their father.
Danny smiled back, “Yes, let’s be persistent!”
And the young Aldeaths found their way home.
Posted on 2019-12-16 at 18:46:10.
Eol Fefalas Keeper of the Kazari RDI Staff Karma: 462/28 8466 Posts
“Easy,” the old blacksmith cautioned, “just because you can smash it flat doesn’t mean that you should!”
The kazari apprentice blinked, stopping his hammer in mid-air, and turned his questioning eyes to Rakiim as the old dwarf clomped toward his anvil. “Yer makin’ a blade,” the grizzled, grey-haired Khord groused, climbing up on a box, “not drivin’ fookin’ nails!”
“Too hard, then,” the kazari sighed, the hammer falling to his side.
“Much too fookin’ ‘ard,” the old dawrf nodded, “Yer gonna have ta melt that anew ‘less ya want pices of it flakin’ off in a fight.” He took up his apprentice’s tongs, then, snatched the still orange bar of steel from the anvil and, after hopping down from the stool, pitched it back into the forge.
“Ye’ve gotta maintain smooth, even strokes, Sam,” Rakiim reprimanded, his broad hands on his stout hips, “Ye go smashin’ dimples inta th’ steel an’ ye do naught but forge inferior blades! Be tha’ wha’ ye want fer yer lady?”
“No,” the grey-furred beast rumbled, “I want a blade worthy of her spirit…” He frowned as he looked toward the forge where his steel was being re-melted, “…worthy of her skill.”
“An’ so, ye need ta fookin’ pay attention,” the Khord grumped, poking the tongs into the kiln and stirring the motlen metal as a result. “Smooth. Even. Blows.
Get the steel stretched an’ folded, first. Then, stretched an’ folded ag’in. Then, stretched an’ folded’s many times’s it takes ta get th’ best hold fer a blade. Ye’ll know it when ye press it oot inta th’ proper length an’ it dinnae sag, even yella.” The grey-bearded Khord thrust the tongs into the forge, once again, and, when he hauled them back out, he had the whitehot bar of steel clenched at it’s business end.
The kazari’s broad fingers flexed around he haft of his hammer and the khord grinned. “Now,” Rakiim grunted, “Smooth. Even. Think ‘bout th’ spine b’fore th’ edge…” The old Khord paused, scowled up at the big cat, and snorted; “…Matter o’fact, dinnae think about neither one o’ them. Jus’ set yer mind ta hammerin’, foldin’, an’ hammerin’, an’ foldin’ s’more, aye? Smoo…”
“Smooth and even,” Samuel rumbled, “yes, I heard.”
Rakiim stabbed a leathery, burn hardened finger up at the Kazari. “Dinnae be givin’ me none o’yer lip, ya big daft cat,” he growled, “I’ll climb up on tha’ table, yonder, an’ cuff ye roight onna snoot!”
“Gah!” The Kazari gnashed his teeth at the dwarf and snarled in reply; “And I shall be picking my teeth with one of your ribs before your stubby legs see you halfway there!”
“Oooo! Yer sooo skeery!” Through the plaits of his beard, Rakiim waggled his fingers at Samuel and stuck out his tongue even as his one good eye went wide in mock-fear. “Ye big puss!”
Both the Kazari and the Khord laughed, then, and Rakiim reached a hand up to thump Samuel on the back. “Fer truth an’ serious, now,” he grunted, nodding at the billit that glowed atop the anvil, “Hammer. Axe. Fold. Hammer. Forge. Repeat!” He clapped his heavy hands together and, then, made a shooing gesture before turning back for his bench. “I’ll jus’ be over here workin’.”
“You will be over there drinking, you mean,” Samuel snorted, swinging the hammer.
“Priv’leges o’ seniority, Sam,” Rakiim shot back over the clanging of hammer on anvil as he climbed up onto his stool and reached across his bench for the flagon that sat at the back. “Ye get a decent rough outta tha’ billit ‘fore we close shop an’ I’ll fetch ye a round o’ tha’ swill ye drink at th’ Lakeshore, aye?”
The hammer clanged again and the Kazari nodded even as his arm came around in another arc. “Deal,” he chuffed, “but just one. Today has already been long and I should like to see Sara with her eyes open before I have to come back here and slave away for you again.”
Rakiim pulled on the flagon, wiped the foam clinging to his moustache off on the back of his sleeve, belched loudly, and then snorted. “Oi! Tha’s no customer’s blade yer workin’ on over there,” he prodded, “Were ye m’ slave, I’d nae be allowin’ ye time fer pers’nal projects!
Fact o’ it is, I’d prob’ly ‘ave ye follow me home, sprawl yer fuzzy arse of afore th’ fire an’ have a go at th’ missus atop yer back as if ye were a roog!”
Samuel shook his head as he took up the hand axe and carved a seem down the center of the billit. “You are a strange stump of a man,” he chuckled, taking up the hammer and tongs again to begin folding the metal over.
The old Khord roared with laughter at that. Once he got hold of himself, though, he tipped the flagon to his lips, again, before leaning back and resting his elbows on the edge of the bench. “Speakin’ on havin’ a go,” he smirked, the wooly brow above his one good eye spiking curiously, “how’s tha’ work wit’ Sara an’ yerself? Tried ta imagine it once but it were…”
“That is not your business, ya'kh'ale,” Samuel snapped even as he smiled, “but…” and blushed if a kazari was capable of such a thing; “…it works.”
Hours passed and, with only a little more input from Rakiim before the sun set and Khr’a’s Left Eye opened on the town of Meadowbrook, the Kazari, Samuel, had managed to craft a sturdy, yet flexible, rough from the billit. When the Khord had had enough drink and enough of the clanging, he had clambered down from his stool and ambled over to where the cat-man loomed over the anvil.
“Hm,” the old smith nodded, eyeing the results of half-a-days hammering, folding, and forging, “Reckon them big ears do hear sommat o’ what I say inta ‘em…”
“Bellow into them, you mean.”
The Khord pretended as if he hadn’t heard that remark. Instead, he reached out a hand, took up the rough, and examined not only it’s vaguely curved profile but, also, the fine ripples beneath the carboned surface, that showed just how well the two metals had been fused. Grunting, he lay the thing back down before the Kazari and grunted. “Tha’s noice work, Puss,” he nodded, “I still dinnae see why ye had ta forge a whole new blade, though, when either o’ the pair ye slagged doon fer yer billit would’ve done…”
“It had to be new from the old, Rakiim,” Samuel began to explain again, “For Sara, there are memories and emotions in each of the…”
“Pfft!” Rakiim wagged a hand in the air, “I dinnae need ta hear yer philosiphisin’, Sammy! I’ve heard it plenty o’ late. Just sayin’ as I hope yer meltin’ doon them two fine Syl blades’s worth all yer work.” The Khord ambled away from the anvil then, belched again, and motioned for the Kazari to follow. “C’mon,” he grunted, scratching at his beard, “Sun’s doon an’ I reckon I owe ye a drink. Le’s go ta th’ Lakeshore!”
“Very well,” Samuel replied, wrapping his rough in a rune-stitched swath of black fabric and setting it aside for tomorrow before stalking off in Rakiim’s wake, “But just one…”
“Aye! Yes! Ya wanna go home an’ stare intae yer wife’s pretty eyes! I know!”
The Lakeshore Tavern - After Sunset
The Khord and Kazari from Ironforge burst through the door of the small, water-side tavern whether they meant to or not. As the two toughest, gruffest souls in the village - both of whom preferred the small, ramshackle pub to Meadowbrook’s larger inn - the slat-boarded door scarcely held up to their gazes let alone their shoving through it after the smithy had closed. As was typical, the Kazari that townsfolk had come to know as Samuel sought out a rickety table by a window in the lake-facing wall while Rakiim stomped to the bar and barked out their usual order...
“Two pints fer m’self an’ a mug o’ burnin’ piss fer th’ Puss!”
… Drinks procured, Rakiim tromped to the table, banged the simple wooden mug of liquor down in front of Samuel, and shifted one of the pints to his now free hand before climbing up onto the chair. “I still cannae fathom how ye drink tha’ fire-water,” he snorted at his cat-friend before draining away half of his first tankard in a single pull, “it’d burn the skin from a dragon’s mooth!”
“Hmm,” Samuel shot back, indulging in a slow sip from his mug, “I suppose that makes a Kazari mouth much stronger than a dragon’s, then…” another sip and a taunting wink across the table, “...certainly stronger than a Khord’s.”
“Oi! Ye c’n jus’ go hide unner a chair an’ lick yerself, lad!”
And so came the first laugh of the evening from the old blacksmith and his burly Kazari apprentice. More taunting and laughing would follow, of course, in between bouts of serious conversation, but rarely did it ever continue into the later hours as it did with some of The Lakeshore’s other regulars. No, more often than not, Samuel would nurse his spirits until Rakiim had started on his third pint and, then, as the dwarf lifted his fourth, the Kazari would excuse himself to the jovial enmity of his employer and saunter off into the night… and always straight from the pub to the little cottage along the walls in which he and his Sylvari wife had lived for the past weeks.
Tonight, though, Samuel didn’t so much saunter as stagger and, as Rakiim watched the big cat stumble into Meadowbrook’s streets, he chuckled at having ordered his apprentice a double. “There ye go, Sammy,” he snorted, lifting his mug in salute to the door that had bang shut behind the Kazari’s exit, “Ye go home an’ look inta all four o’ yer lovely lass’ eyes, eh?”
Raucous laughter erupted from the nearby tables, then, and Rakiim order one more round for all of those who appreciated his humor.
Shaking her head, the little Cidal serving girl swept Rakiim’s array of tankard from table to tray and rolled her eyes at the Khord. “Honestly, Rakiim,” she grinned, “I don’t know how Samuel’s not tried to kill you, as yet!”
“Not sure o’ that m’self, Blossom,” the old smith snorted, “Tale I heard o’ ‘Samuel’ in years past, I’m surprised he dinnae kill me th’ day we met.”
Blossom smirked and glanced toward the door before shaking her head, once more, her chestnut curls bouncing from her bare shoulders. “I reckon you might’ve set it up so Sara kills him when he gets home,” she quipped before skittering away, “How did a double make sense to you?”
“It dinnae make any sense,” Rakiim laughed, “tha’s why I done it! B’sides, the lad worked hard t’day… He deserved a bit o’ let loose!”
“Wicked old codger.”
“Fuzz footed floozy.”
“Just one,” Rakiim snickered, tipping the tankard to his lips. “It’s always just one…” he burped, wiped his mouth on a soot stained sleeve, and smiled; “...see ya t’mornin’, Silver Cat,” he muttered.
A Short time later - Samuel and Sara’s house
As he neared the gate, Samuel reached out a hand for the latch and, as he did, his head swam and his vision blurred for a moment. As a result, his paw swiped past the latch and he toppled forward, almost tumbling over the low fence that hemmed in the tiny cottage huddled against Meadowbrook’s timber walls. His eyes went wide and, as he tumbled forward, his claws extended and his hands shot out, catching him just before his face ended up in the freshly compost-tilled herb garden he had helped to construct not days ago.
“Whoa,” he chuffed, shaking his head and pushing himself to his feet, taking car not to crush the fence or the garden as he did. He blinked at the garden, then. Blinked at the gate. Stifled a laugh. Swayed, and once more reached for the gate’s latch.
This time it clicked open easily and he pushed the thing out of his way as he stepped onto the crushed stone path that led from the gate to the cottage’s front door. Turning, Samuel took a bit longer than was usual to relatch the gate but, after some fumbling and another snorting chuckle, he got the thing secured and turned for the house.
He glanced sideways at the herb-garden, then, lifted a finger to his lips and whispered, “Shhhhh,” before thudding toward the cottage.
He had less trouble with the latch on the door than he did with the gate but, still, he may have leaned a bit heavy on the handle when he pushed it open. The jamb creaked and the hinges groaned a bit before, blinking, the kazari stood himself up and took some pressure off the door. “Shhhh,” he hissed again, taking special care to close the door as slowly and silently as possible before turning to sweep his gaze over the meager, four room cottage. “Sara,” he called, louder than he’d probably intended, “I am home.”
There was no immediate answer and, as he teetered toward the water bucket on the table ahead, he called again. “Sara?” And he chuckled, scooping a ladle-full of water from the bucket and pouring it into his mouth. “Samuel is here…” He snorted, then, and laughed almost uncontrollably for a moment before sitting himself down in the willow woven chair and scooping another helping of water from the bucket.
“Damn you, Rakiim,” he chuffed, his head falling into his hands and memories of Kithran flooding back to him just as he came to realize that the Khord had ordered him a much stronger drink than usual. The laughter collapsed into hitching snarls and coughs as the kazari fought against recollection and rage… “Ara???”
Just as emotion threatened to consume the cat, the cottage’s tiny side door opened and Sara stepped through it, a small, rush basket nestled in the crook of one arm, and a bundle of wildflowers clutched in the other hand. Her head tipped to one side when her eyes fell upon Samuel doubled over the table and, when she realized he was fighting off tears, she dropped both basket and bouquet as she crossed the floor to wrap her arms around him.
“Be still, Samuel,” she cooed, her fingers finding the spot at the base of his ear that, if treated just so, would calm the kazari, “what’s wrong?” Her thumb traced a small circle where his outer ear met his shaggy head.
“Nothing,” Samuel grunted, choking down the emotion that had so suddenly crashed over him. “Rakiim and his pranks,” he coughed, shaking his head, again, and lifting a paw to take her hand where it caressed his ear. Then, sighing, he brought that hand to his lips, kissed it tenderly, and looked up into his wife’s concerned eyes; “How was your day, m’penzi?”
Sara leaned in to gently bring Samuel to one of the chairs as she looked him over, her golden eyes, no longer red rimmed as they had been for a long time, looking to his unfocused blue gaze as she continued to hold him in a gentle embrace. “It was a good day, m’une,” She replied, kissing Samuel on the cheek, “I’ve still many things to learn, a long way to go, as Mhera keeps telling me, but her words seem to hold less bite to them as she entrusts more to me to prepare in her mixtures,” she shared, her voice gentle and soothing, “Here, let me draw more water for you,” She offered, leaving Samuel only for a moment before bringing back a cup for him.
He offered a wan smile, accepting the cup but immediately setting it aside in favor of filling his hands with her. “My thanks, wife,” he said, pulling her onto his lap and nuzzling into her neck before she was even settled there, “but I have a thirst, now, only for you.”
He sighed, again, pulling her closer as his nuzzling became softer, less provocative… if only a bit. “Do you miss it, Ara?” he rumbled almost in a whisper. His lips met the spot where her neck gracefully met with her shoulder and, following the soft kiss he left there, he let his breath whisper over the spot a moment before lifting his eyes to hers; “Do you ever miss… being out there?”
Even as she seemed to contemplate an answer, the kazari shook his head, again. “Do not misunderstand, m’ke,” he purred, gesturing about their tiny cottage with the hand that was not holding her, “This life we have started to build, is more than I could ever have dreamed, here, on Capasha, or otherwise.” He blinked, then, and reached for the cup of water. After pouring it down his throat, he grinned at his wife, once more. “I do not know what I am saying,” he smirked, tipping forward just a bit to plant a quick kiss on her cheek. “Perhaps I should take to bed and forget what Rakiim has done. I have a project to tend to in the morning and I would hate to tarnish it with old stumpy blood.”
He pulled her tighter to him, then, nuzzled her once more and purred quietly; “Will you come?”
Sara’s head tilted a bit to one direction as she tried to follow Samuel’s words, as scattered as they seemed to be, but as he kissed her, she leaned back into his arms, and she nodded, “Mayhap I would share words with him,” She chuckled softly, “If not your claws; bed, however, does sound lovely right now,” she nuzzled gently against Samuel, “Of course I will go with you,” she affirmed, her arm reaching around him in a gentle embrace, “Lean on me, if you need,” Sara offered then, as she readied to help Samuel to their bedroom.
He chuckled at her mention of having words with Rakiim. “Perhaps you should,” he rumbled, “he fears you more than me, anyway. And,” he leaned in to plant another quick kiss on her nose, “should he protest much, my claws are yours.”
At her suggestion that she could help him to bed, though, the kazari veritably growled… or was it a purr?... and rose from his seat, carrying her up in his arms as he did. “I need no help other than your permission to carry you off to bed, Aranwen Galandel,” he smiled suggestively.
Posted on 2019-12-16 at 20:34:30.
Edited on 2019-12-17 at 09:33:35 by Eol Fefalas
Eol Fefalas Keeper of the Kazari RDI Staff Karma: 462/28 8466 Posts
Morning in Meadowbrook
11th Bre Tola; 453 E.R. - Before Sunrise
Samuel sat on the simple wooden stoop outside the door of their cottage, a cup of one of Sara’s herbal concoctions cooling beside him as he rasped a whetstone along the edge of a falcata that he had not brought to bare on anything other than shadow in quite a while. Every now and again, the Kazari would look up from his honing of the blade’s edge, glance in the direction of the yellow halo that the rising of K’hra’s Right Eye continued to paint over the distant peaks of the Chakrans, and steal a sip of the anise flavored tea from the clay mug before falling back into the peaceful rhythm of stone on steel.
The staccato scraping of steel was countered by a soft, contented purr that rumbled in the cat-man’s chest. The memories of carrying his wife to bed and the state in which they had left the blankets still fresh in his mind, there was no way he could have stopped the sound even if he’d wanted to. The bits and pieces that had led to him coming home in more of a drunken state than he had intended, though, and the uncharacteristic outburst of emotion that had followed, still weighed heavy on his mind. He preferred to entertain the happier, warmer thoughts, of course, but it had been the darker ones which had prompted him to take the falcata from the trunk once he had slipped from the bed.
What have you learned, friend Gib, he wondered, guiding the stone purposefully along the blade’s edge, When will you call upon us and tell us our kibibi has been found? He turned the blade over, set the stone to the opposing, and pushed it along its length. And what of you, Cedric, he mused, what news might you have for me should I show up on your step?
He sighed, using the breath to blow the steel shavings from the falcata’s edge before lifting it to the growing sunlight and inspecting his work. He pulled the blade back, then, and confirmed his visual inspection with the tap of a thumb. The freshly whetted edge easily split a line in the burn scar on the pad of his thumb and, poking the thumb into his mouth to stem the trickle of blood, the Kazari nodded, satisfied with his effort. The one blade was returned to its scabbard, then, and he took up his mug of tea, again, before freeing the second blade from the sheath and scrutinizing its edge.
“Hm,” he growled softly, not at all pleased with the tarnish and tedium the blade presented. He took another sip of tea, set the mug aside, and spit a small bit of his mouthful onto the whetstone before setting it to the steel. “It has been some time, indeed,” he muttered as the stone scraped away the first of the blemishes on the blade. A heavy second and third pass scoured out the line he hoped to follow, then, and as he flipped the weapon to do the same to its other edge, a voice on the wind was carried to his ear…
“Ho there,” Brif’s voice floated through the air from the direction of the gate which lie just beyond the field that flanked his and Ara’s cottage, “Well met, traveller! Where ya comin’ from?”
Samuel’s eyes panned in the direction of the North Gate, straining at this distance to make out the figure atop the wagon that sat under Grif and Oric’s attention, now. He was a larger figure, the Kazari could tell, clad in pale blue, and had a voice deep enough that the wind didn’t carry it well. He heard sounds that were made in answer to Brif’s standard line of questioning but precise words were not easy to pick out. He tipped and swivelled his ears, hoping to catch the words a bit better as he returned his eyes to the blade in his hand, but, in the end, heard no more of the visitor’s last words than he had the first.
Whatever the monkey’s answers had been, though, Brif and Oscric seemed to approve of them and waved the man on through the village. Samuel only glanced up again when the wagon wheels creaked into motion and watched as the large robin’s egg of a man goaded his team onward into the town. The wagon clattered along the main for a moment, as if it might pass straight through Meadowbrook but, as it drew near a junction that might lead lake-side, the wagon slowed and turned down the narrower thoroughfare. As the egg on it’s wagon nest disappeared from sight behind the houses that lined the street and obscured his view, Samuel went back to sharpening. When enough time had passed, though, that the wagon should be emerging at the farther end, the turquoise eyes lifted, again, to find the cart clattering to a stop at the post outside of The Lakeshore.
Early for a drink, Samuel mused, watching as the robin’s egg plopped off the buckboard and made for the Lakeshore’s doors. He shrugged, then, his gaze going, once more, back to the blade in his hand, as more than one other patron followed the blue-clad man inside. Not my circus, he snorted to himself, tracking stone over steel, Not my t’mbili.
The next little while was spent much the same. Honing his blade, sipping his tea, and checking the sun. After a time, the yellow halo that had graced the tops of the distant mountains had swelled enough to turn the skies over Meadowbrook blue and purple. He hadn’t quite finished with the second blade but the sun told him it was time for him to leave for Rakiim’s and, shoving the falcata into its scabbard, he sighed and forced himself to his feet. He slung both blaes over his shoulder, tucked his whetstone into the pouch on his belt, scooped up his tea, and trudged into the house.
Inside, he set his mug on the table before refilling it from the pot that hung over the hearth. Then, as that cooled, he padded toward the bedchamber he shared with his wife, returned the blades to their trunk, and perched himself on the side of the bed. “I have work, m’penzi,” he purred, stroking her hair away from her face with one hand as the other adjusted the blankets around her.
“Mmm,” she grumbled, shifting beneath the covers and wriggling closer.
Samuel chuckled softly, slipped a quilt up over her bare shoulder where it had fallen away, again, and leaned over to kiss her on the forehead. “I hope you have a good day, m’ke,” he whispered.
As he went to slide off the bed, Sara’s hand lifted to touch his back, “Mmm’une,” She mumbled sleepily, her golden eyes blinking open, unfocused as she gave a small yawn. When she saw Samuel’s head tilt in question towards her, she asked, “Is anything amiss?” her head tilting towards the trunk, “I thought I heard…”
“No, m’penzi,” he purred, settling back onto the mattress and reaching out a paw to stroke her cheek, “all is well.” He glanced in the direction of the trunk, then back at her. “I was simply… remembering,” he shrugged, a small smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.
He leaned over, then, and kissed her softly before rising from the bed, again. “There is tea in the kettle,” he said…
The concern faded from Sara's face as she relaxed once more onto the mattress, giving a contented sigh, "I'm glad. Thank you, melanin," she murmured in half wakefulness. A glimmer of dawn's light flickered in the window, catching the red in Sara's hair and almost giving her a warm glow about her.
Samuel paused in the doorway, a faint purr rumbling in his chest as he looked back at where she reclined amidst the covers. The morning light caught the red in her hair, setting it ablaze with a warm glow that seemed to envelop her in that moment. “Sometimes I find it all too difficult to leave you for the day,” he sighed, wishing he could crawl back under the blankets with her, “Your warmth is preferable to the heat of the forge.”
“Ah, but you would miss Rakiim’s banter, I’m sure,” she giggled, languishing in a stretch as she peered over the blankets at him.
“”Hm,” the Kazari snorted, “it is hard to miss a thing that never ceases.”
“I suppose you should go, then,” she smiled, “Miss me, instead.”
“That is much easier to do,” he purred in reply. “I will see you tonight, m’penzi.”
Posted on 2019-12-18 at 13:09:27.
Reralae Dreamer of Bladesong Karma: 142/12 2505 Posts
“Sara, pay attention,” the elderly Cidal woman spoke sharply, “When you work with herbs as long as I have, you get a feel for certain things. You have none of that, so we must cultivate it.”
Sara nodded, her longer, flame-tinged hair curling about her face for a moment as she took a breath. As harsh as Mhera was, at times, Sara had come to learn that it was her way to emphasize just how important it was that she learn properly. A misprepared remedy, tonic, or salve had the potential to cause more harm than good. In her years of experience and practise, Mhera had seen both good and bad remedies, and did her utmost to give Sara the knowledge and intuition she’d need in this field.
For her part, Sara put Mhera’s words to memory and parchment both, doing her best to learn what she could from the elder Cidal, whose hair was so white she seemed as if she were a wisp that would go out at any moment.
“Don’t underestimate the value of a good cup of tea,” Mhera told Sara, “A warm brew can warm the heart, and ease aches that don’t appear to the eye. Here, let’s see you cut these flowers.”
Sara approached the cutting board, but stopped as she reached a shaking hand for the small metal knife. She felt her breath catch in her throat, and a chill along her spine as her fingers grazed the handle; she could not take hold of it. Mhera’s gaze turned from scrutinizing to sympathetic as she looked up at the Sylvari beside her, “Still can’t, hm?”
Sara nodded with a sigh, placing her hand upon the counter to make it cease trembling, “I don’t know why-”
“You do,” Mhera interrupted Sara, “But you need not tell these old ears. Kith-Jora knows, I’ve enough burdens on my small frame already. The flowers still need to be split, however; the water will not take the essence of the flowers otherwise. So, we will work with what we have. If not by knife, use your nails to tear the petals. Carefully, mind you.”
Sara nodded once more, taking one of the flowers in hand. With methodical precision, she split each petal as she would have with the knife. As she worked, the scent of the flowers had become stronger amongst the many earthy aromas of Mhera's store. It took longer, but she had the flowers prepared as Mhera had asked. Mhera scooped the petals into a small strainer, examining them closely.
“Ideally, you would use a knife for this,” Mhera commented, “You can see where the petals were squished between your nails. It works for tea, but for something where you don’t want to bruise the plant, that will be much harder for you.”
Mhera paused for a moment as she regarded the golden-red hues of Sara’s hair, “You do show promise, though,” She acknowledged, "Even with the difficulties you have."
Sara blinked, looking to the elderly Cidal with surprise, “How do you figure that?” She asked, “I didn’t think I was picking things up that quickly.”
“You aren’t,” Mhera chuckled, “But, the mixture you’ve used to paint your hair, I can tell it was well made. Your hair looks healthy, and the colour vibrant. It must have taken you several attempts to get that right. That, my dear, takes dedication and an eye for detail, both of which are invaluable in our craft.”
“Persistence?” Sara asked, a small smile tugging at her lips.
“Aye, same meaning,” Mhera nodded, "Now then, let's finish this tea."
After preparing additional leaves and adding them to the herbal mixture, Sara set the kettle to boil. With a side glance to the white locks framing Mhera's face, she paused in thought.
"You've a question?" Mhera asked, looking up at Sara with a sly smile.
Blinking a moment at being called out, Sara nodded, "You say many burdens. How do you carry them without being crushed underneath?"
Mhera shrugged her shoulders, "Couldn't say, myself. I suppose I think of it as upside down."
"Up-side down?" Sara repeated, lifting a hand beneath her chin in thought.
"Aye. Changes the entire picture, doesn't it? Same with trees. Flip one upside down, and can you tell it apart from its brethren if it grows leaves either way?" Mhera mused aloud, "So if I think of the burdens as not in my branches, but in my roots, then I feel differently about them."
Sara frowned a bit, struggling to picture it in her mind.
Mhera chuckled, "Give it a few more decades, or centuries in your case. I imagine you'll figure something out. But right now, we have tea."
The tea had a lovely, fruity flavour to it that didn't overstay its welcome on the tongue. Sara gave a contented sigh as she enjoyed the cup she held, and Mhera gave a warm smile.
"See what I mean?" Mhera chuckled, "The satisfaction of a good cup of tea."