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The Reclaimers

Reclaimers Universe

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a part of The Reclaimers, by VindicatedPurpose.

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VindicatedPurpose holds sovereignty over Reclaimers Universe, giving them the ability to make limited changes.

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Heads Up: Completed Storyline!

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Setting

Default Location for The Reclaimers
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Reclaimers Universe is a part of The Reclaimers.

20 Characters Here

Mox Ierba [10] The weaponsmith
Alleara Delegio [9] Sophisticated scientist
Vander Zalek [7] "The desert can be a dangerous place....flying over it helps".
Shari [7] "I kinda feel bad, eating little animals. But it's better than eating people. Never doing that again.'
Eian Karimi [7] "I serve my people, myself, and whomever crosses my palm with money."
Kaidman Lheyr [7] "Don't ask a question unless you're prepared for the answer."
Seth Elijah [6] The assassin
Taro Zalek [6] The adopted son of Vander Zalek, who has no memory of his life except for fragments of before Vander.

Start Character Here »


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mox Ierba Character Portrait: Jolo Grossman Character Portrait: Aug Feyleth Character Portrait: Haniea Bitava

Earnings

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The timekeepers say it is ninety days into the 514th year of Jeytelh's ride.

-

At the southwestern edge of Protectorate City, near the wall, was a restaurant.

At the table closest to the wall, sat two thieves.

"No. I don't believe in it," stated the first.

"'Don't believe in it'? In tipping? Are you serious?" the other one shot him an odd glance.

"Dead serious. They have a wage, why do they need charity from me?" the first thief wiped his hands.

"Well...because they bust their ass for you. Serving others is a hard job. It’s even worse when you live in a place like this."

"In the past hour that we've been sitting here, he's only refilled my canteen once. Once! I don't think he’s doing a good job of servicing. For all I know, he spat in our food."

The second thief folded his arms, "One. You know that water is a scarce resource right? And two, that..that’s just gross."

An explosion ripped through that portion of the wall. Smoke filled the sky, and debris littered the ground. The restaurant that stood there, along with everyone inside, was completely obliterated along with the wall.




Drakyvaria

"Aware. Indeed, I am."

The magnificent palace of the Primarch sat at the very end of the long central road that stretched from one end of the Drakyvarian capital to the other. Along the way, the central road was bisected by various other smaller roads and alleyways that made up the heart of Drakyvaria.

The Primarch's palace was an agglomeration of many spires that stabbed into the brown sky with great red banners at the tips of those spires bearing the Primarch's sigil, a Draconian countenance marked in pure black. The great stairs rose from road level and went up many steps until they reached the great entrance of the palace.

Flanking the open entry way were rows of guardsmen clenching their pole-arms with solid faces. While the desert wind blew and the banners flapped, their faces remained the same.

It was another day as the sphere of Jeytelh rose across the sky slowly. The merchants and the bazaars were lively, and they should be. Their great nation was thriving; there was peace with the Protectorates and peace with the Solarians.

Who would have thought that those two other kingdoms could be such lucrative trading partners?

The Drakyvarians did not when they went to war with those kingdoms. Twice with the Protectorates, and thrice with the Solarians. There would have been four wars with the Protectorates had the young city been established sooner. Of course, the city of thieves and swindlers had thieves and swindlers for their leaders. And those leaders were among the best of swindlers and thieves when handling diplomatic matters.

The Solarians on the other hand, a great plague should befall them, thought the average Drakyvarian. They won one, and lost two against the collective of pinks, blues, yellows, browns, grays, and whatever it was that made up Solaria.

The Solarians would not yield their precious crystals, and they understood nothing about honor. Drakyvarians understood much about honor, they claimed that it was bestowed upon them by the Gods, and that every Drakyvarian youngling was born with it in his blood. And that the substance of honor was what created their Xth metal. They thought they knew what they believed to be honor.

They were prosperous under the magnificent reign of their Primarch, Aug'Feyleth. He who commanded the sky and wind as the common Drak claimed to other kingdoms.

In truth, Aug'Feyleth should be known for his shrewdness of character. A trait perhaps not inherited from his father, but has saved his life from many assassination attempts since the day he took to the throne.

-

"Then, Lord Primarch, we must make haste to your retreat in the south."

The prime adviser of Aug'Feyleth was an old Drakyvarian perhaps in his early eighties. Compared to humans and other species, Drakyvarians had long lifespans. The old lizard walked with limber movements, spoke in staccato, and bore paranoid eyes that darted around the great chamber.

He had been a great counselor of Aug'Feyleth's father, but he continues to blame himself for the last Primarch's death. To some degree, he has made it his life's goal to protect the younger Feyleth and ensure that he does not have two Primarchs die during his tenure as prime adviser.

The old Drak paced about before Aug as the monarch sat on his throne in battle dress. Drakyvarian Primarchs were always expected to wear armor in the court, or out in the streets whenever they paraded. It was meant to show strength, but also to protect the Primarch from assassins in the streets.

The only place they were allowed to wear anything else was their private chamber. Sleeping in armor was uncomfortable. And should a Primarch not get enough sleep because of this, his disposition would be affected the next day. The following result would be the rolling of heads. The royal servants knew this better than anyone.

The court room was quiet with the exception of the wind that rolled through. The great banners were partially bathed in the filtered light that shone through the opening in the ceiling.

"They present no serious threat to me at the moment," the Primarch reasoned, "Just another sword above my head like so many others."

"Lord Primarch, your policies as of late have not appeased them. In public they may seem firm. However, within their homes they whisper about how you anger them. We stand upon the threshold of a golden age that could simply slip away if they manage to kill you."

"Manage to. There's really not much to fear as I've strengthened the guard. My own House supports me, as well as our allies. I think that is enough for me to move ahead with our current plans."

"Lord Primarch, your father said the same. For all we know, they might have loyalists within the ranks of your guard. I, for one, am surprised that you see no fear in our current state of affairs."

A smile grew on the Primarch's face, "What is it that those humans often say about fear?"

He stood up from his cushioned seat, his leathery hands knobbed behind him as he strode to the edge of the atrium and looked down the great steps and into the fluttering marketplaces down below. The wind had slowly carried the sand of Ba'Gatha onto the little nooks and crannies of the steps until they were no longer as white as before when the city was first built.

"Fear is a choice, Rielc."

"Lord Primarch," the advisor replied with his own smile, "The humans...they should be the last place that you draw enlightenment from."




Protectorate City

"Order please, everyone."

The Dome was the council chamber where the head council met. It was there that they discussed, disbanded, and decreed laws.

The Dome was shaped like a dome, if it was anything else, it would be a misnomer. The dome itself was supported by giant columns planted in a ring at equal intervals to distribute the pressure out from the center of the dome as well as give the structure a feeling of space and openness.

The former being something that denizens of Protectorate City craved, while the latter being something that they disdained when it came to the personal sense of the word.

It was for that exact reason that they decided to keep their meetings in open air. It was one of the few things that put people at ease in a city that tends to distrust itself.

Of course, the Dome had metallic folds that automatically created an interior once they seal off the outside, letting no light or air in except that which comes through the various vents located on the roof of the structure. These serve for privacy purposes, and more often than not they were used. Not only to hide from the city's own eavesdroppers but the spies of other nations as well.

Protectorate City was known as a haven for all, and thus it became home to many types of people from both Solaria and Drakyvaria. It was often hard to identify a Protectorate citizen from an outsider spy. Any critically classified discussions that the council held were to be behind closed blinds.

Inside the Dome was a wide and round central table made of metal with seven seats planted around with equal distances apart similar to the columns that held up the dome.


Each of the current council members were prominent men and women. However, due to the quick rotation of regimes, the only law that prevailed in Protectorate City was the minimal tax needed to fund the Guard. That was barely enforced though. Beyond that, the incumbent members usually devolved into managing their personal affairs and economic territory.

On this day, four of the seven were meeting in the Dome.

"From Cloud Hills to Razor Mesa, my territory."

Abaryn Fells was just one among the seven ruthless merchants, traders, backstabbers, swindlers (the list could go on) gathered around that circular table. He had an eye patch, although people doubted he was blind. He had a blonde goatee with long flowing hair. Many a woman has fallen for his dastardly charms, except for the sharpest of them.

"The hell you are. We all agreed on no claims for Cloud Hills, it was supposed to be fair game for everyone."

And one of the sharpest of them, Cidny Kaith, was there. Jet black hair, trimmed according to Guard regulation. She was a Protectorate Guard captain for a time during the Second Drakyvarian War. She had been successful in swaying the majority vote of four to three for the City to keep the taxes to support the military. Her agents were within that arm, and they funneled part of the funds back to her. She was shorter than everyone else there, standing at a mere sixty two inches, but she spoke with a screechy voice.

"You mean like the Guard?" Homar Noktios interjected with a condescending glare.

Noktios was one of the minority members who voted against the raising of taxes. He was one of the first who became aware of her operations within the Guard. He sported loose light brown garb that draped across his pauldrons, but left most of his tanned torso bare. He also wore thick contraband vambraces. He had a tattoo design that circled his eyes and met at the center of his forehead. His red mane was tied down to one pony tail.

“What about the Guard? I barely get shit from them; nobody bothers to pay taxes except for the idiots…good people, still idiots.”

"She's right about the Hills though. We all agreed on fair play. Whatever fair means these days."

Quinta Valorum, diplomatic, deadly with knives, and despite her amputated arm which she kept wrapped in silk, she was still eye candy for many men in the city.

Abaryn scratched his jaw, trying to determine his options.

"Fine. But tell your people to stay out of Razor Mesa," he jabbed at Quinta.

Quinta simply smiled, "I can't guarantee that hon'."

"Well then I can't make any guarantees about the Hills can I?" Abaryn said.

"I don't think you can make any guarantees about Razor Mesa either. From what I hear, a Drak lord has had his eyes on it for quite a while now," Homar grinned.

"And from what do you hear?"

"Oh…from a couple of ears that I have around," Homar shrugged.

"I thank you for your concern, but that's my business that I can handle," Abaryn concluded.

“So what do you guys think about Jolo?” Cidny asked.

“A threat,” Quinta planted.

“I agree,” Abaryn continued, “If we can reel him in…remove the head and the body will follow. Those rangers of his…”

As Quinta was about to speak, a large explosion in the distance disrupted their little meeting. Smoke billowed from the site as they stood from their seats, unsure of what just happened.

"...By Jeytelh..."




Dunes Near Protectorate City

"Don't die on me boy."

Jolo’s voice would not be enough to deliver the man from the grips of oblivion. The ranger's hands were covered in bright red as he tried to hold his intestines in. Jolo's own was drenched in the dying man’s blood as he held tightly onto his free hand.

Wounded. The ranger was clawing for breath. He leaked blood into the sand upon which he laid.

Another ranger shadowed the men; she stood a couple of steps away. This was the first time that they had actually gathered in number, most of the time the Rangers acted independently, but within the confines of their credo. However, this...situation…warranted a different approach.

“What do we do?” she asked as she looked around.

Jolo cradled the younger man within his arms. The veteran knew by then that the dying ranger was very likely…gone.

Jolo remained silent until, “We’re dealing with something else entirely here.”

The dying man choked and gasped while looking at his chief.

Jolo saw the man try to speak. He knew that the ranger was begging him.

It only made things worse.

He pulled out his knife which he laid at the man's throat.

The man twitched lightly as he tried to raise a hand toward his boss, grasping for his coat. One last plea.

-

Once the deed was done Jolo stood up, "Which way did they go?"

The ranger pointed in the direction of Protectorate City.




Solaria

"Where am I, Khundis?"

"Why, your majesty, in the Palace of the Sun. Why do you ask such a question?"

At 26 years, Haniea looked out the balcony of her grand palace and into the rest of Solaria. A brief wind touched her face as she pondered how she came to be where she was. Some say she had the look of a goddess.

"My queen," the head servant paused, "You need to get dressed in order for your address before the representatives."

The other servants moved about her chamber gathering her clothes and dress.

"Do you not think that I belong elsewhere?" The young queen turned from the balcony and strode to the center of the chamber.

"My queen, the High Lord himself has made you our queen. He who carries the light of day has chosen you. Please your majesty, stand still."

"No, the Matriarchs chose me," the servants quietly undressed the queen as she stood perfectly still.

"Your majesty, don't be blasphemous," the head servant whispered.

The queen stood there naked before the servants as the sun shone in from the east. They pulled her within the long white robe which she slipped into snugly. It was a dress fit for a queen, with a collar ruff that flared in the back with an air of elegance. It was a simple dress, meant to play a subordinate role to a queen's character.

To adorn her dress was the Pendant of Jeytelh. A fine jewel, it was shaped as a smiling sun with stretching flames. Embedded within his eyes were two Solarian crystals. The pendant served as a royal heirloom, passed down from one ruler to the next. It was a symbol of Solarian royalty, and excellence.




“You are still young, so remember not to speak out ahead of the elder representatives.”

“I will remember.”

“This will be your first impression with them.”

“I understand.”

Haniea moved through the hall, escorted by a royal entourage of servants who followed behind her carrying the tail of her dress. Guards stood on both sides of her path to the assembly hall.

She entered the chamber with her hands clasped before her. She was expected to show strength with grace.

The light filtered through the openings in the ceiling. The young queen took her seat on a raised platform. The chamber was filled with drapes that hung loosely for aesthetic purposes. Several support beams stretched from the walls and formed a web in which a giant blue crystal was embedded.

The representatives from the various quarters were there. They were situated at their tables, which were positioned to form a pentagon with the platform upon which the young queen sat.

-

“Desert raiders and our water supplies, they have been sabotaging our canals. As of late the marauders have been hitting closer to our territory. How should we address this?” asked one of the representatives.

“The Protectorates seem to have handled the problem well,” replied another.

“In their territory…we can’t trust a city of thieves to handle our security,” the first said.

“Your majesty, do you believe in the ability of the Sunfires to handle this new threat?”

Haniea paused for a moment, “Yes, I do. This threat is nothing new.”

“Nothing new? These raiders have become bolder with each passing day. They’ve grown cunning. And what of the assassins?

“The Sunfires are patriots of our city. They will handle these matters, as they always have."

“I see…” the Vaul delegate replied.

“We care for your well-being your majesty. The passing of the late queen…has been a terrible tragedy.”

“Thank you, representative Aureliar.”

The delegation concluded once they finalized the funeral arrangements for the late queen.




Outskirts of Protectorate City

Mox Ierba had no idea what he had gotten into. In hindsight he realized he should have just hid behind his forge when they came.

Not that it mattered anymore. They came out of nowhere and he had hoped that he wasn’t the only remaining decent citizen in that part of Protectorate City. But he was.

There was an explosion. Everything seemed a blur.

He managed to fight off a couple of blows until they surrounded him, he did not really remember what happened.

All he knew was that the sand and wind kicked in his face, and his hands were bound at the wrists as he was being dragged by some creature. They were taking him somewhere he did not know.

He fell unconscious.

-

The band of twenty or so finally came to a stop at some checkpoint.

The head of the group raised his hand to signal a halt. He was mounted atop a grey quadruped desert beast that had conspicuous curved horns protruding from above its eyes. In fact, each of them was mounted atop these beasts. They served as rapid transport bearing loads of items.

“We’re going to split here to lose them,” the head gruffly voiced.

“Who? The rangers?” asked one of his henchmen.

“Not just them, by now, they’ve probably got the Guard out too. Cover your tracks; we’ll meet on the far side of this desert.”

They disappeared beyond the scarves of sand.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mox Ierba Character Portrait: Kaidman Lheyr

Earnings

0.00 INK

90th Day

Dunes outside Protectorate City


The sun scorched the deserts of Protectorate City. One could often wonder why people fought so hard in their revolutions to secure a rather useless field of desert and a trading hub. But the Solarians with their oppressive loyalty to their monarchs and the Drakyvarians with their rather snide look upon all others didn't offer many better choices.

A figure stood upon a long canyon wall which split into two ravines, one leading towards Solaria, the other acting as a sort of boarder with the country once you went out far enough. The canyon seemed to be carved out by an old river which has thinned increasingly more over the centuries. It was only about knee deep and ten feet wide now, and is said to be tainted with mysterious Solarian substances to kill the Protectorate population. But Kaidman had relied on the source for some years to come, and knew this was only myth, like his secrets are said to be.

The long road Kaidman stood by a road that went along the canyon wall from the depths of Protectorate City. A large cloud of dust was kicked up by some animals rushing along the open land. Squinting at the horde, he could see large rugged animals carrying their mounters. As they came closer, he could finally see someone they had taken hostage, and the insignia the animals and had carried seemed to be indicative of a bandit group.

Finally, the group began to pass him, animals stampeding. He saw the beast in which their prisoner had sat on, near the back of the group. Keeping his technique rather discrete to the band, a shock wave concealed by the dust kicked up by the blast was aimed at the rider carrying their prisoner tipped the animal as it ran. With a some sort of grunting as it fell to the ground only some feet up the road. Running to where he had fallen, Kaidman reached for the bound man, pulling him back and noticing he was unconscious.

Looking up, the group had rounded about to notice their fallen companion who struggled to his feet.

"I wouldn't mess with people that aren't yours," he told to the bandits as they approached. "Having lived out here my whole life, I'm quite interested, where are you taking him? There's nothing interesting around these sands." The question was designed in such a way it could only incriminate them, so Kaidman thought. Perhaps they were trying to tie up loose ends with mysterious deaths or assassinations in Solaria, or were organizing a sort of slave trade. About ten of them encircled Kaidman.

"Listen kid," one of them said to the warrior, "I wouldn't bet on you getting out of here alive... you chose the wrong business to but into."

"You'd be surprised."

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Alleara Delegio

Earnings

0.00 INK

90th Day

Solaria


“Well one would assume they will lay her out and the viewings will be first.”

There were sipping noises and the clanking of glasses.

“Oh of course. Do you think they will let the ‘others’ in with us at the same time?”

Alleara raised her glass to her lips once more to stifle the almost growl of indignation that threatened to escaped. It was Meldra that was the worst, holding herself above everyone else in Solaria. She would have put herself on the same level with the Queen if it wouldn’t have been considered a treasonous offense. The fact that her mother socialized with Meldra and these other women bothered Alleara but worse was that she made her social with them as well.

”t is to keep your good standing. A man will marry for family name and by keeping good company we keep our name in a positive light.”

“And if I do not wish to marry or I wish to marry a man who values my intelligence?”

Her mother’s horrified look said it all.


They clucked like hens discussing the timing of the viewings and the organization details. Alleara rolled her eyes and looked to the window.

A lovely breeze blew through the open portals and cooled down the room, excising it of the women’s hot air.

Alleara didn’t care about things like the funeral organization or what food they would serve. She was already going to have to dress up, walk past the Queen’s laid out body and then mingle with those she found the most annoying and pretentious in the whole of Solaria.

“Do you think they will put the Queen in white?”

“Oh yes, that would be traditional. I wouldn’t think they will break from that.”

“I don’t know the new Queen is so...’young’ what if she is not overly familiar with tradition or worse what if she thinks to be progressive?”

By the mutterings someone listening might have thought that progressive thinking was akin to murder by the way the women reacted.

Alleara frowned. Would a change of things be ‘so’ bad?

“Well that begs the question what do we wear?”

Alleara’s body slumped in her chair and she almost groaned aloud. She couldn’t believe they were discussing the clothing options for the funeral. Did they really have nothing better to discuss?

“Well I would think a purple or blue would be respectful. Staying away from yellow or white of course.””

“But of course....” Alleara mocked under her breath.

“What was the Alleara dear?”

Her mother addressed her and Alleara silently cursed her good hearing. If there was one thing her mother did well it was hear ‘everything’. From the quietest secret or the sneaking of her feet down the hall her mother heard it all.

The look in her mother’s eyes told Alleara that she had indeed heard her daughter’s mocking though her face was the perfect mask of politeness.

Alleara shifted uncomfortably in her chair. “I think red would be a poor choice as well, given the talk that her death was murder.”

The women began mutter.

“Too true...too true.” Meldra agreed. “If one wore red it would be like saying they know it was murder or worse that they were involved.”

One of the women gasped. Another fanned herself.

“Well we all know it is the truth. No one has come out to take responsibility is all.”

“You mean, assassinated?”

“Of course. Protectorate likely.”

“You think so?”

“Or maybe someone here in Solaria....” The woman leaned in to whisper conspiratorially. “The Queen was not always favoured by everyone. She did too much at times. I heard there were some who felt as if they did not get a fair share of her time or her ear to voice their concerns or needs.”

“I think it was Drakyvarian assassins.”

Meldra rolled her eyes. “Really and do you think they are responsible for your backside growing so large in the last month? Honestly Petrie. There aren’t any even in ‘Solaria’. Do you think they somehow disguised themselves?”

The woman looked fearful for a moment. “Can they do that?”

Alleara’s mind immediately began working. Would it be possible to create a device that would allow one to be invisible? She frowned, her mind working out all the issues and problems that would come from making such a thing happen. What of a mask? Something made to cover ones face? But you would have to cover hands...the material would have to move with the person...

The women around her clucked on about mysterious assassins.

“It matters who but it also matters how. I heard it said there was not a scratch on the Queen.”

“I heard there was a knife in her back.”

“Oh goodness, you are a ninny and so literal...”

Alleara turned her attention back to the women. It amazed her how one minute they could be talking away about dresses and colour choices yet now they talked assassins and methods. They could rule the councils if they spent their time focused on things that matter, things of intelligence rather than mundane, tedious things.

“You know poison could be used quite easily.” Alleara’s voice broke through their chatter. “There are different kinds, some that show no signs of being used. Many need to be ingested though...”

She was lost in her thoughts on poison and the various ways it could be tweaked or used.

Around her the women were in a twitter about the very idea that someone poisoned the Queen. Alleara didn’t really understand why they were so a flutter since they were the ones who had started the discussion.

She dismissed them and turned her attention to the mystery before her. Who killed the Queen?Why and more importantly....how?

Her feet moved, she wanted to leave the little tea party and head to her father’s lab, to start writing down her theories and lists.

Her mother gave her a look that told the young woman to sit still.

Alleara endured another forty five minutes before she was allowed to run off to work in the lab. She ran down the hall, her mother glaring at her back. She had work to do, so many ideas that she needed to write down and experiment on.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Vander Zalek Character Portrait: Taro Zalek

Earnings

0.00 INK

90th Day

Solaria


Vander checked the money. "All right, all here. Pleasure doing business with you" Vander noted, as he moved to put his payment in a secure location. A few of the Sunfires took the cargo they had been hired to deliver. The cargo was supposedly nothing special, but then again none of the cargo they ever carried was nothing special. And several times that proved to be false.

Vander had his fair share of cutthroat encounters. He had grown tiresome of dealing with them, even though he did so effectively. It was a dangerous world, and one that would grow only more dangerous. Cutthroats, bandits, raiders. Usually they avoided them, but sometimes they would have no choice. Especially when it was their buyer who tried to betray them, which happened more times then he would like. However, most of the time at the end of the day he escaped with the payment and the cargo, so it worked out rather well. They could usually sell the cargo for more payment.

Occasionally they would take passengers too, but that was rare. They had to give a really good impression. Vander had only made one exception to this, and that was with Taro, his adopted son.

Taro was perched at the very top of the Aeroship, watching the city below. He loved to just sit and watch up there sometimes, looking at people as if they were tiny. "Taro, we need some more food from the market, and I need to deal with potential clients".

"Yes. Papa".

Papa was more of a nickname then an actual term. But he kind of liked it. "And when you get back, we need to get working on your training!"

Taro began to climb down. Vander worked him hard, just like his father had to him. Every day, training. There were only a few exceptions. The start of a new year, the day of the year Taro was found, and any time they get a REALLY good deal.

Of course, when they got a really good deal, they had other celebration attempts, albeit Taro's was extremely tempered.

Vander gave Taro some money. "Taro, make sure to go to Yeilla's. They should have the best deals for what we need".

Vander made sure to check on the equipment as well, to see if he needed any more parts. None that he seemed to need at the moment. He then began to make his way to see if he had any clients, though he didn't necessarily need them.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Rysdin Aureliar Character Portrait: Eian Karimi Character Portrait: Shari

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Gh6st
The Kadias Stretch

I am going to kill him. I am going to tear his head off, and drink the blood from the stump of his little neck. Maybe that would alleviate the heat, Rysdin thought idly. Although only fantastic in nature, his grim thoughts swirled about in a muddled mess as he stared at the back of the young Cron Suil. Slogging their way through a particularly arid portion of the desert was not how Rysdin Aureliar would prefer to spend his free time.

When they'd met, he'd been enthusiastic to sign on to Eian's little venture. Eian had described it as nothing short of perilous. In retrospect, Rysdin mused, Eian had not lied. The intense heat of the blistering stone mesas, the frost-producing cold of the mesa nights, and lack of any redeemable respite from the elements made wherever the hells he'd brought them a particularly hazardous place to travel.

A slight scuff against stone caught Rysdin's attention.

“You trying to set him on fire with that stare, Aureliar?” Shari said with a smirk. She was a bit too perceptive, this one. The vaul had learned quickly that Eian and Shari shared a strange power dynamic that he could not hope hope to understand.

Rysdin grunted. Taking a moment to think it over, he responded in that low sing-song voice of his. “Only if it warms us more than that paltry fire you two made last night.” he made a show of shivering and preening the fine feathers of his throat despite the mid-morning sun bearing down on them, “When do you think a giant scorpion will burst forth from the sands to lay waste to us weary travelers?”

“Why just a scorpion?” she replied in good humor, “Why not an entire brigade of bandits and highwaymen, appearing from the shadows to waylay our troupe and make off with what little riches we posses. Maybe even hold our Balu Chital to be hostage, thinking to ransom him off to his own-”

“That will be difficult,” Eian interrupted, “Considering the marked lack of shadows for miles.” he punctuated his statement by waving a hand to encompass the wide expanse of rock and sand. Indeed, there was little more than reddish-brown rock, granules of dust, and shimmering heat rising from the earth.

Shari looked as if she was about to respond, but Rysdin waved the thought away. It wasn't worth pursuing. They were all sweating and irritable. Well, except for Eian. Rysdin was not even sure if the strange creature could even feel the heat, much less be bother by it.

Ruffling his feathers to disperse some of the heat building up within, Rysdin loosed a low hiss of air from his beak.

“Friend Eian.” he said levelly, “While I did say that I would accompany you for no monetary payment, I did expect the barest amount of excitement. We've yet to see even a carrion bird, much less a true threat to our well beings. I am beginning to wonder why you required assistance at all.”

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Rysdin Aureliar Character Portrait: Eian Karimi Character Portrait: Shari

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Kuroe
Image



“A smart warrior always requires assistance, be it from bird or sand or stone,” Eian responded. Had he been a less patient man, he would have ripped Rysdin’s entrails out and set his bloody corpse on fire seven sundowns ago. He’d done little during the trip but wish for action and grieve the lack thereof.

Eian was, however, a patient man. And as such, he would suffer the groans as any Cron Suil would. With silence. Shari, however, was another matter entirely. She knew how to pick away at him, and, at this time of day, did so far too often.

“Awwww, does the wittle boy need his mommy to-”

Eian held up a hand. “It would be wiser to save your breath for walking, rather than making jokes.”

These two were almost insufferable together. At least Rysdin had some class and held his tongue, despite coming off as a violent fool. Shari, when tired, hot, or annoyed was comparable to a vulgar old man. Albeit, that was likely spending one too many nights drinking around a fire with whatever mercenaries Eian happened to be paired with. He sometimes worried that she might never find a husband, as humans seemed to do. Then he worried about the poor man if she ever did.

Suddenly a lizard scurried out from some small rocks. Unfortunately for the little creature, it didn’t stand a chance. A half second after it had scampered out from beneath its rock, its neck had been snapped beneath Eian’s boots.

Without another sound, he stooped and picked its limp body up, looking back at the other two and holding the fresh corpse out to them.

“It will be a few more hours before we reach Protectorate city at this speed. You should eat,” he explained, looking expectantly at the other two.

***

Image


Shari eyed the lizard with a mixture of distaste and annoyance. Eian knew perfectly well that she absolutely loathed eating those things. It was essentially like eating raw leather. Eian, of course, didn’t seem to have much of a problem with eating the damn things, but they were also the only damn things he seemed to even catch.

“Can’t we just shoot a bir-” stopping herself suddenly and taking her hand away from the hunting bow secured to her bag, she glanced at Rysdin. “Um… Never mind.”

Eian shrugged and looked to Rysdin as well. “Would you like any?”

Shari sighed and looked ahead of them. She could even begin to see the faint image of Protectorate City in the distance, shimmering in the heat. A few hours? This would probably take close to a day.

As if reading her mind, Eian nodded to her. “It’s closer than it looks. Do either of you need water as well? I have some that I’ve not yet consumed.”

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Vander Zalek Character Portrait: Taro Zalek

Earnings

0.00 INK

Solaria

Taro ran toward the market, the sun hitting his hair, giving it a glowing gold look. He searched around, looking for anyone who might be following him, before continuing forward. Eventually, he made his way to the market, picking up the precious water, food, and other assortment of things.

However, as he turned around, he felt something nudge in the back of his head. It wasn't something physical, it was something else. For a moment, he zoned out. He could see a bright light, and then a little boy, playing in the street. He had brown hair, and he looked a lot like Taro. He was just standing there, playing. He could not have been more than three years old. Taro started to reach out for him, but snapped back into reality.

He kept getting these...flashes of memory. The same memory that he lost about four years ago, when Vander found him. Vander found him tied up, and naked in the middle of the desert with nothing but rope and a pendant. It seemed like whoever left him there, expected him to die, or be enslaved. The slavers would definitely see him as a prize. Whatever the reason was for leaving him naked in the desert with not even a drop of water, Taro was honestly afraid to find out. He could stare down the barrel of a gun no problem, because at least he knew what he was dealing with. But he did not even need to know who did this to him, or who his birth parents were.

But honestly, he would probably prefer Vander anyways. Vander fed him, clothed him, and kept him alive when Taro needed it. He refocused, and took their supplies back to the aeroship.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mox Ierba Character Portrait: Kaidman Lheyr

Earnings

0.00 INK

The Deserts of Protectorate City

The bandits gathered in a circle all on their mounted beasts, some got off and drew blades while a few remained on their mounts. Noticing the two behind him drawing handguns, Kaidman crouched down with his foot going out to the side, as if a sort of low fighting stance. Almost instantaneously, the two riders seemed to be caught by a shallow sinkhole. The animals screamed as they fell suddenly, their necks just sticking out of the ground with their riders panicking as they were helpless.

"Charge him!" one of the bandits yelled, and five began to swarm him. One still remained on his mount, picking up a rifle and trying to pick his shot carefully as Kaidman parried the bandit immediately in front of him quickly stabbing his opponent's wielding shoulder and stepping around him. Now, instead of being surrounded, he'd be able to take all of them from one side, and his longsword had longer reach than either of their sabers. One went to stab Kaidman, but the blade was deflected to the side by Kaidman's weapon. Soon enough, three of them were on him as a fourth tripped over the wounded body.

Swiftly, Kaidman turned so that his back took the blade of a weapon, which was rendered useless by his armor. His blade lifted up to block a strike aimed for his head and he jumped back, luring one forward and bringing his sword into the third bandit's neck. An explosion sounded, and the clashing of metal could be heard as a heavy caliber rifle hit the side of the mage's armor with a grunt, and his body fell and slid across the sand a small distance, but his sword was still in hand.

"I think you got him," one of the swordsmen said to the shooter. The three still standing casually walked over to the body.

"At least he died by the blade," the rifleman said, going to put his rifle away.

"Agh!" one screamed. The fight wasn't over yet, as Kaidman swung his sword into the leg of the nearest target. The others scrambled in surprise that someone had even survived that shot. Concentrating on the gunman still mounted, a sort of light green pillar of light struck him down and pinned him to the sand, the beast beneath him hollering in fright. Being in the back, the magic wasn't noticed by anyone. Quickly, he rolled to his feet.

"Wat the hell is this?" the shooter shouted, but it was in vain as Kaidman began dueling the last of his enemies. The pinned shooter's sternum was quickly crushed after his words, but not to the point his innards showed, and the fighting picked up once again. Blocking a strike on his left, he spun out of the reach of the one on his right and slashed forcefully into the back of the next bandit. His blade was opposed, as there was an attempted block, but his strike was still strong enough to dig into the flesh of the bandit. The last one noticed he was the last one standing, and stood in surprise.

"You're just one man... how did you...?"

"I suggest you give me your prisoner and you tend to your... colleagues. I should have killed all of you, since all of you had the intent to kill me. Remember that before you do something this stupid again," Kaidman told the bandit. He then left the bandit still in the sand, and picked up their captured body. Sheathing his sword on his back, he used both his hands to pick up the man over his shoulders, and rested the body across them. The fallen still groaned in pain.

"You fool... now you're open," said the remaining bandit, approaching Kaidman with his saber drawn with devious purpose. As he got into striking reach, Kaidman reached his hand out, his palm open. The same light green energy that struck the rifleman down flared up around his arm, channeling into a ball of energy, and the bandit froze once again, amazed at the display.

"Now you know too much." A booming cracking of energy sounded as the ball was perpetuated forward, and the same sound could be heard as it came in contact with the bandit's throat. It sent him skidding across the sand, a dead man now. Without another word, he turned away and began to walk down the road and to the canyon entrance.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Jolo Grossman Character Portrait: Seth Elijah

Earnings

0.00 INK

[Co-written with VindicatedPurpose]

90th Day

Protectorate City


“Bandits? What the hell kind of bandits are these?” Cidny barked.

The southwest wall was but smoldering remains by the time any soldiers of the Guard arrived. The fires had been put out by the people who had businesses and homes in that quadrant. The wreckage, the burnt corpses, it was an attack.

“A bolder kind,” Homar stated.

The group of leaders hastily concluded their little meeting to inspect the situation.

Soldiers swarmed the place, asking witnesses about the attack. They concluded that the group consisted of fifteen to twenty raiders mounted atop Grelb beasts. They were masked, so none of the people could identify them. They took several people captive and apparently a man who tried to resist them.

The breach of the wall was the deadliest since the Drakyvarian siege of the city during the Second War.

“Well then, start mending the wall, I feel a bit naked,” Abaryn commanded the soldiers.

“I’m sure you do,” Quinta gestured to his rather loose garb that was meant to show off his rippling abdominal and calf muscles.

“It will take days to repair it, what if the bandits return?” a Guard Captain asked.

“Then post sentries as repairs begin,” Homar said.

He picked up a plate of metal that had long been burnt off, “How did this even happen?”

The Guard Captain shook his head, “They hit a blind spot, I don’t know what happened sir. We all heard a loud boom and saw smoke and dust. It seemed like a storm.”

Abaryn turned to the bystanders who watched the soldiers work, “Did any of you see what happened?”

Nobody raised their hand or uttered a reply; they just stared back with their grim faces. It was hard to get anybody to tell the truth.

-

Somewhere in another part of town, a Drakyvarian in dark grey, scaly skin with an eye patch across one of his eyes, strapped to one of the two short horns protruding from his crest, arching backward. His other green luminous eye moved through the streets quietly, not trying to attract any attention. A Drakyvarian not trying to attract attention was hard, seeing as how they on average stood at approximately anywhere from five feet and eleven to six feet five.

He had a shrewd grin as his long tongue dangled between the sharp fangs lining the front of his mouth. Two horns jutted above his eyes, and two more from below his chin. A row of more rounded horns lined the ramus on both sides of his mandible. His build was slightly toned, but by far not as muscular as most Drakyvarians. His weapons of choice were a pair of tonfas that were strapped across his back and to the pauldrons that protected his shoulders.

Then his lower body was covered by faulds, a crotch guard, and greaves, all made of Xth metal. He walked barefoot across the poorly paved street, not that it mattered, a Drakyvarian's feet were made for rough surfaces.

He continued along until he reached a tavern shack with the stools out in the open. He spotted a single man draped in desert garb, seated alone, drinking alone. A blue and orange textile adorning scarf his head as a turban like so many other desert travelers. He had blue eyes, eyes that were almost like water.

"Thought I might find you here."

A small smile stretched on the man’s face. "Found me? Well, you sure did, but I wasn’t thinking to find you."

"Good to hear," the Drak began, he pulled up a stool quickly.

"Tea," he gestured to the tavern keep before turning his attention to the assassin, "Five heads. I'm not the person ordering though, I just manage the in-between. The grey area. That fuzzy place. And ensure that everyone wins," he grinned.

The assassin’s head tilted to the left slightly as if in confusion. "I’m sorry, but are you sure you’ve found the right person?"

"You're an assassin, no?"

The tavern keep delivered a black tea pot, half filled, and a cup. The Drak helped himself to a serving, and drank slowly, letting the aroma seep in.

"This place, is one of the few places that serve tea in this manner. You have great taste, friend. So how about it?"

The man’s head tilted to the other way, simply saying: "I don’t usually work for some normal citizens."

"I wouldn't say that I'm normal, oh you meant my employers. They're not either. They're something else entirely, I guess would be the way to put it."

After he seemed to give a small thought, the man grinned a bit. "I’m listening," he said as he leaned forward, resting his head on his hands.

"Ixtoth Karlein, Harl Moyro, Michael Lyk, Pala Biurin, Jain Valire," the Drak paused to take a sip of his tea.

"And I've decided to add one more, maybe you could take care of him for us," the Drak slipped the assassin a note.

Listed on the note was 'Jolo Grossman.'

"Take care of him last," the Drak pointed to the note.

"The others will be in Solaria. Get to it quickly," the Drak tossed him a coin, "Advance, you'll get the rest after."

The grey scaled Drakyvarian stood up, looked around, and slipped away through the streets.

The assassin, looking upon the note frowned a bit. Jolo Grossman; a ranger. It was, for the most part, interesting. While he knew nothing of that Drakyvarian, the job was imposed. Could he be someone from the group? The assassin had no clue, but since the draconic creature seems to know much about the man he had a small doubts of who might be behind the broker.

The man rose from his seat, leaving his drink there as he folded the note and shove it into the back of his pocket. He pulled over his textiles to form a mask over his mouth as he stepped out of the tavern, soon making his way to Solaria . . .

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Rysdin Aureliar Character Portrait: Eian Karimi Character Portrait: Shari

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Gh6st
Rysdin burst in to a bout of uncontrollable, uproarious laughter at Shari's perceived social faux pas. A curious sound so close to human laughter, but tinged with the slightest screeching undertone. It took a great deal for Rysdin to finally rein in his mirth. With a quick smile at Shari, the vaul reached over to accept one of the roasted lizards. “You are a funny one, Shari.”

He took a large bite—far too gamey for his tastes, but who could complain in these wastes–and fixed the young woman with a curious look. “You eat pasture animals, do you not? Farm creatures? Mammals, is what I am getting at.” Rydin waved a hand to indicate his vaguely avian appearance, pausing to emphasize his lack of wings, true feathers, or multi-layered irises common to raptors. “I am about as much a bird as you are a hunting dog.

“Plus,” he added after spitting out a chewy glob of cartilage and reptile bones, “Some sand squab or something would be bloody preferable to these scaly little bastards.”

Without much else in the way of conversation forthcoming, Rysdin hummed a soft tune from the throat as they set up camp for sleep.


The closer Rysdin and his retinue drew to the outskirts of Protectorate City, the more worked the grounds became. Small patches of cobbled stone and the occasional tapped water well. Many of the buildings that they passed were a combination of burned out husks resulting from bandit raids as well as half-constructed hovels left over from failed “help the poor” projects implemented years ago. Rysdin called for caution despite their proximity to the city. His warning was not needed.

It was particularly dangerous in these sepulcheral areas that existed between the wastes and the edge of populated lands. All manner of opportunist predators and banditry called these shadowy alcoves home. The feathers surrounding Rysdin's throat were raised ever so slightly, indicating his anxiousness to be out of this place. Not of any sort of personal sense of self-preservation as one may assume, but the memories of past deeds that accompanied places eerily similar to these.

Oddly enough, the group passed through both the deadlands and the outskirts without incident. Before long, Rysdin and his erstwhile companions were crossing the final dune before one of the smaller gates into the city.

Rysdin came to an abrupt halt fifty paces from the guard outpost. The viewports stood unmanned. Nobody was posted at the identification podium. The gate was completely deserted with the gate partially ajar on its hinges. A dull resonating boom sounded from somewhere deeper in to the city.

“Is that smoke?”

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Alleara Delegio Character Portrait: Haniea Bitava

Earnings

0.00 INK

(Co-written with SkullsandSlippers)

The timekeepers say it is ninety two days into the 514th year of Jeytelh's ride.

-

Solaria

The Queen’s death, the strong possibility it was assisination and the method consumed Alleara. She wrote down what she knew, which admittedly was not as much as she would have liked. On top of that she wrote down every poison she could think of and its effects.

After all that the next list was the method of delivery. Her hands ached from the scribbling.

What if it was not poison and they just never announced how she died? A knife to the back? A slit throat?

Despite her earlier boredom with the talk of the funeral Alleara could not wait to view the Queen’s body for signs of the cause of death.
***
The day of the funeral she was dressed in light blue, a colour her mother decided was most fitting. The whole family bore the colour in some form or another from her dress to her father’s robe.

Alleara fidgeted. She was eager to go and get in what would likely be long line ups to view the Queen’s body.

Her mother frowned at her, scrutinizing the young woman. She was certain her daughter had some sort of plan going on in her head but she did not know what for sure. She vowed to watch her like a hawk to prevent the curious woman from make a fool of herself or her family.

Her father was lost in his own head as well though his thoughts centered around his newest creation. It was a bonding agent that would help hold all manner of things together though the mixture was still off currently.

The family of three left their home, Alleara’s mother ordering them to look as sombre as possible.

They would eventually join the many nobles and dignitaries present within the Palace of the Sun to give one last gaze to the departed queen's countenance.

The new queen sat with her entourage of maidens and servants on a balcony overlooking her predecessor's coffin filled with treasures. The last queen was draped in the finest fabrics and linens that covered her completely save her face. Guards were posted at the entrances, around the old queen's body, and on the balcony where Haniea sat. The young queen was not expected to say much during this day, her vow of silence would last until the funeral's completion.

The old queen was considerably older when she took to the throne, the timekeepers say she was around 33 when she was crowned. Similar to Haniea in terms of her rise to ruling Solaria, she was an orphan taken in by the Sisters of Jeytelh and she lived a monastic life. Unlike Haniea, the late queen became a Solar Matriarch and she was then chosen by the queen before her to be the successor. She ruled for approximately ten years before her tragic end came. She was struck down by fate, as some would have it, before she had the chance to name a successor.

Of course, some believe in fate, and others do not. Some believe in Jeytelh, and others feign belief in the Lord of the Sun, and he who founded Solaria. They say that the late queen's spirit will join his sphere that he takes across the sky. After her soul has circled the world of M'Sal for a year, it will be released into his domain.

The line of nobles was long. Too long. Alleara really wanted to get closer and it seemed like people were taking their time to look over the cold dead body. Dead body people, nothing special....move it along....

From her spot she could see the fabric covering the body and she huffed in annoyance. Her mother shot her a look and Alleara dropped her eyes to the floor.

She let them drift up. Guards? Who guards a dead body? What is she going to do get up? Someone going to try and kill her? Really....

The line moved in a slow shuffling manner. A hand tapped her arm and her mother pointed to where the new Queen sat. Alleara frowned at her mother but looked up anyway. The woman was young but a bit older than Alleara from what she could tell. She wasn’t the best judge of such things though. From her spot in line Alleara could see the guards that surrounded her too and the look on the Queen’s face.

I would hate to be in her spot.

It would go on like that, slow shuffling steps bringing her and her family ever closer to the body. She watched as some women played up their grief, sobbing and falling to their knees. Alleara rolled her eyes. As if they will win some sort of favour with the new Queen for their pretending.

Her mother sniffled beside her and Alleara’s eyes went wide. Not her too....

They inched closer. Alleara could make out the slope of her feet under the material. She leaned around the person in front of her in order to try and get a better look at the face. Colour looks fine. So that rules out a couple but means nothing overall.

The man in front of her grunted at her and Alleara stood back. She tapped a foot impatiently. They made it to the end of the coffin. Her mother moved past her and Alleara pouted. Her mother was more concerned with what was in the coffin with the body and how they had dressed her. Didn’t she realize there was a real mystery here? For his part her father simply walked as if strolling slowly down a street, his mind elsewhere.

Alleara stepped closer to her mother.

Limbs look straight, no distortion of the body. She mentally crossed off the poisons that caused the muscle of the body to seize and contort. It was almost impossible to straighten a body out once again.

A wound from a knife would require a thorough inspection of the unclothed body, something Alleara knew she would never be allowed to do. It disappointed her that she might never solve this puzzle fully. The young woman turned her attention back to poisons.

They were equal to the Queen's knees now and Alleara was scrutinizing every shape, bump or distortion of the material. If I could just get closer... Her mother sniffled again and then began to cry.

"Oh godness mother...." Alleara whispered harshly. Her mother fell to her knees and leaned on the coffin. It was like an epiphany.

"Oh mother...." Alleara tried to sound as sad and sympathetic as she could as she leaned in with her mother. She scooted around her to get closer to where she knew the Queen's hands would be. "Its alright."

The guards looked over at them but made no move to immediately dismiss them. They had been letting people have their moment before shooing them away from the casket.

Alleara moved her mother a little and the woman leaned heavily on the side as she cried. Alleara marvelled at her mother's performance, it was truly believable. As her mother leaned Alleara leaned though her hand slipped under the material. She grasped cold hand of the queen and she was immediately struck by the texture. Adjusting it slightly she exposed the fingers to her gaze.

One of the guards saw her caress the queen's hand, he simply paid no heed to what Alleara was doing.

Alleara kept one eye on the guards and her ears trained on her mother. The rest of her attention was on the Queen's hand. They roamed from her wrist to her fingertips. No lines tracing the veins so whatever it was, if it was poison did not leave a marked trail as it circulated.

Her mother became a mess of tears and sobs. Alleara growled lightly knowing the woman's behaviour was going to get them noticed more by both the other mourners and the guards. She gently turned the hand over to inspect the palm. There was veining here that should not be so pronounced. Alleara considered the possilbe causes. A few agents in the blood would show up on the palms but there would be other markers. She quickly made mental notes on the appearance of the palm before turning the hand over once more. One of the clearest indicators would be in the nail beds. Different chemicals and natural compounds left markers in the nail beds. With any luck, if it was a poison of some kind that killed the Queen it left a signature there.

Beside her Alleara's mother leaned into the coffin more. Alleara hissed at her. "Mother, stop that...you are going to get us escorted away!"

Her mother turned, red eyed crying mess "So horrible, so sad.."

Aleara moved huffed and went back to the hand that she held. Her eyes raked over the nails even as her ears picked up the sounds of footsteps. Great...just a little longer...

Haniea watched from high, noticing the younger woman touching the queen's hand and observing the body. To the queen, she seemed to find the late queen a curiosity.

Haniea whispered to her head servant, "Who is she?"

The head servant watched the woman as well with some interest, taking note of the people surrounding her. They were most likely her family.

"I believe that is Alleara Delegio of House Delegio. Her father works as an inventor of our technologies. One of the few notable names that are not of high noble lineage."

"She takes after her father well, do you suppose?"

"I suppose your majesty. There is a certain way that their minds work."

They observed Alleara keenly, waiting for perhaps some reaction or expression on her face.

"Khundis, what is she doing?"

"I...I am not sure myself, your majesty."

Now...they were indeed curious as to her motives.

"I want a private audience with her."

"Yes your majesty," Khundis whispered to some of the guards on the balcony. She pointed to Alleara, the soldiers nodded and left immediately.

The guard that was watching Alleara for some time finally lost his patience, "Alright, on with you."

He shooed her on, a bit annoyed, as if the queen's body was on for show.

Alleara frowned. "But..." And then she saw it. There were arches in the nail bed of the Queen's fingers. Blue. Not the kind of blue the skin takes on after death but a disinct blue arch in each bed. Her eyes went wide. Her mother leaned on her and she helped her walk away. She was super excited to get back home now. She had a lead.

Her mother still cried on her shoulder and Alleara resisted the urge to push her off. She played the dutiful daughter and walked her away. Her father followed, unaware of anything that had occurred.

-

After the nobles had their time with the deceased matriarch, the palace servants continued with the prior arrangements for a procession through the streets of Solaria. Starting from the Imperial Quarter, the queen's body was left before the open air within her casket. The guards carried her in advance of the rest of the procession. Following the past queen was the new queen, symbolic of the ushering of a new ruler. She was followed by her servants, and guards as well. The nobles followed after, with their own house and personal escorts along side the royal guards. Musicians playing in uplifting melodies followed behind.

They would stop once the queen left the Imperial Quarter, from that point, it was all silence through the streets. The people came out in flocks, in awe of the queen. Some had never seen her before, and were thus stunned by the beauty that had departed. Others shed tears as if the late queen was someone close to them, within their homes, perhaps to an extent within their hearts.

The Delegio's followed along with the procession of nobles as the Queen's body moved through the streets. Her mother, thankfully, clung to her father now leaving Alleara to her thoughts. Blue..only a couple who do that. I need to get back to the lab. She walked heavily annoyed at the pomp and circumstance around her It would be easier to pinpoint the nature of the poison and how it was administered if I could just get a full look at the body.

Alleara's father always preferred chemicals and machines to people and while she appreciated all of that, she liked the interaction of those things with the living world in a way that differed slightly from her father. They often used this slight difference in approach to help each other with their theories and research. She wished in this moment that she could ask him his opinion on what she saw.

The procession moved down the streets of the Imperial Quarter. As the nobles reached the border of the quarter they began to move aside and let the body and its escorts continue on. Alleara stood there for a moment and watched the procession disappear down the streets.

There goes all the evidence.

Her heart was pounding as she frantically tried to find a way to stop them taking the body away to the pyre. Alleara knew there was nothing she could do without disgracing her family and getting herself into trouble.

"Let's go now. Stop gawking. We can't be late for the luncheon."

Alleara turned to face her mother. She had composed herself now and the only evidence of her spectacle was her slightly red eyes. Alleara sighed and turned to join her mother. "So close...."

Beyond the Imperial Quarter, the queen's body would be carried through the other quarters, letting all the peoples that made up Solaria see her face one last time. The final leg of the journey would be the Gate of the Setting Sun. The gate sat on the western edge of the city. The timekeepers ensured that the queen would reach the gate in time for it to align with the setting sun. Once that was done, they would carry her body up to the western tower where a pyre had been prepared. Her funeral pyre would serve as the last light into the night.

After they had passed through the many quarters, the procession finally made its way to the western tower and mounted the steps toward the western tower to the platform. The guards lifted the late queen's casket above the pyre. Servants then placed Solarian crystals on the pyre, and as the flames lit, they changed from yellow to blue and began to dance toward the sky.

Haniea watched the blue glow stand apart against the fading orange of Jeytelh on the horizon.

Alleara was surrounded by people who were more concerned with who was wearing what instead of the mystery of the queen’s death. To them it was an excuse to show off but to her it was a puzzle that needed to be solved. She realized of course, that most of them didn’t give two thoughts about how she died. Even the women who had been gossiping about that very topic had now dismissed it and moved onto something else.

She nibbled on the food, though it was very good she had little appetite. The constant noise around her made Alleara annoyed. Do they not know how hard it is to concentrate when they drone on?

Her father was on one side of the room discussing something with another man. They seemed deep into the topic, whatever it was. They had paper out and were scribbling things furiously as they talked. The other side of the room her mother sat, tea in hand engaged in conversation with a group of women.

Alleara was expected to mingle, converse with those her age but she found the task almost painful. She moved to a corner and did her best to hide away. Here I can think... Her eyes moved to window where the sun was setting.

“It is time everyone.”

The crowd gathered near the windows to watch as in the distance the body was lit and served as a light for the people.

Alleara wanted to cry. Gone was the body, reduced to ash by the night’s end. The blue flames lit the sky and Alleara turned, shaking her head. The biggest piece of evidence is gone. I will have to solve this another way. It wasn't that she wanted to prove the queen had been assassinated, it was more that a puzzle had been presented to her and Alleara felt compelled to solve it.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mox Ierba Character Portrait: Kaidman Lheyr

Earnings

0.00 INK

[Co-written with VindicatedPurpose]

92nd Day

Dunes Outside of Protectorate City


The sun beat down strongly on Kaidman and the body he carried. For a mile, he limped as a sharp pain dug into the side of his chest, and eventually he stopped, quickly dropping the man on his shoulders and sitting down. By now, they had reached the entrance to the canyon, the rock walls surrounding a river flowing northwest.

"Ufh," the unconscious man let out as he fell onto the sand.

Some sand went into his throat causing him to cough. Mox tried to wipe it from his eyes, his face was bruised and scratched in various places. His hair had become sandy black, and his throat was dry.

He continued coughing to clear his throat as he surveyed his surroundings. He looked around, unfamiliar with this landscape. He was sure he was no longer within the city. He spotted another man who was on his knees with his back toward him.

Mox got up, stumbling, his legs were bruised. His torso felt battered, he grunted when he stood up. He felt as if he had been through a fight, but he remembered nothing. He was at his forge and then...as he thought about it, his head began to ache.

He coughed up some spit, which tasted grainy because of the sand. Some unnatural coughs followed before he finally reached the kneeling man.

"Hey," he spat some more. He felt like shit, he tasted like shit, he smelled like shit. He rubbed his wrists which felt like they had been grinded against something.

"I'm glad you're awake," Kaidman said, holding his head with his hand. The pain seemed to be greater than usual, not just a bruise, but perhaps even his bones were broken. It hurt even just to wear his armor now, but the river wasn't far now, they could stop there.

"Are you going to be able to walk? I'm not sure I can carry you anymore, I had quite the fight with your captors," the man told Mox.

Captors. Mox looked past the man, he had been captured. Now he remembered. He squinted at the canyon walls, there were bandits. Well, he had been rescued, so it did not matter. At the same time, he realized that he could not possibly trust the man yet.

"Yeah. I can walk, where are we?"

"We're at the Bane Canyon, that leads North and West when it splits, one passage leading to Solaria, the other going around

Protectorate boarders like a buffer zone," Kaidman answered. Finally, he stood, the broken armor on his side didgging into the skin, making it difficult even to do that.

"There's a river not too far from the entrance, you can see it from here," he explained to Mox. "Let's get some water there, and we'll figure out what we'll do about all this."

Mox had never heard of this stream before, it was pretty far out from the city perhaps. He made sure to make a mental note of this location if he was ever stranded. He would have to figure out how far from Protectorate City he was to begin with.

Water, it was reasonable. He was unarmed, perhaps he was lucky to be alive thus far.

"Mox, and you are?" Mox began walking toward the entrance ahead of the other man.

"My name is Kaidman," the man replied. "C'mon now, I know a place a little upstream where we can get out of the heat."

With that, he began walking into the canyon.

"Where are you from?"

Mox moved with a sort of limp, trying to shift weight from one leg to the other and back, "The City."

"You have a long way to go, my friend."

-

On the 92nd day of Jeytelh's Ride, the sun rose just over the horizon. It seemed a bit frigid outside, but nevertheless, Kaidman and Mox proceeded along the desert's vast expanses.

"My friend shouldn't be too far out from here. She's very touchy about people who come into her dwelling though, you may have to wait outside while I speak to her," Kaidman told his new-found companion. "She's what some may call a witch doctor."

Although the distance was relatively short from the canyon they were at to the city, it was long enough not to be able to survive without water. To follow a survivable route took some time.

Kaidman only wore a tan shirt with dirtied pants, with bandages under his shirt on his wound. He carried his longsword still, as injured as he was, though it was sheathed on his belt.

"We're lucky we've made it this far without any... interference."

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Seth Elijah

Earnings

0.00 INK

Ninety-Third Day

Solaria


Now with the end of the funerals, the Sunfires had their head into another problem of theirs. With the funeral in most of their heads, they didn’t have their mind in the cases, but they were still interesting enough to occupy most people’s days. In the same night there were three people dead and one that just escaped from it . . . Make it four; a new body had been found near a bridge.

Talking about it, even for the little time, they had few information. The body was identified as Ixtoth Karlein. It was found hung as if it was a suicide. From the recent data, it was said that the body didn’t show any sign of physical damage.

The second one was Michael Lyk. This one was again, at the first sight, was a suicide. The guy was found severely wounded on the ground. Many witness had confirmed the same thing; the guy was found falling from one of the skyscraper near the capitol. They cleaned up the place quickly for the funerals; if there was any evidences on the scene, it was probably thrown into the garbage.

The third case was located in the Solaria’s suburbs. The body had been found on the ground of her house. The name was Pala Biurin. It was quite the murder, and the inspectors are still perplex why there isn’t any witness. She was found on the ground of her house in a pool of her own blood with her stomach opened up. The criminal took time to disperse her organs in the house, and some are still yet to found. Her husband worked overtime at the capitol.

Then, it was the case of Jain Valire. Her’s was also a recent one. Her body, or what remained of it, was found in between the cogs of a machine that serves in the construction of airships. The owner of the shop was the first one to have found the body and was quickly dismissed of the suspect list as well of his employees, since they can’t have access in the shop unless if the owner is there.

Finally. We have Harl Moyro. He is a lucky man as he survived his death. He is still resting at the hospital, but here is what his servant had to say as he was the only witness so far:

"I was serving sir’s tea. He seemed to have a long day at work and thought it would be relaxing for sir’s to prepare him something warm to drink. And so I ready the hot water and went to take the tea leaves in the cellar of the kitchen. He was his office when I gave him the tray containing a cup and a tea-pot. I served sir’s cup and everything was alright. He told that I could dismiss, but as soon as I was about to close the door from his office, I heard him cough like if he couldn’t breathe. I break in and as you could guess, I found him on the ground. Fortunately, with the rapid intervention, he was saved from the death. I’m glad he’s alright."

With that, they knew when the criminal could have played, but they still have to know what poison might have been mixed with the tea. They are still wondering who could have done this and if he was alone or if it was a group behind it. The news had sprout many rumors of who could have been behind it. Some profited to put fear in the hearts of people by telling stories that couldn't make head nor tail. Those urban legends often tell the stories of mythical creatures, but who said it couldn’t be true? There was also a rumor that those cases could have a potential link with the assassination of the queen.




The assassin was quite happy of his strikes. Of course, it was bad for him that his last victim survived to the poison, but he expected better from the poison itself. He was expecting for the broker – or at least who ordered – be quite mad that he didn’t do his job correctly. However, never he said that it will be successful. The man only accepted such job under his own boredom. With that done, he had to hide and get back to the Protectorate City. He knew too much that Solaria didn’t accept people such as himself.

He had to rest for a few though being he had been up for all night. For now, he hid in his hideout. It was a few steps farther out of the Solaria territory, but hee was surprised that nobody have discovered of it yet. For anything, they might had discovered it, but since the assassin wasn’t there, it was overlooked. He had no idea for now. The man went to the thin matress and laid there, looking up at the ceiling as he rest his hands under his head.

Killing was a choice, always. He remember every scream of his victims during the night. Some had plead a bigger pay so they don’t die. However, if they already know that he’s an assassin, it means they know too much already. It is hard to get out of his situation. If he admit everything he had done, he would most likely be killed on place. If he find a way to get out of his situation in secret, his group would most likely try to kill him. For him, living means killing, and such be the way of his destiny.

On this last thought, he shifted around in his small bed to look towards the wall, his eyes closing as he fell asleep.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Vander Zalek Character Portrait: Taro Zalek

Earnings

0.00 INK

90th Day

Solaria


Taro cursed himself when he realized he was dazing. It had only been for a moment, but he had still dazed. As part of his training, Vander would strike him sometimes if he dazed too long. Not all the time, but sometimes, and it would be light. It was to teach him to stay aware of his surroundings. "If you miss something, anything, you could end up dead". Vander wanted to teach Taro everything his father had taught him. He was not cruel, and rarely anything he did left a bruise, but Vander could be very strict.

that, and Taro made use of the training. Which is why when a pickpocket tried to pick his pocket, he grabbed the man's hand and pressed down on a pressure point Vander taught him to induce pain in the man, before quickly walking away from the pickpocket. Taro had to admit that something that defined him was being left in that desert. There was only one man who he truly trusted, and that was Vander. He didn't know who was responsible for leaving him in that desert with nothing but a pendent. For all he knew, any man or woman he came across was responsible. The only one he knew wasn't responsible was Vander.

He continued to make his way back to the ship with the supplies.




Vander checked the money and then the cargo. They were going to a Sanoren Trading Post in a few days, and this trading post was favorable to the Solarians. It was four small crates, listed as "Nothing Special". That is all the logs ever said though, excluding the rare time someone admited it was "Special".

The Sanorans were a race that seemed to never need water. In fact, very little is actually known about the Sanorans. They run a series of trading posts throughout the desert. They seemed reptilian in nature, but kept themselves constantly covered with cloth so it wasn't very clear.

He continued to map their route. It took them south, near the border to Protectorate City. The trip would take a little over two weeks most likely, as they would visit several other trading posts after the one they were hired to make this delivery too. Someone would be waiting to pick up the package. Once they finished this long trip, Vander wanted to give Taro some more time in the city. They would only be here for two, three days, maybe four. They might pick up a few passengers as well, if they were headed in that direction. Though Vander would make note to avoid the Varentis Ravines, a stretch of mountains and ravines that were known to have slavers and cuttthroats. There were some people there as well who used the slaves to mine materials from the ravines. He suspected two things as to why they are still there. One was that they were too big and not a big enough threat to Solaria for anyone to decide to crush them. The other was that the materials mined there were sold to Solaria, and that it was more profitable to let it keep running, while not actually endorsing it.

As Taro returned, Vander checked the supplies. "Good find, though a bit late. What took so long?"

"A pickpocket tried to steal our money, and there was a crowd of kids on one of the passageways that was so thick I had to find a way around. Oh, and here is the change".

"Good job. I am going to look for some more clients to make some extra money. Get the cargo loaded, and then get dinner started. Think you can handle that?"

Vander was worried he might be being a bit hard on Taro, but he wanted Taro to be prepared for the real world. It had already treated him harshly once, and Vander also knew how cruel the world could be sometimes. He counted the money, and smiled. Taro had only taken 1 percent of the change. Vander knew the prices, but he was impressed. He was sure it was a sign Taro could improve his bartering skill.

He turned his attention to the clients now.




92nd Day

Solaria


Vander was impressed by his own work. While they still had room for any last minute passengers, they had plenty of Cargo. He smiled as the morning light emerged from the horizon. He had already gotten dressed, to deal with any complications, but he believed they might just leave today. He would go out, see if anyone wanted passage south for some reason or another. Maybe they had some business near one of the bordering settlements by Protectorate City lands or something. Either way, it was a good morning. He made his way around the ship and checked all the cargo, making sure his two workers were keeping guard, before checking on his and Taro's room.

Taro was still in his bed, undressed and unawakened. He thought about waking him, but decided against it. Today, you can sleep in, while I arrange some last minute things. However, Vander did decide to play a little game with Taro, and did something before he left, leaving the door open.

People every day always wanted cargo moved and often people wanted transportation. It had been a slow day transportation wise, but cargo wise it was rich. However, the more they took, the more money they made. And more money meant, well, it made things easier. So he went to look, before they would take off later that day.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eian Karimi Character Portrait: Shari

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Kuroe
Image


Two sundowns. The sun had been dragged below the horizon twice since they had arrived in the Protectorate City. There had as yet been absolutely no leads.

The job that Eian had accepted was supposed to be a simple one. A delivery of sorts. What the delivery was, he didn’t know, and hadn’t planned to pry. It was merely a bundle of letters, mostly fairly new. The only dangerous part was to have been a trek through the desert, namely in those parts where he had expected there to be bandits. There had, fortunately, been no bandits.

What awaited them in the city, though, was much more troublesome. From what little information he had gathered, there had been a bandit attack of some sort. People may or may not have died. The only definite was that things were getting chaotic.

Even that information, though, was hard to come by. Eian had found loose tongues in the bars and even information brokers, but most turned away a suspicious outsider like him. People were wary of his very presence. It was understandable that they would react as such, but it still. It didn’t help Eian in the slightest.

Then there was the matter of his target. Mox Ierba. A simple blacksmith, or that’s what Eian had been told.

But now, surveying the blackened, smoky wreckage that used to be a blacksmith’s workshop, Eian wasn’t so sure. It was obvious that something had befallen the man, but what that was, and where he might be, was well sealed behind closed lips.

”Any luck yet?” asked a voice behind him.

Eian glanced back at Shari and slightly shook his head. ”None. Have you found any of the Cron Suil in the marketplace?”

”Seems like they left at the first signs of trouble. No one could tell me where they were headed.”

”And the Balu Chital?” Eian asked. There was usually at least one in a city at any time. They did need jobs, and the cities were naturally the easiest places to get them. In this case, it would hopefully be one who dealt in information and had a good network, neither of which Eian had. Information and the gaining thereof was not Eian’s strong suit, unless it involved stealing it outright, preferably in physical form.

”I’d have told you that first if one was here.”

Grimacing, Eian turned back to what had once been the forge. It would be best, now, to return the letters to the one who had given them the mission and tell them that their man was probably dead. A fruitless journey, all the way from Solaria… Their feathered companion would most assuredly be less than content with that bit of news. He had already seemed uncomfortable with the atmosphere of this whole town, and the palpable anxiety that hung over it.

”Rysdin went off somewhere earlier. He’ll be back soon, so we wait here. He should know the place. If we are to leave, we do so at sundown today.”

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Jolo Grossman Character Portrait: Aug Feyleth Character Portrait: Melio Character Portrait: Duatos Ka'etruscan

Earnings

0.00 INK

92nd Day

Drakyvaria

Primarch’s Palace


“Rielc, begin.”

Consider this our attempt to nullify any previous grievances between our two cities. It is an attempt to foster more trading and build more cordial relations between our two cities. It is our wish that both of our cities may prosper atop these sands. Which is why I ask that you allow myself…

The old advisor nearly fell out of his seat as he heard the Primarch’s words.

“Lord Primarch! You cannot possibly be considering this. When did you conceive this notion?” The advisor stared at his lord in complete shock.

“I…had some time to think. It’s one of the few things Primarchs have never done, seeing as how we’re always too busy fighting off an enemy outside or within.”

“But Lord Primarch…it is all for the good of Drakyvaria,” the advisor stated in a pleading tone.

“Yes, a thinking Primarch is for the good of Drakyvaria, not one that rushes blindly forward.”

At that, the advisor acknowledged the Primarch with a nod. Perhaps Aug’Feyleth was ruling longer than the others because he had a brain.

“Do tell, Lord Primarch. You will be spurning Duatos’s...”

At the mention of Duatos, the Primarch shook his head. “The Ka’etruscans…”

The halls were devoid of servants.

He chose to say no more, he was aware that there might be a spy in his midst, concealed behind several drapes in the hall. There always was.

The Primarch merely shook his head.

“I would very much prefer a bit of Khalthi syrup, Rielc.”

The advisor stared at his Primarch.

Aug’Feyleth shifted his eyebrows. The advisor understood.

“Right, yes. I will have the servants upon that task quickly,” and Rielc left immediately, leaving the transcript scroll unfinished upon the Primarch’s desk.

As Rielc left, so too did the spy slip away, the Primarch narrowed his eyes.




93rd Day

House Ka’etruscan


“And he said nothing more?”

“Nothing more, my liege…”

Duatos Ka’etruscan shifted his sharp gaze away from his underling as he repetitively rotated two metal spheres in the palm of his hand. It was a therapy used to improve manual dexterity and strength. His claws were long and needed a bit of a trim.

He was perhaps in his eighties for a Drak, according to the timekeepers. He bore a scar that carved through his right eye and ran down the right side of his face, ending just below his mouth. The skin there was rougher than most other places, as new and harder scales had formed on the edges of the wound. His skin was a light brown. His crest was bony and covered in rough scales. Four fangs protruded from his lower jaw, two on each side of his face, evenly spaced apart.

He was in his dark grey robes, tied at the waist by a black sash. He had thick, scaly appendages that were analogous to human hair, running from the back of his crest and ending just below his broad shoulders.

Duatos’s quarter was secluded near the rear of the Ka’etruscan manor. It was the patriarch’s place of work and contemplation.

The spy kept his head down as he kneeled on one knee. The Ka’etruscan patriarch paced around slowly, he looked to his palm and felt like crushing the orbs, but that would yield nothing useful for him. He exhaled from his nostrils and took a seat behind his desk, placing the spheres back within the box they came from.

He opened one of the volumes that had been piled upon his desk, “Any word from Melio?”

“Not yet my lord.”

“Dismissed.”

The minion replied by stooping first and then slinking away into the dark recesses of the hall, leaving the lord to his thoughts.

He leafed through the pages of this volume with interest. It was an old work, composed perhaps ages ago by Drakyvarian elders long passed.

The tome was filled with ancient runic markings, not seen by any of the common folk, and very rarely in the manors of the noble houses. Tomes such as these were left among the timekeepers who kept and transcribed the records for future generations.

However, the patriarch managed to comb through the old family records. And he was particularly consumed by this new work. Knowledge was power for him. It spoke of old prophecies, rituals, and even magic. To the average person, such a volume had no value or importance other than perhaps entertainment.

Magic was believed by many to be a long lost art. He knew otherwise.

He looked to his hand, which by now began to glow in a dark blue aura. The waves of light emanated from his hand which he chose as the fount for the power.

But just as he was beginning to draw on a larger fraction of his potential, a quick wit voice danced across the chamber from him.

His energy abruptly faded as he looked up to see a familiar face, a Drakyvarian in dark grey, scaly skin. He had an eye patch across one of his eyes, strapped to one of the two short horns protruding from his crest, arching backward.

“Melio! Do you not knock?”

“Apologies, lord,” the younger Drak smiled slyly, his forked tongue hanging loosely, as he bowed before his lord.

“Where have you been?”

“I found one.”

“One? When?”

“Some time ago.”

The patriarch gazed at him through narrow eyes, “Where is he now?”

“Fulfilling the task,” Melio replied curtly.

Duatos smiled.




Protectorate City

It had been three days since the original attack, and repairs were pretty slow.

Rather than waste the efforts of the Guard to hunt down the attackers, the council decided to follow a rather original idea. And it went as followed.

Calling Brave Adventurers and Freemen!

This is a posting to find willing individuals to hunt down the perpetrators of the attack on the ninetieth.

It is time to bring them to Justice!


The rewards are as follows…

You may keep whatever treasures that you scavenge or find from the fugitives such as weapons or bezants. As well as an additional reward! From the City as thanks for your service, three hundred bezants!

If you are interested, meet at the front of the Dome around noon for more details!


Since this was the first time bandits had ever attacked the city directly, this would be the first time the City would call upon willing travelers and adventurers to hunt down bandits in this manner. The Council members that devised this idea, Cidny and Homar, were in a word, clever. They knew greed was a powerful motivator especially in Protectorate City. The idea would only work, however, if greed overpowered fear. Because if there was one thing everyone knew, the perpetrators were well-armed.

Would it have been worth it to hunt down some bandits?

Three hundred bezants was a good enough amount to get fat on. They were hoping that those who read the postings, which were immediately distributed among the people and pasted onto the walls, would focus on the rewards rather than the other less appealing portions.

Normally, the Council would have left this matter in the hands of the rangers.

However, two more rangers had been found dead in the outskirts of Protectorate City. Each decapitated, their bodies were barely recognizable with the sand covering them.

A wandering merchant caravan stumbled upon the pair of bodies, which were mutilated, whether it was before or after they were killed remained to be seen.

They were only recognized by the vagrant style of dress, their possession of a large assortment of weapons from pistols to sabers to axes, and personal badges that were inspired by the one that adorned Jolo Grossman’s hat.

It was interesting to note that the bandits were bold enough to attack the Rangers, who were possibly the best fighters in the City. They may have lacked formal training, but their experience made up for that. Seros and Jolo, the founders of the group, would often take new recruits and throw them into the middle of a group of bandits. If they lived, then they had some talent. If they didn't, well, it was pretty obvious they weren't going to be rangers. Beyond that, these people had no families, and were completely and utterly devoted to the cause of justice, a lofty motivation. They fought as though they were the last man standing, and if they were going down, they would take as many of their foes down with them.

It was all the more surprising when no other bodies were found beside the two dead lawmen.

The bodies were buried on orders of the Council. Secretly, the Council was actually pleased that the bandits were targeting the wandering lawmen. Their little conflict would keep them busy while they managed their own business without interference from Jolo and his people.

As to the location of the head, he was nowhere to be found, gone off in a wild goose chase as rumor had it.

Perhaps he was already dead. Killed by who?

The Council did not care.

They had to prepare for the horde of travelers arriving at the Dome. The man's fate was his own.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Alleara Delegio Character Portrait: Haniea Bitava Character Portrait: Estios Hultyce Character Portrait: Dunmas Faeran Character Portrait: Gavri Aureliar

Earnings

0.00 INK

Co-written with SkullsandSlippers

93rd Day

Solaria


The three Sunfires waited in the courtyard of the Delegio villa. They were in their battle dresses, which were well-recognized for their ornateness. The armor typically sported a bronze color leaning toward a glowing amber. They donned this color mainly symbolic of the sun and the desert sands. The glowing amber was meant to strike fear into their enemies as well as serve as a source of pride for their comrades. The color stood out very well, as they shone brightly whenever the sun reflected off the metal. They had been assigned by the queen to escort a young woman named Alleara Delegio to the palace for a private audience.

The head of this trio leaned against a balustrade as the other two talked about their recent forays in the desert. Sunfires often had many stories to tell, whether it be fighting bandits, to thieves, to possibly even the creatures that dwell among the Ba'Gatha. This was to be expected from Solarians who were extremely devoted to both Jeytelh and their queen.

The Sunfires have been vocal about the truces between Solaria and the other two cities, but they knew that their duty laid within the martial realm and not the political one.

When they returned from the funeral Alleara had stolen away to the lab and kept herself there pouring over her notes. She now knew that the queen had blue arches in her nail beds. Poison Alleara felt confident that it was murder. Who had perpetrated it she did not know but her mind was on the puzzle of what and how, not who.

A servant came in looking for her and Alleara waved them away without so much as a look over to them. She did not even let them speak about why they were there. She did not wish to be disturbed. She wasn't hungry, wasn't thirsty and needed nothing. In truth she didn't even know if an hour or days had past since they returned home.

Her eyes raked over books with the descriptions of poisons. She had narrowed the list down considerably but without knowing if the queen was sick before she passed and for how long or with what symptoms there was no way to really pinpoint the exact poison. If the queen was not ill in the days or hours leading up to her death that was a different category.

Alleara had gone through paper after paper of notes, lists with things crossed out and scribbled in.

"Miss Aleara, I really must insist on speaking to you."

She looked up and over her shoulder at the man who stood just behind her. "I told you I don't care what my mother thinks I should be doing I am not interested. I am working."

"This isn't about a summons from you mother miss. There are some people waiting to see you. You have been summoned to the palace."

Alleara's head whipped up from her paper. She had gone back to ignoring him in favour of her work until he said she was summoned to the palace. "The palace? For-for what?" The young woman paled visibly.

"I am afraid I do not know Miss Alleara but there are three Sunfires standing outside in the courtyard waiting for you. They have been charged with bringing you to the palace."

Alleara took a slow breath in, her stomach churned with nerves. Why would she be summoned and by whom? "I'll be right there."

He nodded and left the room. Alleara slowly closed her books, set her papers into a neat pile and then made her way to the door. The walk from the lab down the hall to the front entrance of the house was the longest of her life. Her mother appeared. "You can't go looking like that. You need to change!"

Alleara shook her head. "I shouldn't make them wait any longer." Her hands smoothed out the wrinkles in her lavender dress. There were no stains from ink or other things from the lap thankfully. Her mother tossed a shawl around her shoulders and Alleara frowned. 'I am not cold mother."

"To make you look a bit more presentable. Who knows why you are to go with them."

Alleara inhaled and stepped outside.

"I am sorry for making you wait."

Her eyes looked the trio over. They stood in their armour and despite their relaxed posture they were very intimidating.

The head of the trio was named Estios, he nodded curtly to her, "Lady Alleara, we have been assigned by Queen Bitava to escort you to the Palace of the Sun for a private audience."

"These two are Greks and Vallon," he gestured to his comrades who turned to greet her.

"This way."

-

They kept their path through the main roads that were lined with markets. Estios led, while the other two brought up the rear, still conversing amongst themselves. As they continued they spotted a pair of Vauls quarreling with a group of merchants.

Estios looked to Greks, who understood with a nod.

Greks walked over to the merchants, brandishing his sheathed blade, "What's going on here?"

The situation was defused as neither party wanted trouble with the Sunfires.

The group continued on their way to the palace.

Alleara followed saying nothing but her mind worked in overdrive. Private audience. Queen. Why? If it was because she had touched the dead queen's hand this would have been an arrest not and escort. She honestly had no idea why Queen Bitava was interested in a private audience with her. There was no explaination that made sense to Alleara. She was a noble's daughter and not a inherited title at that.

She could feel people's eyes on her as she walked with the armoured trio. Alleara kept her eyes forward and head up. Regardless of why she was going to the palace she would not be embarrassed. Surely it can't be bad. She swallowed and tried to tell herself that it was likely a good thing, an honour to be called for a private audience.

She paused when they did, walked when they did but said nothing to the men. She was too nervous and afraid of what might come out of her mouth if she spoke.

Estios continued ahead silently, keeping his eyes on the watch for any civil disturbances. It was unncessary as the sight of such fine warriors immediately made each Solarian more well-mannered than normally.

The other two warriors continued with their conversation, not really bothering to keep their voices to themselves. They were talking about the murders that occurred a day before the late queen's funeral.

"The third one went by the name of Pala Biurin, she looked as if she drowned in her own blood." Greks said, maintaining a stoic face. Such was the way one dealt with cold-hard facts.

"What did the Custodians of the dead say?" Vallon asked.

"We didn't need the Custodians to know that it was a murder. Stomach was split open, very likely a blade. Her and three others died on the same night. Another man was near death, but he managed to live by sheer luck thanks to his servant."

"You think his case is somehow linked to the other four?"

"It already is, they eached worked in the Palace of the Sun for the late queen."

"Who would want to kill them and why?"

"That is a question that we are still trying to figure out."

Alleara perked up as she listened to their conversation. Murders? Before the Queen's death....connected? Alleara walked a little faster not wanting to miss anything that was said. She frowned as they spoke of drowning in blood, stomach's split open and how four people had died in the same night. A fifth had been attacked and yet survived. Alleara gasped when she heard that all worked for the late queen.

She was murdered, the people who worked for her murdered. What is the reason though? Sucession? A message? Did they all know something they shouldn't?

Even the guards did not know the reason. They seemed to be on the same page as Alleara. Motive was the main question.

"The others, did they all die the same way? The man who survived...was he attacked with a blade as well? What did they do for the Queen? Were they advisors?"

Alleara completely forgot who she was talking to, why she was with them or what their destination was. She looked up and between the figures. This new information all fit somehow with the queen's murder. If Alleara could get more information she might be able to figure out why they were killed and if given enough time and information even figure out who had done it.

The two warriors stared back at her for interrupting their little conversation. They were surprised at the sudden curiosity, realizing she had been eavesdropping. Not that it mattered, the two weren't being discrete in the first place, and it couldn't possibly hurt to divulge some information to her.

Greks began slowly, "No. Each died differently. Two of them looked as though they had committed suicide. The other two were most likely killed. The last, we suspect to be poison."

He continued, "The two women were servants. The two men who died were advisors. And the last who survived, Harl Moyro, was a wealthy nobleman. As far as we know, he is the only living member of House Moyro. No wife or children. His parents died years before during one of the plagues."

"Why do you ask?" his comrade Vallon inquired.

Alleara felt her cheeks slowly warm as the men stared at her. She had been curious and it was only occuring to her now, as they stared that she shouldn't have said anything. Still after a moment of awkwardness they gave her a few more details.

"I ask because it all seems very coincidental. The queen dead, her people dying in mysterious ways."

Two servants, two advisors, a nobleman....they must have known something or saw something they were not supposed to.

"Did any seem like they were poisoned?"

Alleara wondered if like the queen any had suffered from the same poison. Of course to know for sure she would have to examine their nails as she had the queen's but it was reasonable to consider that this too would be a connection.

She had made a connection that none of the investigators thought of. Perhaps these string of cases were linked to a greater plot relating to the queen's asssassination. It was possible. The two Sunfires looked at each other, pondering the palpability of such an idea. Their duties as investigators demanded skepticism. Here was a young noble woman trying to create a larger conspiracy from various murders around the day of the queen's funeral.

Estios overheard their conversation, choosing not to join as he wanted to keep his thoughts to himself. Was this the reason why queen Bitava called for a private audience with this inquisitive woman? He continued forward though, they would know soon enough. He had a duty that still needed to be carried out.

"None of those that were dead. We suspect the last man to have been targeted with poison. He is still among us in one of the healing houses," Greks replied.

Alleara bit her lip. Still alive.

"So the others all died in other ways, no poison. Perhaps to make it seem unconnected?"

She was speaking more to herself than to the men though took not effort to lower her voice. "If the same person or person's who were responsible for the queen's death took care of the others...hired assassin? Group of assassins. Set up but who paid for the job? Simply to get rid of the queen? Then why the others, what did they know or see?"

Alleara's finger tapped her cheek. "I am missing something. There has to be something in particular that connects them all. Can't just be that they were her servants and two advisors. I mean, why just them? Maybe someone is wiping out all of the old queen's people but again why, what do they have to gain from it?"

She looked to the men.

They looked to each other.

Her thoughts sent theirs scattering.

Estios' gruff voice recalled them to the present, "Can you two quicken your pace? We are disrepecting the queen by bringing Lady Delegio to the Palace later than expected."

Alleara jumped at the sound of the third man's voice.She had forgotten about him and who she was talking to in general. She cast her eyes to the street and remained silent for the rest of the walk. Her thoughts however were focused on what she had heard

-

They were within the Imperial Quarters, which were marked by large and imposing structures that either reached into the sky or crawled along the ground. They had a cream color in day to a greyish color during the night as the braziers and other crystals glowed. They were marked by an architectural design consisting of elaborate folds on the exterior that were reminiscent of the weaves on a basket. The structures that were elongated on the ground looked almost like giant solid worms, with each segment divided by the lighting of the interior. Those that reached up into the sky were of hyperboloid form. Despite this, the structures were very simple in form and almost devoid of any elaborate aesthetics.

Alleara felt vaguely like she was walking to an execution. She felt as if she was being marched in front of the people to her death yet she did not know why she had been summoned. No one lined the streets as they had for the funeral it was just a sense of almost deja vu she had as she walked towards the palace. She wished she knew why the queen wanted to see her. Now knowing what she did about the former queen's death and those four who worked for her Alleara felt vaguely on edge. Those that got involved with the royalty stood a chance it seemed of being murdered.

A frown was on her face as she walked. Was someone targetting all royalty or was there something about the old queen that they did not like? Was the new queen subject now to the same risk? Did she have a hand in what happened?

The group finally reached the largest among the towers. Of course, the tower was just the front of the Palace, there was more to it beyond the facade that was the spiral. The Palace was meant to stand out before the rest, spiraling into the sky. It faced east, where the sun rose, and perfectly aligned with the rays during certain days of the year. The sun would dip down in the west, resting against the canal pools that formed the rear of the Palace.

There were no gates into the Palace, just open passages guarded by soldiers. Many openings in the ceiling allowed light to filter through. They were patterned in such a way as to allow the light to reflect this design once the rays shone upon the floors.

They passed the rows of guards standing staunchly quiet along the steps and the halls. They reached the forum from the foyer through which most of the Palace was connected. The forum was a wide open circular room, with elaborate stones on the floor, and intricate carvings and engravings on the columns that held up the room. Awaiting them was the head of the servants, Khundis. She was covered completely from head to toe in robes. She wore a simple rectangular headdress that was wrapped in fabric which flowed down the sides, leaving her face uncovered. She was followed by two attendants and a pair of guards. Beside her stood two delegates. One was a human, and the other a Vaul. They were in robes as well, simple dress robes, nothing elaborate. The human had a long face, with greyed hair and clean shaven. The Vaul had brown feathers and a short beak. His eyes were completely black, observing the four of them as they came in.

Alleara peered around one of the Sunfire's to look at those they approached. That is a lot of people waiting for me. She swallowed hard. Her eyes scanned the guards as she silently hoped that they accompanied the others everywhere and were not there for her.

"Captain, what took you so long? The queen will not be pleased with your tardiness," Khundis reprimanded the Sunfire before her eyes fell upon Alleara.

"Apologies Lady Khundis, the streets were busy today," Estios bowed.

"A sure sign of prosperity isn't it?" the Vaul delegate quipped.

Greks and Vallon were completely silent before them now, no longer chatty like earlier. They stood as Sunfires should, quiet and firm.

She couldn't help but flinch as the Captain was questioned about their delay. Alleara hadn't exactly been prompt in meeting them, thus making them even more delayed than they should have been from the beginning.

Khundis smiled to Alleara, "The queen has been expecting you, come with me."

Alleara returned the smile though there was apprehension in her eyes. She nodded her head in understanding and stepped forward. She cast one last look at the guards. What is going on?

And there they passed the noblewoman on. The cadre continued their leg to the chamber in which the queen waited.

She followed the woman, back straight and hands at her sides though her heart was pounding against her ribs. Why me? What could she possibly want with me?

"Lady Delegio is it?" the Vaul was the first to open conversation.

The delegate straightened his feathers, walking with his talons balled behind his back.

Alleara looked towards the Vaul. His dark eyes felt as if they could bore right through her. "Yes. Alleara Delegio. Daughter of Mathus Delegio. Scientist and inventor. Given his title and estate in reward for his work." She smiled slightly. She was proud of her father though in the current situation she worried that her actions may do somethng to strip her family of their titles. Nervously her hand fiddled with a blonde strand of hair.

The Vaul smiled contently, he recognized that she was on edge, as did the others who were escorting her. In fact, they may not have appeared to show it, but they themselves were also somewhat anxious. None of them knew the exact reason for the queen's summons. They were just doing their duty. The only pressing matter on their minds at the moment was the late queen's murder, and perhaps this meeting was somehow related to that.

Alleara's mind worked in panic mode as they moved further into the palace. No one else said anything to her and it left her to draw her own conclusions on what might be waiting for her when she met the queen. As they approached the doors she was feeling no calmer than when she arrived at the palace.

They entered the chamber, as the two guards opened the doors to allow them in. Queen Bitava sat on an elevated platform at the end of the hall, and attendants were plenty.

Khundis led them before the queen, everyone was expected to bow before her, and they did just that. It was a custom, a display of respect for the queen and the power she wielded.

Alleara bowed with the others being careful to keep her eyes to the floor.Don't do anything to insult or offend...don't do anything to insult or offend... In that moment Alleara wished she had paid better attention to her mother and etiquette teachers.

"No formalities are needed at the moment Khundis," the young queen spoke, then she turned to her servants, "You may leave."

They bowed out and retreated out of the chamber.

Alleara's eyes, still on the floor went wide as the queen asked the servants to leave. What is going on? Why am I here? I really wish someone would tell me what the hell is going on! Get a grip, if you get upset you are going to say something you regret and there is more hanging in the balance than just yourself. She tried yet again to calm her nerves. Her blood pounded in her ears, her hands gripped her skirt lightly and her mouth had gone dry.

The soldiers followed behind, leaving only the high-ranking officials and Alleara with the queen.

Soon the room was devoid of anyone but the delegates and the queen. Is this how conspiracies start? Is this what happened and caused the old queen and her people to be murdered?

The queen looked to Alleara, who appeared to have avoided eye contact by keeping her eyes low. Was there something interesting to be found on the chamber floor?

"Lady Delegio, I want to thank you for taking time out of your day to heed my summons."

Khundis noticed the young girl was staring at the floor, so she nudged her lightly.

"It was-" Alleara lifted her eyes and looked over at the woman who elbowed her lightly.. "What did you..." She started to hiss it through her teeth at the woman before she remembered where she was.

She cleared her throat a little and looked towards where the queen sat. "It was no trouble your majesty. I am not sure why you have seen fit to honour me with a summons to you but I will do what I can for you."

Alleara hoped she sounded proper enough. This would be easier if she knew why the queen wanted to see her but she thought it might be improper to come right out and ask.

The queen stood from her seat and proceeded to walk down the steps, "Excellent. During the funeral..." she walked closer to Alleara before she turned away and stepped toward the side of the chamber, perhaps talking to herself.

"You...could you explain...what you were doing?"

Alleara bit her lower lip as the queen descended and moved towards her. The first words had to do with the funeral and Alleara felt all the blood drain from her face. She saw that? She saw? Oh no, no....

With a deep breath in the blonde tried to steady herself. She straightened a little and kept her eyes on the now vacant platform.

"Well I had heard a rumour that the old queen was murdered. You see some women were discussing the funeral and the circumstances of her death..." Alleara stopped there and inhaled once more. "That is not important. Their talk got me thinking. I, like my father am a scientist. I like puzzles and this seemed to be a mystery. I thought perhaps that queen might have been poisoned. I was looking for signs of it in the veins of her arms, her hands, her palms and specifically her nail beds. Certain chemicals leave behind markers to show they were there. If she was poisoned well, there might be a clue as to by what in her body."

Her voice took on a more confident quality as she spoke of the poisons but now it lowered again. "I was inspecting her arm and hand your majesty. I was trying to be subtle but it appears my actions were noticed. I was not trying to offend. I simply get caught up in puzzles and felt the desire to try and solve it."

Alleara wasn't sure if she should apologize or not. She waited now to see if there was to be punishment for her actions. Mother always said my curiousity was going to get me into a great deal of trouble...

"Lady Delegio," the Vaul representative spoke, "We have our own investigators looking into the matter. However, your actions as it seems...represents a desecration of the queen's body."

The representative turned to Queen Haniea, "Your majesty, I beg that you be lenient in your punishment of her offenses."

"I would also like to second his pleas," the human delegate added.

Queen Bitava remained silent for a time, before she turned to face them.

Alleara's knees were weak. She felt ill and as if she might fall over but did her best to look as calm as possible. Desecration? I didn't do anything but look. She wasn't going to complain. Punishment. Mother is going to fall over and die when she hears. A cold sweat broke out on her body. Lenient. Well that is nice of them. I wonder what that means and if she will be gracious.

"I...had no intention of punishing her," Haniea replied to the officials.

They were wide-eyed, they did not expect this.

"Then..why...?" Khundis asked.

The queen now spoke only to Alleara, "Tell me, what did you find on the queen's body?"

It took a moment for Alleara to process what the queen was saying. "Not going to punish me? I don't..." She looked around at the rest of those in the chamber as if trying to understand what was going on.

She pulled her blue eyes back to the queen. "I found signs of poison your majesty. Blue arches in her nail beds."

Alleara was not sure what was going on but she looked to the queen and waited now with baited breath.

"That's not...how could she possibly have been poisoned? She was battling an illness before she died. Blue arches in her nail beds? That could have been signs that the blood has drained from her fingers. But how could you possibly prove that now?" the human delegate stated.

He was right about one thing, they had already burned the queen's body as customs demanded. The largest piece of evidence was now gone. In hindsight, they should have held onto it and continued drawing from it to determine possible causes of death and suspects.

"Hold your tongue, Lord Faeran. Continue Lady Delegio," the queen said.

Alleara looked over at the delegate. "With the poison there would be no need for any other method. It was strong. I have narrowed down the list of possible poisons used but without knowing if she was sick before or in the time leading up to her death there is no way to know which one for sure. Now that the body is gone there is no other chance to examine it further." The one delegate, Lord Faeran gave her a crucial piece of the puzzle. Sick before! Battling an illness! That will help narrow it down. Alleara resisted the urge to ask how long the queen had been sick for leading to her death.

She looked now to the queen. "Also the recent murders, servants and advisors to the former queen are likely linked. I heard that some involved were stabbed, some made to look like suicide and one poisoned are likely linked to her murder. Why else would they be targetted? Odd mix of people to murder unless there is something to tie them together. They have the now dead queen in common but there has to be a reason for their deaths. They knew something, saw something that others have not or someone is going to be systematically killing all the former queen's people."

Alleara lost her fear now.

"Now see here, those...recent murders, how could they possibly be linked to the late queen? I think conspiracies are a bit beyond you, Lady Delegio," the human delegate retorted, he turned to the queen, "Your majesty I really don't see why we needed to summon her. Our investigators can handle the matter themselves."

"I agree with my compatriot, there is no need for nobility such as Lady Delegio here to concern herself in such highly confidential affairs," the Vaul glanced at Alleara with those same black eyes.

Alleara gritted her teeth. She didn't like the fact that they considered it beyond her. She was perfectly capable of solving problems, she had been since she was a child. She likely knew more about chemicals and compounds than the stuffy delegates all combined. The Vaul looked at her once again and Alleara exhaled through her nose.

"Hold. We can not waive the possibility that those recent murders are not somehow linked. They came shortly before the late queen's funeral, do you not think that it was by coincidence? Four deaths on the same night?" Haniea said.

"It is very startling. The suspect moved and acted quickly, but it's possible he had accomplices."

The queen moved to the side, "Lady Delegio you mentioned a link between the four deaths and the queen's murder?"

She paused, "I want you on a special assignment. My personal attaché to the cases. See what you can find."

Alleara felt a great deal of respect for the queen as she decided that the murder did indeed need solving. She felt mildly smug that the queen had chosen to see her points. "Special assignment?"

The blonde looked stunned for a moment. "Me? You are asking, apologies telling me to help? In the investigation?" Alleara didn't know if she should be excited or scared out of her mind. The delegates did not seem to like her, that much had quickly become clear. A feeling of fear grew in the pit of her stomach. Personal attache. The title sunk in slowly.

"If indeed the murders are somehow connected to the queen's death, then we may find our suspect. If not, then the queen will find no peace in the afterlife."

Alleara bowed to the queen, "I firmly believe the queen was poisoned. The arches in her nail bed are a signature marker, her illness before her death helps to narrow down what it was. If we can find out what the queen, the murdered people and the poisoned noble all have in common along with what poisons were used we might be able to find the culprits or culprits. I will do everything I can to get this mystery solved for you your majesty."

She no longer had to work on this problem in the privacy of her lab, missing pieces and sneaking around for more information. She could now work in the background, talk to the poisoned noble and his servants. Alleara's mind raced with possibilities. She didn't know why the queen had centred her out but she was honoured and thrilled to begin.

Alleara stood taller and smirked a little to herself. Take that you stuffy delegates. I wonder which of you are a part of this whole plot and were using your power to cover things up.

She began a mental list of each of them. She would have to look into everyone's ties to the old queen and what they gained or lost by her death. She would need to know who had access to the queen in her final days and had easy access to chemicals and potions. Her eyes were on the floor again as she lost herself in her thoughts once more.

"May I leave your majesty? There is much to do, notes to make and things to look up. I need to talk to the noble who was poisoned and his servants. There is no time to waste."

The queen simply nodded, the group dispersed with the exception of Khundis, leaving the queen to her thoughts.

Once they were alone, the head of the servants approached the queen.

"Your majesty, I don't understand. Why do we need to involve a noble of her rank in matters such as these? Please tell me, surely you have some greater idea in mind?"

"I don't. But I just have this feeling about her."

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Vander Zalek Character Portrait: Seth Elijah

Earnings

0.00 INK

[This post is a collaboration with Mr. Baneling Squishy]

93rd Day

Solaria


Seth only woke up after a few minutes. After all, it was only going to be a nap. He looks around in his little basement of his. It was dark-ish since he had yet to install a new light source. He scratched his head for a moment, thinking that he might have something to do. He remembered that he had to go attempt to kill Jolo, but he had no idea where he was at the moment. Maybe his informator... Now he does remember; he had a small meeting with his informator. He did originally plan to get along in Solaria for a small talk with him. He quickly grabbed his stuff and went outside of his hideout, stepping in Solaria again.




After a few running around in the sewers, trying to get out of the guards’ sight since it has been increased in the few last hours, he stepped in a dark alley and knocked on a door. It was left with no answer. He bit his under lip. "Probably too late..." Seth was about to go away, but he felt a hand pulling back inside the door. He had the reflex to pull out his sword, but as he saw who did that, he quickly draw it back into its sheath, smirking. "Scaring me as always, Claude."

A businessman chuckled as he stands on the other side of the small box. "Late as always, Seth."

"Heh, you know me too well." Seth chuckled again and stepped out of the small box as he heard some kind of buzz noise. They were now in a larger room, seeming to be like a small office that doubles as a apartment. Claude went to the desk and pulled out a cigar, lighting it up. He offered one to Seth, but the latter refused as they both sat down.

Claude Varlson seemed to be a man in his late 30s. He was reputed to be a dealer, rich from his profession. It wasn’t uncommon to hear that his practices were, for the most, illegal. Again, he should have been arrested, but money can go far when you have it.

"Long time no see, my friend. How things have been doing?" Claude asked towards the assassin, seeming to be eager to hear his adventure.

"Oh, nothing much new. With the death of the old Queen, we had been starting to keep a low profile. Although, I’ve been offered quite the job." Seth responded. Claude was his informer, and the most trustable guy he knew. He never sold the assassin out, or at least, so far he sees it.

"Five persons in one night? Quite impressive. You’re quite fast, my dear..."

"I tend to not disappoint my client."

"...But, for the fifth one..."

"Survived?"

"Yes."

Seth took a moment to sit back into his chair, crossing his arms. "Well, this looks bad for me, isn’t it?"

"Well, I can’t assure you anything, but I will look what can be done. The man is hospitalized, and you know very well that he can or cannot make it." Claude smirked a bit.

"Oh, I hope he won’t" The assassin smirked back. "But that is not the catch to the story."

"Oh, is there another fish to catch?"

"A big one. Name Jolo Grossman. I think you know him very well."

Claude chuckled a lot. "Jolo?! Really?! Oh man, that is the best one!" He smirked, hitting his desk hard. "I was sure I would be the first to get his head rolling on the ground." The man soon set back into his chair, relaxing. "He’s a great man, but he has his nose a bit too much everywhere. Doesn’t surprises me if it would be the protectorate council that ordered that. I mean, if I were them, I would have executed this man myself."

"The council, hm?"

"Yeah. Oh, talking about the council, there something new with them. It is just fresh out of the box. Remember there was an attack in the Protectorate City, right?"

"There was? That may be why there was so much noise outside that day..." Seth looked a bit confused

"There was a wall that blew up and many have been reported dead or missing. People thinks it is a bandits attack. Do I take that..."

"I do not know and cannot know what my clan does. There is things of them that I don’t even know." Seth immediately cut off, knowing him too well.

"Very well. Any ways, they are seeking people to bring justice on them. The prize? 300 bezants and whatever you can find on those bandits." Claude said a bit in surprise, tapping his cigar on the ash tray.

Seth whistled a bit. "Sound promising, but I don’t think I’ll be part of that raid. Jolo is quite the piece of resistance, if you can say that."

"Oh, I’m sure he will put up a fight for his life. You want to know where he is, don’t you?"

"Quite precisely."

"Well, I don’t know where he is for the moment. All I know is that he is heading to the Protectorate City. Maybe you’ll find him there? Who knows?!"¸

Seth stood up. "Anything else?"

"Yes, Now that I remember, someone said to give you this." Claude tend a letter to Seth and the assassin opened it, knowing whose wax seal it was. He pulled out two bezanth. "I don’t know what they wanted, tey just told me to. If anything, it is just a joke."

"Oh, I know very well what those are for. Actually, I’m not surprised of them." The assassin chuckled a bit as he putted them back into the letter, then he would put them in his pocket. There was a moment of silence.

"You know if you fail and they found out, you need to go through that process again..." Claude said, a bit worried.

The assassin smirked a bit, chuckling. "If I do fail, I know I will. It is painful, but I will need it." He said, walking away.

"Oh, one more thing. There is a ship that has a departure soon for the Protectorate City. I think it would be a wise choice to take it."

"Thanks for the info." The assassin said, but as he was about to turn on his heels back into the elevator he said: "Oh, actually, I do have something to ask."

"You know I’m always listening."

"I’m curious about who came to me. As you might understand, I don’t like people knowing who I am." The assassin sat back into the chair, looking a bit more serious.

Claude only nodded in silence.

"Well, this broker came to me. A Drak. For what I can recollect; average, dark grey scales. One eye patch and the other of a luminous green. Below average in muscularity, but donning all Xth armor. Weapon of choice; tonfas. Rings a bell?"

Claude shook his head. "Not at the moment, but I’ll see what can be done for that," he sighed softly. "So it might not be the council for our little Jolo." The assassin nodded in agreement. "Will that broker be to kill?"

"No. Keep him alive as much as you can. If there someone to make pressure on, he is the one. However, collect as many information there is about this case that I don’t know about. If those investigator are bright enough, they will find me."

"You know they won’t kill you, right?"

"Being dead is better than being in jail for life. Even so, they could. If they try to find some kind of connection between all of those murders, they’ll pin something ba on me."

"What? The Queen’s death? There is nothing to pin on you. They used poison, and there is all kind of poisons in this world. You know it very well."

"The same poison was used." Seth simply said.

Claude had to sit back for a bit. "How are you certain?"

"A normal person would require quite the mind to know that. However, a good assassin had a fair time with all of those poisons."

"Well, if there was any trace, there will be none. The Queen corpse has been burned."

"Never doubt what they might find that you don’t know about."

There was a moment of silence before Claude spoke again. "What now?"

"I will go finish my job," Seth responded. "Then, I’ll go hide somewhere until the suspicions goes down or that they catch someone else than me."

Claude sighed a bit. "Try not to die. You’re precious to me, you know that very well."

That remark almost hit Seth emotionally. With the death of his father, he had no one beside himself. It was sad, yes, but he tried to live with that reality. He only rose up and walked away. "I have a ship to catch." He returned into the elevator; the door closed automatically.

"Take care... young lad..." He turned to look at the city, slowly consuming the drug.




The assassin got back into his lair and pulled out a map of the world. It was a bit crude for the moment, but that is because it was a bit old. He would consider to buy a new one, but he never really got around to do it. He took out the two coins and placed on the map in a specific manner. You see, most of people wouldn’t the difference between them and a normal one. Seth knew that the little details that they had was important, because it carried a message. He looked at where the second coin was and frowned a bit. He then sighed. "That is a bit too close from that city of lizards... but I guess it is what needed to be done." He shook his head and made sure he was right. Actually, there was a small error he made, which changed something. It was still nearer from that nation than the other cities, but it was completely in the middle of nowhere. He rose an eyebrow and shrugged, putting the coins away as he rolled up the map, going outside. "Well, here we go." He said to himself as he made his way to the harbor for the ships.




The assassin had his textile scarft down as he approached one of the members of the ship that seemed to be the most ready to get off. "Hey, do you think there is a place for a last minute passenger?" He chuckled lightly, smiling at the man.

Vander looked at the man, who had arrived. "Why yes. We certainly have room for one more. Standard Fee, as I am sure you know. Is it just you, or do you have anyone with you? And do you have any others with you, or any luggage?"

Seth nodded, taking out the few coins for the trip fee and giving them to the member of the ship. "No, I’m only here by myself. Just a small business trip, if you can say that."

Another passenger would be good for Vander. More money was good. Its not like he was greedy. He just appreciated the value of money. "The room is down stairs, second door to the right. If you need any help, just ask any member of the crew. I do need to go over some details with you though. First of which being do you have any specific destination?"

Vander couldn’t help but notice the man seemed more than ready for the desert. He had the right clothes and the proper supplies, so he figured he did not have to go over various safety rules about the desert. He also appeared to be lightly armed, but Vander figured that was so he was not weighed down. That, or he was hiding weapons on his person.

The assassin nodded at the instruction and spoke thus, "I’m here to get back in the Protectorate City. I think it is where you’re heading for, right?"

"Yes, we are headed in that direction. We have to make a few stops along the way, make sure we keep up on supplies and such, but even with those stops we should be able to get you there quickly and efficiently. We plan to leave very soon, as well".

The assassin nodded. "That seems good for me."

"Alright, Welcome aboard then. We plan to make our way out soon, just need to finalize a few things with the port so that none of us get into trouble or anything. So if you got anything to do really quick, I would recommend doing it now, or getting on board and waiting to do it when you get back. Oh, I will need a name for the roster though. You know, just something for them to put in their books. I don't even thing they use their records for anything, just so they don't get in trouble". Vander had a slight laugh at his own remark as he faced the man.

The assassin nodded. "Formalities, I’m guessing." He said. "Name is Seth Elijah." Seth confirmed. There was nothing tainted with his name, other than the fact that it was his. He had yet to know if his name was ever been the case of suspicions for what happened, but he highly doubt. If there was such accusations, it would have been made far earlier. Besides, it was easy to invent names. At least, for Seth, it was easy to just disappear.

"Alright. Il get the whole thing registered, and then we should be able to take off immediately" Vander noted, making his way to the office. Seth was right about it being formalities. If anyone bothered to check the registry with the actual accounts and businesses, more than a few discrepancies would be found. He quickly made his way back, and had the crew get ready to take off. "Hope you don’t get airsick too much".

Seth nodded slightly as he stepped on the airship. It was the first time that he’ll be aboard of one. Or, at least, a public one. He always wondered how they worked, but as he was no engineer, he thought it would be something he won’t understand. "I hope I don’t too." He said back to what seemed to be the captain. Seth had reason to doubt that even with his daily life he might get sick.

Vander started to prep for takeoff, signaling the dock they are departing, and then having the ship take off. The crew went to the stations, while Vander checked their speed. "Good, we will make it to Spire Canyon before nightfall at this rate. It will be a good place to hide from any raiders lurking around at night. I would like to avoid combat as much as possible on this trip".

"Very well," Seth said, looking around a bit. There was a bit of awe in his eyes.

"Something wrong?" Vander asked as his look seemed to change, if only slightly.

"No, I never been on an airship before," He chuckled a bit, smiling a bit towards him.

"Ah. Alright then. Well, we are off now. Let’s hope for smooth skies" he mentioned as they flew off south, towards their destinations.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mox Ierba Character Portrait: Jolo Grossman Character Portrait: Kaidman Lheyr Character Portrait: Portia Latisse

Earnings

0.00 INK

[Co-written with Redred33mer]

93rd Day

Bane Canyon


The two men wandered for a time in the underbelly of the winding canyon. Mox followed behind the other man, who moved at varying paces. The orange rocks and grey sand were nothing new. The wind picked up occasionally and sent some bits about.

Mox noticed the man was dragging the sword against the sand, carving against the grain. They were going to meet a "witch doctor." The term was used for healers who had unorthodox methods of treating injuries and sicknesses. The manner by which they dealt with sickness was a mystery to many, ergo witch. Some claimed that they were healed, and thus these witches earned the label of doctor. They were far and few, and because of this, not many people trusted them. They were unsure whether these people engaged in other practices aside from curing the sick. Some rumors circulated that they would feast upon the patients they failed to cure, cannibalism. They would then be granted immunity to the sickness that had consumed the fallen. And from their blood they would concoct, through alchemy, a cure. Others said that they made blood sacrifices which created the plagues that had devastated the cities years ago.

There were few stories that made Mox comfortable with the idea of visiting a witch doctor.

"How much farther?"

"We should be there in about twenty minutes. However, I'm afraid you will not be able to come into my friend's house. She's quite picky about who she lets in as guests," Kaidman explained to Mox.

Mox wondered if he wasn't walking into some kind of trap. He still wasn't sure he could trust this man, even though he had saved his life. Or maybe he didn't actually rescue him from bandits, after all Mox was mostly unconscious and did not recognize the faces of his captors. He decided to come up with a plan to escape once he reached the witch doctor's dwelling. Perhaps he could wander upon some traders and they could point him in the direction of the City.

Mox continued to watch Kaidman waver with each step, as if he was losing against the heat.

It was a bit difficult, the journey; every step he took ached his body, weighed down by himself and his sword. But every step he took would ensure his safety, Kaidman thought to himself. It'd be difficult to survive otherwise.

"After we make a stop here, there'll be an oasis about two miles Southwest, and we'll be thirty miles away from the city. We'll get some water, hopefully find something to eat, and we have another... six miles or so until we get to a river." It was a bit awkward traveling with someone else along his path; it wasn't something he had done in years.

An oasis, water, food. It all seemed very altruistic of the stranger. Mox wanted to lower his guard, but he wasn't sure of this man's capabilities or motives. For the time being he would watch and wait.

"Your friend is by that river?"

"No, we're almost to my friend who has a dwelling somewhere among the sands and rocks over there," Kaidman pointed out. "Do you know anything about a man named Jolo Grossman? I've been trying to find him."

"The ranger?"

"That's him. You got any word on maybe his ugh... recent business?"

"No. I stay in the city. Business?"

"Yeah... I'm just trying to track him down, see what I should be looking out for among these deserts," Kaidman explained. The warrior took another few steps before stopping and going onto one knee. Clutching the side of his chest where he was shot, he looked down and closed his eyes.

"Whoa hey," Mox rushed to his side. He saw that the man was clutching his chest. Perhaps some sudden pain had just struck him.

"Are you alright?"

"Yeah... I think my ribs are broken. It's been quite difficult to walk with it, and still carry my weapon, but we're almost there," Kaidman said. He pushed himself to stand, and stiffened his posture. He took a deep breath in, then let it out. "Let's not get stuck out in the open, Sun's strong."

If this stranger had really saved his life, the least Mox could do was offer some aid, "You want me to carry your sword for you?"

"If you could, it'd be nice." Kaidman then took the sheath and blade off his belt, going to hand it to his companion. If Mox were to be as devious as most others he met out here, he would've thought Mox would've tried to take advantage of his severely injured state. If he wasn't able to rely on... unconventional means, Kaidman would've been dead already.

Mox took the blade, hefting it upon his shoulder. It was a simple sword, a bit heavy for someone who was wounded like Kaidman. It could use some reforging. His own personal blade, which was perhaps somewhere else by now as thieves must have taken it after he was knocked unconscious, was not as heavy as this sword. However, it was just as useful, perhaps even more so than this particular sword.

He grasped the blade with both hands and swung it around in the air, testing its weight and handle. It moved with strength, not grace or anything fancy. It performed its job, nothing more, nothing less.

"A fine sword. Could be better though," he chose not to say more.

Kaidman was wounded, Mox knew it wasn't really an appropriate time to talk about swords. He returned the blade to his shoulder and continued.

"Yeah, I know. I haven't refined it so much, even though I've had to use it quite a bit. The blade's getting dull and I think I have a way of lightening then handguard, but I'm not so sure," Kaidman went on. He chose to talk about it, keeping his mind away from the pain.

"I could give it a look, I'm a smith," he massaged the hilt, letting his thumb wander along the bottom of the guard's engravings.

"If you could, it'd be nice."

-

Jolo and his accompanying ranger had found a group of traders who were stranded in some dunes overlooked by a number of canyons and plateaus. Upon closer inspection, they weren't really traders, nor were they stranded. They were bandits, and they were dead. One had been pinned down by his mount at the time of death. The Grelb beast was dead like its rider. The rider was crushed and he probably retched blood as evidenced by the pool of dark red that was now dried into the sand, stained on his cheeks, and washed across his crooked incisors.

Two others were hacked and sliced apart, they laid on the dune bed letting the wind bury them slowly.

Another body was found separated from the rest, it looked as though he had been flung backward. His throat had been cauterized, and his eyes remained dead opened. His blood and flesh were dissected into bits upon the sand.

Were these the same bandits that had attacked Protectorate City several days ago?

They checked the bandits' belongings, for they had not been looted by other rogues as it seemed. There was nothing interesting to be found, just a few pieces of rocks, pouches of dust, and supplies for the desert such as canteens filled with water. Nothing out of the ordinary, they were expecting weapons, the kind that could have cracked the city's wall with a loud boom and smoke. But it was unusual to find rocks and dust.

Jolo decided he would hold on to the pouches of dust, bandits did not carry pouches of dust without a reason.

"Hey, chief!" the other ranger called to him.

"What is it Portia?" he replied in a smooth rasp.

"Tracks, wandering into the canyon."

"Bandits?"

"Not sure."

"Be on guard then."

The two followed the trail into the twisting canyon.

-

Eventually, Mox and Kaidman came to a a large rock wall, extending for miles it seemed. The two walked along it slowly until they came upon a large wooden door braced with metal binds.

"This is my friend's house...

Mox's eyes scaled the wall for a bit until they returned to the wooden door.

"She...lives in here?" he asked.

It was unexpected, how could anyone possibly live in such a place? He had to take a couple of steps back to survey the rock wall once more before he took Kaidman's sword and let it rest against the wall by the door. Rather than directly answer him, Kaidman decided to knock on the door, rather loudly as the door seemed to be thick. A moment passed in silence as the wind rustled against the scarce brush and sand, and the door finally opened. An elderly woman stood, only a little over five feet, dressed in a manner so that most of her body was covered, except her hands and face.

"Seems like you've been out and about, Clara-"

"Kaidman?" the old woman said shortly. "What sort of banditry are you practicing bringing people I don't know here?"

Her tone was a bit crass, as many older people were.

"I'm injured... I need your help," Kaidman told her.

"Well I'll help you, not... whoever that is."

Mox's eyes went wide, she was addressing him.

"Mox," he decided to introduce himself. He saw she was a bit frosty, ironically.

"Anyways... you know your friend can't come in," the woman spoke.

"He knows, now let's go inside, before it gets later, I have places to be," Kaidman pushed.

"You and your desert hermit whatever it is you do these days? Come on in..." she finally said. Kaidman made sure to pick up his sword before walking into the woman's home. The door shut behind him, leaving Mox standing in the sand.

-

At least he took the sword, Mox wouldn't need to resort to thievery. He walked around for a bit, before he began to wander away from the dwelling etched into the canyon wall. He often looked over his shoulder to make sure no one was following him.

He had never been to Bane Canyon, for all he knew, he could have been wandering in a circle around the old crow's home. Each rock formation seemed to look like one that he had previously passed. There were large orange boulders, jagged and solid. They were stacked atop each other in all manners. Some of the stones had old markings of ancient script that no longer had any meaning to those presently living. It was possible that some ancient and intelligent race put these stones together as path markers for their travels, choosing to erect monoliths at key forks in the canyons. Perhaps it was ancient Drakyvarian script, as Mox often recalled that their kind would often make claims as to being the oldest race on M'Sal.

This was all wandering thought for Mox. The average human, however, would have fallen under worse hallucinations and delusions for going without water as long as Mox had.

He came upon another rock formation. It looked familiar as if he had seen it before. No. He had seen it before.

He looked around, swallowing what little saliva he had.

"What...the hell..."

He decided to go off to the passage on his right. He had to get out of the canyon, but it seemed every two steps he took forward was always one step back to the original point. At a certain fork he realized he didn't even remember the way back to the witch doctor's home.

The afternoon sun began to beat down on him.

He decided to fall into the shade of the overlooking canyon cliff to recuperate.

-

The door to the woman's home opened, and Kaidman showed himself as ready as ever.

"Now I don't want you getting into those meak scraps you get into," she told the swordsman.

"You know I had to," Kaidman responded. "There's something weird going on with the bandits lately, maybe it's connected or not, but I have every intent to break it."

"Ugh... where's your friend there?"

"What do you mean?" The question made Kaidman look around frantically. He saw footprints slowly fading away in the sand as wind blew grains of ground rock all around. "Thank you for your help, Ayleth, but I need to find Mox now."

The man took off in a sprint, following the faded path. To find the smith dehydrated and dying would be something he'd rather not have to face. He ran for some time before he finally reached a shady part of the canyon. Mox was laying in the sand, dehydrated as Kaidman had thought.

"I'm not sure what you're doing wandering off. I could leave you here to die, and not a bad thing would happen to me. You know that, right?" Kaidman asked, with all intention to make the smith reflect upon his futile wandering. "For a few days we've been walking among the desert, where most would die. I haven't let you down yet."

Mox gazed in the direction from where the voice came, his eyes wandering up until it reached a gleaming countenance.

He was sweating profusely, but not as bad as had he been out of the shade. So he felt a bit of guilt for wandering off from the stranger, and he had his reasons.

"I was...just...going for a walk. You have any water?" he wiped his forehead.

By now his hair was as soggy as his tunic.

"Here," he said, taking a flask from his belt. Tossing it in the air, it landed on Mox's stomach. "Now I have to find out where exactly we need to go from here. If you want, you can come along."

Strangely enough, the man began climbing the canyon wall; no safeties, no spotters, he began putting hand over hand to climb what seemed to be a forty or fifty foot cliff.

"We should be able to see the city," he told the smith. Perhaps he wasn't convinced he was getting anywhere he should, and the man should see for himself the path they were set on. Reaching for a grip, he continued to climb, regardless of whether Mox was coming or not.

Mox took the flask and took some earnest sips, quenching the dryness that lingered in his throat. He watched as Kaidman grappled and tried to find grips along the various little ledges and outcroppings that jutted from the wall. He watched with widened eyes, for he had never seen anyone try to climb a rock wall without harnesses, ever. Not even in his days as a miner.

"Are you out of your mind?" he called out, see the city? Is this guy serious?

"Hey! Hey!" It was no use, the other man seemed intent on climbing.

It seemed the man could handle himself fine as he continued to climb steadily. Mox took another swig, feeling that he needed to down a bit of the soreness in his throat.

It was not but twenty minutes until Kaidman reached to top of the cliff. There was a small plateau in which Kaidman could stand and observe his surrounding. In front of him, in about twenty miles of open desert was the city. Looking off to his left, he could see not too far was the river he wanted to get to after meeting Ayleth, and from there, some rock formations lead to a five mile stretch between canyon and Protectorate City. Maybe two or three more days of travel, and Mox would be back to the city.

"It's too bad you didn't decide to come up, you're missing a lot!" Kaidman yelled down. His words echoed in the rocks below.

He stood above all other nearby surroundings, some mountains way off to the West. In fact, turning around, he could see one of the bordering Solarian posts eighty or more miles away.

This guy's fuckin' crazy. Mox shook his head. He looked up to the cliff, Kaidman had disappeared beyond the edge.

"Hey!" he called out, hoping the man might have heard him.

He resigned himself to a sigh and just sat back into the shade, taking another swig to satisfy what he had lost in sweat as he waited for Kaidman to come down.

If only the layman were more interesting," Kaidman thought. But he had accomplished what he needed to do; he knew where he was now, and knew where he was headed.

"Wait there, Mox," he called down. Looking on the other edge of the cliff he looked down; there was a a surface he could simply slide down. His boots could surely handle it, and no one was around for him to expose his magic to on this side of the cliff. Planting one foot on the rock wall, he lifted his other and let himself begin to slide down the rockface. Locking his arm out, he prepared his strength as he plummeted towards the ground. A wave of energy shot out from his hand, spiraling from his shoulder. It slowed his fall enough that he was able to catch himself in a standing position. Soon enough, he walked the distance around the cliff and returned to the smith.

"Ready now? We got another two or three miles until the next water source," Kaidman said.

Mox sighed, "Alright, let's-"

He was cut off at that moment by the voice of an older man. It was a hoarse and dry voice.

"And where do you think you're goin' boys?"

Mox turned in the direction of the voice, to see a man of average height in a dark coat, with a scabbard holstered and hanging loosely from it. An emblem rested on his wide brimmed hat. His eyes were dark beneath the brim, as dark as his skin, only his graying beard could be seen stretched by the smile on his face. One of his hands held onto a pistol loosely, as though he was just about to raise it at Mox and Kaidman, but declined in doing so once he recognized them.

Behind him was another figure, a lady as evidenced by her long brown hair. Her boots were heeled and she stood with a hand on her hip. Her coat was very much similar to that of the man in front of her, but shorter in length, running only to her knees. She was clad in grey inside the coat. Her face was one that had seen much. It was as dry as the desert sand, no makeup, nothing flashy or alluring. She carried a sword just like the man, but she also had a rifle strapped to her back.

"Jolo! I was looking for you. I was afraid you stopped doing your job," Kaidman sprang.

The bearded man rolled his eyes and shook his head.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mox Ierba Character Portrait: Jolo Grossman Character Portrait: Kaidman Lheyr Character Portrait: Eian Karimi Character Portrait: Shari Character Portrait: Portia Latisse

Earnings

0.00 INK

[Co-written with VindicatedPurpose and Kuroe]

93rd Day

Protectorate City


"You're not seriously thinking of doing this, are you?" Shari's question was met with a blank look from Eian. The kind of look that assured her of his complete seriousness.

"This is... This isn't the smartest idea you've ever had, Eian..." Shari mumbled. Talking to Eian was like talking to a wall. "We're damned if we do and damned if we don't, I suppose..."

Eian shrugged in response. "This is the best way to find Mox. Leaving and going back with the letters without looking would be far worse than not."

They had been about to do just that, actually, when Shari had read the poster aloud. Now, much to her dismay, they were headed out to kill bandits and a man that may or may not even be alive anyways. Shari even knew that Eian hated these odds. Normally, he wouldn't even bother finding a target like this, or ask to be payed extra by their employer. What made this assignment different? Eian flat out refused to tell her anything about the damned thing. So here they were, going off to fight bandits in the middle of the desert. Maybe there had been something in the stew Eian had ate the other night...

"Eian, do you even know what this Mox guy looks like?"

"No."

Shari waited for him to continue. He didn't. It was obviously a sign for her to be quiet and wait. Or something. She couldn't really tell what he was thinking right now.

-

Noon quickly came upon the Dome, but much more than that was the crowd of people assembled to take on a little bandit hunting in return for rewards. It was an assortment of various peoples and species. There were humans, Drakyvarians, Vaul, lizardmen, and so on. They were dressed in all sorts of garb, but most were adventurers as evidenced by their weapons and armor. Others were simply lured by the prospect of bezants thus one could see those who were beggars, others who were merchants, and others who were simple folk.

They came to hear information that was to be crucial to their objectives. Each man had their own motives; they conversed among themselves for a time.

The surrounding streets were empty, save for the shopkeepers standing outside their businesses to watch the commotion. In front of the Dome, there was an elevated platform from which the council members often gave public speeches, whether it was for political reasons or they just wanted to hear the sound of their voices, nobody knew and nobody cared.

"Thank you, one and all for coming here this day," spoke Nabis Alaunte, one of the seven council members present that day at noon.

He spoke with a firm and dignified voice, one that might have belonged to a man of wisdom and honor, one that was almost unheard of from a council member.

He was the oldest of all the council members with a white beard and a mane of white hair separated into short and straightened rows of pony tails streaking backward in a manner that almost looked like he was wearing a bunch of feathers. He was also taller than the rest, and his sharpened eyebrows and hawkish eyes lent a dark and calculating air to him. He wore a bronze cuirass over his tunic and his arms were protected by bronze vambraces. He stood before the rest of the seven on the platform, as the rest of them had conferred onto him the role of leading the council perhaps due to his age. Nabis had been elected to the council two times before already, the only council member to have been re-elected mainly because he has been on good terms with nearly everyone.

He was in his villa when he heard of the attack on the 90th, he immediately asked if any of the other council members had been harmed, then he set about fortifying his territories in case the bandits were aligned with any of his rivals. Then he went along with the proposal to have freemen go after the bandits because it was a more convenient solution to what appeared to be a perpetual bandit problem that was not being handled correctly by Jolo and the rangers.

Nabis continued, "By now, I am sure all of you have heard of the attack on our great and prosperous city on the 90th day of the 514th year of our Sun Lord's ride. They attacked without warning, and several of our citizens have been kidnapped," the old politician paused.

"We believe it is very likely that they may have sold them into slavery or killed them already. Whatever it is, we expect you to hunt them down and either kill them or take them prisoner. If you come across any survivors, bring them back to the city."

"The perpetrators are extremely dangerous as we have already seen. We advise you to take caution before accepting our call. However, if you do indeed rise up, then you have our permission to confiscate whatever personal belongings they have, weapons, bezants, and so on. The hunter with the highest number killed or captured will receive the reward of 300 bezants from the city. If you kill, you will have to record where you found them and bring back the heads for us to count. You are also free to work together with others present here today," Nabis concluded.

"Is there anything else that my fellow council members wish to add?" he turned to the rest of them, they looked to each other and shook their heads.

"Very well," the old council member returned to the crowd, "Happy hunting."

The councilors descended from the platform and returned to the Dome.

-

Around Bane Canyon

The sun beat ever stronger than before in the day. Jolo followed by the woman, Kaidman and Mox walked through the rocky sand as they approached a more open area where two saddled animals stood awaiting for the Rangers' return. They were a pair of Yakolas, four legged creatures of yellowish orange skin, a skin that was very thin because they had no need for insulation.
They were even toed ungulates with long upright necks. It wasn't long before they returned and mounted them. Kaidman sat behind Jolo and Mox behind his partner in justice, and the animals began heading off through the open sands.

"Is there any trend in bandit activity out in the deserts now, Jolo?" Kaidman asked as the animals' run concealed their words.

"I wouldn't suppose I know too much about it, but a trend? Seems a bit disturbin'," the Ranger answered. "What do you think you've found?"

Kaidman gripped the frontiersman's shoulder tightly as he almost lost his balance in the gallop. Straightening himself out, he opened his mouth to speak again.

"I think some group of people are planning to bomb somewhere; there's been some exchanging of gunpowder and canisters you'd use for the sort of thing out in the desert. I've done my best to get close without giving myself away, but I could only see and hear so much."

The Ranger could only smirk at the comment, "You're a bit late to the party, son."

"What do you mean?" The thought of letting a horrific event such as that occur made Kaidman tense.

"A couple days ago, an explosive went off near the City, took out a portion of the wall. We had some wounded and others missin'."

"That's funny, a couple days ago, a group of bandits came barreling out of Protectorate City with a hostage on the back of one of their grelbs. And that's how I came upon Mox, sitting with your friend there. He's from the city, apparently a smith."

Jolo was silent for a moment, connecting the dots in his head.

"You killed those bandits."

The fact left Kaidman dumbstruck, "How do you know that?"

"Three days later, I find some bodies on a main road leading to Solaria. Looked like they might have carried hostages too. They had weapons, so they weren't traders. They hadn't been robbed, so whoever killed them, obviously wasn't after their possessions. The only skilled warrior, that I know of in that part of the desert, who would be willing to take on bandits like them would be..." The old ranger let that sink in.

"Kid, didn't I ever tell you to leave that shit to the rest of us?" Jolo asked as he reined his mount forward with an increase in pace "Not that it matters anymore since you're still in good shape."

The old man was unsure how he managed to survive the confrontation, but he was glad that Kaidman did.

"And since those bandits are dead. The trail's pretty much gone cold. Funny."

Mox took everything in as he sat behind Jolo's accompanying ranger, Portia, his hands were wrapped across her stomach.

"Try anything funny and I'll chop both your hands off," she had warned.

"Don't worry, I need my hands to make a living. I'm just gonna hold on so that I don't fall off," Mox replied.

"Chief, what are we gonna do with him?" Portia referred to her passenger.

Jolo looked over to the bearded blacksmith but said nothing.

"Alright, so I killed your bandits, and I have someone you might be interested in. We're headed to the city, and I suppose I can hang around until the morning; but I don't want to be around here long. You know how I am, being a caveman and all."

Jolo scoffed at the smart aleck response, "Don't worry kid, you'll be back in your cave pretty soon."

"Hey, don't take it personally. Maybe some day you'll learn," Kaidman told the Ranger.

The group rode off through the sands toward the city.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Melio Character Portrait: Duatos Ka'etruscan

Earnings

0.00 INK

93rd Day

House Ka’etruscan


“Can you guarantee for certain that he will succeed?”

The gray skinned Drak drifted to the other side of the room, over the rug that covered the floor of his liege’s personal quarters. He sifted through the books that lined the shelf, feigning interest, but ultimately combing his inner thoughts.

He took in a tentative breath before answering to his lord, “No.”

Melio continued, “As much as I would like to trust the abilities of a Protectorate, I cannot…in good conscience,” he placed the book back on the shelf.

The Drakyvarian noble would not hound Melio for this, and the servant knew as much because they were already a step ahead. They had prepared in the event that their assassin failed to achieve all the objectives.

Duatos had long trusted the counsel of Melio, who was a seasoned fighter, and a sharpened mind. Picked off the streets, the petty pick pocket was trained to be a servant at first, but the young Drak possessed a mind that was fed by books, an insatiable appetite to learn. He was cunning and clever, his lord knew that much. Any male servant of the house was trained diligently and sharply, and Melio seemed to be prodigious, so much so that he became a first and foremost lieutenant of Duatos.

To some degree, the patriarch regarded his retainer as higher than his own pureborn daughter, whom he would have fed to the lower houses through a hand in marriage to secure his position had the girl not raise herself to be more of the males. She had to fend for herself after her mother left Duatos and stayed with the other half of the family. Now, Duatos’s daughter was living somewhere out in the great Ba’Gatha with an all-female cadre of deadly fighters as her personal guards and loyal followers. Duatos was only pleased by this, as it rid him of having to deal with her marital affairs, but occasionally she would return to the city and perhaps pay her respects. Their relationship was never the best, though he doted upon her in his earlier years, those were soon swept away. Duatos was more focused on training his three sons, two from his first marriage, with his second marriage bearing him his third son and the girl. To him, they were all to be his lieutenants and generals of the lords below him.

“The Solarians can be handled. As for the lawman, he will be a tougher sand viper to deal with.”

“He certainly is capable isn’t he?” Duatos replied, as he leafed through another page in the volume.

“Yes my liege, it is surprising for a human.”

Duatos chuckled slyly, “Enforcing law among the wastes…a noble effort, but a considerable waste of time for a man of his caliber, there’s nothing but filthy dregs out there.”

Duatos tented his fingers before him, as the flame from the nearby candle flickered and glowed in front of him.

“The Lyk fellow,” Duatos said, as he stared at Melio, “He is an astute one, and I fear that he may have already sent word to someone pertaining…”

The lizard’s green eyes went slack as he thought for a moment, “I fear for the same thing lord, my ears have told me that he sent out a courier on the seventy fifth.”

“Did he?” the patriarch anxiously shifted in his seat, his gaze fell upon his servant.

“Indeed lord. Though we caught him, we were remiss, and the letters had fallen into another hand. Presumably an ally of Lyk,” Melio paused.

The patriarch closed his eyes and his nostrils exhaled a lengthy breath, laden with frustration.

“I hope there is more to this,” the patriarch opened his eyes, turning his visage to his subordinate.

“Yes lord, my agents are tailing him through the desert as we speak. He is traveling with two others, an avian and another human from our last reports.”

“What of them?”

“I would not presume them to be the Solarian’s allies, for they seem to be just messengers themselves,” the young Drak held his claws behind him, “However, we believe…that the avian and the girl are the messenger’s bodyguards.”

“We will either kill them all, or separate the messenger, kill him and take the letter.”

Duatos smiled as he saw Melio clench his fist near the end of his words.

“I’ve taught you well,” the old lord returned to his book once more, “See to it that the letter does not reach its intended destination.”

Melio bowed to his lord for the compliment.

“And how fares your dealings with the Protectorates, lord?”

Duatos skipped through some pages in the ragged tome, “They are a crafty and cunning kind, not to be underestimated, but ultimately human. Lord Ko’thnim has made no gains in his attempt to wrestle the mesas from them. Perhaps I should watch and wait before doing anything.”

“A wise call, lord,” Melio said.

Duatos waved his hand, Melio understood the gesture, and replied with a retreating bow that signified his leave.




“What makes a city? I ask those of you, sons of Ip’Kesh, born of noble blood?” Duatos asked his three colleagues gathered around him at a table.

They were playing a game called Svolda. It was a game for four players, involving a fictitious map somewhat resembling the desert in which they dwelled, and multiple game pieces. The map was divided into multiple little territories, and the objective of the game was conquest. The game began with one person, chosen randomly by drawing lots. That person was to ask a question to his three compatriots on the subject of war, politics, or conquest. The rest were given only one opportunity to correctly answer the questioner, or master as he was called. They were to answer in rotation, which was clock-wise most of the time. Should none of his compatriots correctly guess the answer to his inquiry, he was allowed to take a territory, and ask another question to repeat the cycle once more. The first person to correctly answer would be the new master, and he would begin his cycle of conquest. The only inherent flaw of the game were the subjective answers, but that was never a matter that worried Duatos or his fellow lords, for this was a game that they devised by themselves, for themselves. None of the lords had ever tried to rig the game in their favor, for they all recognized that it was a pointless game. It was less about the map, and more about the thinking.

“People,” answered Niaos’Ko’thnim, Duatos shook his head.

Lord Niaos’Ko’thnim was broad shouldered, broader than most. His skin was a dark orange, rocky like the desert sands. His dress was among the most traditional, ripped cloth swaddling him incompletely, with a sash at the waist to complete his garb. All his fingers were ringed off with ornamental Xth metal. He stood nearly a head taller than the other lords present.

“An army,” answered Shri’Othrek, Duatos shook his head.

Shri’Othrek, the second oldest member of their little brotherhood was a distinguished general during the first and second wars with the Protectorates. And when the last Emperor, Nusdei’Feyleth, was assassinated, all the other lords fell back to the capital and attempted to claim the throne. Shri, however, remained at the front, caring less about their political struggles; he was more captivated by martial glory. He provided the majority of the Drakyvarian war effort in the closing stages of the war, and subsequently he lost nearly the entire family treasury in the blundering siege of Protectorate City. Nevertheless, the mines in his family’s territory managed to recuperate the losses after war’s end.

“A ruler,” answered Prae’Ylneac, Duatos shook his head.

Prae’Ylneac was the oldest of the group, older than the next oldest member, Shri’Othrek, by as much as ten years, but one could only assume. Time was a fickle thing to measure. Ylneac was slightly stooping as a result of his old age. He had some white specs that covered the rim of his chin. His eyes were greyed and murky, but that never affected his vision. His hands were fixed in cloth, to cover scars that he incurred years ago.

He let slip his tongue, “Water,” before he moved a mounted warrior piece into an empty territory.

The others scratched their chins and contemplated his answer.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Alleara Delegio Character Portrait: Dunmas Faeran Character Portrait: Gavri Aureliar

Earnings

0.00 INK

[Co-written with VindicatedPurpose]

93rd Day

Solaria

Palace of the Sun


The queen allowed her to leave. Alleara turned to face the closest delegate.

“I would like access to any information that you have compiled already. I wish to know everything about the queen’s illness. Walk with me please.”

She walked out of the room, expecting him to follow. Alleara did not think her in charge, in fact she didn’t give the request much consideration other than she needed to leave and needed to talk to him.

“I would like to hear all the events leading up to the three weeks before her death. Can you have any documents or other evidence or anything physical sent to my home please? I would also like to have access to the most recent victim, attempted victim and his servant. Oh and any information about the other deceased parties.”

Alleara paused to look at the delegate, waiting for a response to all her questions. Lord Faeran was rendered speechless by her sudden upstart pompousness as he looked to his fellow delegate for a word. The Vaul said nothing, he kept his eyes pinned on the young lady as she left. Faeran huffed a frustrated sigh, as his reddened face somewhat subsided.

Alleara gave a small frown of confusion at the man's sigh. "I am sorry, is there a problem? The queen asked me to look into this and in order to do so I need to know everything that has been found out so far as well as talk to people who are involved. If you can't do this for me perhaps I should as the queen who might be best suited to help me."

It wasn't a threat, Alleara was simply stating a fact if this man wasn't able to help her there had to be someone who could.
Faeran cleared his throat and straightened his tunic, he was still a delegate, first and foremost. He a duty to the city and the queen.

"No, none at all. Please follow me to the Custodians of the Dead, they will have more information regarding those that already passed. We will also have to meet with the timekeepers as they have kept records regarding queen."

Alleara smiled and nodded. "Oh good. I had hoped it wouldn't be an issue. For a moment I worried that you might tell me that there were no records or something like that. I am happy to hear that is not the case."

She turned and began walking down the hall once more. "Now then, where shall we go first? Also did any of you see the queen in the days leading to her death? What about the most recent victim?"

Alleara glanced over her shoulder at those that were walking with her. She had no idea where she was going and hoped that they would lead her on as well as tell her what they knew. They were advisors and delegates whose loyalty was to the crown, it meant they knew a great deal more than most and likely had people working as servants who might overhear things they shouldn't. She would never be so bold at this moment as to inquire about such things but she filed the notion away for later.

"No, she was bedridden for the week leading up to her death. Not necessarily bed-ridden, but confined to the palace," the brown feathered delegate replied as they walked.

"Confined to the palace? For what reason? Was her illness that bad? Who had access to her during this confinement?" Alleara looked over her shoulder at him. His eyes still gave her chills. She couldn't shake the feeling that they could almost look through her, as if he could see her very thoughts.

"At the behest of Lady Khundis, the servants advised the queen to stay within the palace, and perhaps within her quarters. Only they had access to her."

Alleara frowned. Lady Khundis. Interesting.... She said nothing aloud but nodded in understanding. It seemed strange to her but she hoped the records would give her some clue as to what led to the illness.

"Before her illness did the queen go any place out of the ordinary? Attend any function or meeting?"

"If she did, it probably would have been in the confines of the Palace," Lord Faeran added.

"So there will be records of everything she did in the weeks before her death? Did any of you see her or have business with her before she grew sick? Do you know of anyone in particular who might have sought audience for a specific complaint?"

Alleara realized that they were likely to brush her off, stating that the records would hold the information she sought but she knew as well as anyone that records were not always accurate. Things were omitted, items missed whether on purpose or not. It was just as likely that something happened in secret that caused rumours as it was that something official occurred. What she hoped was that any of the delegates who had knowledge that would help the investigation would state it in an effort to help the investigation. It did not escape her that they might attempt to hinder her more than help her though.

In a word, Faeran denied with a single 'no'. Whether this was the truth, or he was harboring something private remained to be seen. The Vaul returned to silence.

Alleara took a slow breath though inwardly she sighed. So this is how it is going to be....
-
Once they departed the Palace of the Sun, they continued on through the Imperial Quarter to the Temple of Jeytelh. Within the temple, there was a department known as the Custodians of the Dead. They were were responsible for the last rites and interring the remains of the deceased, and they kept records of how they died. On occasion, they worked alongside the Sunfires in the investigations of murders. Usually retribution was swift as the Sunfires were nearly everywhere, and they would detain suspects within a day. A tribunal consisting of Solar Matriarchs would judge the fate of the defendant based on the evidence given. The subject was guilty until proven innocent.

The Imperial Quarter was defined by a single dominant architectural form. The Temple maintained the same elaborate folds and weavings that the Palace of the Sun had, and it was just as ornate, if not moreso than the Palace itself.
Alleara felt tense as they approached the Temple of Jeytelh. So much happened in it halls, death, investigation and trials. Much of what she needed, the records and such would be in there and it was as she walked inside that Alleara realized she had nothing to back up her new task save the word of the delegate at her side. Her heart raced. What if he says I am a spy? What if I end up in the hands of the tribunal? I wish I had been smart enough to ask the queen for a letter or something. Now I have to go on his word and I am not sure I can trust him.

Her eyes drifted sideways to look at Lord Faeran.

His long and dreadful face provided no comfort, and his somewhat portly size made for some jokes among the common folk. One would never hear these circulating among the nobles though. He walked ahead, paying no attention to the lady. The Vaul kept up behind, watching the skies, zipping about as was the nature of his avian kind. However, he was different from most other Vaul as he was a bit more controlled and tempered as it appeared.

Lord Faeran's countenance provided Alleara with no bolstering to her confidence. Behind her the Vaul delegate also offered no comfort for her situation. Really should have thought this through... She swallowed hard and followed.
Then, just as they were about to reach the entrance, Faeran stopped, paused in the middle of his tracks.

Alleara stopped just short of running into the man. "Is something wrong Lord Faeran?" Her hands went to her stomach. Her tone was cautious. What now? Thank the stars I have a better head on my shoulders than my mother, I swear she'd have had two heart attacks by now.

He looked to her with a pair of sharpened eyes, lips mute. He cleared his throat, "Nothing at all." Then he continued ahead.
Alleara's stomach was in a knot. "I should hope there won't be any issues. I would hate for the queen not to get the information she desires." She tried to sound confident and calm though she was beginning to heavily doubt the man in front of her. I need a plan if he tries anything. Her mind worked quickly trying to think of all the possible scenarios and what she might do.

Dangling the queen's sword. The delegate was startled by her tactic, but he knew that it was by the queen's decree, and he had everything to jeopardize.

"No. There won't be any."

Somehow his words failed to reassure her. Alleara inhaled slowly and walked on. "I admire that we have such good record keepers. It is a testament to our desire for knowledge and facts to keep such detailed history of Solaria and its people."

The noble simply nodded, perhaps he was begrudging Alleara for intruding on matters that were out of her rank and station.

Now she was simply making small talk in an effort to ease her own nerves though it too was not really helping. Her hands remained on her stomach and her cheeks had lost some colour as thoughts of death and trials flooded her mind.

"The records may very well be the key to tracing the queen's illness back to the point of origin and from there we can figure out who administered the poison."

"We'll have to meet with the dead first, before we can access any records."
-
The Temple of Jeytelh

Alleara was tense as they approached the entrance of the temple. The figures that stood guard were not exactly intimidating on their own but add them to the architecture and stillness of the temple and Alleara was significantly on edge. She followed Lord Faeren's lead though she worried that he might do something to hinder her. Without him though she could get no where and it would mean returning to the queen assuming she could leave here freely.

She was too afraid to say anything. Her eyes moved, taking in everything around her.

The two male Jeytahs at the entrance were dressed in knee-length chitons of a tan colored fabric. They wore orange head scarves, and gleaming amber rings hung on theirs arms as they welcomed the high ranked officials with revering bows and welcomed them into the temple. The two servants pushed the giant doors inward to allow them through. Once the three were in, the doors were pulled back and sealed. The temple composed several different quarters separate from halls where the shrines were kept and the Solar Matriarchs and Jeytahs performed their daily rituals. They walked through the main hall where the braziers and torches had been quelled the previous night, and the only light was that which was filtered through the openings throughout ceiling and the walls that coned ever upward. Tall golden support columns lined the walkway through which they passed.

Each of the quarters were separate departments of the Temple, and one such department was the Custodians of the Dead. The clergy believed that once a soul passed beyond the mortal realm, that soul belonged to the Sun Lord. And it was the responsibility of the Faith to handle matters such as rituals over the dead.

The doors to the Hall of the Custodians were giant giant doors emblazoned by a darkened silver sun at the very center. The two Custodians at the door were dressed in full armor similar to the Sunfires, but theirs was a variation of the armored battle dress. Darkened silver similar to the sun on the door, and long dark capes running to the floor. They wore visorless helmets, similar in design to the Sunfires, but different colored. The helmets covered their cheeks, leaving only their mouth, chin, eyes, and nose uncovered. The two Custodians barred the door with their pole arms angled.

"What is your purpose here?" the Custodian on the right said with a simple yet firm tone.

"I am Lord Faeran, delegate in charge of the investigations behind the late queen's murder as well as the recent deaths that happened during the days of her funeral."

The Vaul spoke for himself, "I am Representative Gavri Aureliar of the Vaul Quarter."

Faeran then gestured to Alleara "And this is Lady Delegio of House Delegio, attaché on special assignment for Queen Bitava. We request access to your records and the morgue containing the bodies of the fallen that have not been interred."

The guard looked to his brother-in-arms, the two retracted their spears and pulled the iron doors open.

Alleara's body was tense as the guards asked their purpose and Lord Faeran answered. She was relieved to hear him state that she was there on assignment from the Queen. He could have stated it in another way thus leaving it open later to have her removed. One door down but how many more to go. She wanted to work with everyone involved but she knew when it came to the crown, power and politics people tended to resort to underhanded tactics to get ahead rather than work for the betterment of everyone. Remarkably different from science. Unfortunately Alleara had more experience in that world than this one.

The doors groaned as they were opened and she couldn't help but think they reminded her of a great creature ready to swallow her and the others into the depths of the morgue.

Head high, face placid in an effort not to show her nervousness Alleara followed Lord Faeran past the iron doors and into the new area.

She made note of the Vaul's name. That was more than she had heard him speak yet.

Their footsteps echoed slightly on the floor as they walked towards where the dead were kept.
-
As they entered, they reached a central desk where several scribes were recording notes. The desk was dark iron just like the doors and the armor of the custodians that preceded it. Records upon records were stacked on the table, as the scribes dabbed their quills in black ink and continued to carve out words upon the thin sheet made from Grelb skin. On the corner of the desk was a device that was supposed to be a light source. Two Solarian crystals of different sizes and shapes sat within rings that were connected to a central metal ball that turned. And as the ball turned, so too did the two crystals in a set revolution around the sphere. Other scholars proceeded to retrieve what scrolls had been completed to catalogue and index them along shelves that lined the walls.

Beyond the central desk was the crypt itself, where hundreds of other custodians wandered among the rows of the dead, updating their records. The two lords saw a group of Sunfires and custodians examining a body at the other end of the long hall.

One man met them at the entrance and immediately nodded to the portly delegate, "Lord Faeran."

Lord Faeran felt the need to speak on behalf of the group because he was there self-appointed representative, "Magister Olue."
The Magister was the Master of the Custodians, a tall and gaunt man. His grave eyes had sunken. He had a pair of dark iron shoulder pauldrons from which his long white cape was tied from. The shoulder guards themselves were chained across his chest with an ornament. He dealt with death on a daily basis and he took his duties very seriously with every ounce of professionalism he had.

"Representative Aureliar," Olue noted.

The Vaul replied with a nod.

He gestured to Alleara as she was an unfamiliar face while the other two had become regular visitors to the hall.

"Queen Bitava has assigned her to the cases. Apparently she believes that the string of murders are somehow related to the queen."

"Oh is that so?" the Magister raised his eyebrow toward the young noblewoman.

"Very well, I suppose you'd like a look at the first victim."

They approached the group of Sunfires and Custodians, Greks and Vallon were there, they both nodded to Alleara.

On one hand she was happy to have Lord Faeran do all the talking. He knew the people here. On the other hand she wished she was more sure at that moment to open her mouth and introduce herself. Alleara stood tall and tried to look calm and confident under the Magister's gaze but the whole place gave one the sense that they were very small, very insignificant. It wasn't knowing the people around her were dead it was the atmosphere, the reverence those that worked there had for the dead and their work.

"I thank you for showing me. There is reason to believe that all the recent murders are connected and connected to the former queen's death as well."

Alleara gave a nod of respect back to those that stood in the group.

"Can you please tell me all you know about the first victim? Leave out no details please about their death. I am a scientist not a lady sitting over her tea. The details are important."

Despited her confident tone of voice Alleara was acutely aware that she was in a very precarious spot. Such an honour the queen has given me... Her thoughts were sarcastic in nature. Though she wanted the puzzle solved she was not sure if it was worth all this tension. You don't belong here. You belong in a lab, with books and scrolls and...

Her thoughts were not apparent on her face as she looked to the Magister for the information about the first victim.

"Go ahead," the Magister nodded to the scribe who managed the record.

The scribe cleared his throat and began, "Ixtoth Karlein of House Karlein. Advisor to the late queen, and seneschal of the Palace. Aged 39. He has no children or spouse. Time of death was a quarter past midnight. Victim was found hanging from his own balcony by a rope. He died of suffocation by strangulation. The rest of his physical body was untouched."
Greks interjected, "Witnesses say that they saw him still out before midnight. The servants had departed his estate before then, according to their testimony."

"We have no motive," the Magister said.

"Nor any leads," Vallon added, "The killer was skilled, that much we know, because he left no evidence or traces behind."

Alleara worried her lower lip. "Was there any sign that he fought the attacker? What evidence is there that the man did not kill himself? What is the timing of his death in relation to the queen's illness and death?"

"Ixtoth was a very close servant of the late queen, it would hardly seem in line for such a person to commit suicide," Faeran replied.

"Tis true," Magister Olue added, "As the seneschal, he was very much part of the queen's inner circle, if she had one that is. Oft I saw him alongside Lady Khundis and the late queen in the Palace."

"With regard to an attacker," Vallon postulated as he tried to turn the head of the deceased to the side, "We inspected his neck, and it appears that he received a blow there."

He pointed to the lightly bruised spot, a purple coloration, "It's possible that the assailant knocked him unconscious before proceeding to hang him from the balcony."

"According to the Sunfires on patrol, he was found dead the night of the queen's funeral," Greks said.

She was not surprised to hear that the killer was skilled, that there was no trace. The queen's poisoning had gone undetected due to knowledge and skill. The other deaths, under the strong assumption that they were linked would be perpetrated by the same skilled or at least a group of skilled hands. She wanted to rule out suicide, feeling that to ignore the possibility was to ignore all possible options and that just would not do.

"I do not think he killed himself I just wish to definitively rule it out. I believe we have a killer or a few working together to target the former queen and her people. He is the first and with no family and a high position it makes him the easiest to eliminate."

"But at the moment we have no motive for Karlein's death, much less the others. And if this was all a concerted effort on part of a group of assassins, we still have no connection to the queen's death other than that they all perished around the same time," Lord Faeran stated.

Alleara looked thoughtful for a moment. "Tell me about the second victim."

She knew there was a pattern, there had to be. There was something that connected all the victims with the queen in a way that made it important for them to be eliminated. Even if it was as simple as they had been the ones to administer the poison in the first place and those they worked for wanted them to be taken care of in order to ensure no one accidently let it slip what they had done. They knew something, were involved with something that warranted their deaths. It wasn't just coincidence.

The group came to the second body, this time it was a female.

"Pala Biurin, low born. Servant of the late queen. Aged 31, her spouse was Audhul Biurin, also a servant in the capitol. Time of death, approximately around midnight. Victim was mutilated. Internal body parts were strewn throughout their dwelling."

"The husband was the first to discover his wife's body on the ground and he immediately called for aid. We found her in a pool of blood on the floor." Greks said.

He turned to Alleara, "She was the one I said that looked as though she drowned in her own blood."

"It's startling that there were no witnesses," Vallon folded his arms as he stared at the woman's body, which was draped completely from her feet up to her neck in a white cloth to hide the gruesome wound. Her hair was dark and her face had paled into a bland ashen-gray color, with her blood permanently dried on her face in maroon form.

"Quite so, especially considering that they resided just outside the Imperial Quarter, and yet the sentries and guards on duty saw nothing that night," the Magister said.

All this time, Representative Aureliar stood quietly apart from the others, observing the bodies. Some thought he might have been squeamish, and offered to escort him out of Hall, but he refused, insisting that he was fine. Nobody could really tell though, for he was a Vaul and nobody really knew if their sort could be squeamish.

Alleara inhaled very slowly as she listened to the facts. She nodded to Vallon. "It is quite intriguing that no one heard or saw anything. That level of brutality..." She placed a finger to her lips. "Such a difference between them. I wonder if it is to throw off a trail or it is a message."

She frowned and lost herself in her thoughts for a moment. Mutilated. Not poison, not hanging. Why? Why was she so brutally attacked? A servant. Hoping not to bring attention to the other murders? She looked up from the body. "The former queen's servant, what exactly did she do? Chambermaid? Lady in Waiting? Cook? Food taster? What was her job? How often did she see the queen and in what circumstances? Would she have come into contact with Advisor Karlein?"

It was bothering her that there were so many pieces and she couldn't quite figure out how they all fit together. She knew they did, it was like an itch that needed scratching. Alleara just needed to find the right spot and it would all come together.

"She was an herbalist, she worked in the Royal House of Healing. With regard to her presence around the queen..." the scribe peered to his overseer, Olue, before continuing, "We have no information regarding that."

"What would a murderer want with an apothecary? And why...?" Vallon wondered aloud.

"Perhaps it is to throw us off their trail, if there is one," Greks, despite all that had happened, maintained a level of open-mindedness, "Perhaps there was a reason as to why he wanted to...maim...her so."

"Her spouse, her husband where was he before he found her? Also what is his job? Servant yes, yes I know that, I mean specifically." Alleara held up a hand and gave a slight waving motion as if she anticipated the answer of servant already as it had been stated for her once. She wanted details, not surface information.

Although Lord Faeran would have put in a word reminding Alleara of her position as an oversight and not as the head of the investigation, he decided to keep quiet and watch how long she could carry on and how far her antics would take her.

The Sunfires and Magister Olue turned to the scribe, who searched though what notes he had regarding the woman.

"Her husband, Audhul, is a royal scholar. Beyond that, we do not know."

"Might I speak?" Aureliar interjected with his talon.

"Certainly, delegate," the Magister affirmed.

"May I add that the possibility of a new kind of murderer has joined the ranks?" he professed at a distance from the rest.
His comment drew glances from the group.

"What do you mean?" Lord Faeran shifted to his fellow delegate, perplexed.

"Some people," the Aureliar sharply turned, "Kill for the sake of killing."

"That's-"

"Madness?" he paused, "Not quite so. Motive, still eludes us. Their modus operandi follows no logical pattern, whether by purpose or by fault...we know not. One person he hangs, the next he disembowels." Aureliar's black eyes trailed off into the dead woman's grey face.

"That's a possibility," Greks said.

Alleara frowned. She disliked the idea that there might simply be someone out there who was killing for no reason. She was well aware that there were those that enjoyed it, the taking of lives but they were hired to do their jobs most times. The very concept that the murder might be random left a sour taste in her mouth.

"It might also be the work of more than one killer. Different methods but same motive. I feel like they were targetted though I cannot quite figure out why. I know it has something to do with the queen. It has to."

"Lady Delegio, perhaps you should not depend too heavily on the idea of a greater conspiracy at work when you have so little to support it at the moment," Lord Faeran dismissed.

She looked over at the delegate. "I hope for all of us that there is a reason and not someone simply killing those they choose. For someone's mind to be so broken..." She shivered a little.

Nods from everyone affirmed a general consensus.

"The third victim?"

The record-keeper of the third victim breathed a sigh, "We...her body..." he turned to the Magister.

Magister Olue began, "By far the most brutal of the deaths," he said this with some hesitation.

The nature of the case was no less tragic than the others, but the cause of death certainly set it apart from the others.

"Jain Valire, also a common born. A mechanic who worked among the machinery in the airship hangars, aged 28. Her father and mother had long passed. She stayed in the home of her aunt. Her body was found between the cogs of machinery.

"We can not rule out the possibility that this could have been a tragic accident," he further pined.

"We need to send out word to the families of the deceased soon," the Magister told one of his aides.

Alleara took a slow, deep breath. If there was something more brutal the second woman she needed to steel herself for the details. "Odd. This one has no connection to the queen then? A mechanic...she would not have had any obvious dealings with the queen. What of the others? The first and second victim? Friends?"

"None," Greks said flatly.

She was disturbed by the idea that the woman had been found in the machines inner workings. Alleara could only imagine the pain and agony. Her eyes went wide for a moment. "Was there any sign on the body of other wounds? Those not consistent with the machine cogs? What of signs of a struggle? Was anyone with her in the hangar that night?"

"Well, due to the...circumstances...of her death, whatever evidence that was present on her body is now gone," the Magister stated.

"However," a scribe added, "We do know that she was the only one present at midnight, our records show that she often worked the late shift in the hangars."

There was a chance that this victim had nothing to do with the rest, that she was simply an accidental death though a horrible one nonetheless.

"Another cold trail," Lord Faeran muttered.

Alleara couldn't figure out how things fit. She was missing something important, she could feel it.

"What of the queen's death?"

Perhaps the clue that would put it together lay with the queen. She was the only thing that tied two of the victims as well as the man who survived. The woman, the mechanic didn't fit the puzzle as far as she could see it at the moment but perhaps something would come to light in the future. When unsure go back to the source. "The queen is the link for the first two victims. Tell me of her death."

"Would you perhaps like to look at the last victim, before we continue prodding your theory?" Lord Faeran snidely suggested.

"I was told three deaths and one survived. There was a death I was not informed of?" Alleara looked to Lord Faeran. "Three deaths, the queen and one man attacked but saved by his servant."

"Four," the delegate corrected her with a sideways glance, "Four deaths aside from the queen."

"The queen's other advisor...the fourth. The fifth is the poisoned nobleman. Two servants, two advisors and one nobleman...."
She shook her head slightly. "Forgive me I miscounted the number of advisors involved."

Alleara nodded slightly, "Thank you, this is why I prefer to make detailed notes so that nothing is ever miscounted." She looked back to the magister. "The fourth victim?"

They approached the fourth body, which was mostly intact compared to the previous two that they examined.

"Michael Lyk, you already know he was an advisor to the late queen. Victim was found lying in the street in a pool of his own blood, presumably a suicide by jumping. Witnesses supposedly saw the man jump from the fifth story of a tower in the Imperial Quarter. However, all accounts say that it was too dark to tell around the time."

"Aged 30, no children or spouses. He was a head of the scholars," added a scribe.

"It's possible that he committed suicide," Greks examined the bruised corpse, bruises that were earned when the man's body met the ground.

"Yet, we have no reason as to why," Vallon said.

"Lyk was appointed as head of the scholars during the late queen's reign. And he maintained that position until her death earlier this year," Lord Faeran said.

"I remember that he told me that he would resign following the queen's death, citing that a new regime would need new people," Magister Olue recalled, as he stared at his deceased acquaintance.

The man had a battered countenance and fluffed white hair, common among many in the desert.

"Master Lyk, was he a native born of Solaria?" Aureliar asked, drawing the eyes of his fellow delegate, Faeran.

"Quite so, delegate, he was not from Solaria. However, the position of scholar could be attained by anyone of learning," Olue said.

"Explain," the Vaul representative pressed the Magister, beak thrust upward.

"Master Lyk had proven his exceptional abilities in the fields of learning, from astronomy to medicine and healing. That's as far as I know regarding the man."

"Tell me," Aureliar asked the scribe standing beside him, "What records do you have of Master Lyk's history? Before he came to Solaria."

The scribe searched through the scroll, which was barely filled, as there was few information regarding the victim, "Not much, lord delegate. All that we know of his past, is that he came to Solaria approximately six years prior."

Alleara looked thoughtful, "So a man with little past held a place in the court. He excelled in his area of knowledge but no one wondered on his history? Did he seem like the type to kill himself instead of simply retiring from his position as advisor?"

"It did seem strange, but Master Lyk was a studious and friendly fellow. Approachable anywhere, always offering words. Even in court, which was praised by the late queen."

"Both advisor's, were they particular favourites of the late queen? What of the servants? Did any of them spend an odd amount of time with the queen, outside of normal expectations?"

"Well, I would say Master Lyk spent a good amount of time with the queen" the Magister said, "But then again I was never in the palace that much to know."

"What are you implying?" Faeran stared at him, "Do not tell me that you are buying into Lady Delegio's claims that the queen was murdered."

"I am not implying anything Lord Faeran, nor have I bought, as you would put it, into her claims," Olue gestured at Alleara,
"However, as the Master of the Custodians, it is my duty to be impartial to all possibilities."

"What investigation is there? We have a killer on the loose, and the queen died of natural causes. Hardly grounds for some grand conspiracy."

Alleara looked at Lord Faeran, "How do you explain the blue arches on the queen's nail beds? They are the signature of a very specific poison. How do you explain her illness leading up to her death? Someone poisoned her and it seems very likely that some of those closest to her, perhaps those involved, those that figured it out or those who knew a secret were all killed to help clean it up. She was poisoned. I saw the arches. Death doesn't do that but chemicals, natural or formulated do."

She looked to the Magister, "I thank you for being a logical man. There are other possibilities than natural death and I appreciate someone's impartial views and input. It means that the information you give will not be clouded and you are less likely to overlook a detail simply because it does not fit your idea of what occurred." She bowed her head in respect.

Alleara inhaled slowly. "Perhaps all the deaths aren't related, perhaps they are but we owe it to them and it is now a duty given to me by our Queen to thoroughly investigate. Shall we discuss the former queen and the time leading to her death as well as observations made upon her death."

She was calm and ready to hear more. She knew it would not be settled today, there was still information missing and more questions she wished to ask but Lord Faeran seemed annoyed so Alleara decided moving forward was less likely to cause him to want to leave.

The Magister returned the bow, though he would not partake in any continued jabs, as he perceived, at Lord Faeran.

"Natural causes," the portly delegate firmly answered after the Magister finished.

"Blue arches?" he shook his head incredulously.

Through the four deaths, he still could not believe how the noblewoman could conceive of such a naive idea. From the court chambers until now, she still clung to it blindly, he thought. The delegate decided it was time to end this farce.

"What blue arches? As we searched the body, we saw none of the so-called 'blue arches' that you claimed. Our investigators made no such discoveries. I might also add, for everyone else who was unaware, your little 'discovery' was made by probing and defiling the queen's body as she lay in her casket."

This solicited silence from everyone present.

"But go on then, and show us your chemicals. The burden of proof lies with you now. Proof as to whether or not the queen perished by poison and not natural causes," Faeran said.

Alleara glared at Lord Faeran, "Did the investigators think to look for chemical markers? Perhaps they didn't find them because it didn't occur to them or they were told not to look for them. The arches appeared in her nail beds. If they did not think to look that is not my problem but I know what I saw and that it was poison. Only a poison does that. There is one in particular that leaves that signature. As for proof, you know very well the queen's body was burned and with it the physical evidence. All that is left is the records of her last days. That will help us trace back when it was given to her and perhaps how and by whom."
She crossed her arms. "Tell me Lord Faeran do you or the investigators have a great deal of experience with chemicals? Have you worked in a lab? Read up on chemical markers and properties? Did you think to look for signs of poison? Did you personally inspect every inch of the body? Was it checked more than once? Some chemicals do not settle into the tissue for days. Did you know that? That a body should be inspected at least a day or two after to make sure that chemicals and other indicators have settled?"

He had tried to embarass her in front of the other men. "I had the sense to look, yes by inspecting her in the coffin but when else would a scientist have had access to the queen's body? I had a theory, something you and the investigators should have thought of and I acted on it. At great risk to myself but the Queen seems to deem it worth looking into. Scoff all you want and if I am proven wrong I will apologize to you for questioning you but until then we must look at all the information, ignoring nothing. If you wish to end this go explain it to Queen Bitavia. I await her decision. In the meantime I wish to hear about the queen's final days."

Faeran scoffed, "We shall see."

Alleara was livid but tried to keep her composure. She was also scared. All she had was a theory and her notes from what she saw on the queen. With the body gone she had no physical proof. It was only by the queen's graces that she was even investigating. Had to solve the puzzle, had to stick your nose into it... She was not impressed with herself at that moment.

"Her records are with the timekeepers," Vallon said.

"Very well. If there is a connection it begins with the queen." She looked at Vallon, thankful that only Lord Faeran deemed it necessary to cause a scene. "Thank you Magister."

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eian Karimi Character Portrait: Shari

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#, as written by Kuroe
Ninety-Fourth Day

Dunes Outside Protectorate City


What? That was all Jianni thought as he stared across the firepit. There was Oerth, sitting, laughing, with a drink in his hands. And there, Uruk, telling one of his many fantastical tales. Behind them, his brother Jenta stood… Or… He didn’t. Jianni couldn’t understand it. Where his had had been but a moment before, the moon now shone, bright and big. Then he felt something wet hit his face. He looked up. Rain? No, it couldn’t be. Rain was nothing more than a myth here. Then what could it be? He looked down at his lap, and stared into his brother’s eyes. He didn’t understand. That wasn’t where it should be. He tried to ask Jenta what was going on. But the words wouldn’t come out. He just didn’t understand.





Eian kicked the headless corpse into the flames. With two more quick stabs, the men who sat in front of him collapsed, their blood seeping out of their necks onto the sand below. Two brief shouts were swallowed up by the night. Then there was silence.

Eian stared at the final man, who stared back at him. The smell of burning flesh surrounded them for a few, heavy moments.

“Where are they?” Eian asked in a quiet, almost gentle voice.

The man made no move to speak. He looked like a strong man. A young one, though. Inexperienced. Probably not accustomed to seeing a man die yet. Eian might almost feel sorry for the man. But he would think about that later.

“Tell me where they are!” Eian suddenly yelled at the man, attempting to snap him out of his stupor.

The man shook his head slowly. “What are y-” His question was interrupted when Eian skirted around the fire and kicked the severed head out of his lap, then pulled the man up by his hair and slammed his face into the bloody ground.

“Protectorate city. Bandits attacked it. They took prisoners. Tell me where they are,” He growled into the man’s ear.

There was no answer. Eian’s blade flashed and a trickle of blood ran down the man’s neck.
“Tell. Me. Now.” he hissed into the man’s ear.

The man seemed to fumble for words. “Th- the canyon! Jenta said they took him to the canyon! We were supposed to meet them but they never came!” He cried desperately

“Good,” Eian said, his face sliding back into his neutral expression as he thrust the blade into the man’s neck. “May your next life bring you more fortune.”

***


It was early morning when Eian walked back into their meager camp. Shari had already began to clean up and put the bedrolls when he strode in.

“Oh, is it that time already?” Shari said, looking pointedly at the drops of blood on Eian’s pants. “My, they do grow up so fast. Soon enough, you’ll move out, and then want to get married to some nice young…” she trailed off, noticing Eian’s blank stare. “That time…? I’m making a joke about you being a girl…?” nothing. “Oh, you poor thing… Seriously. Talk to girls.”

Eian shrugged. “I talk to you.”
Shari shook her head. “You’re hopeless. Just hopeless.”

“Are you telling me to find a mate?”

Shari groaned in response. ”Don’t say something like that so casually.”

”I killed four men and burned their bodies and all their worldly belongings to ash. I’m sure that talking casually about finding a mate is well within the boundaries of accepti-“

“Okay, okay! I get it! So did you find out anything or not?”

Eian nodded, turning to look out at the vast desert. ”Get your things ready. We’re going to find a dead man.”

Shari merely rolled her eyes at Eian’s theatrics. For a quiet killer who nigh-on worshiped efficiency, he did have a flair for the dramatic. It brought a slight smile to her face, though. She wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Characters Present

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#, as written by Kuroe
Deleted Double Post

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Alleara Delegio Character Portrait: Estios Hultyce Character Portrait: Dunmas Faeran Character Portrait: Gavri Aureliar

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[Co-written with SkullsandSlippers]

94th Day

Sanctum of the Timekeepers


The Sanctum was a massive multi-tiered structure that sat outside of Solaria. It was one of many throughout the landscape of the Ba'Gatha, they served as source of knowledge, and a record of time. They had been around since the beginning of time, the time which they began recording. Since the beginning of time, the Timekeepers established themselves as an entity of scholars and record keepers, beholden to nothing and no one, except time itself. It was their duty to measure time, and keep a record of all the happenings in the desert.

The Sanctum worked like it did any other day. A company of Keepers were incessantly transliterating and replicating older pieces of knowledge, as well as recording new pieces that came in daily from scribes of the cities. Each city had a group of scribes who would deliver a set or records on current events to the timekeepers. The timekeepers in turn would translate the events to the days on which they happened into a general record of history. Because there was no other method of telling time outside of the timekeepers, independent historians were often far and few.

The halls were damp, and mostly dark except for the little of holes of sunlight that marked the great dials that measured the length of day.

Two men walked down a corridor of the labyrinthine sanctum. Both were defined by baldness that had been around since the beginning of time, pointed ears, glowing blue eyes that seemed to never blink, dry hairless faces with many trenches and wrinkles, robes that covered them completely save their heads, and single emblems etched on their foreheads.

"Keeper Kel," the first spoke, leading the way through the dark hall.

"Yes, Keeper Umian?" the second one replied, as a flash of sunlight hit his pale face.

From a glance, the first Keeper seemed experienced, by the way he walked, the way he talked, and the many wrinkles on his forehead. The last was an indication of age, and perhaps seniority. The second one was the opposite, save for the wrinkles, for his face and eyes were sunken in like a pouch as well. To be a Keeper, as they addressed one another, was to live a monastic life, a life of austerity.

Nobody really knew much about them, some claimed that they were as old as the sands themselves, others said that they came from the sands. Despite the legends, the Timekeepers were easily accessible by those who wish to know of events past and present that have been put down into the memory of the sand.

"What day is it?"

"The 94th day," Keeper Kel replied.

"The 94th."

"The deserts will see much strife."

"Much strife," Keeper Umian echoed behind his senior.




Dunes Between Solaria and the Sanctum

The sun was warm, not hot. The sands were soft. A straight road once led to the Sanctum of the Timekeepers from the city. The path had been covered with windblown sand, quiet and still. Between Solaria and the Sanctum of the Timekeepers was open territory. Open in the sense that marauders roamed the sands freely.

In the distance, a large cadre of Solarians could be seen making their way along the hidden trail. Several of the group were mounted on yakolas while their escorts went on foot beside them.

Faeran and Aureliar rode in the back, while Alleara and Estios, who was the head of the escort detail composed entirely of Sunfires, led in the front. Greks and Vallon kept pace on foot along with the other guards. Their bronze armor gleamed in the desert, while their short white capes fluttered in the wind. The Sunfires noted that it was odd seeing a bird ride another beast, in reference to the Vaul delegate, but they kept their mouths shut.

"Are you sure this is going to work?" Aureliar whispered.

The portly delegate returned a nod, his mount groaned slightly upon its next step, to which the Vaul said nothing more.

Alleara was dressed in a lightweight dress and a parasol over her head to keep her from the warm sun. They were lucky that the temperatures were of a more moderate nature on this day. She had gone home from the Custodians of the Dead to inform her parents of her new task as the Queen's liaison and investigator for the old queen's death. Her father had been thrilled, her mother wanting to boast and preen in front of her friends. Alleara had left them to pack a small bag. There was a journey ahead of her and she wished to be ready. She had her books, ink and pen as well as some coin for the journey. She would not go empty handed.

Now she walked the sands with the others, their guards around them. She had never left Solaria. She was excited at the prospect of new places but fearful. Alleara had, since her childhood heard stories of the horrors that happened in the deserts outside of the city. Now she traveled with men she only knew by name but not by character as well as an entourage of guards. She felt out of place. Scientists, inventors were meant to stay in their labs, not travel the world. For her own peace of mind and his, her father had sent her with a firearm and powder. She could use it, she just hoped she would not have to.

The guards, their escort of Sunfires seemed very competent and Alleara reminded herself that these were the best in Solaria.

She walked at the front of the group with Estios. Behind her were the two delegates. She still had not decided if they were truly helping with the investigation or doing what they could to hinder her as they gave the impression that they did not like her. Alleara didn't blame them necessarily. This position was as much a surprise to her as it was to them and she could understand the men not taking too kindly to a young woman who suddenly questioned everything. Still she thought that their duty to the queen, a desire to solve the issue of the murders would overrule all. Perhaps they have other agendas or perhaps they are simply miserable men who do not like their incompetence pointed out. Alleara truly felt that things had been overlooked in the original death reports, pieces were missing and the original investigators missed connections or at least possible connections.

I need time to sit and make notes, to see where the connections lay. She adjusted the strap of her bag that crossed her body. It left her arms completely free though it rubbed slightly as she walked. It was a necessary thing though, she would not be caught without her notes this time and money as well as her firearm ensured that she was prepared for anything that might delay them.

"It's funny to think that she would know how to use that," Aureliar observed from afar, in reference to her rifle.

"It won't do her much good," Faeran remained terse.

When he felt necessary, Faeran could assume a cold and calculating mask. After some time had elapsed, the Vaul delegate asked that the group settle in the shade for a brief respite before continuing on their day's long journey to the Sanctum. Estios agreed and the group rested behind a large rock that shielded them from the sun at an angle. The wind picked up and bits of sand followed its call.

Most of the soldiers stood on guard as they snacked on part of their rations.

Alleara found a spot to sit. She removed her bag, her firearm and placed her parasol next to her on the ground. Her hand slipped inside the bag to remove one of her books and she quickly began to jot down a few notes, things that had come to mind as she walked. The shade was cooler than the sun and easier on the eyes. Around her others were sitting or standing and eating. She had no appetite simply wished to make notes before the thoughts drifted away like the blowing sand.

"Already at work I see?" Vallon said as he stood before her alongside Greks, it seemed as though the two were nearly inseparable.

"Just some notes. Observations and such. Everything might be a piece of the puzzle. It would not do to overlook something." Alleara did not look up right away from her book. She finished scribbling her sentence and then raised her eyes slowly to look at the two men. She felt as if they were watching her every move and found it very disconcerting. She would not let them know that they unnerved her though and after a moment went back to work though there was a slight shake to her hand as she wrote.

Estios, for his part, remained standing, watching the sands, waiting for any marauders. He could see Faeran and Aureliar conversing with another Sunfire corporal, who he did not recognize. There was something off about it, and perhaps he would have known more had he listened in on their conversation. Yet his mind was elsewhere. Their break was brief and they were immediately on the road once more. They had not reached the halfway point to the Sanctum before Lord Faeran spoke from behind.

"That's far enough."

Alleara adjusted the parasol over her shoulder as she turned and looked to Lord Faeran. Her eyes flickered to Estios who was still beside her as he had been the entire journey so far. Far enough? "Are we taking another break?" She inquired.

Estios remained silent as he turned to face Faeran.

The two mounted delegates had their eyes set upon the young noblewoman. Their beasts lightly bucked as though the men were ready to off.

"You've been quite the thorn in our sides for some time now," Faeran turned to Aureliar, "Who would have thought a lowborn noble such as her could have convinced the queen to believe her lies?"

"Quite surprising," the Vaul ruffled his feathers before he addressed Alleara directly, "Your journey has come to an end, Lady Delegio."

Alleara was unsure for a moment what was going on. She shook her head as if to assure herself she was not dreaming. Lies? I have not lied and I convinced the queen of nothing she asked for me...

At those words, half the soldiers rallied around the two delegates, unsheathing their swords and readying their bows. An invisible line had been drawn in the sand. The other Sunfires, those who were still loyal to the queen and to their duty of protecting the lady, drew their swords slowly. They were unsure of the situation, but it would eventually dawn on them.

Captain Estios looked at the two delegates, "What is the meaning of this?"

"Captain," Faeran paused for effect, "I apologize that it had to end like this. You will be remembered as a hero..." he paused once more, "Or a traitor."

"And that fate lays with the rest of you as well."

The men were talking as if this were a simple matter, as if discussing what meat to have with dinner. It was as if the decision was already made and she was but a bystander. She realized with a sickening feeling that she was going to die, here in the sand. They meant to get rid of her. The were ridding themselves of a problem because she was delving into things they didn't want people to know. Her eyes flickered between them. "You can't do this."

"Oh, but we are," Faeran said, almost with a hint of joy.

One of the loyalists had raised his sword "Protect the queen-," his sentence was cut off as an arrow lunged into his throat and sent him onto the ground. The swords unsheathe and screams fell onto the sand as both sides raced at each other. Another arrow would have came toward Alleara had Estios not dove in front and activated his solar shield. The situation seemed hopeless as her guards, those still loyal to her, were outnumbered.

"These dogs! How much did you pay them?" Estios roared, it seemed as though he had discarded his earlier taciturn nature.

The tide rose ever higher against them, as the traitors began to nearly surround the loyalists. The sand was bathed in blood and metal. Arrows zipped by nearly as quiet as the desert wind and found flesh.

Greks found himself cornered by two traitors, he proceeded to parry their blows, before returning his blade. Just as one fell, the other was about to strike at his unguarded side, but that never came to fruition as Vallon dove between, piercing the traitor's armor with his sword. The man slumped to the ground dead. They saw that the battle was nearly lost, as even the captain himself was nearly surrounded trying to defend Lady Delegio.

"No!" Alleara pulled her rifle from her back as Estios darted in front of her. She realized that it was only his quick thinking that had saved her life, an arrow deflecting off of his shield. "What do we do?" She called to Estios as she loaded the firearm.

Around her men were dying, struck down by the very men they served with. She quelled the tide of panic that grew in her. She had wanted to help, to solve the queen's murder but never did she think it would lead to the slaughter of good men. "They are killing them!" Alleara lifted the now loaded rifle. She took aim. I have to kill them. She shot. It hit one of the traitorous Sunfires in the back. He buckled to the ground and she proceeded to load the rifle again. Her eyes darted about a little as she readied herself should she need to run.

Greks and Vallon sprinted to the captain and the lady, by now the traitors were nearly surrounding them.

"Captain! Let us handle them, you need to get her to safety," Greks said as he blocked off an arrow with his sword.

"But we can't leav-" another arrow flew by that nearly clipped Estios had he not ducked in time.

"We'll hold them off for you and her to escape. Don't let our sacrifice be in vain," Vallon charged back into the fray.

"But you won't escape them. There are too many." Alleara raised her rifle once more. "No! Wait-" Her voice caught in her throat. "They will kill him!" She looked at Estios, fear in her eyes. They were killing them and it was because of her.

"As long as you survive, Solaria may see another day," Greks said to the noblewoman, before he turned to the captain," It was an honor, sir. Now go!"

And with that, he too charged valiantly toward his doom.

"No...no..." The tears formed in her eyes making it hard for her to see her shot.

Estios had nearly lost touch with reality until another arrow strafed by, and he knew what he had to do.

"Comon' let's get out of here," he grabbed Alleara by the arm and pulled her into the winding canyon that was behind them.

Aureliar noticed their escape, "Damn you fools, after her!" he commanded several of his men, who pursued quickly.

A hand grabbed her and pulled her. Alleara's feet moved automatically. She was running, doing her best to keep up with the man who held her tightly. Run! Run! Her mind screamed even as her heart wanted to break for the men that were being killed.

"Take my shield and give me your rifle," Estios barked at the woman, he was now fighting for their lives.

Alleara handed him her firearm and took the offered shield. She was warring between crying and screaming. This wasn't how things were supposed to be. They were murderers and she knew in that moment that this was not the first time the Lords had conspired to commit such and act.

As the pursuers chased after them into the cramped passages of the canyon, Estios swung around and fired a round at them, a shot to kill, a shot to warn, and perhaps a shot to slow them. The two continued run through the narrow corridors for sometime, trying to sidetrack or even lose their pursuers.

After some twisting turns, Estios pointed into a crevice leading down another a path, "In there," he whispered.

Alleara did as he said and moved into the crevice. She was very, very aware that this man was all that stood between her and certain death. Her feet hurt, her muscles ached and her face as dirty as her hands now but she didn't care. She ignored all discomfort. What was a little pain in her legs compared to the lives of the men who had charged in to protect her?

As she went in, he traveled a bit further and threw down his helmet in the sand and made some tracks to confuse them, before he rejoined her inside the cramped little confine. They watched and waited for the soldiers to pass by, quiet and still with bated breaths. Adrenaline continued to flow, as Estios gripped the rifle tightly.

Alleara closed her eyes and listened as footsteps ran past them. The longer they stay there, still and hidden away the more her panic drained and left her shaking. She did her best to wrap her arms about her to still the movement. One moment she was travelling, working out the mystery in her mind and the next there was blood and bodies. Her stomach lurched a little. What if no one had helped her? You'd be dead in the sand like the others....

They waited for some time, a very long time it seemed, before Estios believed they could leave their hiding place. Just as he was about to stand up, a familiar voice could be heard throughout the canyon. The echoes bounced off the walls, it was the same hated voice as before. Both he and noblewoman would know the voice to be that of Faeran's.

"Lady Delegio! Captain Estios!"

The captain tensed up as he held his breath, his eyes darting about, waiting for the traitors to suddenly appear.

"I have one of your soldiers here!" the echoes gave his voice a guttural effect that only made him seem more ghastly.

"Tell them your name!"

There was a brief pause, silence.

"You can't speak?" he began to laugh.

"His name is Vallon," he cried out again.

Alleara looked at the Captain. Her eyes were wide with fear. She didn't know where Faeran was but he seemed to know there were somewhere near by. He used the canyon to his advantage she could tell, the acoustics causing his voice to bounce and echo. There was no way for them to know exactly where he was without looking. Her heart stopped as he stated he had one of the guards with him. She shook her head. He is sick. Out for himself and willing to do anything to keep his power. She dared not say a word only released a shuddering breath.

Then there was the unmistakable crack.

And the captain lowered his head for a time.

Alleara jumped at the sound. It echoed around her and she didn't think it would ever stop echoing in her ears. She covered her mouth, pressing hard to stifle any sound she might make. She didn't understand how someone could so coldly snuff out the life of another. Her eyes moved to the man beside her. Those were his men, loyal and traitors alike. They were his men and now they were dead or had turned on him. She wanted to comfort him but she didn't think he'd want that and certainly not from the woman who had caused all of this.

Estios took a single breath before he reclaimed himself, and peered out of their hole in both directions.

"Comon'," he gave her a hand to pull her up before they continued.

Alleara took his hand and stood so that she could follow. "Captain..." Her voice was just a bit above a whisper. "I am sorry about your men. They...there is no excuse for what has happened." She couldn't bring herself to think about her parents, about what they would tell the Queen when they returned to Solaria. She would be named traitor, they would say it was her doing. Alleara could feel it in the pit of her stomach. They were involved with the murder of the queen or at least the events leading up to and after. There were secrets they wished to remain hidden and the Queen asking her to investigate and her thoroughness threatened to expose them. She recognized them for what they were murdering traitors who were afraid that the truth would mean the end of their power and positions.

"Don't be," the captain said plainly, he understood that she felt guilty, but he knew it was misplaced guilt.

He knew they had other things of concern than guilt, for it was possible that the delegates had sent hunting parties after them. A return to Solaria would be ill-advised as by then they would be walking straight into the jaws of death. They had to find another way, should they continue to the Sanctum? He did not know.

She forced herself to look at Estios, there was guilt written all over her face. She knew that if she hadn't been sent to do a job that his men would still be alive. She was angry at the men who attack them and angry at herself. Had to solve the mystery. Had to go looking for answers.

"Let's get out of this canyon," he said to her, then he looked at the shadows of the canyon to determine which direction was east.

That would be the direction that they would go.

Alleara nodded and followed. Though he told her not to feel guilty at the moment the lingering sound of the man, Vallon's death haunted her. "Where will we go? If I can get to the Queen I can explain what happened. She is the reason I am doing this journey. She requested it. Surely she will believe me. I have to stop them before they spread rumors. They will stop at nothing to hide the things they have done." She watched as Estios looked at their surroundings. "I have to fix this. I have to show the kind of men they are."

"The path back to Solaria is fraught with marauders, and perhaps by now they have already ridden back and reported to the queen with lies," Estios shook his head, "At this point..."

The captain was unsure what path they should take. He was lost in the winding canyons.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Alleara Delegio Character Portrait: Estios Hultyce

Earnings

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[Co-Written with VindicatedPurpose]

94th Day

The Fringes of Solaria


The pair began to walk but there was the constant fear of the pursuit. Alleara looked over her shoulder frequently. The silence between them was not uncomfortable. They were both still in the process of coming to terms with what had happened, at least she knew she was and she couldn't imagine what he was thinking.

The sun began to set and Alleara wrapped her arms about her body. She had never slept outside. She knew the evening got colder. Her pack contained a light cloak but she knew it would be of little use and she couldn't ask him to stop moving. She hadn't expected to be outside or walking by nightfall, that hadn't been the plan.

Alleara said nothing as they walked but kept her eyes and ears alert. They could be following us...

The desert was known for its fierce temperatures both during the day and at night.

Estios had already abandoned his ornate traditional armor, leaving it buried within the sands somewhere. He would have been a conspicuous target had he kept it on.

He used to be among those who led raiding parties to scour the border lands of rogues. Now he was a target for slavers, bandits, and, for the first time, fellow Solarians. By then, the two delegates had already returned to Solaria bearing their own tale of the events that transpired. The only witnesses who could say otherwise were him and Lady Delegio, but they were fugitives of the city. To return would be to heed the knell of death on the grounds of treason. It would be their words against that of the city's.

Even as the two transients wandered the canyons, back in the city, Faeran and Aureliar's agents were already at work eliminating any factions that resisted their moves. The lustful dogs hungering for power disgusted Estios. Then he realized the possibility that the Grandmaster himself had become a pawn in their plans and had sanctioned their actions this day. He felt ashamed at what they became. Some of the proudest Solarian warriors reduced by lies, delusions, offerings of bezants.

The dunes around Solaria were now filled with patrol groups and hunting parties looking for a noblewoman and a traitor Sunfire captain.

Estios wondered if there was some more elaborate and secretive cabal at work.

As he walked, he looked very much like a desert merchant by the way his robes had been wrapped around him. A scarf obscured his face from the buffeting wind.

He remembered the offer that Faeran made just before the day was bathed in blood. He could still return to the city, abandoning the noblewoman in the desert. Yet, the more he thought of it, he could not forsake her or his honor or the men that fell trying to safeguard her. He realized that she might be the only hope for the city. Perhaps it was by chance or perhaps it was by the hand of Jeytelh, the captain decided he would let future generations decide. His focus now shifted from dwelling on the past to getting them to shelter and water if they were to survive and one day return to the city.

"Stay close, the wind cuts to the bone at night," he huffed.

Alleara nodded and hurried herself to ensure she was close but not overly so. Her breathing was heavy, not being used to long treks in the desert sands. "You do not have to stay with me." She finally spoke up. "I can't even begin to understand how you feel, your men...but you owe me nothing. This was the queen's mission and now I am going to be an enemy of my people aren't I?"

He gave a heavy sigh when she uttered those words. He felt no point in saying anything instead he resumed the same taciturn demeanor that he wore when he first met her at the Delegio villa.

Alleara couldn't help but feel guilty as Estios sighed at her and then kept up the silent trudge through the sand. The wind had picked up and the sun was going down. She hunched her shoulders, trying to keep in some heat. She wouldn't complain, wouldn't say anything to him that wasn't necessary. This man saved her life and lost his men in process. There wasn't much she could say. Thank you for her life? Sorry for your men? Sorry you can't go home? Sorry you are stuck with me? It all seemed trite and impersonal.

So Alleara opted for silence and staying close to the man that would have the greatest say in whether she lived or died.

It was the wind that caught them off guard if anything. At night it screamed and wailed like the banshees in childhood stories. Just as they were about to exit the canyon into a wide field of sand dotted by various sized balmora trees. It was one of the few pieces of shrubbery that managed to grow in the arid land. The water that the plant needed seemed to be carried by the wind, or its roots had tapped far below layers and layers of sand into a sizeable aquifer. The interior was hollow which required less nutrients, but its thick carapace prevented loss of water due to the heat.

The wind had covered their ears, but luckily not their eyes. Estios spotted a shadow in the distance which was immediately followed by more shadows. They were soon illuminated by the bright orange sun and the rolling sands that were kicked up by the hooves of their mounts. They carried torches and were galloping at a quickened pace.

Estios signaled to his charge that she remain within the canyon as he crept up to the edge that was the exit to observe the riders as they rode by.

As they neared, the captain could see that they were dressed in a mixture of black and brown. Raiders. Their curved scimitars were held up high above their heads as they gave high pitched shrieks that seemed to rival the wind. They were out for blood. Any blood they could find. As the captain could remember, whenever they were riding at that pace, it meant that a merchant caravan was nearby or perhaps something of value to the bandits. Now they were simply closing in for the kill like the colorful sand vipers.

He retreated from the exit lest he be spotted by them, diverting them from their true target. Normally it was his duty to protect traveling merchants seeing as how they were still within Solarian lands, but it seemed that he had trouble protecting himself and the woman.

"Bandits," he said in a voice that was gruff perhaps because they had gone for hours, or what seemed like hours, without water.

Alleara stayed put where Estios told her to. When he came back and the single world made her pale. "What do we do?" She brushed her hair from her face. It was knotted now. Her face was streaked in places with bits of dirt and sand. She looked as if she had been walking the desert for days, not hours. She had no experience with bandits, with anything really except her lab and her mother's tea parties. The thought of her mother mad eher lip quiver. What would she say when she found out whatever lies the Lords would go back with? Her father? Their work? Alleara shook her head. Now was not the time to break down.

Her hand gripped Estios' arm. "What do we do now?"

He stood there to think for a moment.

"We can't stay here," they needed to find shelter, and the canyons were not really a suitable place. They had to stay put as the raiders passed, but not even his years of experience could tell him about their patterns. Bandits, sand pirates, rogues, whatever the civilized called them, they were known for their random and savage attacks. Yet, they were not so bold as to attack the cities directly.

"We will wait for them to pass," he said as slowly crouched down before taking a seat and leaning against the canyon wall. He let his head fall back as he stared at the lines of eroded rock that ran along the wall across from him.

"Not here okay..." Alleara frowned as Estios then sat down. She was confused but sat down next to him, though careful to keep a respectful distance. He didn't need a frightened woman cowering against him. The wind made her ill at ease, the idea of bandits terrified her.

The older man swallowed some saliva as he rubbed his bearded chin. What was there to say?

The shrieks and screams that were distinctly human had passed by and echoed down the canyon. That was them, he thought, as he shifted his head in the direction of the sounds. He stood up immediately and went to see how far off they were. He watched as they rode off into the distance, and then he waited. He waited for them to turn around and return, return to where he was, but they did not. He immediately ran back to Lady Delegio and gave a nod that meant it was clear. He thought it was odd how he still considered her to be a lady, or a noblewoman, when clearly she no longer was. Perhaps that was because he still believed that this was all some kind of dream; he still believed they could return to the city.

Alleara went stiff as Estios stood up suddenly. He was watching. When he nodded, she was on her feet immediately. She didn't know what was going on but she would not be a burden to him. She closed the distance between them. "Lead the way, I will do whatever you say." She was trying to keep the tremble from her harsh, dry voice. She couldn't remember a time when she had gone so long without food or drink. Servants were always delivering things to her in the lab that she had taken it for granted.

They left the canyon, by then it was almost dark. A blanket of night was slowly covering them, and yet no shelter in sight. It was disheartening to the captain, they would wander aimlessly like so into the night, he thought. They had been lucky that the canyons were still in sight, as no matter how far they had walked, it had curved and wandered beside them. He thought perhaps they would have to settle for the canyon as they had no other choices. He set about gathering what little sticks he could to make a fire. By this late in the night, the bandits would have returned to whatever holes they came from, at least that was what experience told him.

The fire crackled as the captain fed it with twigs and other sticks. He had been on raids and patrols that required him to stay outside the city for nights, it was nothing new to him. He was not sure about the noblewoman though. Her physical frame had not been prepared for this, he could tell. He had given her his cloak as he watched her keep warm. Perhaps this entire ordeal was also his fault, he had not expected traitors in his ranks. The fault lay with the commander if his soldiers failed to obey him, that was a rule of war. He looked up to the stars to see which way was north in order to determine or try to determine where they were.

Alleara mimicked him, picking up whatever sticks she found that he might have missed. She did not know the first thing about surviving in the wilderness but she vowed not to be useless. She'd learn, watch and do with him. She wouldn't be a burden anymore than she already was.

Once the fire burned Alleara sat near it and tried to keep herself as warm as she could. When Estios gave her his cloak all she could do was thank him. It wasn't enough, now he was left without but she was grateful for his kindness. Alleara huddled inside of it.

"Captain? Why do you think they did it?" Alleara's voice was soft, just audible over the crackling fire. "The Lords...the other men...I have been trying all day and the best I can reason out is they are hiding something. I suspected all was not right when I first began questioning things but why attack us? Why kill your men when it was I they had a problem with?"

Estios looked her in the eyes with intent, but no words to add to her thoughts. He was where she was in trying to discern more of their plans. He was a never a thinker of matters such as these, he was a soldier after all.

He stared into the fire, the dancing flames were bright at night.

His hands were clasped before him, "If I had to guess, I would say they know something we don't. And perhaps we represented a threat to them in some way. As for my men...they've all been seduced by the coin," he paused, "Those that sided with the delegates."

"They need underlings, servants, all of this is just random thought to me," he stared at her again, "I don't really know."

Alleara stared back at him, determined not to let the intense eyes unnerve her. "I think they know something about the queen's death and perhaps the other deaths. I think that the queen setting me on the investigation proved troublesome for them. We present the truth if I can just prove it. I needed to know about the queen's final days." She inhaled. She didn't want to ask him but she needed to. "Captain did they offer you payment for turning to their side or did they simply know you were not corruptible?"

She did not want to insult him in anyway but she needed to know. Cover all bases.

He returned a glare at her one that seemed only to have been further fueled by the flames that danced within his eyes, which was the reflection of the fire pit before him. The brief flash of anger disappeared, he understood that she had a reason, if not the audacity, to ask such a question.

"No," he said.

Alleara nodded. "I did not think so Captain. I have not known you long but from what I have seen I believe you to be a man of honour. My evaluation would be they set us both up, knowing you would not go against your orders to protect the queen's investigator. They mean to further their own agenda and we do not fit into their plans. I am sorry but I had to ask. I cannot rely on my judgement alone. I need to be objective in this if I am to figure out what to do next and how best to succeed. I thank you for your honesty Captain and I am sorry that you and your brave men were caught between the truth and those who hunger for power."

She looked down at the ground. "I hate to think what they are doing now. How they are scheming and if perhaps the queen is in danger..."

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Haniea Bitava Character Portrait: Dunmas Faeran Character Portrait: Gavri Aureliar

Earnings

0.00 INK

94th Day

Protectorate City

One man took the spot of a gray scaled lizard who stepped off the droning airship onto the waiting platform where awaiting passengers crowded about. The lizard’s face was masked beneath a wide brimmed hat, his leathery skin covered by robes. He was supposed to meet with someone in the city. He was not sure when, but he believed it to be soon.

He also had some business in the region that he had to take care of afterward. He brought enough coin for another cup of tea and perhaps a return trip. He knew he did not need any more than that.




Solaria

The group of riders were led by the delegates with their entourage close behind. They came through the portcullis just as it was pulled upward at the call of the gatekeeper. Their yakola mounts were unusually fast despite their odd proportions and peculiar form. The townspeople surrounding the bazaars cleared out of the way as the riders trampled down the stone path and swept aside dust and pebbles.

They rode with utmost urgency to the Imperial Quarter. They carried with them a message, one laced with enough deceit to upset the delicate balance that the city had been propped upon.




The queen found herself unable to speak as the news came to her. The two delegates stood before her in tattered attire. They looked black and grim and smelled of anger and nothing more from the day’s long ride back to the city. She felt herself about to slip into that same rage had she been born of that disposition.

Yet she was raised from a humble beginning as a street orphan. She became a faithful of Jeytelh. Some say that Jeytelh recognized her devotion with reward. Others say other things, that her devotion was a face, and that she pulled herself up through means that were sacrilegious and defilement of all that the Sun Lord stood for.

Now she was the head of a city of various peoples, the head of one of three of the largest settlements in Ba’Gatha. That meant that she was bound to a certain character that was queen-like, but she still had not seen herself as a queen.

She was unsure if she could believe the two delegates as she was still unsure in believing herself.

The main court hall was filled with sapphire crystals of muted tones that could not bring a glow to pierce the cloud of thoughts that gripped her visibly.

“Are you…certain of this?” her hesitation evident and marked by Lord Faeran.

“Without a doubt,” representative Aureliar spoke, “Had it not been for the actions of warriors still loyal to the city, we would have been lost.”

The firmness of his voice could not be denied.

“She fled along with an accomplice, a Sunfire captain. He was a good soldier, but that was merely a front. It’s possible that they are somehow involved in the late queen’s murder,” Faeran stated, “But to what ends we do not know.”

“However, we have reason to believe that House Delegio was planning rebellion…” the Vaul delegate spoke.

“A lowly house such as theirs?” the queen raised her brow in disbelief.

“They did not act alone your majesty,” Aureliar replied, “Yet we know not who else they have coerced to their side.”

“All we know is that her father is an alchemist, but that alone is enough,” he added.

“What…what do you-” the queen looked at him, ““How certain are you of the claims that you have made against this family?”

Aureliar paused, “That the father poisoned the queen, that he contrived the poison that would be her demise, and that the daughter attempted to have us murdered? It seems clear as Jeytelh’s light,” he cleared his throat, “Your majesty.”

Faeran sighed, “If one captain turned traitor, who knows how many among the Sunfires have been-” he paused to gauge the queen’s expressions, which fluctuated according to his expectations.

She walked to a nearby column and stared out into the city where the lights flickered off one by one until all were asleep with the night. One moment she looked stunned, in another she felt angered, but in the end she was lost, lost within the palm of the two delegates’ hands.

“What are your orders, my queen?”

“I want you to investigate the Delegio villa.”

Lord Faeran nodded.

“I understand,” he paused “And what of the other possible traitors within our ranks?”

Aureliar knelt on a single knee, “Your majesty, if I may, I would like to spearhead the effort to root out any more of the conspirators.”

She paused for a moment to consider her options before she replied with a solemn nod while facing the city from her balcony. The luster of youth began to fade from her countenance.

The two delegates withdrew from the court hall immediately. They had set their plans in motion, and now they were pressing their offensive.

-

Dawn had not awoken yet, but the birdsongs were drowned immediately.

“Search the grounds!” Lord Faeran’s growl sent the boots crunching alongside his pompous stride.

The stoic and stout Sunfire soldiers pushed through the front gate of the Delegio villa. Their gleaming armor was always impressive and they inspired fear in enemies and allies alike. Their steps were almost in unison like the lockstep of the army, and as such they produced a repetitive clanging that sounded almost like drums of war. Now they were of a single purpose and order. They cared not for the outer furnishings and plants that adorned the exterior. The servants scattered unaware of the impending fall that would bedeck House Delegio.

Lord Faeran entered the grounds with Aureliar by his side, the two seemed nigh inseparable.

The soldiers searched the dwelling of the minor family, leaving no stone unturned, no rooms unchecked, no person unscathed. Their rummaging knocked over pottery, ornaments, and portraits. The office of Mathus Delegio was ransacked, his files and journals scattered on the floor. The bedrooms were searched, and the silk fabrics ripped beyond recognition without any justifiable reason other than simple malice.

Mathus and Malena Delegio stood to the side with their servants unsure what provoked the sudden intrusion into their lives at this hour of the night. Their daughter was still unaccounted for.

“My lord, I beg of you, what is the meaning of this?” he pleaded to the Vaul delegate that waited outside, while Faeran searched the house.

Aureliar isolated him within an indifferent gaze, “You will know well enough soon.”

“Take them into custody,” Lord Faeran came out of the main hall with a vial of clear blue liquid in hand, perhaps it was evidence of some sort.

Mathus looked to his wife, and she to him, stupefied. Mathus had never seen that liquid ever before in his life.

“By order of the queen, House Delegio is to stand trial,” Faeran added.

“On what grounds my lord?”

“Treason,” as Faeran said this, a group of Sunfires grabbed Malena and Mathus by the arms, escorting them out of their home and to the dungeons beneath the Palace of the Sun to await their day of trial.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mox Ierba Character Portrait: Jolo Grossman Character Portrait: Kaidman Lheyr Character Portrait: Eian Karimi Character Portrait: Shari

Earnings

0.00 INK

[Co-written with Redred33mer]

Ninety-Fifth Day

They had ridden for two days and taken several stops. It would not be long before they returned to the city. No news escaped the city as they were told by other travelers they came across.

There was a little trade post consisting of various tents and fluttering banners, walled off by large rock formations. It was secluded like many others, and it was located along the main trade routes. These trading posts had a mix population of people, whether they be the city folk, or the peoples that wandered the desert. Most often, the trading posts were jointly guarded by people of the cities. Some posts retained a level of autonomy as they were able to hire sellswords instead of relying on city guards, thus saving manpower needed elsewhere.

Jolo and the others found themselves at that trade post after their long ride out of Bane Canyon. The yakolas needed food and rest, mirroring their masters' own particular needs for survival in the desert. The night had been cold, but trade posts were never one to be scarce on sheets and covers.

The morning after the ninety fourth day, as they could recall from memory, heralded a calm sun. They were sitting on mats inside a food tent as a server delivered them bowls and spoons of hand-molded clay. The server went to retrieve their portions with his ladle from the pot that steamed of soup.

"We should reach the city by noon," Jolo said, as he checked his coat to ensure that nothing had been pilfered from him during the night.

He was sure that they recognized him as a ranger, and perhaps they recognized he was the head of their unofficial order. He had made many enemies over the past several years since the group's founding. He knew that much, and he was never sure when he would meet another who bore some hardened grievance or aged hatred against him. That was the price one paid to uphold the law. He had not died in his sleep, that was a good sign he thought.

Kaidman sat with the group, as they all ate their meal. It was nice for once to not worry about getting food and cooking it, especially with scarce resources in the desert. But at the same time he felt guilty. He was essentially a sand hermit, and didn't rely on modern currencies of the world. There wouldn't be anything he could do to help Jolo take care of his bills here.

"Hey, ugh, I might need to delay that arrival time," the young man said, interrupting his own thoughts. "I think its a league or two down the road I'd like to pick something up from one of my shelters. You know, armor. I can only imagine what trouble I might come across, travelling with you guys," he said half-jokingly with a smirk.

The other ranger, Portia, kept her eyes on the other travelers, who were not as conspicuous of their creeds through their dress as the rangers were.

"Sure, we can make a stop. It might be best if we finish up quickly here," Jolo chewed on a piece of roasted Paragis meat.

While the others talked, Mox thought of his home in the city. By now he could have guessed that squatters had claimed the place, and thieves had already melted down his forge and other tools. The only belongings he had left was a cache of bezants buried somewhere in the desert. Such was the life of a Protectorate citizen. He felt his hair, which had been roughed up by sand and wind. His beard was beginning to itch, for then he realized that it had grown past where he usually began to trim.

"Who else was taken?" he asked.

The ranger turned to him and paused for a moment to consider, "The count is up to twenty. If you're talking about the attack on the city, not counting you, they took two people. I'm guessing they split up to try and lose us."

He took a sip from his teabowl.

"Well that's just enlightening," Kaidman added in. Taking a few spoonfuls of soup, he scraped up the last bits of the food in his bowl and put his utensil and dish down. "I'll collect my things from the tent, and I'll be ready whenever you are."

Jolo finished his sip and nodded toward Mox, "By now you would have been a slave, consider yourself lucky to be alive at least," then he stood up, "We'll get the yakolas ready."

The group dispersed with Mox following the rangers. He did not feel lucky. He brought nothing with him when the slavers took him, but he hoped that there was something left when he returned.




The riders had left the small trading post out in the desert, setting their trailhead towards Protectorate City once again. The winds and the sand in it made each mile seem longer than the last, and the day had only just begun. They were finally at a stretch of seemingly endless sand dunes flanking them, with little spires visible far off on the horizon.

"Stop right about here, Jolo," Kaidman directed. The command seemed a bit odd.

Jolo released the reins and eyed the surrounding hills of sand, "Where's the cave?"

"Don't worry about it, just stay with the yakolas so we still have a ride to the city. Give me thirty minutes and I'll be back."

"You need someone to go with you?" he looked to Portia.

Mox noticed how raspy Jolo's voice was, and there was a certain soulfulness to it. He did not seem that old to have such a voice, the blacksmith thought. Perhaps he had spoken alot through his lifetime, giving orders to his fighters and negotiating with bandits.

"No, save your energy and water." Kaidman answered. Jogging off into the distance, across unmarked sand dunes, the swordsman travelled further until he began down a slope, out of the sight of the rangers. Looking back, he became conscious of the fact.

Once again, the characteristic pale green energy flowed from Kaidman's body, and trailed behind him to smoothe the sand he displaced, covering his tracks. His pace slowed, careful that he didn't spot anyone perhaps stalking him. Further and further he strayed from the packed sand that was designated a road. The wind still whistling amongst the land, the sun felt stronger out here, causing Kaidman to sweat profusely as he usually did in his lonely, and justifiably aimless journeys. Having a purpose and some travelling companions was refreshing.

Kaidman darted his eyes around from one place to the next. It was as if he was searching for something. Perhaps a plant, a rock, a cave, or a door to his shelter, but there was none adjacent to his position. Sighing, he brought his hands together, joined by finger tips pressing on each other, the palms some small distance apart. One could only guess that he was summoning some amount of his magic, but for the reasoning was not apparent.

The ground under him began to shake, as his footing became uneven. A wave of sand mixed with his energy came up in a circular fashion from beneath his feet. A mound of the displaced soil began forming around the ground level where he initially stood, and he began to sink as the mound's height concealed what exactly was happening. It wasn't until six or seven feet down a metal gate in the ground became apparent.

Bending over, he began unlatching the gate from a bar lodged in the sand. As the gate was unlocked, it swung open on a hinge, giving way to what seemed like a walk-in closet. Jumping down, Kaidman came between a wall of armor, made for men and women, and another wall with swords and various weapons. All of the larger weapons had a common characteristic; they seemed to be able to have some type of crystal set in their handguard, much like Kaidman's.

However, it was difficult to see, the only sources of light being Kaidman's glowing stone and the open roof. Shooting his arms out on both of his sides, Kaidman solved the problem, as his signature pale green energy extended rapidly both ways, lighting and giving the room a tint. The pillar that were etched in the walls gave the greatest support to the subterranean structure, carved ornately with designs of stems and leaves of a foreign tropical land. The walls were made of a clay brick, like many primitive structures in the desert.

There were only four plates of armor, each set in their own pedestal; two to each end. Kaidman stepped to the one closest on his right; armor congruent to what was broken when he rescued Mox from his kidnappers. The armor was thick and heavy, like a knight's breastplate. Lifting it over his head, he lowered it onto his body and pulled his arms up and through the sleeves. Silently, he looked around the room, checking to see if anything was out place. Nothing seemed to be, or felt to be. Kaidman's eyes closed as the room grew dimmer, becoming as dark as it was when he initially entered.

It was time to leave; standing under the hinged door, he jumped up, pulling himself up. His hand extended towards the gate once he stood, and the gate closed and latched itself. With the definitive banging of the latch on the bar that held the door closed, he looked up into the blue sky, out of the dry well he dug himself into. Raising his hand, he formed a staircase, but it only had three stairs. It was then he began climbing up the stairs, two at a time, and as he stepped over one terrace another one formed in front of him. Minimal use of energy was ideal, especially out in the desert.

Spiraling up the hole, he eventually resurface above the mound of sand he had created before. Now Kaidman had to cover his small shelter, and return to the yakolas. Jumping out beyond the burrow, he turned to face his entrance. Glancing among the dunes, he checked for any potential observers, and concluded there was not a being around to see his next act. Extending his arms upwards and outwards, his energy enshrouded him as well as the sand before him. It seemed to involve a great effort, moving hundreds of pounds of sand at once into one hole.

His arms quaked tremendously, until finally the mound had become little more than a bump in the desert. Dropping one arm to his side, he used the other and waved it side to side, a wisp of the energy he had used prior. Smoothing the terrain, it was as if nothing ever touched the land. Spinning around, he set his eyes on the blank path he had used to get where he was. In the manner he had arrived, disguising his trail as he went, he would leave the area.

"Hope they didn't leave me in the sand out here to dry," Kaidman said to himself. He walked, as if he now towed a wagon along the sand and up to the hill he had come down before. A feint wave following him to hide his footsteps. Finally, he summited the slope and was relieved to see Mox, Jolo and Portia awaiting his return. On with the journey they went.





Their spirited mounts carried them across the washing scarves of sand and past the wind that parted the hair from their eyes. The sun was quiet this day, still shining, but the strong winds and the pace of the yakolas ameliorated the usual scorch from Jeytelh's sphere.

"We're almost there," Jolo called out as they reached the crest of a dune.

The wind was blowing off the sand beyond the slip face, forming neatly patterned ripples that was reminiscent of water. Beyond several more dune crests, clumped plateaus, and a few mountains, they could see the characteristic dark outline of the city against the great blue sky. Structures stacked up and up on top of each other, the tallest structures were the wind towers, where the great sails spun at a managed rate. They were the only structures that Mox could determine as he squinted, they were still a league or so away.

If only they could ride forward along a straight path, they would be there in an hour or so. There never was a straight path though. The land was treacherous, and no straight path was ever free of danger. A few balmora trees stood resiliently among the dunes before them. Wind brushed the small patches of yellow grass that dotted their view. They could see packs of travelers and merchants as miniscule little creatures from their distance. Mox could not remember the last time he had left the city and returned to such a sight.

The only thing that kept the city from reaching its true potential was the distrust, they were only united in times of crisis. Each lived for themselves in that city. He supposed in a sense that there was more freedom for the individual as their was less obligation to the group. Mox inhaled sharply and exhaled slowly, he would be coming to see if his forge still stood. Hopefully his neighbors were good enough people to tell him what happened, if their stores still stood that is.

For Kaidman, it had been quite some time since he was in the city. More than months, but years. It was entirely unfamiliar territory, and the idea of navigating through entangling streets made the young man nervous. Perhaps it was simply an overreaction. But, having been out in the desert on his own for so long, dealing more with the shoddy sort of man than its antonym, skepticism and cynicism permeated his mind. His more knightly figure may even draw unwanted attention. He kept it in the back of his mind, the thought.

"So once we get to the city, what exactly are we doing?" Kaidman asked Jolo.

"Getting him home," Jolo gestured with his thumb toward Mox.

"If my home still stands," Mox replied, the wind kept his hair in constant motion.

Jolo remained silent to that comment, "We'll probably also be checking the damage and the section of the wall they tore a hole in."

It was possible that the bandits had done much more damage than the rangers originally thought. Jolo took only a glance at the wall before he trailed the raiders on the 90th day, for his responsibilities often kept him far from the walls.




Eian and Shari were returning to the city after they finished cleaving some bandit heads. They were no closer to finding their target than they were days before. They began to fear that their target was already dead amidst the sands, which meant they would have to return the letter to the person who asked them to deliver it. If they did not deliver the letter, they would not receive payment for completing their duty. That was not how the Cron Suil did business.

Eian chose not to let up. He asked around, or rather, Shari asked around for him of a blacksmith by the name of Mox. Their search proved fruitless thus far. They still needed coins to survive though, thus they killed bandits wherever they could find them. Eian's logic was that the letter's recipient had been kidnapped by bandits. If they found bandits, they might find Mox. If they did not find Mox, they would still find bandits. Those bandits would be killed and added to their growing head count for the bounty award.

That worked against them as they found themselves surrounded by a group that had been watching them from afar, waiting to strike back for their fallen brothers. Since the two traveled on foot, the bandits made sure to surround them on mounts. Just before noon as the pair made their way back to the city, the hooves at the gallop thundered down behind them like a sandstorm.




Jolo and the others were quick in their descent from the sloping dunes and winding rock formations toward the city. They made their way around one last bend that would lead them straight toward the city.

Just as they rounded the rock wall, they could hear the sounds of metal clanging and blades hissing through the air.

"The sound of battle," Jolo stated, he reached for one of the axes within his coat.

"Yeah... how do we know we want to join this fight?" Kaidman asked. His hand sat uneasily on his sword as he tried to look down the road.

Jolo replied with a raspy chuckle before he struck the reins and let the yakola take them. Portia and Mox followed behind on their mount. While the Ranger found the question humorous, Kaidman was a bit wary of battle, especially with companions. While he was a competent swordsman, dealing with outnumbering enemies often called for the young man to rely on his innate magical abilities. The discovery of his powers by more average people had unknown implications; magic was thought to be only an object of the history books.

They rounded a rockwall to find a group of bandits atop yakolas circling two stranded but armed travelers. Mox saw one to be a man, probably a desert nomad based on his appearance and garb. He had two blades steadied at the heads of the rogues before him. His surrounded companion was a woman, she seemed to be less covered than the man, as though perhaps she were a city dweller and not a desert walker. She too was armed with a pair of knives that were about two and half hands long.

The crowd of bandits hollered and undulated shrieks, Mox could see two pirate corpses with their heads covered by the sand as though the battle had started long ago. They were probably knocked off their beasts before the it even began. The nomad seemed very calm, these situations appeared to be natural to him. The woman on the other hand, her face displayed some semblance of the only emotion that mattered for a person in her position, raw and primal fear.

Mox could see his rider unsheathe a kopis from her black coat with one hand, while her other hand strangled the reins. He had never forged such a blade before in his life, for they were relics. Almost figments of legend themselves, yet there he was sitting behind a rider who held one that gleamed when the light of the sun struck the metal. Before he could request to dismount, he felt a web of wetness shot at his face. A decapitated man's blood dripped off of Portia's blade, while also splattering onto his face. The bandits had spotted them making their way around the canyon and immediately sent several raiders to intercept.

Another sword would have maimed Mox's left eye and face had Portia not swung her kopis in a forward motion to deflect the blade away, nearly wringing the bandit's arm with her sweep in the process, if only she had such superhuman strength though.

"Do you know how to ride this thing?" Portia referred to the beast they rode on amidst the clashing of swords.

"I haven't ridden one in awhile, so I don't know," he said aloud above the wind and the cries of the bandits.

"Do you know how to use one of these at least?" she held a pistol in one hand, while she parried an incoming scimitar with the kopis in her other hand.

Mox took the offered weapon just as a blade forced Portia to weave to the side and him to lean backward to avoid the blade lopping off his neck. His first reaction was to swing the weapon right at the rider's face as he passed by and pull the trigger. The gun cracked and the bandit flew from the saddle. His head whipped as blood popped and sprayed red.

"Good shot," Portia said as she returned to her earlier posture and wrung the reins, sending the yakola back around to the two travelers.

Mox had never before used a firearm in his life, pulling the trigger seemed almost instinctive to him. His reflex surprised even him as he was not normally that quick, especially with a weapon he had never used. He chose not to dwell on his little success as the bandits came toward them.

Jolo's axe flew upward and clawed an intercepting bandit's face, almost crushing his skull. The upward blow was enough to push the bandit from his mount. Kaidman had remained silent in their charge, as he gripped Jolo's shoulder tighter. As they neared their targets, the young man pulled his right leg over one side with his other. He then leaped from the back of the yakola towards the pair in the center. Eian and Shari were no longer surrounded in a tight pocket. The formation of bandits broke and scattered in various directions as two more riders were slit in their throats by the rangers and knocked from their mounts, ending the confrontation quicker than it began.

"Well met," Eian said to their rescuers.

"Don't think too much of it," Kaidman said modestly. Brandishing his sword, he bore it pointed upwards at the bandits. Perhaps there was something on them or about them that would give way to a connection in the recent bombing, or disappeared civilians.

"It might be a good idea if we got on one those," Shari's knife pointed in the direction of a yakola with a rider, "And maybe get out of here."

"Just hold your ground and fight the footsoldiers!" Kaidman commanded. "They should know by now the road goes around the quicksand!"

That was his excuse for whenever his foes came from off the road to charge him, and he used his abilities to sink them in the desert. Twisting his body to the right, his arm sweeped down and across, keying the sand below to move. Twenty feet in front of him, as the cavalry stepped forwards, the saddled animals seemed to just slide into the ground as the threat was neutralized. But his gesture caused the nearest bandit to step forwards and rise to the opportunity to strike. Jerking violently back to his left, he swiftly lodged the blade of his sword into the attacker's rib cage. Spinning in the opposite direction, his blade dropped to hack a leg off the bandit.

Those that dodged the sinking ground came at them with even greater force. Eian took two quick steps before he leapt with his blade into the air, springing at a rider and striking him down in the neck. The beast trotted by Shari, who sheathed her knives, grabbed hold of the saddle's pommel, and swung herself over to mount it. Then she rounded the beast back toward Eian and Kaidman.

One rider charged up toward Kaidman with his spear readied. The young man took his weapon in his left hand this time, and pivoted his hips to get leverage into the hip of the mounted beast. The swing of his blade broke the neck of the spear and batted it away, and cut into the flesh of the animal. At great momentum, the beast slowly buckled its knees and fell into the ground. The other bandits on their beasts generated a storm of sand as their ring of riders expanded to envelop the six of them.

"They're trying to surround us," Portia rode up to the group, "There's too many of them," they skipped past two other raiders. Mox fired a round that clipped the knee of one of the mounts, sending the yakola reeling over.

"Get on!" Shari yelled as she passed by Eian who swiftly reached for the saddle and pulled himself up.

Jolo motioned for Kaidman to remount the beast, they were breaking out. Kaidman sprinted to the yakola, faster than one might expect with his armaments. As he neared the beast, he jumped through the air, aiming for Jolo's rear. Swinging his leg over, and pushing up with his hand, he landed roughly behind the Ranger.

"Get us out of here!"




After the confrontation had passed and the group was within the safer outer limits of Protectorate City, Eian and Shari dismounted from the beast that they stole.

"Many thanks friends," Shari spoke for them, "I'm Shari, and my companion here is Eian."

"Jolo Grossman," the ranger then sounded off the others "This is Kaidman Lheyr, Portia Latisse, and he's..." the ranger pointed to his third companion whose name he had forgotten.

"Mox Ierba."

Ierba. Ierba The name sounded familiar to Eian, as though it had rested away in some crevice of his brain. Then it struck him. Shari's thoughts were aligned with his as they both turned to each other.

Eian spoke this time "Mox Ierba?"

He paused with a quizzical expression painted on his face, "By any chance, are you a blacksmith?"

"The only blacksmith in Protectorate City by that name," Mox replied dryly.

Mox was about as common a name in the city as water in the desert.

"You have not been home for days, I suppose," Eian spoke.

"I know," Mox said.

"We were looking for you, but your forge is no longer.." Eian trailed off.

Mox nodded, he understood what the man was trying to say about his forge, "Wait, why were you looking for me?"

Then Eian reached into his undershirt where an important message had been tucked away for safekeeping.

"I'm just a courier, but I believe this is for you," he held an envelope before him.

Mox looked to the others before he dismounted from Portia's yakola, which snorted as he got off. Then he took the letter from Eian and proceeded to open it.

The contents of the letter read as followed.


“To my friend Mox Ierba,


If that is even your real name. How has it been friend? We must catch up some time if you and I get the chance. However, I suppose I do not have as much time as I used to, and I am afraid that chance may never come. If you are reading this, then that must mean that they did not get to you or the messengers who delivered this letter. That news is good. It also means that I am already dead by the time you read this.

I suppose I always could foresee the future. ‘Twas never a gift, but a curse. You remember well enough do you not? The mine that collapsed? To my ill-fortune, I have no power to change what is fated for me this time. The people whom I regretfully worked for…tie up loose ends quickly.

You were and I suppose you might still be one of the few people that I considered to be good company during my days as a miner. I have no relations; you already know that much from me.

After we parted ways, I decided to bury my treasure cache in a safe place like you said you would do with your earnings. I traveled to Solaria, made some acquaintances and acquired a good station. I suppose I made a name for myself. You know me as a scholar; I get my hands on anything I want to read. I came upon this one little story that possessed me. You will know more of this eventually. An outside party had a special interest in this story as well, and things became sort of a mess from there. I shan’t digress into those details, they will die with me.

Now this part is very important. Read carefully. The man who will deliver, or delivered, this letter to you was referred to by an associate of mine. My associate believes he is trustworthy, but you will have to find out for yourself. I have been told he is a well-trained fighter from some nomadic people called the Cron Suil.

Within Spire Canyon, from the southern entrance, walk along the right pass until it begins to wind back to join the left passageway. Along the curving rock wall there is a stone that looks as though it does not belong there. Buried beneath that stone is something that I want you to have because I consider you as a friend, perhaps the only real friend I ever had. It contains more details about the little story mentioned above and payment for the man who gave this letter to you. I apologize if all of this seems quite convoluted, but I am attempting to throw them off your trail to give you a head start. I ask of you this final favor as I pass from this plane, please do not fail me.


Best of luck, always look over your shoulder.


And may Jeytelh watch over you.


Signed,


The Bastard, Michael Lyk

71st Day of the 514th Year of Jeytelh’s Ride

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Alleara Delegio Character Portrait: Estios Hultyce

Earnings

0.00 INK

[Co-written with SkullsandSlippers]

95th Day

Dunes East Of Solaria


The night had been cold but bearable. When dawn broke they began their journey once more. Neither was positive where they were headed or who they might encounter but they knew that going back to Solaria was not an option.

The sun rose overhead, the wind picked up forcing them to stop to take cover from the blowing sands. Despite delays they kept walking and by evening the sight of tents and buildings came into view.

Alleara wasn’t sure what the place was but knowing that there would be food, perhaps shelter for the night was a enough to force her past her hesitation. There was a lingering fear that they might encounter those that might wish them dead. Would people be hunting them down by now? What of the lords and the other Sunfires? Hunger and exhaustion overrode these thoughts.

It became quite clear as they drew closer that the place was a trading post. Merchants with their carts laden with various wares lined themselves along a makeshift centre street. There were rough looking buildings as well. Overhead the stone walls came up to form an arch which added shelter to the haphazardly formed village in the valley.

Alleara licked her lips. “Where shall we start?”

Mens' voice rang out. Clothing, food, trinkets and weapons. All were available for a price. They promised that their items were superior to others. Alleara couldn’t help but wonder how much of the things for sale were stolen from travellers now dead, left to the sands. She tried not to think about it.

“I have some coin. If we are smart with it we can make it last.” Her voice was a low whisper as she drew closer to her travelling companion.

"Important matters first, dress and meal. Be wary of others."

There were many kinds of folk at the trade post, most were merchants of some sort, some were travelers. Slavers kept their property, most of whom seemed to be a mix of Drakyvarian and human, in cages for potential buyers to survey the specimens. Estios watched the merchants hawk at the other travelers. He spotted a pit by which there was some beast roasting. The aromas of stews and meats did not need any wafts to reach his nose and send his stomach into a muted but frenzied growl. He looked around further for any threatening faces. He had never been a face reader, and he knew he would never be able to distinguish a spy or bounty hunter from an ordinary traveler. It would be best if they assumed disguises or new dress to better blend in with the desert folk if they planned on surviving the night without drawing too much attention.

Estios had already left behind his breast plate, in hindsight he thought it could be sold for a decent amount of coin to sustain their travels. However, it was traditional Sunfire armor that could recognized for miles, and they had made many enemies in the desert for their over-zealousness. He also needed a robe woven by desert maidens to replace his loose fitting Solarian tunic. He looked to Alleara, she was still draped within her highborn dress. That needed to disappear as well.

Alleara nodded and moved slightly closer to him. She felt nervous and it became very clear that not only was she a woman and one of the few, she was also not nearly as hardened as the rest appeared to be. They headed for the merchant with cloth folded and hanging from the thin ropes that held his tent open. There was a variety of blues, greens, purples, oranges, and browns. There was leather, linen, yakola fleece, and various other fabric clothes. None of the cloths seemed any more comfortable than their own attire, but the Estios knew they would have to make due.

"How many bezants do you have?" he asked Alleara, as he reached for his own pouch.

All soldiers and Sunfires were expected to carry some coin with them at all times. If the captain had known they were going to be hounded from the city, he would have taken more with him before they left.

Alleara looked around and then practically pushed herself into the captain's arms. She blushed a little. She wasn't trying anything or flirting she just didn't want anyone to see her heavy pouch. She pulled it from seemingly nowhere and pressed it into his hand before stepping away once more. "There is that as well as a very small amount hidden. Insurance that I could get passage home should I need it." Alleara looked at her feet. "That pouch has enough for lodgings and food for one person for one week. Assuming one stayed in nicer inns. My mother would not bear the thought of me staying in something run down or that the common traveller would stay in. With two of us, if we are careful with it, it should last us the week or maybe more. I give it to you to hang onto as I would be an easy target." She looked around at the people. "I trust you."

I trust you. The captain could feel a burden shifting onto his already unhinged scales.

Her eyes were on his face, her expression serious. "The other small amount I will keep hidden, still as my insurance should we be become seperated."

"You carried much with you. You surprise me milady. Did you know beforehand that you were going to be cast from the city?" the captain's eyes searched the laid out goods for anything suitable.

"No but my mother wanted to ensure I had all I needed no matter where I went. It would not do for family reputation for me to be caught without coin to pay for things or heaven forbid have to stay in a questionable place. I did not know what arrangements were going to be when we arrived so it was best to plan ahead. I prefer to be practical whenever possible." She looked around and then lowered her voice. "Perhaps you should not refer to me as milady..." Alleara bit her lip. "Alleara would be better. Anything else shows status and we do not want attention."

They were fortuitous that the merchant attended to the needs of other travelers. The captain replied with a low mumble that meant he would heed her sound advice. Alleara was sure it was just her imagination but it felt like people were watching them. watching her. You are being paranoid. Now is the time to keep a level head, not get caught up in silly notions. She knew they needed to be alert but it did not mean they needed to be skittish.

"How much for her?" A gruff voice to Estios' left asked.

Alleara grabbed Estios' arm and moved closer to him. She peered around the captain to see who was talking and to ensure that they were not in fact talking to him. She was wrong. The man stood about 5'11 with skin tanned dark from the sun. He had scars on his arm, making it clear he was not afraid of work or fighting. His face did not carry an expression of kindness.

"She is pretty docile. Good training then." The man's mouth split into a grin that was not at all pleasant. "How much for her?"

Her hands gripped the fabric of Estios' sleeve even tighter and she tried to make herself very small beside him.

The captain looked at Alleara, then he returned to the unsavory man that had addressed him. His scars reminded the captain of a bandit that he had fought off years ago. Perhaps this was the same bandit, Estios wondered at the incongruities of fate and fortune. The captain chose not to keep the man awaiting, for he might have been an untempered fellow.

"Not for sale right now," Estios chose his words with care.

He did not refuse the man, for his tone of words would have lit a fuse in the man. It was best to say little and speak calmly and courteously if one wanted to survive in the wastes. A wrong word or a loud mouth was the quickest way to find one's head on a platter. The standoff concluded when the captain pushed Alleara onward to the bazaar. No doubt that the man would not be the last to view the captain as a slaver. Estios thought it odd that the man had not considered him the slave, and Alleara the slavemaster, given the way that they were dressed. She was by far better kept, and his robes had seen better days.

The merchant was thin for a man of his age, and narrow shouldered. He shaved his beard, which was black with a twinge of grey, in an artful manner that was presentable as though he belonged to low nobility. He had a traditional desert headress with a few gems, their value dubious, embroidered at the front. His face was worn with a few wrinkles, and perhaps his brown eyes had a twinkle that gave away his desire for coin. He haggled away with a determined woman in an unknown dialect that the captain had never before heard. Their business concluded as the customer handed the old man three coins and went off.

Before Estios and Alleara could get a better look, the merchant swept toward them, "See anything you like?"

The captain assumed he was merely another desert trader. It was a flawed assumption as the captain was taken aback by his fluent, though accented, diction, "How did you.."

"Business is business in any language. Your dress," the merchant gestured toward their attire, "You are Solarian, no?"

Alleara now kept herself almost wrapped around Estios' arm. He had swiftly taken care of the man, pushing her away and leaving the frightening man behind. It took her a moment to really come to terms that he was asking about buying her. If Estios hadn't stayed with her, wasn't working with her there was no telling what might have happned to her by now.

She frowned as the merchant asked if there was anything they liked. Her eyes scanned his things. She looked up at Estios. "You choose. I do not have experience with this sort of thing." Alleara whispered and resumed her position of practically hiding herself against Estios.

"Yes. We're just looking for now," Estios warded off the merchant's advances before he turned to Alleara, "I don't normally pick dress for a woman, but keep your eyes open."

Alleara nodded. "I don't know how to bargain or such..."

She held onto Estios' fearing they would become seperated. There was so many tables, so many things and it was loud.

"No need to grasp too tightly," he whispered.

He kept an eye on the merchant, who occupied himself with another customer. When they were done, the merchant returned to them, "Have you want of anything here?"

"Yes, how much for that robe?" he pointed.

"Four bezants," the merchant eyed Alleara, "So are you returning home from pilgrimage?"

"No, just travelers. What do you suggest for her?" the captain referred to Alleara with a thumb.

The merchant reached through his assorted goods, folding over what he laid out to reveal other raiments beneath, before he reached one that he considered to be fitting.

"This, nine bezants," he held the robe, which was bedecked with a few modest and unshimmering jewels. It was quite revealing.

Estios's mouth was slightly agape, "We plan to travel to lands of heavy wind and sand, have you anything.."

"Ah of course," he smiled as he replaced his first choice with another dress that was well-covered, "Seven bezants."

Alleara couldn't help but frown at the first garment up for them. Estios had just told the man they were travellers. In what thought process did that robe work for travelling? She loosened her grip on Estios' sleeve feeling a bit sheepish but still out of her element. She couldn't shake the fear that gripped her that they would be seperated by the crowd.

Her eyes flickered up to the new garment. "Offer five..." She whispered to Estios. There was no reason that it should cost so much more for hers than for his. The workmanship was good, it would hold up to the weather but he was overcharging. Alleara was sure of that.

"Speak up girl, do you have something to speak?" he chuckled, "Your slave is a pretty one. You spend much coin on her I see that," his accent clipped his words.

Estios said nothing on that subject, "Five bezants for the woman's dress."

The old man laughed, "You take me for fool, I try to run business. Six bezants."

"Five."

"Six."

The captain eyed the other merchant stands before he returned to the man before him, "I suppose our business is finished here."

The old merchant began to smile as though victory had been clinched, but that was before he saw Estios pushing Alleara to leave.

"Wait wait," he waved his hands at the two of them, "Okay okay, dress and robe, nine bezants," he sighed.

Estios returned, but without a smile, he had to maintain a stern front to do business in the desert. He gave the man the pieces and they took their garments.

The man called her a slave. Alleara bit her tongue so stop anything she might say, fearing she would ruin Estios' deal. She watched them haggle and when the man agreed on a price for both she let out a small exhale. Estios paid, took the garments and Alleara looked up at him. "What next?"

She looked around at the crowd. Her stomach rumbled but she ignored it. Alleara was watching for men they might recognize. Men that might be watching her or Estios. She saw a few who took a bit of interest in the pair and though she did not know them she worried they may be thieves at the very least. "We should not stay still very long. We are attracting some attention."

Her words fell upon his hunger-induced deafness, "We eat."

Alleara nodded. While she was still wary she was thrilled to hear food was in their very near future. She let him lead her on to find food. Alleara kept glancing over her shoulder, watching for the men who had been eyeing them earlier. Every so often she caught sight of someone but tried to tell herself it was her imagination, that it was not the same person every time.

Her stomach rumbled lightly once more. "I am all for food but..." She looked back once more. "We should make sure we aren't followed." As much as she wanted to say she was overreacting she knew better than to dismiss her observations. "Perhaps we should vary our route?"

Estios nodded and he proceeded to take them around the encampment of pitched tents. They wandered around smokey fire pits with snapping flames like the copper braziers that stood shoulder high, past the rows of huddled faces that kept to themselves. A few animals, such as a white skinned paragis that seemed to have some meat on it to last any man for a week, crossed their path. By that point, they had been eyeing many of the tents to appear as though they were simply travelers and not fugitives.

Alleara stuck close but kept her eyes on the shadows. "I am not certain but I think we might be being followed." She looked over her shoulder once more. "We should decide on a place soon. I am not picky." She whispered to her companion. It seemed like no matter where she looked there were people or tents and as they moved inward everything felt more dense, more crowded. It made it very difficult to determine for sure if they were being followed or if faces and bodies were just starting to blend together. Alleara inhaled and exhaled slowly trying to focus.

They eventually found a tent that billowed out a dense and savory aroma from several pots fashioned over a burning pit. There were neither tables nor stools where they could seat themselves properly like the street thermopoliums or taverns in the city. It was a food tent, if it went by a name, where travelers took their seats on mats that could be folded easily by the owner for a mobile life. Each of the food tents only served a single specialty, thus there was no competition and everyone profited, in theory.

The two of them took their seats on an ornate rug woven with many unique patterns that were indigenous to the deserts. A servant delivered two clay bowls that were crudely hand molded before returning to the pots. The roughly shaped spoons seemed more fitting for the mashing or grinding of food than the spooning of soup into one's mouth.

Alleara settled into her spot beside Estios. She breathed a little easier now that they were in a tent, surrounded by those working and those eating. They would not be attacked in such a place, of that she was certain. The smell made her stomach rumble painfully and she looked over at Estios with a bit of a sheepish smile. "Please excuse my stomach."

By the time the servant came by she was feeling ravenous. "What is our next step then? We have clothes to change into, food...then what?"

"In matters of war, I may speak a great deal. At this junction, I am not sure. Have you given any thoughts to it?" he rubbed his chin, but he stopped when it began to irritate his cracked skin.

The servant from before returned with a large ladle that carried both of their portions, he poured half of the stew into Estios's bowl and half into Alleara's before he returned to the kitchen.

Alleara's eyes went to her bowl and the stew that now sat in it. She swallowed, imagining the taste of it from the smell as it wafted up to her nose. With delicate movement she spooned some into her mouth. The first bite was like heaven. She let it sit in her mouth for a moment, savoring the flavors. The woman took a few slow bites, making the stew last as long as she could.

"I think we should try and go to the Timekeepers." Alleara leaned towards Estios, her voice very low. "I think tonight we find a place to sleep, we get some supplies and we try to push on. I do not know where else to go or what else to do. I do not think we will make it home without being killed. We need to find evidence of the queen's murder." She turned her head to look up at him. "Assuming that is that you wish to continue to travel with me..."

Estios had his head in his bowl, supping away at the soup.

She looked down a moment, a frown on her face. "I fear you are tangled up in this because of me and my investigation. I was only doing what the queen asked but it has meant a great deal of hardship for you. If you wish to cut your losses I would ask for a part of my money back and let you take the rest for your own journey. I realize that staying with me may not be in your best interest though I would welcome your knowledge and skills."

"I have no other place to turn to. The sands are alien to me. Solaria is my home," he cleared his throat, "I have been dishonored. My men deserve retribution," and then Estios said no more, casting a glance back at his now empty bowl.

He raised it up, signaling to the servant to deliver another portion from the steaming pot.

Alleara sighed. She felt terible that this man was stuck with her and unable to return home. She nodded though Estios' eyes were on his bowl. He signaled for more and she slowly finished off what was in her bowl. It was wonderful to eat and yet it sat like a stone in her stomach. Guilt and anger intermingled. It isn't right what they did and now I don't know what else to do. Who knows what they told the queen or my family.

He was going to travel with her because he didn't know what else to do or where else to go. Alleara honestly didn't care the reason, she was happy to have him with her. She was not naive enough to think she would last a day alone here or in the desert.

"Then we rest tonight and make for the timekeepers in the morning? Perhaps get some supplies to help our journey?" She finished the last of her meal.

"That's a start," he continued with his second portion.

Alleara looked ahead. She held her empty bowl and before she realized it her eyes started to slowly close. The long night in the desert and not the full stomach was taking its toll on her. Alleara shook her head a little, trying to keep alert. Estios was still eating and she did not want to rush him. Eyelids once more grew heavy and again she forced them open.

One hand came to her mouth as she stifled a yawn. Even her mind usually so keen to work through problems was quiet. Sitting and a hot meal reminded her about how they had been pressing on ever since the ambush. Alleara felt her body ease a little.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Vander Zalek Character Portrait: Taro Zalek Character Portrait: Seth Elijah

Earnings

0.00 INK

[This post is a collaboration with Dementedness]

95th Day

Taro finally awoke as the ship went into motion. He rolled off his bed, only to feel a scorpion sting him. He panicked for a moment, only when he looked, he sighed with relief. It was the non poisonous version of the Scara. They kept the Scorpion as a pet in case someone ever got stung by the male version of it, as the female naturally produced the anti-venom.

He got up, and looked for his clothes. After locating them in the mess of the room he got dressed, got his sword by his side, and went up to look at how they are moving, and if they picked anyone up. Along the way, he made sure all the cargo was secure, and made sure everything seemed alright. When he emerged, he noticed an unfamiliar face. He also heard his father's voice.

"Taro! Is everything secure?"

"Yes, papa! Everything is secure! We heading towars Spire Canyon first?"

"Yeah, so make sure the hull is tightly connected. Some of the corners might be tight. Spire Canyon is the best way to travel going south on an airship. Easy to lose a tail in, and ambushes on airships range from extremely difficult to impossible to do there. Once that is done, ensure the cargo is tightly secured again, and check on supplies and cargo room. Once that is done, that will be it for now. Not much to do at the moment".

"Yes Papa" Taro noted, going over to look as the land moved beneath them. He looked towards the other man. "What is your name? I am Taro."

Taro's voice was friendly, but he trusted this new person about as much as a stranger. Taro could be friendly yes, but he trusted only one man in this world and that was it. He was friendly, just not quite as much as he might be implying with his voice and words. "What is your destination, anyways?"


Seth turned over to see a younger member of the ship, seeming to be the Vander`s son. A small smile appeared over his face. "My name is Seth." He only said. "As for my destination, Im going to the Protectorate City."

"Protectorate City. Where the only law and god is money. Or so they say, anyways. I hear a bunch of people rule it, instead of one. How do they ever decide on what to do?"

Seth chuckled a bit. "Not only money makes law and god. Sometimes, you have to use a little bit of force." A grin creeps on his face. "The people do try to make it a civilized place, but they have a long road to do before doing anything. Of course, they do try to make some kind of law enforcers."

The assassin chuckled a bit. "Ah, the Protectorate City. A place where you can make good friends that will backstab you as soon as you blink."

"I have never actually been there myself. Papa believes that if we went there, someone would steal our ship. So when he does go to Protectorate City, its always to a trading post close to it, taking a land route there, doing the exchanges and then coming back. Sometimes we do actually dock there, but I never leave the ship. Says its too likely I would be kidnapped..." Taro unsheathes his blade slightly to show Seth. "I don't doubt that. What I doubt is if they would still be alive in the next five minutes".

"And still, their debates must take forever. They must be so boring. Why are you going there, Seth? Business? Lover? Oh, I know! You're a professional thief and you plan to get money for something you did in Solaria! No wait, that counts as business I think". Taro considered the reasons. "Oh, I know! You're some sort of wandering preacher! No wait, that doesn't make sense either. Don't worry, I will figure it out!"

Taro looked over at the sun. He leaned foreward to get a better look at the lands around them, causing his shirt to lower on his back, and reveal a part of some sort of mark on Taro's back. Any inspection would reveal the mark to be that of the sun. It was unclear, however, what had made it. The best answer would probably be some sort of birth mark, but that would be a large birthmark then. It definently was not a tatoo, and no wound could make it. It was part of the mystery that is Taro.

"Do you have any children?" Taro asked curiously.

Seth had in fact inspected the mark, but did not bothered to question about it. He leaned as well to looks to the sun. "Children, hm?" He said to himself, closing his eyes. "No, I don't have any. My life style is too extreme to have any social life. If I had kids, I would probably not see them much often." He sighed softly, but smirked as he looked over Taro, turned around. "But that doesn't mean I wouldn't like to have one. Say, it doesn't bother you? I mean, with all of this moving around, you must find times boring."

"Nah. Something always happens, and I know how to entertain myself when not doing a task". That was partly the truth. Another thing was his inability to know who he could trust other then Vander. Every kid he meant, for all he knew could be his sibling or cousin. Maybe their parents were the one who left him in that desert? These thoughts made it difficult to trust. "Also, how many people can say they live on an airship?" he added with a smile.

Taro gave a good inspection of the hull as they talked. It all seemed secure and strong. "You seem like someone who might be good with kids". Taro quickly changed the subject when he realized he said kids in third person. "Also, a nice thing about traveling is that you don't get bored of the same scenery. And its like a constant adventure".

The assassin had a smile in the corner of his mouth. "I don`t agree with you," he said, closing his eyes as if he remembered something. "There is a place called the Free Market in the Protectorate City. Basically, people are free to come buy, sell and trade their goods. Everytime, even though it is the same place, it seems to always bring something new." He would then open his eyes, still smiling. "I like to peer down from one of the tall buildings. I can see those little persons moving as if they were only bits of colors floating around. It is something to see."

He would then sigh, his smile replaced by a small pout. "But right now, that beautiful scenery is ruined by thiefs and other misfits, but I guess it is the price to pay for." He shrugged, shaking his head. He would then look up at the kid. "Say, is it always trips between Solaria and the Protectorate City for you?"

"Sounds like a nice dream" Taro noted. It occured to him afterwards that the phrasing seemed a bit strange for someone of his age. He quickly went further into it. "But I have seen many things. Including betrayal. Protectorate City sounds like its filled with theives and criminals the way you say it, but personally, I think its just more visible there. I bet if you took a magnifying glass to Solaria or the Drakyvrian Nation, you would find an equal amount of cutthroats. If anything, the fact it is so open about it might make it a bit safer. You are more aware of it, and therefore better able to counter it".

As Vander began to walk down towards them both, Taro noticed a flock of Skarra pass them. "I see you two have met. Taro, have you secured the cargo yet?"

"I did that before I came up" Taro noted.

"Yes, but its best to triple check. Better safe then sorry, right?"

"Right" Taro noted, leaving to do so. Vander walked up next to Seth.

"I see you have met my son Taro. Hope he wasn't bothering you or anything."

Seth chukled a bit. "Nan. He didn`t. He`s quite a curious kid, isn`t he?" He wondered if Taro was the same with people that he is more familiar with.

"Curious would be one word for it. Taro barely trusts anyone, on account of what happened to him..." Vander mentioned, looking out into the distance. "I wouldn't be surprised if he was probing you for information. Trying to figure out what kind of a person you are. He isn't the best at bartering, but sometimes he can use the answers to seemingly random questions to figure out what people are like. Personally, I would find that trait worring. Its a good way to get shot if you're not careful. And Taro has already been through so much already..."

The assassin nodded, leaning against the safety bar as he crossed his arms. "Well, I mean, it is his way to do. Details can lead far, but sometimes they can be misguiding." He tilted his head a bit. "I had it rough as well, but I don`t bother much of my past. I always said to myself that was is done is done, and the things I have to take needs to be took in consideration."

"Heh. Good concept. The only problem I see with that is if your past could come up to haunt you" Vander noted. "That is his fear. And a bit of mine I guess. But personally, I think it is just a worry he will eventually grow out of. He is a good kid, after all.

"You can live to fear your past, or you can live from the fear of your past," Seth commented, but he only shrugged lightly.

"Good saying. Who said it?"

"A friend of mine." He simply said, smiling a bit.

"Sounds like a smart person" Vander noted, looking around the ship and making sure everything looked good quickly. Taro re-emerged, having checked the cargo a third time, and made his way around the ship finishing up his morning duties. He looked at the Wind Measurement device, he couldn't remember what it was called, and checked it. "Favorable winds. Granted, we can power through them if they were against us, but its better to have it as an ally then an enemy. If our luck holds, we may reach your destination a day or two early".

Taro returned with a partially unbuttoned shirt. "Jeytelh must be closer then usual today, it feels hotter then normal".

"Well, if it gets too hot you could always strip" Vander half joked with a smile. Taro was not a big fan of their temple visits, but Vander made it a point to have them both visit the temple each time they are there. His theory was that it was better to have the gods with you then against you. However, Vander did know that if it did get too hot he might just do it. Taro was cautious, but he wasn't stupid. He knew about the lethality of heat stroke in the desert. If you get heat stroke in the desert, you are almost certainly dead. "Besides Taro, we have wind".

"Hot wind" Taro noted, taking off his shirt and going back into the cargo hold..

Vander faced Seth again. "In truth, this is a rather hot day today, and he is more vulnerable to heat stroke then the rest of us. I assume you know of the dangers in the desert, correct?"

Seth, for his part, didn`t seem to be worrying about the hot winds as he stayed there. Although, he did still have a half-smile while looking at them. When Vander asked such question, he snickered a bit. "Of course I do. I do very well. I have survived - lived, may I say - long in the wild than you might think."

"Ah, good. You just seemed more like a city person, believe it or not. And the desert contains many dangers. I have seen heat alone kill warriors. And then there are the beasts that claim more lives. Then, we have bandits and raiders. Now, the good thing about having an airship is we can surpass most dangers. But we do have to land for the nights, and for settlements we have business in. Its a lot faster then taking to the land though. Even if we stop at a set of ruins or two, we will make it to your destination faster then any land route could, and we are less likely to be attacked by raiders. Still, if they do try anything, I know my way around a rifle rather well, and Taro...well, he is learning, and there is certainly hope for him".

He looked around, then smiled. "After all, there is no 'Safe Journey' when it comes to traversing the desert. But I am guessing you know that, if what you claim is true".

He snickered a bit. "Oh, I have more to fear than what the desert have to offer, but you got it all right." He looked around the ship a little bit, wondering if their journey wont be jinxed.

"Its always good to adress the dangers reguardless. That way, you are less likely to forget them" Vander noted, quickly checking their course. "Ah good, looks like we are right on schedule."




A few hours later.

The group was approaching the first stop on their list, a trading post. Taro was leaning against the edge of the ship, to feel the wind on him. It made him feel like he himself was capable of flying. The cargo for this trading post was already prepared. Vander would quickly trade the cargo around, earn some money, and then they would continue on their way. Taro held his shirt in one hand, and a map in the other. He had been studying their routes, learning the best ways of travel. Airships were safer then land transport, but even they could not always take direct routes. "Papa, we are here!"

Vander emerged from below, and eyed the trading post. At first he was happy they were ahead of schedule, but he couldn't help but notice something. The trading post had a significant lack of activity...and signs of a battle. "Taro, get your sword and rifle, and tell the others to do the same. Something is wrong here..."

The assassin was in his cabin at the moment. He was revising the hints given with the map and the coin. He sighed a bit as he took the map away. He noticed that there was a lot more activities on the airship itself. Curious, he went out of his little room, his hands resting on the handle of his blade.

Vander noticed Seth, and walked next to him. "Trading post up ahead looks like it was attacked. I would recommend to stay alert. If the owners are alive, I would like to know what happened, and see if I cant make a trade or two. And if they are dead, there might be some clue as to what happened, and some useful cargo to take. Its unusual for a trading post to be attacked, so again I would recommend to stay alert".

Taro returned with a rifle slung around his chest, and a sword in his sheath. "This could be a trap".

Seth rose an eyebrow as he was told what was going on. Of course, a raid on a trading post must be rare to be a success, but he was intriged even more. Then a smirk appeared on the corner of his face. "Maybe this trip won`t be as boring as planned." He would say as he speeded off, knowing what could the danger be.

He took outside of the ship as he looked towards where what looked like to be the trading post. He smirked a bit as he quickly ran towards the edge. He would apply force on the barrier as he jumped over them, and farther than he would normal do in a simple jump. He landed nearly the edge of it, quickly taking cover. He slightly got out of his hiding, looking through the place to see if there is anything that seemed to be suspicious.

Vander did not like what he saw as he dismounted and looked around, holding his rifle and keeping his sword ready. There were dead humans, dead Sanorans, and quite a few fight marks. But not enough for his liking. The bodies were certainly dead, but whoever did this plowed through them with ease. As if, the man possessed the strength of five and the speed of six. The marks were all highly accurate, going for various kill points, and their own swords did not show much sign of use. Maybe one or two blocks, but that is it.

There were arrows in some as well, others crossbow bolts, and others seem to have had their skulls crushed. But those were not the bodies that concerned him the most. The bodies that concerned him the most were the ones killed by Solarian weapon fire. The mark of a Solarian weapon was very distinguishable. But this trading post was a very favorable one for Solaria. It was one of three that made trading much easier between Solaria and other places. So the fact Solarian weapons were used...it was unsettling.

"What do you make of this, Seth?"

Seth was frowning a bit, then looked back at Vander. "We should probably leave right now." He pointed at one of the bodies. The blood wasn't that much dry. "It seems to be recent, and I don't feel being trapped right now. I don't think it would be wise to fight."

"Agreed. Taro, we do a quick sweep, then hurry back to the ship. Understood?" Vander told him, some sternness and some caution in his voice.

"Yes Papa" he noted, looking for anything of use, value, or that told them what happened. He found a chest in the back room. "There is a chest back here, completely looted..." Taro started, but then eyed something of value. It was a pendent, one that appeared to be the same as the mark on his back. He snatched is from the ground, and found a bit of money hidden beneath a dresser. Taro was careful not to disturb the corpses though. He had heard stories of what happened to people who messed with corpses. He took a sip of his canteen, and made his way back to Vander.

Vander was looking for anything of value, or anything that could tell them their names, but neither seemed to be true. As Taro showed him what he found before heading on board, Vander walked over to Seth. "I don't like this. Why are Solaria Weapons being used against an Solarian Trading Post? We should go, quickly. I don't like the implications of this".

"Because it is the easiest way to not get targetted." He said simply, watching over the scene. He had collected some stuff for himself, but mostly blatant forgery. He looked back at Vander. "I might jump on the conclusions too fast, but I'm starting to think there might be a conspiracy growing against the Solarians."

"If there is a conspiracy, we would be better off trying to avoid it all together. Conspiracies have a nasty habit on being easy to blame...or frame...on anyone". Vander noted, moving towards the ship as he talked.

Seth nodded to what Vander said, which is why he thought they should leave now. "Of course, it is only a thought, but it seems that we're assisting in an increasing number of act against the Solarians, if not its government." He would then look back at him. "Have you heard of the recent deaths of figures in this particular government?"

"Aye, I heard the whispers and rumors. Some claim the Queen was assassinated, some claim she was smited by the gods, some claim she had a heart attack on the shitter and that they are covering that up. Honestly, I avoid politics myself. That is just another thing that will get you into trouble. I just stay loyal to my own, and keep doing good business. Anyways, we have no authority here, nor do we have any way to contact them. If we come across them we will report it, but that is all we can do" Vander noted, looking to Taro. "You done loading everything?"

"Yes papa. Everything is loaded. But the winds are increasing" Taro noted, looking to the west.

"Alright. We should hurry and get to Shale mountain then. If this is a sandstorm, we will need some cover" Vander noted, boarding the ship.

Seth looked back once again on the scene. He could tell a lot of things right now to Vander, but those lots of things much be kept to himself. He had to shut himself before secrets starts to spew out of his mouth. It will happen, some day, but now it is not the time. He looked over at Vander, only slightly nodding before saying: "I'll be in my room if you need me." He would say as he walked off. He had a lot of thoughts right now as he walked towards his room, but he let them out of his consciousness once he closed the door of his room, laying on the ground as he tried to relax. Maybe take a nap while he can.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mox Ierba Character Portrait: Jolo Grossman Character Portrait: Kaidman Lheyr Character Portrait: Yeron Reid Character Portrait: Portia Latisse

Earnings

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[Co-written with VindicatedPurpose and conor]

95th Day
Protectorate City




The winds bellowed. Mox was a rock, he had not moved for a few seconds as the words struck him off guard. He blinked, unsure if he was dreaming or not. Michael Lyk. He was dead. Mox had not spoken to the man in years, neither by letter nor in person. They had not communicated ever since their days as miners ended and they parted ways.

"Got damn," Jolo chuckled, "It don't get crazier than that."

Portia brushed her dark hair out of her eyes, and Kaidman seemed to have dozed off as his head was limp while he sat behind Jolo. Mox looked at them before he turned to Eian and Shari.

Shari shrugged, and Eian remained silent for a moment before he spoke, "I have delivered the letter."

Mox did not have a plan or a course of action. First, he was kidnapped by bandits and his forge and belongings were probably ransacked and stolen. Then he wandered the desert for a few days before returning to the city only to be attacked by bandits once more. Finally, he received a letter, the authenticity of which he doubted, from a friend telling him to venture out into the desert to find some piece of treasure. It all seemed so sudden, and unplanned. None of it made any sense to Mox. He was just a blacksmith.

"I'm just a blacksmith. Are you sure this is for me?" he turned back to the messengers.

"You are Mox Ierba, aren't you? And you are a blacksmith, aren't you?" Shari replied, "We were asked to deliver this letter to a blacksmith named Mox Ierba in exchange for payment. Seeing as how you're the only Mox Ierba who is a blacksmith, or the only blacksmith named Mox Ierba, then we've delivered the letter, so pay us."

"Shari," Eian tried to rein her in.

The past couple of days had only reinforced Mox's notion to return home and continue life as a blacksmith. It was plain. It was boring. Most of all, it was stable, but the events that unfolded had challenged that idea. He was reminded of the taste of sand in his mouth when he was being dragged along. He looked at the two desert walkers. He wanted to yell at them, he wanted to utter profanities in their faces. He was not ready to head out into the desert to find some treasure that was not even real. He squinted at the letter, hoping that maybe the words would change into something else, hoping that maybe the letter would disappear, hoping that his forge was still standing. His forge could still be standing. He wanted to check his forge, but knowing that bandits had attacked, he was unsure if he wanted to see wreckage.

"Well? What do you plan on doing?" Portia asked.

"How do I know this letter is even real?" Mox asked, disregarding the pendant seal that had been wrapped around the parchment.

"It seems very legitimate, considering the seal," Eian paused, "Then there's the likelihood of treasure to backup the claims made in the letter."

Mox raised his voice, "If the letter's not real, the treasure's not real. If the treasure's not real, then I don't need to waste my time searching for something that doesn't exist. And most importantly, I wouldn't be able to pay you. I don't have any coin. Did the two of you think that it wasn't weird that they didn't pay you before delivering this letter?"

"We were guaranteed payment by the sender, excuse me, one of the senders. He said the recipient would pay us," Eian said.

"Meaning you," Shari said.

"Who was the sender?" Mox asked.

"The letter says Michael Lyk," Shari replied.

Mox's frustration came in the form of a sigh, "I meant the person who personally handed you the letter."

The two of them looked at each other before Eian spoke, "He was Solarian."

"That narrows it down," Jolo added.

Then Eian spoke, "How about this, we will help you search for the treasure. If it exists, it will validate the letter, and you can pay us. If it does not exist, we will exempt you of payment."

"Speak for yourself," Shari clipped.

Mox stood for a moment to weigh his options. There was no harm to it, "Okay."

Kaidman had been silent for long. His eyes were heavy and closed when his body seemed to have jolted awake; the yakolas were moving again. He held his head, as if it were pained, before shivering a bit. Jolo turned his head, noticing Kaidman moving around.

"Didn't get your beauty sleep in, caveman?" he joked.

"Uh, yeah, sure, you can call it that," Kaidman answered, not taken by Jolo's humor at the moment. "Hey, can we stop in town for the night? I'm not sure going out into the desert so late is a good idea. My head is throbbing." He spoke quite casually and simplistically, his mind a bit scattered in thought.

"The boy makes a point," Jolo added.

The group resaddled and rode into the city, resting at an inn as Kaidman had requested.




Foamy clouds bathed the night sky above the towers of Protectorate City. Lit lanterns still hung in front of several stores. Even at night, people were still out and about.

Mox cupped the little bowl of tea in between his hands, his head inclined toward the table. Jolo was scratching his beard. They were in the tavern of the inn, it was a joint-establishment. They were planning on staying the night before setting out again. They figured they could at least plan before their next moves. At least they did not have to worry about other travelers and thieves rummaging through their belongings when they were in the city. It was Protectorate City though, the thieves could have been the inn-owners for all they knew.

They were in a corner, quiet and secluded from the rest of the scene. They were among many thieves in that bar, even the bard. He was sitting in one corner, dressed in a two piece, a tunic clipped over one shoulder and baggy trousers. As he strummed his quiet lyre, he watched the other patrons through the locks of golden hair that he stayed covering his eyes. The bard searched for a gullible fool and his coin.

As for Portia, she had left the men to their little rest. She had to attend to her own personal business. Though Rangers followed the same credo, they were still independent.

"I don't know," Mox sipped from the bowl. The letter was laid out in front of the two of them.

"It's hard to trust a desert walker," Jolo replied, "But those two seem like they could be trusted."

Mox nodded at that comment, "Another day in the desert," he sighed.

"You ain't got much to complain about, considering what's left of your forge," Jolo shrugged, he pulled off his gloves and began to rub the calluses of his hands.




In Kaidman's supposed slumber, he could see only black, with flames of different color and size and distances from him. It was completely silent, like it was a celestial void where spirits resided. One substantial blue flame cold be seen, as if it were three miles away. A mist of the same color seemed to extend infinitely upwards, gravitating to this one flame in the void. From such a distance, Kaidman was reminded of the trek before he had found Mox; there was a peculiar recurring concentration of energy far away. If the mage had to guess, it was probably far enough it wasn't in Protectorate lands, but Drakyvarian; this was what startled him most.

Kaidman, his void, his arms began to cross, lethargically, in a manner which gave the impression that Kaidman was swimming through jelly. His chest tightened, he didn't dare to breathe. His aura enshrouded him in his green energy, and surely his eyes opened, glowing in sync with the fog encompassing him. A wave of the pale green mist went out from him, as if it were a stone was dropped and rippled the water. One could've heard a high pitched hum, like the ringing of a bronze church bell. With the relinquishing of the energy, Kaidman's chest relaxed enough so that he could breathe once again. Slowly, it went out, only a few feet per second. It wouldn't have been difficult to run faster than the wave, as it crepped along the invisible floor of the realm Kaidman had come upon.

Sweating profusely, Kaidman opened his eyes. He sat in the center of a small room, with one bed and a dresser, his armaments by the nightstand of the bed. There was a closet, made of a dark tan, almost orange clay, and scattered on the walls were candle mounts. A gentle, underactive green ring of flames circled him though they began to dissipate as he became aware of his surroundings. He was in an inn; they had decided to stop for the night, as he suggested. He was supposed to be asleep, but he hardly could since the afternoon, when they finished with the bandits and picked up the two messengers, Eian and Shari he had recalled their names to be.

The young man took two deep breaths through his nose, use his mouth to exhale the last. He used his bland, dirtied white tunic he was wearing to wipe the sweat that accumulated on his head, lifting it so that his toned abdomen could be seen. Dropping his shirt down, he brought himself to stand up once more. Looking out the window, it was dark. But it wasn't late enough for everyone to have gone to sleep. Grabbing the room key on the night stand, he went to exit his room, but not without securing his sword with its shining gem in the handguard in his hands.

He had come exiting the room, he locked it, and dropped the key into his pocket. He headed toward one end of the hall, travelling down a staircase and back to the inn's lobby. It was a small inn, but it had a comfortable social area. Kaidman came to find Mox and Jolo sitting in the lobby.

"Want a drink?" Jolo offered the new arrival.

"Yeah, thanks," Kaidman answered. He sat down on a couch and began drinking a cup of water. It had a refreshing sensuality to it, even if it was a bit warm.

"I didn't even stand a chance that day," Mox shook his head.

"Hmm?" Jolo's ears perked up. Kaidman looked at Mox, his forearm propped up at the elbow and his knucles keeping his head supported as he leaned against the arm of the couch.

Mox exhaled, "When they came, I actually tried to fight 'em off. I shouldn't have tried."

Jolo listened to the boy, in his mind he was wondering if Mox was a potential recruit. He had nowhere else to turn, nowhere else to go. Those were the hallmarks of a new ranger.

"If the treasure's not real, I don't have much to look forward to."

Jolo nodded, "Your friend, Michael. What do you know about him?"

Mox looked up at ranger. He blinked and shifted to the side, "We used to be miners together, but we parted after that venture ended. He went to Solaria, I went here."

"Seems like he made many enemies. The ending of that letter, somebody was trying to get to it before it could reach us."

"Enemies? I wouldn't know much about them. But, people coming after us?" Mox's brow furrowed, he took another glancing sip.

"What we know is that they were chasing him, and then they were chasing this letter. The letter has gotten to you, so..." Jolo scratched his chin a bit more.

"Michael is a-" Mox stopped himself, "Was a decent man."

"We don't know he's dead yet either..." Jolo's voice had deepened to a near low growl.

To speak of dead people was to invite interest from the many perked ears in that tavern. Each man there could have been in any number of trades, aside from thieving, they could have been spies as well.




Yeron pulled the bright red neckerchief over his mouth. Sand whipping past his face as the Yakola plodded through the desert. On his lap sat the rifle with which he made his trade. The beautiful dark-brown rifle with plenty of scuffs and markings bounced on his lap with the movement of the Yakola beneath him. Keeping his finger on the trigger guard he looked from side to side, keeping watch of the terrain as it passed by. He was on his way back from a ranging mission deep into Solarian territory. Tracking a small group of slavers and kidnappers. Unfortunately a sandstorm had wiped away any tracks they left behind and following them had become impossible.

Upon hearing the news of an attack in Protectorate city Yeron had decided to turn around and head back. Obviously there were bigger things at play than a group of slavers. He would get them another time. Now as the city grew closer he could see the lights flickering in the distance. In truth, he was almost glad to be coming back. He longed for decent bed, two weeks on just a bedroll really takes it out of you. And some good food. 32 years of age, not old by any means but the desert had a way of taking youth away from you. I'm sure to some Yeron looked in his forties. Not that he was actively looking to be physically appealing. No time for that sort of thing. He had dedicated his life to the desert and the people of the Protectorate city. He had dedicated himself to bringing down the kind of scum that killed his parents, and he would keep doing it until it killed him. I guess it was almost like some religious order, at least to Yeron. He wouldn't leave his rangers star behind him unless he had to. That was the way Yeron saw it, his brotherhood, his life, his family.

As the city grew nearer Yeron noticed something off in the distance. Spurning the Yakola onward he hurried to the scene. "Bandits, dead bandits. The best kind". Sifting through the remains he noticed a pattern. He knew only one person with a blade that could do this kind of damage. Chuckling to himself he looked around for any useful weapons he could use. There were none that suited him anyway. Heaving himself back on the Yakola he spurned it forward once more. Drowsiness now began to take hold as the city limits approached. Even at night the city seemed to be brimming with activity, guards moved from place to place and the taverns and inns overflowed onto the streets.

There was a warm breeze in the air, not normal for a desert night but Yeron didn't question it, and neither did the locals as they sat outside the taverns drinking the night away. They seemed happy given the circumstances. Maybe it was just the alcohol but he was glad they could forget about the attack. Even if he couldn't. Pondering why the bandits had attacked the city had been puzzling him for hours. Questions like, why now? why there? who did it? He had no answers, he hadn't been anywhere near when it happened, he hoped Jolo would have some.




Pulling up next to a familiar Inn Yeron slid off the Yakola and tied it up against the side of the building. He figured if Jolo would be anywhere it would be here.

Pushing the doors open he was greeted by a blast of warm air, the stench of alcohol and an explosion of voices and music. A small, sly grin escaped from his face.

Sitting in the corner was the person he was looking for, walking over birksly he arrived at the table. "Jolo. It is good to see you. Nothing warms a man like some friendly faces". He looked at the unfamiliar faces around the table and gave a curt smile.

Jolo reared back in his seat as he noticed a familiar face enter the doors of the establishment. His marred face, his calm disposition, his hat, his gloves, his bandana, and his stride all spoke of an ally.

The veteran chuckled before speaking to Yeron, "This is Mox Ierba, and Kaidman Lheyr," he gestured to the two younger men.

Then Jolo addressed Mox and Kaidman, "This is Yeron Reid, he's a friend of mine. So he's a friend of yours as well."

Mox exchanged a polite nod with the newcomer. He would have stood up to shake the man's head, but that could have drawn too much attention. It was by luck that nobody in the establishment had recognized Jolo, maybe he was heard of more than he was seen.

Yeron and Kaidman had seen each other on occasion. Kaidman's tendency to stalk mysterious people in the desert, whether they be bandits, wanderers, or even Rangers, had surely brought them to meeting on a couple of occasions.

"Good to see you again," Kaidman greeted, upon recognizing the figure.

Yeron politely nodded in towards Mox Ierba. He seemed nervous, but Yeron wasn't going to question it.

He then turned his attention towards Kaidman, his face was certainly familiar and after a brief few seconds of thinking he remembered some of the mettings they had in the past. "And you Kaidman, a friend of the rangers is always a welcome sight."

Yeron grabbed a chair and fell lazily into it. "So, seems I go away for a few weeks and the whole place goes to shit. What happened?"

Jolo drew them in closer for a more privy discussion, his voice fell to a hush, "Five days ago, bandits attacked the city. They managed to tear a hole in the outer wall. We still haven't figured out how yet."

When Jolo said 'we,' he meant the Council and the Guard. They had not figured out how the bandits managed to do so much damage.

"I'm not sure how is as important as who. If it's just some group of bandits, then maybe it was just a stunt. And if it's not a stunt, what are they really trying to do or say by blowing up the wall?" Kaidman added in.

"Well. We know they were bandits. It's not every day they manage to blow a hole in the wall. If we figured out how...it may lead us to the who," Jolo washed a bit of the water down his throat.

Yeron slowly stroked the hairs on his face, pulling down on the beard and then repeating the motion. "Seems like the whole world has gone to hell, theres trouble in Solaria too. I've hear rumours of a traitor fleeing the city. Although they are sketchy at best. Can't trust information like that."

"Nope. Can't believe much these days. Only half of what you see, and none of what you hear," Jolo said.

Yeron chuckled, "Sounds like you might need some glasses."

Jolo grinned, "Anyway, we're headin' out with these boys for Spire Canyon."

He slid the letter over to Yeron.

"Hmm, almost sounds to good to be true. Can we be sure no one else has read this? Sounds almost like a trap." Yeron sat back in his chair and adjusted himself.

"What exactly are Eian and Shari asking as far as pay? Is it just gold, or whatever the treasure may be?" Kaidman interjected.

"Hopefully just gold. And hopefully there's nothing but bezants in that 'treasure,'" Mox paused, "Also, where's the other lady? What's her name, uh..."

"Aha, Portia. I thought I saw some of her handiwork out on the road" Yeron smiled to himself, that woman was deadly with a blade. Sometimes he felt sorry for anyone in her way. Sometimes.

"You're not mistaken," Jolo smiled, only briefly, before he returned to reflect on the nature of the letter.

"A trap," the ranger let the words linger in the air.

"Bandits sack the city, and now this kid is being chased," he pointed to Mox, "All seems coincidental."
Jolo paused for a moment, he stared directly into Yeron's eyes, "The bandits that attacked the city. They killed D'hakem."

The news hit Yeron hard. D'hakem was a good ranger, a better friend. As it sank in his breathing slowed and cupped his face with his hands.

The sadness eventually ebbed away and was quickly replaced with anger. His breathing began to pick up again and his face scrunched up. Suddenly he slammed a fist onto the table, the objects atop of it scattering across the floor.

"God damn, I've seen so many people die in this world and I never get used to it. Sometimes you wonder is it worth it. Risking our asses out there in that wasteland only for the names of our dead to dissapear without a thanks."

Yeron rubbed his forehead slowly. The throbbing pain in his fist subsiding and his anger quelling. "I guess thats what we signed up for, gunfights and heartbreak so the people here can sleep at night. I guess me and Natasha here will just have to acquaint ourselves with some bandits." Jovially slapping the butt of his rifle.

D'hakem was the latest in a string of killings among their ranks, it seemed as though they were being targeted. Jolo had few ideas as to who was behind these motivated killings. It was up to him, though, to lead any countering moves

"Get some sleep gentlemen, it'll be a long day tomorrow," Jolo stood up and stretched.

The group dispersed to their rooms for the night.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Portia Latisse Character Portrait: Melio

Earnings

0.00 INK

95th Night

Protectorate City


Portia made her way through the shadows where few lamps dare lit their light. She glanced over her shoulder every couple of steps to ensure that nobody trailed her. Even the beggar across the street, sitting lazily against the wall of a shack, could have been an eavesdropper or a spy. Her pace was quick and darting.

The slums of the city witnessed a peace of silence that was intermittently disturbed by the shuffling of feet and murmuring voices. Even in the dark and dankest parts of the city, one could still find a restaurant or tavern open late into the middle of the night. The city was always full of perfect places for clandestine meetings.




At the edge of a darkened tavern, where the candles’ radius of light could not reach, sat two people of rather furtive dispositions. They were seated in a booth near the exterior of the tavern. There was no wall between them and the outside world. The conversations of the establishment were dimmed like the candles.

Both of them had wide brimmed hats meant to cover their eyes from onlookers, but not from themselves.

One was a Drak. One of his emerald eyes was covered by a patch that was strapped to an opposing horn on his crest. His forked tongue hung loosely out of his mouth that was lined with fangs, but when he spoke, it retreated into the recesses of his jaw. His tail was curled and hidden from plain view. A pair of tonfas were strapped to his back with the handles shadowing his shoulders.

His hiss was near indistinguishable when he spoke in the tongue of man.

“So the letter has reached its destination.”

“It has. It was meant to be delivered to a Mox Ierba.”

The other was a female. Human. She sat directly across from him with most of her face was concealed in shadow. Her hair was dark and smooth, and her face, sultry. Her skin was fair, despite having seen much of the desert. Her lashes danced each time she blinked. Her eyes seemed almost like gold in the night, but that was merely the flicker of the flame in the corner of her eye. Her lips, though dry and unadorned, were luscious. They moved about like a predator in the desert, with guile and beauty all the same.

She was wrapped within a dark coat, as she sat with one leg crossed over the other at the knee. She wore knee-high boots that were as dark as her coat. She sat in a relaxed and reclined manner against the wall. Her hands were gloved, one of them reached for the bowl sitting in front of her on the table.

Her coat had hidden a kopis, which ran the length of her hip to where the coat ended and just a bit more for others to see the tip of the blade itself. Fortunately for them, she had washed the blade clean of the blood that it had rendered in the little skirmish before she entered the city. People in Protectorate City were quite the paranoid sort, any sight of blood meant trouble.

The gray scaled Drak watched the woman for a brief moment before he glanced to the outside streets. A bowl sat before him like the woman. In his bowl was a liquid, a dark and rich red. He reached into the small pool with a single leathery claw, and began to swirl it about his finger. Then he retracted the claw and surrounded the bowl with the rest of his hand.

He took a sip.

“Mox Ierba? I’ve never heard of that name before.”

It was very characteristic of Michael Lyk to have delivered the letter to some unknown. He had made the trail quite hard to follow. Melio considered him a worthy adversary, especially to have given them pause this far. He pitied the man. It was only inevitable that he would fall to the blade of an assassin, one that would be returning with news of the Solarian’s death quite soon. The others were mere accomplices that had to be dispatched.

Lyk was a threat, him and Moyro.

“He’s a blacksmith. Several bandits captured him days ago during the attack, perhaps they were among your cadre.”

The attack, the 90th day was still fresh on many of the citizens’ minds. Melio had arrived only a day ago, but he was immediately caught up on the recent ‘invasion,’ as some fervent and frenzied people claimed. He chuckled.

“How…coincidental…”

Portia scoffed, she looked around, “We still have a chance though.”

“What chance is there?” he inquired.

Melio had not arranged for an extended stay in Protectorate City, this turn of events, however, forced his hand. He still had an assassin to meet the next day before he would return to his lord. It seemed the return trip would have to be postponed, but he was adaptable. He would have to hear the woman’s news, as he was sure that events changed rather quickly in the desert, but the news itself was slow in reaching ears.

“The letter speaks of a treasure located in Spire Canyon.”

The mention of treasure immediately pulled Melio’s eyes directly in line with that of the woman’s, “Oh?”

“Yes,” she hinted with nonchalance, “It was from Lyk, no doubt about it. Signed and sealed from him.”

“Where in Spire Canyon?”

Portia spoke, “The letter says it is buried along the rock wall, and Jolo intends to set out with them tomorrow.”

“Indeed? Jolo?” Melio paused, he steepled his fingers before him.

The ranger was not dead yet. He was aware that his assassin had not quite finished his job yet, but perhaps this was a chance to kill two skarras with one stone or so the Vaul saying went. He knew the letter was of greater importance, but the pieces seemed to be falling into place. He could only smile.

The initiative was in his hands, he gathered that he needed to pursue it lest it escape his claws. He knew his lord would be infuriated should that happen. Lord Ka’etruscan had a temper that could be cast upon an unlucky soul.

“By which route will they go?”

“Perhaps by land, but expediency demands they go by air,” Portia paused, “They know someone is coming after them, and they’ve been advised to make haste.”

“Whichever method they take, my agents will find them, and they will overtake them,” Melio placed the bowl down on the table.

“Like today?” her lips curved into a sly smile.

Melio gave a soft chuckle, he was aware of the little mishap that delayed him and his lord’s plans. Had the bandits killed the couriers, they would have escaped with the letter and its contents. It was by fortune that Jolo and his band found the Cron Suil and his companion. Had they been seconds later, they would have only found a pair of bodies covered in sand and blood.

Melio returned to the ranger, “You had some fun out there did you not? But no, not like today. Tomorrow, fortune swings our way.”

“What is your plan then?”

Melio looked deeply into the remaining pool of tea in his bowl before he glanced at Portia.

“We let them find the treasure,” he paused, “And then we swoop in and kill all of them. Simple.”

“It sounds easy doesn’t it? But they have some capable fighters among them. Aside from Jolo himself, the Cron Suil and his companion survived your minions.”

“Yes I’ve seen them, capable they are. Outnumbered as well. My other agents will be notified.”

Portia stood up from her seat, ready to depart, “I will inform you of any changes to the situation, if I get the chance.”

“Even if you don’t, my eyes will still be on you.”

“Likewise,” the ranger promptly turned on her heel and left.

Tomorrow was to be a long day.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Alleara Delegio Character Portrait: Estios Hultyce

Earnings

0.00 INK

[co-written with VindicatedPurpose]

95th Night

Dunes Far From Solaria


After the meal, the pair moved on to find a place to rest and clean up. Alleara said very little, following Estios' lead. She still kept watch behind and around them. She could not shake the feeling that eyes watched them from the shadows.

The woman wasn't wrong. The trading post was full of travellers and bandits alike. There would be those who would sell you goods and others who would rob you of said goods in a heartbeat.

The evening fell upon the trading post and outside the tent activity and noise slowed to a dull murmur. The fires outside crackled gently as a few pack animals could be heard shuffling. The slits located near the ceiling of the tent allowed the light of Anara inward. Estios had already retired, snoozing away. The day had taken a toll on the warrior, that was expected. Rest was important though, reserves of strength were needed in the longer journey.

Alleara found a place to change out of her current dress and into the one Estios had purchased. She carefully folded and tucked away her old one into her pack. Using her pack as a pillow Alleara laid down on the carpet. She was tired but sleep was long from coming.

She laid there worries running through her mind. Will they let us in? Will they tell me what I want to know? What about my parents?




Ninety-Sixth Day

The sun rose. Alleara had slept as much as possible. She sat up, ran her fingers through her hair to release as many tangles as she could and waited for Estios to awaken. She had woken up with no answers to her nagging questions than she had had before.

Estios was still asleep, snoring away. Had he been in Solaria, he would have awoken a hour earlier. A Sunfire was regimented, trained, and disciplined. Now, he could enjoy some sleep having left that life behind. He was no longer a captain, for by then the two delegates had already tarnished his name. He was fortunate that his only family was the Sunfires. They could defend themeselves. Even that was impossible, they were still hunted. He could only hope to sleep a few hours and be alert to catch any would be assassin off-guard. He could only hope the few hours he slept were good few hours that replenished his strength enough for him to carry on through the next day's unforeseen troubles and trials.

He opened his eyes wide, thankful for two things. The first was that he was not facing east, where the sun rose. The second was that there was not a sword pointed at his face, as was the custom for Sunfires who overslept to wake up with a blade just a few fingers from the bridge of their nose.

Estios exhaled and peeled himself from the mat that he had slept on, "Morning.

"Good morning." Alleara said softly as she watched Estios sit up. "I hope you rested well. Our things and our persons went undisturbed, a small blessing in all of this." She was trying not to think about the past, the events that led to this moment. They needed to think solely on what was ahead of them.

"Are we planning to eat and then try to make our way to the Timekeepers? Am I correct in that we are still going to try for that? I have come up with no other options." Alleara tried not to sound disheartened or frustrated.

Estios rubbed his eyes clean of the web that had kept them shut, "If that's where you think we should go, I have no quarrels. Lead the way."

It was like a weight on her shoulders. If that's where you think we should go... Alleara stood. She wasn't at all sure that they should be going to the Timekeepers. Why would they talk to them? They were just two people with nothing to back up the reason they were there. She wasn't sure they shouldn't go either, after all what else were they to do? They needed information and right now the only people who held it was the Timekeepers. Not for the first time in the past two days Alleara was wondering why she had tried to figure out the queen's death to begin with.

"Yes...yes let's go there but first..." She knelt down and scrounged through her pack. Alleara pulled out some parchment and ink. She began to write out a letter. "If you want to grab something to eat go ahead, I am going to be a moment."

Estios checked his equipment, ensuring that none had been stolen like she said, before he left her to her thoughts. Alleara knelt down and scribbled furiously. The words went down quickly but the writing was small, neat and even. She had one chance, one possible last hope for some help from Solaria. If she could get this letter there and to its intended without interception there was a small, a very small chance of help.

She wrote it all down. What she had learned so far from the deaths of the others, what her observations were of the Lords who had accompanied her and in great detail what had happened on her journey here to this point. She included everything that seemed even remotely important. The more details she included the more she hoped it would persuade the reader that she was telling the truth. The hard part would be getting into Solaria and into the Queen's hands. Alleara knew it was risky but the Queen had given her the job of being her investigator in the matter of the former queen's death and no matter what she was going to do that job. If the Queen did not believe her than she was in no better position that she was currently. If she did, even a little...if she could find out more on the traitorous Lords and those in her court it would be better for all. Alleara wondered how much Lord Faeran and the others were involved in the queen's poisoning, how much they were trying to cover up and just how many of the court were involved.

Alleara stood and blew gently, helping the ink to dry. Now she just had to figure out the best way to get it to the Queen's hand and not anyone else's.




Moments later Estios returned with a pair of biscuits and dried jerky wrapped in cloth. A canteen was strapped to the belt on his waist. He set the bundled food down beside her as he saw that she was still writing. Then he took a seat nearby and squeezed his forehead as he watched her write away.

The tent owner appeared from a closed section and noticed this as well.

"Ahh. Scribe?" he asked in a smoothed accent, there was still an accent though.

Alleara's eyes lifted from the paper. "Ugh...yes, yes a scribe." She nodded. It wasn't far from the truth. "I am almost done and then I need to send this off."

The old man nodded before he proceeded to oust the small and enclosed firepit that had lit the tent during the night. Then he drew the curtain fold up to admit more daylight in. Estios was unsure if the old man understood much of what Alleara said.

"What are you writing?" he watched her while sitting with one knee propping his arm.

Before she could reply, he decided to make himself useful. He pulled out his sword once more from its sheath and observed the blade for any marks or dents. He remembered that he barely used it during the battle, he exhaled. Not a single drop of blood was drawn. Perhaps it was not his time to kill yet. He proceeded to rub it down with his Solarian robes; he had taken them off the night before as he donned his new garb to better blend with the desert.

Alleara looked from Estios to the old man. She hesitated for a moment. Crossing to where Estios knelt with his blade she crouched next to him and whispered. "I am writing to the Queen. It is our only chance I think. I have told her that a conspiracy is in the works, that perhaps it has been for a while. I told her of what happened, of the Lord's behaviour as we learned about the other deaths and the ambush, how they killed all those they had not bought off. I told her that no matter what she hears of us that it is not true. I told her everything and all of my observations. I do not know what else to do."

She bit her lower lip. "My dilemma is in how to get it to her hands. I do not know for sure who is working for her and who is against. I don't know who to trust in all of this...except you and you are here..."

Alleara looked down at her parchment. There was a lot of writing, a great deal of information that she wished to impart to the queen. It was all very important. "Do you know anyone that we could send it to? Someone who could get it into the queen's hands? Someone you can trust above all else? They can't let this out of their sight or hands. I don't...I don't have any friends. I spent my life in a lab and I don't know about my parents." Alleara now doubted her plan. It seemed worth it to write it all down, to hope that if the queen read it she might at least investigate the allegations but now the task of getting it to her seemed too big to accomplish.

Estios stopped rubbing his sword as she said this. The captain made no motion, staring blankly at the mat he sat on. The tent lurched at the rolling wind's beckoning. He could see a banner billow in the open air for a time, it would become a windy day.

Estios sheathed his sword once more, "You have not told her anything. The letter has not delivered into her hands."

"And I know not of anyone who could get it to her hands. I don't even know who to trust within the ranks of the Sunfires," Estios paused, "The delegates' agents might be anywhere in the city or the deserts."

"It would be our word against theirs. Just us two. A disgraced captain, and a girl. No proof."

Alleara's heart sank. The last grasp of hope dissolved. She was so sure that if she could get it to the queen that everything would be okay. Now all her concerns about getting it there combined with a reminder that they were such small parts in all of this were shared by another, not just in her head. They were real not fleeting things to be easily overcome.

"It would be but...maybe I will hold onto it for now and perhaps all will go well with the Timekeepers and I won't have to try and send it..."

She carefully folded the letter and slipped it safely away into her things. "I will come up with a plan. If all else fails this has to get to the queen. She can't ignore what is before her. Our word matters." Alleara tried to sound more sure than she felt at the moment.

"Shall we head out?" She turned and looked outside. Sand was blowing about. Alleara took sash from her original dress, now folded in her pack and wrapped over her head. It would help to keep the sand from blowing into her face. She had forgotten about food, her mind too occupied with the letter and the journey before them.

The captain holstered his scabbard, and they bid their goodbyes to the good-natured tent keeper. Another long day in the deserts.




Alleara's steps were heavy. The sand slowed her but the uncertainty of her situation, of their situation weighed her down more. The letter to the queen felt like a rock in her pack. She was sure that if she could just explain to the queen what had happened everything would be alright once more. Facts are facts. They will state the truth and in this we are in the right. Justice will happen because fact will prove it. Alleara felt like as long as she believed in that, in the truth of all of this that things would work out.

The wind had picked up and she was glad for the material of her other dress to wrap around her head to keep the sand out. Alleara put her head down and pushed forward behind Estios. She fell occasionally onto her knees but got to her feet as quickly as she could each time. Alleara looked over her shoulder.

"Do you think we are being followed? I saw people watching us in the market. Do you think they will follow us?" She called out to Estios.

"If they are following us, they'll lose us eventually," Estios was referring to the wind.

It seemed as though a storm had been born not to far ahead. From the moment they left the trading post up until that point, the wind had only grown stronger. It reminded Estios of an old myth that the old women and sages often prattled about. It was a myth relating to a sandstorm in those parts. The legend went on about a great warrior named Apmekh, who was supposedly a brilliant strategist as well. He belonged to a group of peoples known as the wind tribes. These tribes were known as the wind tribes because they went wherever the wind went.

The tale went on to say that by the time Apmekh came into the world, the wind tribes had severely dwindled in numbers due to wars with various other groups. Back when the land still had magic flowing through it, Apmekh went on to lead his people against extinction. His many victories were achieved through sheer speed, they were known to move like the wind and lightning. They moved like the storms. They howled in fury, struck fast, and left their foes in defeat. Some say that Apmekh and his people eventually merged with the sandstorms that strafed the deserts.

It was entertaining to hear when Estios was a child, but it was a myth because the alchemists and thinkers merely believed that the wind had patterns. At certain points the wind would gather into storms until the energy to maintain the storm had dissipated, and the winds themselves dispersed.

The storm that was headed in their direction was not about to disperse anytime soon.

Alleara nodded as she hunched her shoulders, further hiding herself from the wind. She guessed the wind was a blessing in that sense. If they survived the trek there was little chance of finding their tracks.

The wind grew stronger as they walked and she found herself falling more and more as it pushed her down. Alleara clenched her teeth and forced herself to keep moving. She would not give up, it was not in her nature. Alleara was not used to such physical exertion. Sit her at a table for hours on end with a book and not be affected but this was an entirely different experience.

"Cap-Estios are there any animals I need be concerned about in the sands?" Alleara inquired as she struggled to once more return to her feet from her most recent fall. Each time it was as if the sand was trying to suck her in as the wind tried to force her down. She wondered if the land and air were somehow in on the conspiracy and trying to eliminate the last two witnesses of the treachery the Lords had done. Is it possible for men to control the elements? Alleara couldn't help but wonder.

Estios had forgotten that Alleara was a noblewoman, she lacked experience traveling the deserts. She lacked greater knowledge of the dangerous elements aside from the blustery weather. The predators of the land were not afraid to prey on an unsuspecting traveler. They could be buried in the sand by one's feet before striking. The creatures were vicious at times, comparable to the land in which they lived.

"Plenty, but perhaps not now," Estios yelled above the wind.

The captain found it harder to tread, the sand thickened about his feet. Each laborious step dug into the ocean of orange. The incline pushed against them as they climbed the crest of one of the many dunes in their path. He led with one hand in front of him, while his other hand pressed against the robe cloth that helped to cover his face.

At the top of the dune, they were hit by puffs of wind while the sand pelted them. Estios had been through storms before, but he had never grown accustomed to them because he had never spent many days out of the city. At one point he thought he nearly lost Alleara, and he was about to call out for had he not realized her hand was still on his shoulder.

"Stay close," he beckoned.

Alleara's eyes widened as Estios told her there was plenty of things to be concerned about in the sand. She looked down at the shifting land with fear. "Great, one more thing on the list that wants to kill me. Sand creatures..." Her voice couldn't be heard over the wind.

It took her a few moments to realize they were moving upward on an incline. The process grew steadily slower and harder. Even Estios was slowing down. She put her head down, held onto his shoulder as best she could and tried not to eat or inhale too much sand.

He told her to stay close and Alleara simply nodded. She had no intention of doing anything other than staying as close as possible to him. Her hand gripped tighter as her feet sank.

"I feel like the sand is trying to swallow me!" Alleara yelled over the blowing wind. She instantly regretted it as sand found its way into her mouth. She coughed and stumbled as she tried to spit as much of it out as she could. Alleara fell to her knees, letting Estios go. Her stomach heaved slightly as it fought out the bits of sand she had inadvertently swallowed. She let her body clench a moment as it tried to expel the grit.

Alleara looked up hoping Esitios had not gone too far. She struggled once more to her feet and tried to run towards him to no avail. She began a slow, heavy footed trudge. Her head down this time she raised her voice once more. "How long do these storms last?"

"Long enough to force one to seek shelter," Estios's reply was clipped by the buffeting wind. His field of view was limited to a couple of steps before him, but that was enough to spot the canyon opening. He thought perhaps they could shelter there until the storm pattern dispersed and the taste of sand had disappeared from their mouths.

He was sure her hand was still tugging on his shoulder, and he led them to the crevice that would lead into the interior of the rock formation. The wind was less harsh with the rock walls covering them. Estios was careful to keep his face covered with whatever cloth he had. He ran his free hand among his robes to ensure that their pouch of funds and his sword had not fallen off somewhere in the path. The search for them out among the dunes would serve to delay their progress, and to go without them would be foolhardy.

Shelter was music to her ears. Alleara struggled to remain close as he led them forward. Thank any gods listening that he is with me. I would have.... She didn't complete the thought. She knew what would have happened if Estios had not saved her life. She reached out and grabbed his shirt once more as they pushed forward.

At first she didn't know what he was moving towards but eventually she could see the opening. Alleara wanted to go faster, to get out of the wind but it was like the sand was mocking them with every step.

"Not-much-further-" She yelled above the wind. It had picked up, blowing stronger and Alleara wanted to curse at it as it tried to take her breath away once more.

Estios pushed as far into the canyon passage as he could. With the arches overhead, they were protected from the beating wind for a time. He intended to set out as soon as the storm let up.

Estios let out an exhausted exhale, which was followed by several coughs as he attempted to relieve himself of the salt that landed in his mouth. Both were muffled by his robe. The taste was nothing new to him, but the texture was certainly annoying.

“Are you alright?” he yelled, “Keep your face covered.”

He knew she was fine, but reassurance never hurt. He could see the wind was calming from its earlier howls, the sand was less bitter. It was still far too harsh to make any further headway in the open stretch. At least he could see his hand in front of him, that was a positive sign.

Alleara took a breath and immediately started coughing. It felt as if the sand had penetrated every crevice of her face. "Yes, I am fine but I feel like I have eaten a good portion of the desert..." She turned and in a very unladylike fashion spit out as much sand as she could. "Yuck." She covered her face once more.

If Alleara could see Estios' face, she would see him smiling.

Her head went back against the wall for a moment. "I am exhausted. I never realized how hard that walk was going to be."

It was then that Alleara realized her heart was pounding in her chest in an almost uncomfortable fashion. She also realized her eyes were verging on tears. She felt defeated and they hadn't gotten very far at all. How am I going to do this? Doubt began to creep in again.

Alleara pushed herself away from the wall and began to walk towards Estios. No tears, no giving up. You can't do this. He lost so much and you don't get to buckle now. "Do we wait or keep moving?"

"We wait, until the storm dies," Estios covered himself once more as bits of sand had nearly lashed his face.

Alleara nodded and huddled into her clothes a bit more to keep the sand away. This wasn't what she had envisioned when the Queen asked her to investigate. She had thought questions, lists and then finally an answer. Nothing was to result in caravans through the desert, ambushes and more death let alone hiding in a passage to wait out a sandstorm.

She almost missed her mother's nagging her to be social, to get out of the lab.

The storm carried for a time.




When the dust settled, literally, they found themselves in the same place as before, the sprawling desert. The storms never did much to alter the landscape, however, some say that the grooves, curves, nooks, and crannies on rock walls were the result of erosion by bits and grains of sand for years on end. Perhaps that too was the work of Apmekh and his followers, wearing away the great walls of rock until everything turned to sand.

Alleara fixed her scarf, adjusted her pack and had finished freeing her nose and mouth of as much of the sand as possible. When the storm finally died down she felt ready to continue on. As she peered out at the landscaped she was disheartened to see that nothing changed in regards to the landscape but she also wondered why she thought it might. What would a storm like that accomplish really other than pushing sand about? Expose some long forgotten city of legend? Open a new path to an unknown land? When did I take to having such fairytale hopes? Alleara sighed in annoyance and stepped out into the sands.

"Now that I can hear you better what exactly should I be looking for in regards to things that might lurk in the sands? With the storm not battering at us I imagine we are not that only things that will come out of shelter to explore the lands once more."

"Venomous creatures. Their stings would make the sands your crypt. Let's hope they all scurried into their holes during the storm."

The captain moved on ahead as ever, his scabbard hung from straps at his hip.

The captain's lack of details about the things that might try to kill her left Alleara feeling less than excited about their trek. Her mouth set into a line as she followed him through the sands.

The sun grew higher in the sky and Alleara kept pulling her scarf further and further over her head until she could get no more shade from it without covering her face completely. Sweat trickled down her body. For the first time in her life Alleara thought about what it must be like for those who could not afford a home to give shelter from the repressive sun. Sure tents worked but there was nothing like the cool shade of a built home to make you underestimate the everyday impact the sun had on the people. Alleara spent most of her time in the lab and hidden away from the outside world. Now it beat down on her and she wondered if she had what it took to survive.

The trek was tiring but Alleara said nothing out loud about how weary her legs were growing or how her pack, as light as it was began to feel like rock on her back. They had to get as far as possible. There was a lot at stake and collapsing in the sands was not an option.

A bead of sweat dripped into her eye and with a sharp hiss through her teeth Alleara paused to wipe it away. It was then that something tickled her leg. It wasn't a tickle of say a feather or material brushing against skin but more like something touching her.

"E-Estios....those creatures....um..."

Her eyes moved downward to see a thing with many legs and a shiny body at her feet. Part of it's frame remained in the sand as it decided to crawl out to see what was standing near or on its home. Long thin limbs moved against her leg, feeling her.

The logical part of her said it was simply checking to see what she was, food or predator, perhaps an object blown by the wind. The logical part saw the need for the creatures curiosity.

The part of her that was now overwhelmed with fear could not focus on anything but the pincers that protruded from the front.

"What do I do?" Her eyes remained on the thing in the sand.

Estios turned to see her predicament. Fortunately, it was nothing serious to warrant pulling out his sword. Many occasions in the past were otherwise though.

"Leave that one be. It's one of the few harmless ones," the captain waved the creature off.

It did as told, scurrying into the wide expanse. Somewhere along the way it buried its head into the ground, the body soon followed and altogether disappeared beneath. The captain huffed and cleared his throat, he kept moving forward. He was trying to retrace their path. The desert was never marked with roads, it was the reason why there were so many trade posts. They served as markers for those who traveled, those who stayed at the posts were well-traveled and could serve as guides or give directions if necessary.

The words that one of the guides had given him was to head north. He had rarely visited the Sanctum himself, but he knew that it would be recognizable from a distance.

Alleara was relieved by the statement that the thing was harmless. It never occurred to her that any of them might be harmless. She had been too fixated on the venomous aspect.

The thing skittered away. Alleara opened her mouth to thank Estios but he had already turned and with a huff started off again. She followed behind and once more thought perhaps things would be easier if she had more real world experience. Reading in the lab was not the same as interacting with the world around her.

The pair walked and walked. Alleara said nothing more, asked no other questions and kept her eyes out for other things that might come crawling out. She wanted to show the captain she was not a liability or a burden.

When the first pieces of the Sanctum appeared in the distance over the top of a dune Alleara thought she was imagining it. Clearly the sun was causing strange visions in the distance. She said nothing to Estios, fearing he might think her going mad from the heat.

The tops of the Sanctum grew and extended down to show the rest of the building. Alleara blinked ensuring she wasn't hallucinating. "Estios. Do you see that? The heat isn't getting to me, there is a building there right?"

It was a structure in the middle of the desert. It was shaped like a dome, but other than that it had no real aesthetic to it. It was colored like the sand, almost as though it were meant to be a dune. Estios had to cover his eyes, as they were facing the sun. He could not tell if it was a mirage, or if that was the recognizable Sanctum that was foretold.

Alleara looked over at Estios. He seemed to give pause as if pondering if he too were really seeing a building. The heat and trek had taken a toll on them both.

"Let's keep moving. The sooner we reach it the sooner we are out of the sun and the sooner we can figure out our next step."

With a shift of her pack on her shoulder Alleara began walking once more. The colouring of the building was throwing her off, making it hard for her to keep focused on it. She could see it but the constant squinting and blinking from the sun meant that at times she could not find it again right away.

The closer the came to the Sanctum the more clear it became. The structure grew bigger and its shadow became ever more discernible on the sand.

"Almost there. I hope the men here are willin-"

Alleara paused, stopped walking and turned her head as if listening intently. After a moment she looked at Estios. "Do you hear that?"

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Atifae Lektai

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by alitura
96th Day
Solaria


Atifea sat in darkness, clearly deep in thought. The room, which she considered her office, was clustered and dusty. Piles of random files littered every corner and flasks with unknown liquids covered her desk. She knew sooner or later the mess would get in the way and cleaning up would be in order but the doctor just didn’t have time for such boring tasks. Then again everything seemed sort of boring to her lately.

The only thing keeping her going was work and lately even that felt uneventful at times. Overcoming both medical and social struggles was still very fun and the satisfaction from curing even petty headaches was great, but it was lacking in a way. After working with different patients for years, four on her own, not many things were able to shock her. Sure, once in a while something new and exciting happened but these days it was uncommon. That was until she was asked to check out the case of Harl Moyro.

Of course Atifea heard of the nobleman’s story even before his friend contacted her. Rumors spread like wild fire. Quite a number of people went by her clinic every day and she heard many stories. The assassinations seemed pretty random, at least from what the woman heard. They seemed pretty interesting but it didn’t bother Atifea much until now. It was quite surprising being contacted by a noble’s friend. It wasn’t often that rich men wanted help from unimportant people, living in poor areas like her.

She found out more about the man’s condition from a letter sent by his friend. Apparently he was stable, didn’t seem too bad and yet he was still bed bound and weak. Even though the poison didn’t end him, it did seem to have some effect on his body. They apparently tried everything to get him back in original shape. Shamans, herbalists, other doctors, apparently even unconventional methods were applied, but while the man was living he wasn’t close to fully recovered. Maybe through luck or maybe through misfortune, Atifea wasn’t really sure yet, the noble's friend somehow heard of her and everything she had done as a doctor so she was asked to try help aswell.

Reading the words in the letter sent her heart racing. She felt a rush of excitement. The poisoned man was a new challenge she could hopefully beat. A new mysterious case was just what she needed to reawaken her passion. Yet as much as she loved anything to do with medicine, she was extremely wary. Solaria was restless lately, everyone knew that. Atifea wondered if she wanted to get involved with noble political figures. There was also the worry of messing up or just not being able to fulfill the difficult request of curing the poor man. Still, the idea of totally forgetting about such an unusual patient was too much to bare. After all it’s not often you get to do a job with the potential to be this entertaining, and if she somehow managed to help it’d do her clinic a lot of good.

Suddenly making up her mind Atifea got out of her chair. Quickly she picked up her coat and fixed her messy hair to look even half acceptable. After checking her first aid kit, the woman looked at the letter one more time. “Well they did invited me to come help,” she said to herself opening the door and leaving.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Atifae Lektai

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by alitura
[Co-written with VindicatedPurpose]

96th Day

Moyro Manor


It had been three days since he had escaped the grasp of death. Yet, from his viewpoint, he might as well have died that night because he had been confined to a bed for three full days. He was injured, but most importantly he was very vulnerable. Trading in his life now was but a permanent solution to end the temporary problem that was his lack of comfort. In the grander scheme of things, Harl Moyro knew he had to live. However, that only returned him to his present problem, he was vulnerable lying in one place.

He opened and closed his beak, the upper and lower jaws worked at his command. Thankfully they still worked, he feared the poison was intended to cripple him in more ways than one if it did not kill him. Despite the fact that he could still speak, the shamans and other healers turned a deaf ear to his notion that he was poisoned. It certainly was a new kind that had not been seen before.

Atifae was slowly reaching the end of the corridor where Moyro was. It was quiet, only the sound of her footsteps resounding as she walked. Now that she finally reached the place where the man was resting the woman couldn't wait to examine him. Her rising excitement was only increased by the lenght of time getting to this point took. She had to go through a couple of checks before they let her meet him. It seemed they learned their lesson and increased security after what happened. Then again she wasn't sure it'd make a big difference if a skilled assassin was to strike again.

After being inspected, the doctor was led to a room where the situation was explained in greater detail. Recounting the words of the conversation didn't help her in figuring what exactly happened and what she could do about it. All that Atifea could do was talk to the victim himself. She knocked on the door and waited for a reply.

"Who is it?"

To even say three words was a labor for the pink-beaked Vaul. Harl tried to pull himself up, unsure who was visiting. The pain subsided every now and then, he was curious as to what poison had been given to him. He was even more interested as to who the assassin was. He could not investigate though, that job was reserved for the Sunfires while he laid beneath covers. At the very least, he had not molted.

"I'm Atifae Lektai, a doctor," she answered slowly opening the door, "I've been asked to help with your predicament. May I come in?"

"A 'doctor?'" The Vaul murmured.

Where had he heard of that before? He remembered there was this woman, a healer or apothecary, working near the slums and lower residences. She had forsaken traditional methods of medicine to help others. She called herself a 'doctor,' whatever that meant.

Moyro mused to himself, "Unconventional times require unconventional measures."

He paused to nurse a sharp pain that ran up his leg before exhaling a sigh of relief as it died down.

"Come in."

Lowering her head she entered and looked at him more closely. He really didn't look too good, the poison used must have been a strong one. She could already see it would prove to be a difficult job. Now finally seeing him proved just how effected by the failed assassination he was. Being bed bound like this wasn't ideal as far as Atifae could understand. Staring at him for any longer would be considered and so she instinctively reached out her hand. Upon remembering the ma's position she immediately lowered it, cursing under her breath.

"I hope I can be of use to you. Now, could you tell me if any of the symptoms changed or lessened over the past three days?"

"Symptoms? I don't..."

Figuring out if the poison wore off over time was an important step in deciding what steps to take. Then again examining the Moyro's disatisfied face and seemingly uncomfortable position the question was probably a waste of time. It was strange for something like this to happen. Poison usually either killed in a short period of time or wore off with time but here the case was totally different. She was told the poison wasn't even injected straight into his blood yet it's strenght was very notable.

"I'd also like to take some blood if you don't mind."

"My blood? What kind of a witch doctor are you?"

The Vaul became defensive, but that was not his fault. Never before had he heard of a healer try to take his blood in order to cure him. Mayhaps she was a vampire, or another agent sent to kill him. Harl always had a fantastical imagination. However, ever since the incidents on the ninety third and the death of his best friend, he was quite shaken.

She began to understand the man wasn't aware of her methods. Through the past few months she only had reacurring patients or people who heard of her from their friends. This made them more trusting in her actions and so she forgot they were treated as strange or dangerous by most. This sort of reaction wasn't anything new, people often questioned her way of doing things. Hearing she wanted to take his blood deffinitely startled him. The woman just had to think of a way to explain everything and get him to trust her, otherwise they would really get nowhere. Hopefully if she slowed down, he'd let her do the job. An apology would most likely be the best way to start over.

"I'm sorry if my question startled you but there's no need to worry. I only want to help. Taking a little bit of blood and comparing it to someone's healthy blood can show what's wrong. The colour and flow of it can also aid in figuring out what poison was actually used. You won't miss it. I could also do a body check and give you time to think, you wouldn't mind if I examined your arms and legs right?"

Atifae wondered how badly she scared him. It wouldn't be surprising if he told her to leave there and then. Yet she stayed hopeful they'd reach a compromise.

Moyro eyed her with suspicion as he did with practically every healer given his current circumstances.

"And these methods have worked before?"

The woman wondered about the reply for a few seconds. She had taken blood before and she had also carried out body examination. Atifae could say with total confidence that her methods helped make an educated assumption as to what the patient was suffering from. However, this was her first time dealing with such poison effects and what she was about to do only worked in theory.

"They work most of the time. Well, they've worked in similar cases."

"Similar?" the word bounced around in the back of his head as he laid there somewhat dumbstruck that this young Solarian woman had such audacity.

True it was a never before seen poison that afflicted him. If it were traditional healers, they too would have difficulty deriving a cure. Moyro remained skeptical, but there was something about her that he could trust unlike the traditional healers who worked in the Houses of Healing.

After some contemplating stares at the young doctor, "Very well then."

It would not be the first time that Moyro had seen his own blood. The purplish fluid was rather different from the red that humans had. He only hoped that she knew what she was doing, and that she could be trusted.

Relief washed over her as the man finally agreed. She didn't want to waste time and quickly began preparing to take a sample of his blood. She opened her kit and took out a syringe. It was made mostly of glass and had a thick needle. Atifae found a suitable place on the man's arm and prepared to insert the needle with care.

"It will only hurt a little, like a pinch."

The needle went in smoothly and soon the man's blood was visible through the glass tube. Once it was full, Atifae slowly took out the needle and put a piece of cotton where some blood still escaped. She examined the purpulish blood with interest. She had examined Vauls blood once or twice before, enough for her to tell something was a little off. It was ticker than normal and had a darker shade. It wasn't enough for it to be snake venom, if so the man wouldn't be lying in front of her but it had similar qualities. However, the way the man's body reacted after drinking the poison was the same as the effects of certain poisonous plants. Atifae was intrigued. Either could have been easily discovered by other healers, so it was highly possible a mixture or a plant the doctor had never encountered before was used. There wasn't much she could do against an unknown poison but she didn't want to give up.

"See, that wasn't too bad. It still leaves us with questions though." Sometimes a change of diet with certain atributes helped. Maybe the effects of the poison would simply pass with time. The woman had even heard of symptoms going away but appearing to be present due to the patients metallity, although that wouldn't explain the blood.

"Did your tea taste any different when you drank it?"

"No," Moyro replied, "It tasted the same as usual."

His answer did narrow things down. A lot of poison had a strong taste but there was a number which didn't. Deciding for definite what was effecting the man's body was still close to impossible. She didn't really need to know the posion. While the source of the problem was still unknown to her a counter measure could still be applied. Trying a few things wouldn't hurt. Her approach might have been wrong the whole time, expecting to fix a complex problem in an hour was ridiculous. She needed time to think. Maybe a little investigation outside of the room would help.

"I don't assume anyone thought of keeping what the tea was served in?"

"My servants thoroughly clean the dinner wares," Moyro immediately latched on to her thought, "Unfortunately."

He realized that she was trying to determine the poison by physical traces left on the wares.

She had a mind, he could give her that as he stared at her with his quick blinking Vaul eyes. She was unlike most healers who were almost always ready to apply a general technique or method, a traditional "cure-all," as he saw it.

Another one of her leads was cut off just like that. She was running out of ideas, her mind frantically searching for an answer. Atifae was on the verge of giving up. This was turning out to be way above her and yet she kept thinking, not wanting to lose. The assassin must have been skilled, and the poison secrative and effective but it didn't completely work. If a big mistake was made such as not killing the man then there must have been a back door to fixing this. There was nothing with a definite death sentance in the world, or so she believed. Maybe she was over complicating things. If complexity didn't work, she'd try something simple. Inability to move was most likely caused by deteriorating muscles. She, with time, through her work had learned that certain foods helped different parts of the body. Atifae rummaged through the back of her head for any food she knew which could possibly help with his condition.

"So, how much do you like beans?"

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Alleara Delegio Character Portrait: Estios Hultyce

Earnings

0.00 INK

[Co-written with SkullsandSlippers]

96th Day

Sanctum of the Timekeepers


It took time to traverse the rest of the sands to the sanctum. Alleara was warm and sweaty but the time they reached the door and the shade cast by the building.

"Thank the gods." She breathed as she stepped into the cool shadow.

"Do we knock? Do we open the door? I had thought to be here with the lords and never thought to look into what to do should I be alone." Alleara frowned as she lowered her make shift scarf from her face. The wind had died down now that they had walls to block them from it. The sand no longer assaulted their faces or stifled their breathing.

The grand double doors that seemed almost sky-high opened with a giant groan that answered her words.

The captain looked at her before he glanced down the pathway revealing itself as the doors slowly spread apart.

Alleara stared as the doors opened. They were a marvel. Their size, their bulk. Once fully opened Alleara walked forward slowly and cautiously.

"Hello." She spoke out into the darkness, her eyes attempting to adjust increase of shadow. Alleara also noted that the temperature dropped at least another degree as she moved into the actual building.

Out of the darkness came forward two men, both similar in appearance. Estios assumed these were the Keepers. He had never seen them before, even when he was escorting lords to and from the Sanctum. He had never been inside before to know what they looked like. He would never have imagined that they looked so foreign, almost as though they were not quite human.

Their robes covered them almost completely, leaving no skin bare aside from that of their hands and head. Their facial features were quite similar almost as if they were one and the same. They were both bald, and pale as if they had never been touched by the sun. Their eyes were blue with a seemingly eerie and unnatural glow. Their cheekbones were raised high, and their lips were thin. The only difference that separated them were their height. The Keeper on the right was a head shorter than his compatriot.

Interestingly, both had tattoos and markings on their foreheads. Strange symbols that did hinted at some ancient language based on images rather than characters, they were very similar to the Queen Bitava's own birthmarks. One had a circle at the center of his forehead. The other had a line run horizontal to his eye before cutting down his cheek.

Alleara stood very still as the two approached. She suddenly was unsure of what to say or do. Without the lords she wasn't even sure she could get anything out of these men.

"Hello. We come seeking information." Her voice echoed though she did not speak loudly. Alleara swallowed.

"You come for the late queen," the two Keepers waved the two wanderers in.

Alleara nodded slowly, confusion on her face. "Yes, we come seeking information about her last days."

She wasn't sure how they knew. Had the lords sent news ahead? Had news of what happened reached the Sanctum already? Alleara was slightly on edge. She looked at Estios hoping he had some idea of what was going on.

"We are investigating some deaths in Solaria and wish to find out about the queen's final days. Would that be possible?"

"We were expecting an entourage of lords and soldiers a day or two ago."

It appeared the Keepers were unaware of the political upheavals taking place in Solaria. It was none of their business anyway. The Timekeepers' only purposes were to keep a measure of time and history for all who dwelled in the Ba'Gatha. Their sanctums were neutral territory to the frail politics of mortals. Their service to the Sun Lord was more austere than that of Matriarchs of Solaria or any other religious group for that matter.

As the two entered, the Keepers closed the giant doors behind them, sealing the bright sun away. Inside, they were almost bathed in darkness, almost. In the atrium, the sunlight shone onto a giant dial in the center. Estios studied the domed ceiling above them, there were several structures shaped like arcs that were interwoven to form a sphere meant to represent the sun.

Alleara followed, hands gripping her dress. She felt like a trapped animal even though they were being welcomed in. She didn't know how to handle this, that is what the lords had been for. Traitors and murderers...

"We thank you for seeing us."

"Come," the two Keepers spoke in an elevated tone that pierced the ever enveloping silence as they had walked in.

As the two keepers walked, their arms remained at their side. They seemed untouchable and pure. Estios had expected more of them as they walked through the pristine halls.

Alleara felt so out of her element that she felt ill. Worry knotted in her stomach as she followed them. She wondered how many visitors they received and if everyone who entered here felt the way she did.

As they walked Alleara couldn't help at look around. The architecture was phenominal. She had to keep from asking them questions about the building.

There was a moment as they walked deeper in that Alleara looked back over her shoulder toward the entrance and the feeling of being trapped overwhelmed her. Too late now. She knew that they needed to do something, to find out more. Alleara wasn't sure what was happening, what the lords were saying back home but unless she tried to continue the investigation she had no way to fight them.

"Excuse me, but where are the others?"

"Busy," the reply was terse and clipped.

Estios would have pursued further, but he felt as though the Keepers were not the conversing type. They moved with a gait that was befitting priests or wisemen as though they were on a holy sojourn.

Alleara frowned at the answer. Perhaps that is just the way they are. I can appreciate those who focus on work, the tasks at hand and have no time for small talk. She couldn't figure out why it left an odd feeling in the pit of her stomach.

She tried to keep up. She glanced at Estios and tried to look calm and reassuring though she didn't feel it.

Alleara had questions too but given the way the Keepers answered Estios she wasn't sure she would be satisfied or even get an answer. Instead she just kept following, counting the footsteps and the listening to the echoes as they moved deeper into the sanctum.

They walked through what seemed to be numerous maze-like halls, the captain himself was unsure at times which direction they went inside the structure. It seemed more like a temple to time itself than a hall of records or library as it was thought to be. The two Keepers, their guides, walked on in silence. They spoke not of where they were going, nor did they ask any further questions to the two visitors.

Then they finally stopped, outside a pair of large chamber doors, presumably leading into another wing of the building. They were large plain doors made of the same material as the great outer doors, but these felt thicker. There was nothing elaborate to them, these doors were like any other doors that they had passed. One of the Keepers bowed to the other and departed down the same hall they went. The other finally turned around to face the two of them.

"In here," he bade them follow as the giant doors began to reveal large columns and racks lined with scrolls on end. It was a quiet chamber, a rather large one. Estios was surprised at the size of the room, for when his sight first came upon the structure from the outside he would never have guessed that the Sanctum could such a large chamber.

Alleara's eyes went wide as she looked at the racks of scrolls. The space was expansive and she was struck by just how much history was stored here. She was taught from a young age about this place but now witnessing it was awe inspiring.

"There is so much history in this place...." Alleara looked around. She stopped for a moment and then quickly followed so as not to be left behind. She had questions but held her tongue for the moment.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mox Ierba Character Portrait: Jolo Grossman Character Portrait: Vander Zalek Character Portrait: Taro Zalek Character Portrait: Seth Elijah

Earnings

0.00 INK

[Co-written with VindicatedPurpose and Mr. Baneling Squishy]

96th Day

Protectorate City

Southwestern Edge


"Are you sure you want to do this?" Jolo asked.

"I'm going to need something for the journey. After all that I've been through, I need some protection."

Mox walked ahead of the ranger on their way to his forge. The weaponsmith trudged in tattered boots, still good for several forays into the desert. The city streets were much rougher in more ways than one could think. The ones leading to the district where he once called home were not quite finished. Rough and cracked.

The others were told to wait near the departure hangars, Mox and Jolo would only take a bit of time to find something useful.

As they reached the epicenter of the explosion that had cracked a hole in the city's wall, Jolo wandered toward the construction site. Repairs were underway as laborers and soldiers carried cut stone to fill the eyesore of a hole. The wall was the only thing that could have been considered perfect, it covered the shambles of a city known as Protectorate City.

Other guards stood watch, two attacks days apart from each other would have made the the City appear weak and defenseless.

They rounded a corner of markets where people milled about making the days' rounds. It was a busy intersection, smoke and fires billowing from the restaurants and the forges that had not been blown apart. Then they finally reached the spot where it all happened as Mox could recall. It looked different, his forge was a wreck. He thought he would find some squatters, or maybe in the six or so days he had been gone, someone else had moved into that little patch of the city to do business.

His hammer and anvil were gone, which meant thieves. This also meant that his items were at least of value for someone else to steal. That was one way Mox looked at it. The fire in the hearth that fueled his metal works was long put out, and he was sure that beggars had come along to sip the water from the slack tub. He wandered about among the pieces of metal that littered the ground. The bellows was gone, probably stolen by one of the nearby blacksmiths. Mox did not dare eye the other smiths who had their forges near his. None of them dared to oust a fellow smith for thievery, and they would say that it was his fault for not watching his station.

There was no home left for him, even the furnishings in the shed behind his hearth had been taken. They cleaned it out thoroughly. Mox scanned the wreckage before he spotted something that he thought could be useful.




Protectorate City

Vander's Ship


During his moment of peace during his time on the airship, Seth had been pondering about his life in general. Being an assassin was a pain in the ass sometimes, but then he remembered why he was doing this. Some kind of path that he couldn't go away. If he goes on his own way and reveal to the public where is his organisation, his head will be rolling on the ground in no times. However, he did find enjoyment in what he was doing: he wasn't bound to a single place to a single task. Killing may seem to be a single task on its own, but there was several ways to do it. Everything was plan from the beginning to the end. Dare he to set-up traps for everyone to fall in.

Seth moved towards the front of the upper deck which was giving a good view of the Protectorate City. From this perspective, it will be in minutes that they will arrive to destination. He wasn't so sure how the rest of the day will pass. One thing was sure; he'll have to kill Jolo some day. Or did he? It is his choice, after all. It was the five targets first, then him in extra. Seth wasn't a fool; he knew Jolo is a much harder target. First, there is little know about his whereabouts. Second and foremost, he knew how to protect himself. It would probably won't be the first time he is attacked by assassin. All came to one thing: if he wants to. He recall the being's specifically saying it was on his own demand.

Seth leaned forward on the railing. His elbows on it and his head on his hands. Whatever he was about to do today, he felt that it is going to be different from what he will expect.

As they docked, Vander had his men ready their weapons, and keep watch. He had a plan, and getting robbed wasn't part of it. Taro was making sure all the cargo they had picked up and decided to carry was secure.

As they approached the docks, various people were there to pick up the packages. They all had different proofs of purchases. Some had a special mark tattooed on their hand that marked a specific piece of cargo. Others had letters and documents. Some accounted for the contents inside, before Vander would open to confirm. For lack of better words, this was a proof of purchase. TO show they were in fact the owners of the cargo.

Once that was done, they would start selling the other pieces of cargo to various shop owners, get some supplies, make sure they were all set for the trip back. Technically, they already had ample supplies, but Vander preferred not to risk it. And a bribe of water was often as good as a bribe of gold. As he did this, Taro walked up next to Seth. "Some people think the desert looks the most beautiful in the morning, but me, I prefer the city view. Especially in the morning, when the sunlight highlights all the buildings. What is your preference?"

Seth shrugged lightly, looking back at Taro. "Neither of them sounds different to me. I prefer to see the market in the evening. It is fun to think how many people have stomped on these tiles, and how different they are from one to another." He would say.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mox Ierba Character Portrait: Jolo Grossman Character Portrait: Vander Zalek Character Portrait: Taro Zalek Character Portrait: Seth Elijah Character Portrait: Yeron Reid Character Portrait: Portia Latisse Character Portrait: Melio

Earnings

0.00 INK

[Co-written with VindicatedPurpose, Dementedness, Redred33mer, conor]

96th Day

Protectorate City

Airship Docking


The group watched as an airship pulled into the hangar. They stood in the middle of a group of patiently waiting passengers on a departure platform several feet off the ground. Eian and Shari had their belongings bare to the rest of the travelers. Others could tell that they were itinerants, not city-dwellers.

Kaidman waited with the messengers and Jolo's friend, Yeron. There was a bit of a lull in this part of town, the excitement of the blast and seemingly random attacks on Protectorate City seemed to have calmed down in only a few days, but it was surely still a hot topic. The young swordsman looked at the messengers who only tagged along for the receiving of payment.

Portia stood in the back watching their conversation with interest. Her eyes shifted to each one of them from time to time before resting on Kaidman. There was something off about him, but that was nothing more than a feeling. She had seen him fight, was it luck? No man was ever lucky. He was hiding something. Yeron's presence, though, was unexpected, he was a possible threat to her plans. She scanned the platform for Melio, landing upon a drak who's face was covered beneath a wide brimmed hat.

He returned her gaze from his end as he was separated from her by a throng of passengers waiting to board. The gray-scaled Drak watched the group closely amid the crowd. He recognized the two desert walkers who were the messengers. He also spotted Jolo, who was supposed to be dead. The younger man was likely part of their entourage. The older man, he had the bearings of a ranger. He looked somewhat familiar. Where was Jolo?

"How much exactly are you looking for in compensation? If you had to put a number in bezants on it?" Kaidman asked.

"We were promised two hundred fifty," Shari spoke.

She was as candid as ever, her partner, Eian remained quiet.

"I'll remember that," Kaidman noted. He recalled their being an agreement that they would get a cut of the treasure, if it was real that is. And whatever may be hidden out in the desert could be worth much more. He'd rather not have his new friend, a weaponsmith with his forge just obliterated, be schemed out of a chance to recover well from his misfortune.

"It is quite a bit less than what the city was promising in exchange for bags full of bandit heads and hands," Eian added, "We were hoping we could sustain ourselves a bit and work some other odd jobs if we could not find the receiver of the letter."

"Your friend sounds like he's in a bit of trouble," Shari glanced at Kaidman.

"He was. I must question why he has been the target of an attack like this. Who did he know? And what was known by them? It seems someone went to considerable lengths to track messengers like you and try to assail you. This is while they were trying to kidnap Mox," he explained.

"We're just messengers, we know nothing of the politics that plague your friend," Eian replied in his tactiturn manner. He added nothing more to what he thought was a sufficient answer.

"What do you know?" Kaidman directed his question at Yeron.

"I honestly wish I could answer that for you. I've been out in the desert so long, and it's hard to get believable stories from people on their travels. I rushed back as soon as I got solid intel that the attacked had happened. Too late to do anything of course but I figure something like this Jolo could use another rifle around."

Yeron stroked his beard and gazed out into the distance.

"Something don't feel right though, yanno? Treasure in the middle of the desert, free, no strings attached treasure. Combine that with all the happenings recently it seems damn suspicious. Not that I mind, hell my ol' trigger finger was getting itchy anyway" finishing with a hearty chuckle and wink in Kaidman's direction.

"Yeah, well whoever's interested in our suffering is playing for the win. I cracked my ribs a few days ago taking a bullet in my armor, when I found Mox," Kaidman told the Ranger. "And they seem to have numbers, too."

"Damn, ribs are a painful one. Nasty bit of hurting in that."

"It's fine to have the numbers but it won't do a load of good if you've got the mental capacity of a headless Yakola."

Shari giggled, "I've seen those around, they make better meat than mounts."

Eian cleared his throat at her comment, "I don't believe that treasure is anywhere close to free."

"I agree, they're damn tasty." He replied to the young girl. "Well knowing our luck it probably won't, but time will tell what price has to be paid. If any."

Kaidman considered the situation for a moment before he said aloud, "I almost want to go myself, for fear of harm and loss of any one of you. We wouldn't want the few that have important pieces to this puzzle to be lost. But if I do go, I'm also afraid you may not hear from me again."

"Careful there, some of that is for us," Shari clipped.

"Shari," Eian cut in.

"No, 250 bezants worth is yours. You just said, and that's if it even exists," Kaidman answered sharply.

"I just wanna shoot some bandits."

"And that attitude will find you dead," Kaidman replied.

"Well I'm gonna die someday anyway, if I can go down making those sons o' bitches scream then i'll die happy. I hate bandits, they're scum."

"Yeah, and Jolo isn't too far off with his age. If he and you were to just drop dead that'd upset the Rangers as a whole mighty well. Ever hear the saying, 'live to fight another day?'" Kaidman responded to Yeron. He was getting restless just standing there and began to pace a little bit, looking around. He spotted a hooded woman and fixed his eyes upon her. It was the Ranger they were with yesterday.

"Sure I have, but there's a reason to my madness. I've seen things that will haunt me. I've put bullets through the skulls of men who were lucky to die so easy. It's hell out there, and I know you know it. But the only way I can do this day after day is if I go out with the expectation of not coming back. That way I don't have to worry about emotion effecting judgment. If I do come back in one piece then I count my lucky stars and go again tomorrow. It's a vicious cycle but if you go in with no expectations then nothing can go wrong."

There was a void in the conversation following the veteran's words. Numerous other mouths speaking in various corners of the hangar filled the lull.

"Portia, is it?" Kaidman called, trying to remember her name.

"Coming to join the party?" Her stance was questionable, as it seemed she had been standing there for a bit. The fact made him uneasy; she had no reason to stay back like that, and she had left the previous night for a rather guessable reason.
Yeron leaned against a wall. Maybe Kaidman wouldn't understand but hell everyone has their own way of coping. He snapped out when Kaidman began talking to Portia.

"Ha, tell you what. I ain't seen a soul better with a blade than Portia. She'll gut a man before he even realizes what's happened. I'm glad she's a ranger, otherwise I might just have nightmares of her roaming the desert for the other side" he chuckled once more carrying a smile that would light up anyone's day.

Portia eyed the warrior closely, she remained aloof of their conversation, but her ear was interested in what they had to say. She smiled a modest smile in reply to Yeron's comment about her blade work before she turned to Kaidman, "Don't let me stop you."
Kaidman considered her words. What exactly did she mean by that?

"I have nowhere to go to be stopped. A possible few bandits doesn't mean very much to me," he stated plainly. "What makes you think you're in my way?"

Her lips remained closed as Mox and Jolo rejoined them.

Jolo puffed away with a cigar tucked to the side of his mouth, Mox was in tow gripping a long slab of bladed metal that he had retrieved from his forge. It was the only useful thing that still remained, valueless, but still useful. He could hack a bandit in half with it if he wanted to. It was wrapped up in bands of fabric that he found strewn on the ground. If he had the time, he would have shaped it into smoother steel with which to protect himself with. The two of them emerged from the crowd to join the others already waiting for them.

"Did you all get along while we were gone?" Jolo asked.

To which Kaidman simply ignored the question, continuing to stare at the figure that kept itself mysterious. He chose to ignore Yeron's comments as well, as he was a more foolhardy individual. On some level, you had to be to be a Ranger, but Yeron's overt headstrong nature was excessive to the point of being careless. It's why he went to Jolo rather than Yeron first if there was a problem among the sands.




The group was at the van of the passengers onboard the platform. Jolo spotted a ship captain as he was ordering his crew mates to unload supplies from his ship.

"Excuse me sir, are you headed to Spire Canyon by any chance?"

The man turned to Jolo, "Spire Canyon? No sir, we're headed east."

Jolo nodded his head at the man's reply, Spire Canyon was west. Jolo rejoined the group as they searched for an available ship.

"Jolo, do we really need an airship to get out to Spire Canyon? It's at most three days of walking, if you only do ten miles a day that is," Kaidman complained. He wasn't one for getting tangled in the mess of civilization's organized chaos, though he admired it. Societies made things possible which were not possible before.

"Is it now? That's three days of non-stop walkin'. We could probably get there in a day and be back in two."

The old ranger paused, rubbing his beard, which had since the ninetieth, regrown. He had not the time to condition his facial hair, but such was the life of a ranger.

"But somethin' tells me that we might not be headin' back," Jolo swung a look at Kaidman, "Call it a gut feelin' kid. 'Sides, I'm sure you've never flown befo'."

Taro overheard the man, as he was dealing with a delivery. Some letters to various people, some tried to kept their faces hidden but did it poorly, and one of the letters seemed to cause some stir among the person who got it. Taro couldn't tell if it was good news or bad. He did know however, that he and Vander were going past Spire Canyon.

Kaidman followed along before having the chance to ask, "Jolo, you're talking as if you're getting to old for this stuff. I don't mean to be rude, but maybe you should skip out on this adventure. I can get to Spire Canyon and back without an issue, and if something went wrong, you'd know." The young swordsman looked at Jolo, his brow furrowed; his friend had been a Ranger, a self-perpetuating entity, for at least as long as Kaidman had been alive. Perhaps Jolo was getting too old.

Jolo took another puff from the still lit cig; he learned to sustain them for quite a bit longer than most smokers. Even if he barely smoked as much as most smokers. He considered Kaidman's points carefully, or appeared as though he were.

"Sounds like you're the one callin' me old, but don't worry I'm not that old. We're goin' along because I think that treasure has a trail to it. Seems a bit coincidental that bandits kidnap that boy yonder," Jolo jabbed a thumb back at Mox, who was with the rest of the group, "Then we return to the city, where he receives a letter and death threats aimed at keepin' him away from some supposed treasure. It's what I do. So help me find a ship."

"Maybe I can help?" Taro asked, walking over to them. "My father is the Captain of the 'Morning's Light,' and we are headed that way, if I heard you right and you're headed toward Spire Canyon. It happens to be on our route, not even a detour. Good prices."

Taro made it sound genuine, but Vander had told him at least some of that phrasing. Just to be safe. Taro might be a good shot for his age, but he was only average with words. Vander was typically better at it. "Our ship is right this way, if you want to see for yourself".

As Jolo heard the boy, his gaze shifted to Kaidman, who shrugged at the mention of boarding the ship called Morning's Light, before he returned to the boy. A smile slowly formed on his lips, "Well, lead the way then, young man."

Jolo gestured with a head nod at the others to follow. Mox, Portia, Yeron, and the two messengers joined them.

Melio watched from afar, he remained a spy in the backdrop of the crowded hangar. He watched the group board the ship that was known as Morning's Light. He eyed the contours of the ship and the little details that separated it from the others in that hangar. He made a note of remembering the little boy's face. After he had seen all that he needed to see, he turned his gaze toward Portia. She replied with a batting of her eyelashes. He smiled and turned a corner, departing from the platforms.

Yeron kept quiet about the whole situation, he never liked flying. Suspended high up above the desert on a flimsy platform just didn't appeal to him for some crazy reason. Still, he remained silent and followed along. The whole idea of this trip felt off. Even here now in the airship platform he felt an uneasiness. The years of training kicked in and his eyes jumped from person to person. He peered into every dark corner as he passed. All the while clutching at the rifle he had slung on his shoulder. At least in the desert the bandits had few places to actually hide, here someone could disappear in the blink of an eye. Something shady folk tended to do when rangers were about.

"Oh," Kaidman interjected, "did I mention that cavemen usually don't carry money with them?" In a way, he felt guilty, for he needed to rely on others because he could not pay the fee himself.

Mox overheard Kaidman, "He's not the only one."

Jolo turned to look at the two younger men, he shook his head and smiled, "Freeloaders."

"Well, it's a trading ship, so you can use cargo as barter if needs be," he noted as he led them toward the ship. It wasn't uncommon for trading vessels to accept cargo as payment. And it was usually a lot easier. The value of money altered itself on where you were. Cargo did not vary as much.

"We have plenty of room, so you don't need to worry about space".

“How much would it cost to take us to Spire Canyon?” Jolo asked.

Just Spire canyon, Mox wondered about the return trip. Will there be a return trip?

Taro told them the price. It was more then land transport, but reasonable for airship prices. Plus, Airships would be safer then traveling on the ground. And if anyone took a good look, they would see that they had plenty of cargo room because their airship had a large cargo hold.

As the discussion goes on outside of his cabin, the assassin showed the tip of his nose to the sun. He was leaning against a shadowed wall, trying to eavesdrop into the discussion. 'Spire Canyon, hm?' He thought to himself, walking towards outside of the small room. He watched the group of misfits, a small smirk on his face, but his gaze quickly met with Jolo's figure. He blinked once, twice before realising his luck. He looked around. Too many witnesses with very little openings. He shrugged; he had time. Nonchalantly, the man walked towards the group, approaching Jolo.

Mox saw that the Boy ran ahead, probably to alert the owner of the ship. He wondered what a kid was doing in the hangars. The others, Portia, Eian, and Shari went along ahead of him.

"Alright move along," Jolo watched the group merge into the crowd of the airship's departing passengers.

He shook his head at Yeron, "Like herding Grelbs."

"Jolo!" Seth called out as he approached. "I need to talk to you," his eyes then swept over to the other people before coming back to the man he was talking to, "And in private. It'll take only a few seconds."

"Do I know you?" Jolo's eyes narrowed at the stranger dressed in a tatter of scarves.

He snickered a bit, resting a hand on his hips. "Well, no, of course you don't." He shrugged. "Workin' under some Claude person. Look, I'm not here to cause trouble. If you really want, I can leave my belongings to your group if you really want to make it safe."

The old ranger eyed the stranger, he was an odd fellow. Jolo brushed him off and continued.

Seth shrugged. "Oh well, a ranger like you probably already heard of drakyvarians wanting your head on a diner plate, so I'll pass my turn." He would say, turning away before bidding a farewell to Taro and Vander walking away, outside of the ship.
Jolo paused in his tracks as he heard this, he turned to glance at the fellow who had his back turned toward Jolo as he walked away. The ranger dismissed his words, but anybody who had lived as long as he did, especially in the manner that he lived, would have taken any words from a stranger as more than what they were. Prudence was demanded.

The cargo was tucked away and the passengers were assigned whatever quarters to sleep in. Vander told everyone the rules of the ship.

"No shooting each other, no explosives, play nice, no stealing. I keep a tight watch over the cargo, and trust me, we will know and we will find you. We will employ the utmost safety and security. Please remember to not hog supplies either. Those that are on this ship are also closely watched."