Walking The Past
This is a collection of stories that tell of the adventures and history of Jaired Delone, written by the player.
- 1 The Light
- 2 Pieces
- 3 A Good Day
- 4 A Fine Meal
- 5 A Dozen or So
- 6 One or Two
- 7 No Good Deed
- 8 Ebon
- 9 Much to Learn
- 10 Wake Up
- 11 The Sound
- 12 Just Like That
- 13 There and Then
- 14 Now Again
- 15 Here on Out
- 16 Strange Company
- 17 Good Enough
- 18 The Song
- 19 Humming Along
- 20 Sweet Home
- 21 Make the Most of It
- 22 Get Used to It
- 23 The Plan
- 24 Moments
- 25 Rebuild
- 26 Brothers
- 27 Tears
- 28 Revelation
- 29 Debts
- 30 Memento
- 31 Remembrance
- 32 The Spire
- 33 Wake Up
- 34 Answer
- 35 No Worries
- 36 Hold On
- 37 The Hard Way
- 38 More to Show
- 39 For Now
- 40 In the Way
- 41 Finish It
- 42 One Last Thing
- 43 Farewell
- 44 Reunion
The light was searing. He didn't know how long he was unconscious, and the last thing he remembered was the impossible sight of a colossal wave. All things considered, he should be dead. Come to think of it, maybe he was. The common saying is that pain reminds one that they're alive. There was no pain, no sound. Just the impossibly bright light. He tried to feel his way around to get an idea of where he was, but there was naught but a complete lack of sensation from his limbs. It was subtle, but a familiar scent crept its way across his senses. Salt? No, that was what he expected to smell. The taste on the air was hot and dry. Sand... and something else. Something smelled awful.
Then there was pain.
It was dull at first and seemed more like a fleeting recollection, not all together different from a long healed scar that only ached when it was remembered. The pain grew however, and before long it was as though his wounds were simply set aflame. The light began to fade. Good. He could hear voices now. They were muffled and their words were alien to him, but, it was starting to make sense. Someone had saved him. Before long he could only see the blackness of his eyelids as he strained to open them. The tender brush of fingertips against his brow evoked a sudden burst of anger. How dare someone touch him? He quickly and forcibly grabbed the offending wrist and snapped his eyes open in a harsh glare.
She smiled down at him, her blue eyes in an unnatural calm even as he threatened to crush her delicate wrist. The sides of the tent rippled ever so slightly in the wind as his eyes quickly darted from side to side. Multi-colored beads, totems of carved bone and ivory, and various hand-sewn weaves were strung from the tent's supports. The scent of strange, nearly noxious burning herbs offended his senses as he returned his glare to the woman's eyes. Those perfectly calm, disarming eyes. He felt his expression soften as his grip around her wrist began to ease. He didn't let go, however. Her response was to simply dip the fingertips of her other hand into the shallow clay bowl of mixed, crushed herbs. She had the strangest smile. It was as though she already knew him.
He could hear arguing outside of the tent. He knew one of the voices, but the others may as well have been a chorus of discord of foreign and heated words. He gazed for a long moment into the woman's eyes as he felt his own grow heavy. She pressed her fingertips once more upon his brow as he let out a heavy breath. He was safe now. He could rest.
This wasn't real. That woman, this tent, that voice outside. He tried to force his eyes open and sit up when the light suddenly seared at his eyes once again. It was just as before but without any of the unnecessary build up. The pain shifted and scattered all about before the heavy taste of salt lingered upon the air. As the light receded he felt a cool cloth dabbing against his burning forehead. His eyes were so heavy. They opened into narrow slits to gather the sight of a young Erithian girl, whom nearly dropped the cloth as she sprang up with a gasp. She cried out and dashed immediately towards the door of the cabin. Yes. No doubt about it, he was aboard a ship. Light poured through the room as the door flung open, the girl's silhouette blocking his view of the outside world. He couldn't make out the word she shouted over and over again, but the sound of a girl calling out for her father transcended language. He closed his eyes and took in a long, heavy breath.
He was safe now.
He could rest.
They had left him alone in the tent, but he could hear voices right outside. More arguing. They went back and forth in hushed tones, but, it was easy to ascertain that the subject at hand was an uncomfortable one. There was no doubt that he was the subject. He idly wondered why they didn't bother to constrain him in any way, but the moment he tried to lift his hand to scratch at a nagging itch at the side of his nose, pain shot through his entire body like a flash of lightning. It would seem in his current situation such restraints were unnecessary. And what was that smell? It continued to offend his senses and for the life of him he couldn't place it. Were they burning dung? Primitive savages. If he were home he would at least have the luxury of an empath to properly and efficiently see to his wounds.
He struggled to gaze over the bandages that seemed to encase his entire body. Dark patches of drying blood mottled with the curious colors of foreign herbs gave him clue as to where the worst injuries were, but, all he could do for the moment was lay there. A frustrated breath hissed through his teeth as his fingers curled into a fist. How did he let this happen? The voices raised in pitch suddenly as a figure burst forth through the tent's flap. The man swung his arm in a wild gesture towards the opening, dismissing those outside with a harshly shouted remark. He didn't have to know the language to know that the man was telling them exactly where they could go.
The man was the one who had saved him; the one that had called himself Rothel, and he rushed quickly through the center of the tent and towards him. He tried to lift an arm to protect himself to no avail, but out of the corner of his eye the woman from earlier swiftly rose and strode to cut short the transgression. Where did she come from? The movement caught him by surprise, as he had figured she left during his slumber, but it quickly dawned upon him that she never left his side. There was no reading Rothel's face, as it was well hidden behind several thick layers of linen, but his shoulders visibly relaxed as the woman gently placed her hand upon his chest and leaned in towards him. It was obvious that the two were close. They exchanged a few whispered words, and with an assured nod she stepped aside as Rothel approached to crouch down beside him.
"You deserve to know that the tribe wants to leave you to die upon the sands," he spoke in practiced common, with only a hint of an accent touching at his words, "I have convinced them for now not to do so."
His eyes narrowed into a seething glare as he listened to Rothel's words. They were of little comfort and he tried to speak up about it, but a harsh cough wracked at his throat and lungs instead. The woman quickly knelt beside him and placed her warm palm upon his brow, easing his head back into the roll of fabric that made up his pillow. He glanced towards her a moment as she simply smiled down upon him. That strange, small little smile. It seemed almost without thought as she took his hand into each of her's to cradle it in a gentle, comforting grasp. His first instinct was to pull it away, but, he felt strangely unopposed to the gesture as he turned his attention back to Rothel.
"You are going to have to earn it, however," Rothel continued, his words deliberate and matter-of-fact as he shot a glance to the woman for a short while before letting his gaze fall back down upon him, "It won't be easy, but for now, get your rest."
The light was fading again, and as his eyes crept opened he could see the hairy filaments of the cocoon rapidly unraveling and falling to the floor in sheer clumps. A trio of armed Erithians stared at him from across the cabin, their mouths slightly agape as he swiftly rose back to his feet and began dusting off a few errant strands from his shoulders. He glanced towards the open window in a squint as the image of several young faces peeking in at the spectacle took shape. Their mouths were a bit more agape. Well, that was one way to make an impression... but the silence was starting to get palpable.
"See? Harmless," he assured, showing them the cocoon in his hand before lobbing it back towards the younger Erithian on the left, whom caught it cautious, near juggle before tucking it back into the munitions case that they had confiscated, "Its a healing cocoon, just as I said."
The three slowly exchanged looks and then set their gaze back upon him. The one on the right set his hand upon the scabbard at his hip in a not-all-together-threatening gesture, but, the message was received nonetheless. Jaired stepped back and held his hands up at shoulder height to assure them that he had no ill intent for any of them, but, it was painfully obvious that they had no idea how to speak common. It was almost impossible to convince them to fish out the cocoon and give it to him.
"Can you speak Elven?" he asked as he switched to the dialect in question.
This got a reaction from the one in the middle, whom turned and spoke quickly to the younger man to the left. He gave a curt bow of understanding before disappearing through the door. Damn, why hadn't he thought of that sooner? Too much blood loss. Yeah, that was it.
"Say. When he gets back, how about you toss me my flask next?"
A Good Day
He was a bit taken back by the amount of freedom they were allowing him for now. The three guards kept a vigilant eye upon him, however, as he wasn't exactly a welcomed guest. For the time at least it was clear that he wasn't exactly a prisoner either. All in all it was a good day for sailing. Fair winds, relatively clear skies, and only the gentle roll of lazily passing swells. There was nothing to do, though. His flask had been tainted by seawater and these Erithians seemed to know nothing of whiskey or rum. What kind of vessel was this? No rum? He didn't know the first thing about sailing, either, so he wasn't of much help aside from swabbing the deck on occasion... which he was not above doing if they would ask, but, they didn't.
"The Captain doesn't believe your story," came a familiar voice in fairly adept Elven. Between the delicate spectacles perched upon his nose, his finely layered robe, and his neatly cinched sash... he almost looked like he was trying to capture the image of a studious looking snob.
"It is hard to blame him, no?" Jaired asked facetiously, not really regarding the man as he reached aside to pat at the pages of his nearby sketchbook. Nope, not dry yet. He hadn't met or caught glimpse of the captain yet, and the three guards from earlier seemed to be the only armed individuals, "Here I was hoping truth would prove stranger than fiction."
"He thinks you're a pirate. That you were thrown overboard, and..." he stated before stopping abruptly as pair of children hesitantly began to walk their direction, being careful not to make eye contact as their steps hurried into a run as they went past. Soon as they felt safely far enough away, they returned to their original gait. Also content with their distance, the Erithian continued, "And that you were left to die."
"In either accord you are probably right about the last part," Jaired retorted in a cynical drone as he continued to simply observe the goings on. It wasn't by any means a large vessel, but, it was obviously a transport ship. There was not much of a cargo hold for trade materials, and most of the lower quarters were dedicated to living, "Look, I promise not to be a bother and to help in any way that I can. I don't know much of sailing, but, I'm decent enough with a mop or a stove and I have a certain set of skills that can be rather useful in particular situations."
"Particular situations?" the Erithian questioned, pushing at the center of his spectacles as if in a nervous habit.
"Particular. Situations," Jaired repeated one last time as he finally looked to the Erithian, pushing himself to an uneasy stand while leaning against the rail for support. He stared at him evenly, and for a long moment, "I am not a pirate."
The three guards had made their way closer during the conversation, making no attempt to hide that they were paying very close attention despite their inability to decipher the words being spoke. The translator glanced to each briefly and then gave a nod. They didn't carry on or move away, but they stopped moving any closer.
"I shall speak with him again, but I do not expect his viewpoint to change," the translator says with a barely veiled sigh of annoyance, turning to walk away before offering a shooting glance over his shoulder, "Do not worry. We are not the sort to throw you back into the water, but we're not above keeping you in chains until we make port."
As the translator turned to walk away the three guards began to disperse as well, but each one of them made sure to keep unwavering eye contact upon Jaired just long enough to let him know that he was in no way free to roam and mill about. With a long breath he slid back down into a settled position upon the deck. Yes, it was a good day for sailing... and a good time for a nap.
A Fine Meal
Rothel turned abruptly, the Tehir's brow arched from beneath the creased fabric of his veil. He weighed his next words carefully while he stared down the Faendryl, whom had finally found the strength to sit up for the first time in several days. The woman also glanced up, her head canted to one side in the attempt to try and convey a curious expression. But her eyes always betrayed her.
"Your sword?" Rothel replied, lifting his hand to slowly rub at the bottom of his covered chin.
"I was still holding it when you found me," the Faendryl explained, his voice in a near growl as his fingertips idly gripped their way into the bandages surrounding his thighs, "If I am to do what you ask. I will need it."
"You call that thing a sword?" Rothel questioned, but there was a subtle uneasiness to his words. He was hiding something.
"It is no ordinary sword. No."
"You need a sword?" suddenly the flap of the tent flew open and a younger man waltzed in, a certain swagger carrying him over the sands as he approached Rothel, "I've got swords."
A single foreign word shot from between Rothel's teeth before he turned around to face the man, "What are you doing in here? I specifically told you..."
"Yeah yeah yeah..." the younger man quipped with a dismissive wave of his hand. His face was also veiled, but it was a different color from most the Faendryl had seen. It was the darkest of blues, and seemed to have been treated with the utmost of care and reverence, "I just wanted to finally see what all of the fuss was about. My father says he's going to feed you to the yierkas for the trouble you're causing."
"Your father should trust me by now," Rothel shot back with a frustrated shake of his head, pinching his fingers into the bridge of his nose, "He trusted me with you, after all."
"Hah!" the younger man exclaimed with laughter underlying his following words, "At that time he would have entrusted me with a nest of snakes."
"At least you would have been well fed," Rothel uttered with softening words, his anger obviously subsiding as he glanced up to look at the man eye to eye.
"Snake does make a fine meal, no?" and that was that. The two men seemed to have reached a conclusion to the aggression between one another. The Faendryl also came to a conclusion of his own. That these two men were once mentor and student... and the student would seem to be a man of some standing, for whatever that was worth with these primitive savages.
"He's agreed to help us," Rothel stated plainly, a seriousness taking over his tone while he briefly turned towards the Faendryl with a nod. He appreciated that they were still speaking common. If it were he, he would not allow such a privilege if the tables were turned.
"Oh?" the younger man questioned sardonically, his arms folding over his chest, "And just what did you offer him?"
"Never you mind."
"Now, this is starting to sound good!" the younger man exclaimed, bringing his hands together in a single exuberant clap, "How can I help?"
"I need my sword..." the Faendryl suddenly interjected, not happy that his previous discussion had been so rudely interrupted. If he could stand, he surely would have done so to properly illustrate his displeasure. The healer settled her hand upon his shoulder and simply smiled as she gave her head a slight shake, his aggression fading as he gazed into her oddly calming expression. The woman was a damn witch.
"They'll get your sword," the woman softly assured, her fingertips briefly brushing the black strands of hair from the Faendryl's brow. An uneasy silence filled the tent and it dawned upon the Faendryl that this was the first time that he had actually heard the woman speak. It was obvious at this point that Rothel had left the sword behind and that retrieving it would be no easy task. The younger man's expression appeared smitten, and almost bashful as he nodded in respect towards the woman.
"Indeed we shall, True Seer," the younger man stated, evoking an annoyed response from Rothel whom once again pinched at the bridge of his nose with an exasperated sigh.
"Fine, fine... you want to help?" Rothel asked as he began to walk towards the exit, "Ready two yierkas and two days of rations."
"Anything else... Master?" the young man replied with a heavy coating of sarcasm as he followed behind, the eagerness of his step somewhat betraying the tone of his words.
A Dozen or So
It was another good day for sailing. The captain had decided to spare him for the time after they came to the agreement that their next voyage would be well compensated once they made port. He had enough items and artifacts in his possession to convince them that he was no ordinary man washed to sea. Nor was he a pirate. His sketchbook was finally dry and it was a godsend as he busily drew his next masterpiece.
"Who is that?" came the voice of the Translator from behind, watching from over his shoulder.
"Rothel, my teacher, when he was younger."
"Ah, I see. Is he also from one of your 'visions'?" the Erithian quipped, a light grin touching the corners of his lips, "and younger you say? He still looks old."
"Yes. I've been trying to draw things as I remember them when I come back to. Before they fade," and that was the problem of it. The visions were like dreams, and the smaller details were quickly forgotten within moments. The fragmented state of his own thoughts and his own memories did not help the matter at all, and he often found himself doubting what it was that he saw, "It is making it easier to piece things together."
"I hope you don't mind my prying on the matter, but there is little else to do on this ship."
"Heh," Jaired responded with a chuckle, shaking his head only slightly as he resumed the sketch of his old teacher, "No, talking about it helps."
"What was the last thing you saw?"
"They were looking for my father's sword..."
"So just what did you offer him?" the man asked angrily, thrusting the blade of his shovel into the shifting sands of a seemingly barren dune.
"He is looking for something that he lost, and I agreed to help him find it," Rothel responded, taking a moment to use the stray fabric of his veil to wipe at his glistening brow.
"Wouldn't happen to be this sword, would it?"
Rothel laughed, only to end it with a raspy cough. His age was starting to show, and he knew his old student saw it. The winds and sands had done their work nicely and the scene of carnage had been buried away, but he knew these dunes better than anyone and he remembered the location precisely. They just had to get down to it.
"He was rather up front about the whole thing, and he didn't gloss over anything. I think it was because she was there, and he has figured out why we have her watching him," Rothel explained, stepping aside as another shovelful of sand was sent his direction, "will you stop that?"
"Get back to digging and I'll think about it, old man."
"He is a rogue Palestra of Ta'Faendryl on the run," Rothel continued, taking a hold of his shovel and plunging the abraded iron blade into the dune, "He is tracking a demon that killed the summoner. The man he was supposed to protect. The men buried down here with his sword are the ones that were tracking 'him' to deliver his punishment for failure."
"He killed them all?" the younger man questioned, trying not to sound too impressed, "how many were there?"
"A dozen or so."
"Damn," he replied dryly, taking a moment of rest as he leaned against the handle of his shovel, "He's going to have to kill a lot more than that if he is going to help us."
"He will..." Rothel trailed off, the edge of his shovel impacting something solid with a dulled metallic clang.
One or Two
It was easy to lose track of the days out in the sea. The portals made one take distance for granted, and he still hadn't gotten a straight answer out of the Translator as to when they would make port. The three guards were practicing their sword techniques in the open area of the main deck and he made no attempt to be subtle about watching them as he sat nearby. The oldest among them seemed quite skilled, whereas the youngest seemed to be struggling with the most basic of forms. It was fascinating to observe the 'right' way to wield the Erithian katana. He always had a penchant for the blades since the first time he saw one, and had come to his own conclusions as to how to use them with fair enough effectiveness, but the display proved most enlightening. The strikes they practiced seemed at first glance to be exceedingly basic, but it was clear that the intent of the training was to master the most efficient and devastating attacks without sacrificing a defensive position. Discipline was key, but, the fundamental flaw was that such techniques become easy to read, easy to predict, and easier to exploit once the proper understanding is established. But, to be fair, that could be said of any method. First rule. Know your enemy.
Jaired didn't have of their names, so he was forced to refer to the three as the Kid, the Old Man, and the Lieutenant. He was pretty sure the Lieutenant wasn't actually a lieutenant, but, he wasn't all that much older than the Kid and it was apparent that he had the authority. Authority without any real experience. Lieutenant would work. The Old man seemed very quiet and introspective, and it was noted that he seemed the least concerned by Jaired's presence. The Kid always seemed stressed and uneasy, and Jaired didn't care for the way he was always giving him that suspicious glare every time their glances crossed. He wanted to walk up and tag him right on the top of his bald head. The Lieutenant and the Kid took up their wooden training swords and began a quick spar. In two moves the Lieutenant had the Kid's weapon off balance and his own pressed to the side of his neck. He seemed pretty proud of himself, and the Kid cursed under his breath as he stepped back in defeat. The Old Man made a few remarks and the Kid nodded in response before their wooden swords crossed again. The Lieutenant only needed one move this time; cracking the Kid against the forehead just hard enough to send him tumbling back onto the deck.
The Old Man wasn't pleased. His wrinkled brow creased in obvious distaste as he calmly scolded the Lieutenant, who dismissed him with a wave of his hand. Jaired chuckled slightly to himself as he tried his best to quickly sketch the scene upon his book. This earned a point from the Lieutenant who said something to him with a raised voice. Jaired's hand went still as he glanced up to peer at the Erithian, whom gestured with his hand for Jaired to walk over. He set the sketchbook aside and shakily rose to his feet. Truth be told he still hadn't gotten entirely used to the movements of the ship, and his leg was hurting like hell as a result from all of the extra compensation it had to endure. The Lieutenant smiled oddly as he approached, speaking to the Kid whom was still clutching at his forehead and trying to recover from the blow. The Old man arched his brow questionably, and the Kid's breath went still as he turned to face Jaired.
"He wants to see how a pirate fights," came the voice of the Translator, who had arrived with a gathering of several others that were attracted by the commotion the sparring caused.
"Want to remind them again that I'm not a pirate?" Jaired suggested as the Kid took his wooden sword back in hand and stepped into a defensive posture.
"Certainly," the Translator responded, uttering a few words in Erithian to the guards as the Kid's hands tightened around the grip of his weapon.
"What the hell did you just say?" Jaired asked in a quiet drone as the Kid began circling to his right.
"That you weren't a pirate. Why do you ask?"
"Because this kid still seems intent on introducing me to that stick he's holding," he explained as if to state the obvious, his hands dropping to his sides as he circled slowly to his left to keep the Kid from flanking him.
"Oh, that," the Translator responded, pushing at his spectacles to seat them more comfortably upon the bridge of his nose, "I may have added a detail or two."
"Well, as long as it was just one or two..."
No Good Deed
Jaired could see the attack coming from a mile away, easily side-stepping the overhead swing of the Kid's practice sword. The opening was there. He could have taken it if he wanted to and end the fight right then and there, but, the more he thought about it the more he didn't feel like hurting the fledgling swordsman. The way he figured it, with so many watching, he wasn't going to make any friends if he made quick work of things. But... it did give him an idea.
"Will you tell him to stop?" Jaired asked in a bored drone as he ducked another wild swing.
"I did," the Translator responded, his voice conveying a rather sarcastic undertone.
A slow grin curled at Jaired's lips as he waited for the next attack. His stance dropped to a more relaxed state as he began to circle the Kid, his eyes narrowing while he stared directly into the young Erithian's eyes. Things were about to get real, apparently, and the change in Jaired's expression only served to irritate the Kid. He was messing with him, and now the Kid knew it. Just as the Erithian made another overhand swing, Jaired stepped in to catch his wrist. With a subtle tug he extended the swing only slightly, simultaneously hooking his foot around the Erithian's ankle to widen his stance. Nodding a bit, Jaired gave the back edge of the Kid's training sword a content slap with the palm of his hand before he released it and stepped back again.
The Kid's brow scowled in confusion as he stared Jaired down, not really sure what that was all about. Jaired gave him a gesture to approach again, circling the opposite direction while he idly tightened the linen wrappings surrounding his hands. The Kid lunged forward with a thrust, and Jaired simply stepped aside again as the caught the Erithian's wrist. He raised it slightly and quickly kicked the toe of his boot into the Kid's shin to push the placement of his leading foot back about half a step. Using his free hand, Jaired pointed to his eyes as he gave another affirming nod to the Erithian, whom still stared at him with a perplexed and confused expression. The Lieutenant seemed equally perplexed as the crowd mumbled idly in the background, but the Old Man was smiling broadly as his eyes watched the match. The Old Man saw what the others were missing. Jaired wasn't simply playing with the Kid. He was teaching him.
The Lieutenant uttered something forcefully which caused the Kid to step back and turn towards his direction. The Old Man frowned ever so slightly as he turned his attention to the Lieutenant as well. The Kid gave a nod as a look of defeat painted his face, walking briskly towards the Old Man's side, away from the Lieutenant, where he hung his head over the ship's starboard rail. Taking his training sword into hand, the Lieutenant stepped into the proverbial ring as his eyes confidently stared Jaired down. Everything was going according to plan. Jaired leaned back uneasily as the new challenger held the wooden point of his sword out towards him in an aggressive stance. Deception was everything. This was going to be fun.
In a quick lunge the Erithian made his move. It was another overhand strike and Jaired merely stepped inside of it as he drove his fist directly into the Erithian's unguarded abdomen. He only held back a little... just enough to make sure the Lieutenant could potentially feel his knuckles grinding against the wrong side of his spinal column. The wooden training sword fell to the deck in a wooden clatter as the Erithian crumbled forward to his knees, clenching at his stomach with a loud credenza of retched gags and hoarse coughing. The crowd gasped as a chorus of uneasy words were whispered from one to the other. The Kid stared on wide eyed, but the Old Man was sporting a knowing smile once again.
Before he even caught his breath the Lieutenant barked an order towards the Old Man. The aged Erithian's smile quickly dissipated into a contemplative frown. He didn't mull over the words long, however, as he grudgingly reached his hand out towards the Kid. The youth was still just staring at the crumpled Erithian in a state of complete obliviousness, prompting a subtle nudge to his shoulder from the Old Man whom immediately resumed his previous position. With a blink the Kid nodded and handed his training sword to the Old Man. Damn. Jaired's brow arched questionably as he took a few steps away from the retching Lieutenant, turning his attention to the Old Man as he approached. He carried that wooden sword a little 'too' easily.
This wasn't part of the plan.
Shards of sand flew by as he raised his hands to protect his eyes, the loose fabric of his burnoose flicking about rapidly in the sudden onslaught of wind. Rothel watched as the Faendryl lifted the massive sword once more, his shoulders heaving with exhausted breath as he struggled to demonstrate another swing. He was still wrapped from head to toe in linen bandages and had just started walking the day before, yet he insisted that he be allowed a moment to train. With a painful hiss of breath the Faendryl plunged the crescent shaped point of the immense blade into the cratered sands, leaning against the hilt in a moment of rest. It was more cleaver than sword, and Rothel could almost see the neck of a hapless victim caught beneath the peculiar end of the weapon as the intent of the design finally becoming clear. The metal was unlike anything the Tehir had ever seen before, and when he handled it he almost felt as though it was pulling part of him away. No wonder he demanded its return.
"That is enough for now," Rothel suggested, taking a few steps towards the Faendryl whom lifted a bandaged hand to halt him.
"I need to do this," the Faendryl said evenly, grasping his hand around the cylindrical haft that extended nearly half way up the back of the blade.
"Ebon..." Rothel said with a shake of his head, "A demonstration is not necessary."
"I've told you, that is not my name," the Faendryl muttered, his teeth gritting as he lifted the immense weapon and held it out in front of himself.
"And we've told you that your name is too long and too hard to pronounce," came the voice of the younger man.
"Darebonlis Lian Ta'Faendryl of the Palestra is not too long," the Faendryl stated so dryly that the pair of Tehir could only stare at him for a long moment.
"Ebon," the two responded in unison, causing the Faendryl's shoulders to slouch obviously with a heavy sigh of frustration.
Suddenly the two erupted into laughter, causing a little smirk to betray the Faendryl's otherwise cold and emotionless expression. Before long he chuckled a bit as well, but only for a bit, while he lowered the edge of his blade back into the sands, not helping but to find a moment of solace in the presence of such light spirits. He had been running for so long that he was actually starting to enjoy himself as he recovered. He wasn't expecting to, however, and he couldn't help but think about how his old teachers would explain that prisoners and slaves could eventually become sympathetic and attached to their captors. He was no prisoner, though, and he was hardly a slave. In fact they had saved his life and gone out of their way to help him. That in and of itself should have been enough for him to do what they asked of him, but, Rothel had agreed to help him on his quest to track the demon he had chased into this inhospitable place. A strange people indeed.
"Come now..." came the soothing voice of the healer, or rather, the True Seer as the others called her. She settled her hand upon his shoulder and he turned to face her with a nod. Those eyes. She smiled to him and reached to take his hand, grasping it gently as he let go of the sword's hilt to leave it propped in the sands, "Lets get you back."
Like he could say no.
"The hell happened?" Jaired slurred with a groan, grasping at the sides of his head as he sat up upon the deck of the ship.
"Don't you remember?" the Translator quizzed, grinning slightly as the Old Man stood behind him with a worried expression.
"No... I don't think I..." Jaired continued to slur as he struggled to regain his focus, a mixture of laughter and concerned whispers filtering their way through the dissipating crowd. Seems the show was over, "Wait..."
Yeah, he remembered. He was squaring off with the Old Man and figured he could make quick work of things if he disarmed him. Neither one of them wanted any part of the spar, but, the continued commands from the Lieutenant eventually forced the Erithian to concede. The Old Man had slid his training sword into his sash and turned sideways and away from him. Jaired had seen the stance before. The Erithian would draw his weapon and attack in one simultaneous movement. At least he knew where the attack would come from, and he watched the Erithian's hand upon the sword's hilt from the corner of his eye as he made his approach. The next thing he saw was stars followed by reeling pain that put all of the hangovers he had ever endured to shame. In that instant he swore he could still see the Old Man's hand at rest, and then in the next moment his arm was fully extended as if post-swing. An impossible attack. No one was that fast.
"Right..." Jaired said with a nod, turning his attention to the Old Man whom seemed suddenly relieved that he had not done too much harm, "You have to teach me that."
Much to Learn
He had learned more about swordplay in a few weeks than he had in his entire life.
Jaired stood beside the Old Man, a wooden training sword in hand, as he flawlessly mirrored the deliberately slow techniques. The Kid took position on the opposite side, and the Lieutenant maintained a careful watch. Jaired still didn't know a single word of Erithian, but he didn't need to. In a way he saw a bit of himself in the Old Man, at least he saw himself many years from now. They had a sort of kindred understanding, and with the help of the Translator the Old Man was able to convey not only the martial mechanics of his art, but the principles that guided it as well.
It was painfully simple. There was no poetry to it. There was no nonsense about becoming one with your weapon or feeling the spirit within the blade. No ramblings about how a sword should be an extension of the arm, or how to listen to its song as it cut through the air. That was crap. This just wasn't something that he expected from an Erithian. The Old Man put it plainly. Ultimately, any weapon's goal is to end conflict. Whether attacking or protecting. The intent of their creation is to kill as much as it is to defend. It doesn't matter what they're made from, how they're shaped, or who made them. One can cover them with jewels and try to pass them off as decoration or heirloom, but, a weapon's design and its intent is unmistakable. As such, when one enters into conflict, they should strike in a way that will either render the opposition unable to continue. Or unwilling.
As Jaired mulled over this philosophy, it was easy to see how it could be easily scaled up from a one on one confrontation all of the way up to a war of nations. There was no time table. The techniques were deceptively simple at first glance; emphasizing minimum movement and a relaxed state. This was harder than it looked, especially for Jaired. He was used to striking unseen or moving fast to try and throw his opponent off balance to create an opening, but, when it came to killing he was a quick study. The Kid was having trouble with it as well, and he was a tad bit bewildered to see Jaired excelling faster than he was. The Old Man seemed to have a quiet smile about himself all of the time, his content obvious at ushering in new minds to his teachings.
"The Captain says we'll be making port in a few days," the Translator announced, momentarily breaking Jaired's trance-like focus.
He nodded in silent response, returning to his practice as he cleared his thoughts once more. For the first time since the ritual his mind felt still. His thoughts settled. Emptiness was key. Give the opposition nothing and force them to assume. The simplest movement is the fastest movement. The fastest movement is the unhindered movement. Be without thought and carry nothing of emotion. When intent is established everything is permitted. It was all a little similar to what he was taught as a Spirit Walker. Walk with Death, as Death. Minus a bit of symbolism, of course... but he was alright with that.
It was another good day for sailing. He just hoped there would be enough time for the Old Man to teach him the attack that did him in.
"Wake up, Pirate. We're making port," the Translator said in a careful hush, peeking his head through the door into Jaired's cabin.
Damn, it had to be the middle of the night. Why were they making port so late? He gathered his things and groggily gave himself a quick look over. Yep. Everything was accounted for. He gave the cabin one last quick look and made his way above deck. Everyone was gathered and it was the most peculiar sight he had seen since he was dragged up from the ocean. They were all garbed in hoods and made up to look Elven. Jaired stuck to the doorway and looked about for where the Translator had made his way off to. Something about the way they were all dressed still didn't sit comfortably with him. Their look seemed a bit odd, and he questioned their reasons for doing so. He was hardly a fashionista, but their look seemed... well... dated. Then another thing struck him. They were all perfectly silent and a blanket of unease seemed draped over the entire crowd. He smelled smoke.
Jaired pushed his way through the crowd towards the port-side rail to see what they were all so concerned with, and with only a few more rows of Erithians to go he caught a glimpse of what had silenced them. It was as if the entire shore ahead was ablaze. Several ships littered the waters, each one in a different state of sinking as flames licked wildly across their masts and sails. Except for three. Then movement caught his eyes. Circling above the devastation an impossible mass of winged demons shrieked and wailed, balls of fire and other implements of destruction raining down. Then he heard the Lieutenant shout out a loud series of commands as the crowd began rushing about in a panic to get back below deck. The hull of the ship groaned as one of the crew turned the tiller wildly aside to bring the vessel around. The Captain stood at the wheel's side, motioning frantically towards the ship's passengers to get back down below. It was the first time he'd seen him.
"Get down below," the Translator shouted Jaired's way as he hurried past, but Jaired grabbed at his arm to halt the fleeing Erithian.
"It is too late for that. Get as many as you can to the boats, get them off of the ship and scatter," Jaired ordered, catching the Translator a bit off guard before he simply shook his head. Jaired tightened his grip into the Erithian's arm to try and send the point home, "It is your best chance."
"They haven't seen us, come! Lets get below!" the Translator said in a shout while he yanked his arm away, quickly running across the deck to disappear into the cabins beneath the deck.
"...they don't need to see us," Jaired responded as if to nobody in particular. He felt a hand on his shoulder and he turned to see the Old Man.
He could see the worry creasing at his aged brow, but, he maintained a sense of calm resolve. The Kid stood directly behind him and stared wide eyed at the scene of devastation as the ship lurched forward through the waves to sail away. It was not a favorable wind. A group of demons seemed to pause for a moment, circling among themselves away from the main swarm. It was a bad sign. Jaired gave the Old Man a knowing nod and took in a long breath.
They were coming.
It was not a good night for sailing.
"Stay behind me," Jaired said calmly, gesturing as he watched a group of demons make their rapid descent upon the ship. The Old Man nodded and filed in behind, as did the Kid whom seemed more panicked than anything. He didn't really understand why they were listening to him now, but, the Lieutenant was nowhere to be seen.
Granted, he told them a long time ago that he had a certain set of skills, but he never told them that one of his specialties was demon slaying. His head canted to the side at this, momentarily forgetting the situation as he mulled that particular little tidbit over. Like father like son. The Old Man set his hand upon the hilt of his katana, turning himself to face the approaching demons in a sidelong stance while Jaired brought his hands up before him. He was really missing his own weapons right now.
"I'll suppress them and whittle away at their defenses. You'll know when to attack," Jaired continued. He knew they couldn't understand his words, but the way they nodded he couldn't help but feel that they understood.
The Lieutenant finally rushed up, his chest heaving with breath while he hastily drew his katana from his scabbard. Jaired didn't have time to disregard him. The first demon was already above. His hands moved smoothly while he uttered a barely spoken chant. A rippled mirage disrupted the air surrounding him as a powerful wave of elemental magic suddenly shot out in all directions to knock the demon from the sky. The three stood for only a second in wonder before turning their attention back to the demon, watching as it was flung to its own surprise to the wooden planks of the deck in a shower of splinters. Jaired's hands were already moving in a series of seals that forced the demon to recoil as part of its defenses were ripped away. He uttered another chant while he formed a differing seal with his fingertips as the demon howled out in agony as the combination of spiritual and elemental disruption tore at its very essence.
The Three were already on the move to finish the demon off, but Jaired wasn't done. He formed another rapid series of overlapping seals with his hands as the very clouds above began to swirl and growl while they came together in a particularly low thunderhead. Demons hated lightning. The Kid drew his katana and swung in the same movement, cutting an impressive gash into its back while the Lieutenant leaped up and then descended upon the side of its skull with a murderously precise thrust. The demon went still upon the deck and the duo resumed a readied stance as they waited for the next. They wouldn't have to wait long. A bright flash of lighting struck out from the clouds above and knocked it from the sky. Jaired repeated the process of dispelling it first spiritually and then elementally, and the two waited for it to recoil before dispatching it.
Jaired took in a slow breath. He knew that they couldn't keep this up very long. The two seemed confident but the Old Man watched Jaired with a notable concern while he kept his hand affixed upon the hilt of his sheathed katana. He was saving his strength. Or rather... he was saving his trump card. Jaired couldn't help but grin a little bit at the thought of how well 'that technique' would hold up against a proper demon. Before he could revel too long a burst of flame shot down from the sky and shattered the main mast. They didn't waste any time. Flames erupted quickly across the deck as the mast crashed across the starboard rail and into the ocean. They were paralyzed.
"Evacuate the ship! Now!" Jaired yelled, knowing that his Elven dialect would only be understood by one Erithian in particular.
He could only hope that his intent was conveyed... but once intent is conveyed, everything is permitted. He watched as a demon dove down from the sky above, moving just in time to avoid the flash of lightning that shot out from the clouds. It descended upon the Kid and Jaired simply closed his eyes to avoid the unnecessary sight.
The sound was enough.
Just Like That
The boards of the deck shuddered as the demon passed straight through, forcing Jaired and the Old Man to shield at their eyes to block the barrage of flying splinters and debris. The Kid was just plain gone. Screams howled out from below the deck in a brief chorus of terror before being drown out by the demon's horrible wail. The Lieutenant's eyes went wide with rage and he rushed towards the gaping hole in the deck, but just before he could get there a tower of fire erupted from within. The rising flame lurched into the sky, curling inward at its apex where the main mast once stood. The entire ship groaned as it began to tilt to one side. There was nowhere else to go. Nowhere but down.
A sudden flurry of wings and claws rapidly sped across the deck, a deafeningly high-pitched shriek whistling out in the midst of the chaos. The Lieutenant wasn't even given time to scream as he was ripped up from the deck and carried off into the night. Jaired's eyes snapped upwards as sudden streak of fire rapidly descended upon the back of the ship, the shock-wave of the resulting explosion forcing him to recoil and fall back a few steps. So much for the Captain. He'd be going down with his ship as a pile of ash. No dishonor in that. More demons flew down through the column of fire, seemingly reveling in it as they twisted and tumbled their way down into the cabins below. They'd make short work of things. Jaired couldn't help but think it was a better death than drowning.
They were alone now. Just him and the Old Man as they both turned about to take in the horrible scene of chaos that surrounded them. The one remaining mast was engulfed in flames, as was the bow and aft of the ship. The remnants of the sails drifted lazily into the dark, the dimly lit glow fading to perfect black as the fire burned the flailing tendrils back into nothing. The ship lurched heavier towards the port side, forcing the two to readjust their footing. Screams from below filled the night air to mingle with the crackles of flame and the howls of abominations. But as Jaired glanced towards the Old Man, he bore witness to a visage of perfect calm. There was regret in the Erithian's eyes, regret that he could share, and his shoulders seemed heavy with the realization of defeat... but he remained the steadfast center of the storm.
The Old Man turned to Jaired and gave him an assuring nod. In that little moment between one instant and the next, he could have swore he smiled. Before Jaired couldn't give it so much as a second thought, a new demon fell upon him in a blur. Its claws glinted in the reflection of the flames and swung down, but Jaired twisted away and fell back onto the listing deck. The Old Man stepped towards the Demon and clenched his hand around the scabbard of his sheathed katana. This was it. The Demon raised its forearm to defend itself and in the very next instant the Old Man's katana was impaled upwards through the Demon's jaw and into its skull. A throaty gurgle choked its way around the blade but the Demon still had enough to get the last word. With a spiteful thrust of its slashed arm it plunged its claws into the Old Man's abdomen, the glinting talons reappearing with a glistening coating of blood as they erupted from his back.
The unmistakable glint of veil iron caught Jaired's eye as a broken shard of the katana fell to the deck in a surreal clatter, followed by what remained of the Old Man's weapon. The Old Man didn't make one attack in that impossibly short moment. He made two. The first struck the Demon's arm with such force that the sword's end was broken, and with the second he thrust the jagged remnants of the blade home. Jaired lurched forward as the breath was robbed from his lungs, forcing him to his knees. The Old Man and the Demon both went still as the broken katana rolled off of the ship and into the sea. No. Wait. It couldn't be. Now he could recognize it. That was 'his' katana. Then he noticed the crest upon the Old Man's Elven robe while it draped lifelessly from his perfectly still, and now unhindered shoulders. A wavecrest of aquamarine upon a field of white. Bile rose into Jaired's mouth as he pieced it together. The crest of the Ashrim. But that meant...
"It is time for you to go again..." came a young voice, seemingly from nowhere.
Jaired'd eyes snapped open. He knew the voice. His head turned slowly to look over his shoulder as he began to feel light headed at the sudden onslaught of revelation. It was Pip. She looked as she did before the Crimson Moon happened to her; a hodgepodge of patched fabrics and colors with bright eyes and an effortless smile. It was too much and he felt himself begin to lose consciousness. She had in her little hands the militiaman doll he had given her, and at her feet sat a familiar black feline whom seemed content to lick at his paw for the moment.
"Pip?" he asked helplessly, slouching back upon his haunches as the ship continued to lurch down into the sea. The demons still circled above, but, it was as if they no longer noticed him. She giggled softly as she brought her hands up to bashfully cover her lips. It was nice to hear her laugh again.
"He showed you something you needed to see," she said so matter-of-fact while extending her hand that Jaired could do nothing but nod as if he understood. Who showed him? Who was he? "Come with me. It'll be okay."
The water of the sea surged its way across the deck as he took her hand.
And just like that... it was quiet again.
There and Then
Once again he was surrounded in light... but this time seemed different. He felt as though he was falling forward, the occasional glimpse of something or other flashing in the corner of his eye for just a moment before blinking back out of existence. Were they people? He felt Pip's hand still inside of his, leading him forward as everything rushed by. With a bright and sudden flash they lurched to a stop. He stumbled forward awkwardly and nearly tripped into the shrouded ground. Fog surrounded them as it hung lazily in the night sky, the source of the dim light uncertain as his eyes struggled to adjust. Every now and again he saw a glimpse of a silhouette drifting by just past where he could see. Everything was gray. Except for Pip.
"What is going on?" Jaired asked uncertainly, but he knew this place. He'd been here before.
"I'm sorry Jaired," Pip responded gently, her eyes gazing up at his as the corners of her mouth curved downward into a little frown, "But you died."
"Oh... I see..." he droned, tilting his glance downward to the black cat stretching about in the fog, "heh, you too, Cat?"
"Nope," she corrected as a childish giggle bubbled its way from her lips, "Cat didn't die, he's too smart for that."
"Bah," Jaired glowered while lazily bumping the feline's side with the toe of his boot, earning a rather annoyed response and a swipe of a paw, "Then how the hell is he here?"
"Jaired..." Pip hesitated, gazing down as she pulled her hand from his and balled it into a little fist, "I don't have much time, but I have things to tell you."
She closed her eyes tightly and his brow knit itself in concern. The fog was closing in on them, and he idly wondered if that was what she meant. This was the in between. The bridge between the realm of the living and of the dead, or more accurately, of the spirits. He saw it first when he traveled here as a Spirit Walker, and again when Velathae and its citizens were released and allowed to move on. The Ebon Gate was here... always somewhere up ahead.
"What is it, Pip?" he asked in a hush, reaching his hand out to rest it reassuringly upon her shoulder.
"You can't come with me," she said while stumbling over her words, shaking her head from side to side before looking back up to him. Yet somehow her expression shifted to a smile somewhere between then and now, "Because you aren't supposed to be here. Not yet."
"Then... why?" was all he could muster. He already felt himself growing more indistinct and dissolving into the fog, and the light was shifting to show a way ahead. It pulled at him.
"Because if you go that way, you can't finish what was started," she said with a smile, her cryptic words tumbling about in his head.
"That ship? What was the meaning of it?" he inquired, figuring that she knew more about what was going on than he would normally give anyone credit for, "That happened a long time ago, didn't i-"
"I already told you!" she cut him off with a huff, her eyes rolling obnoxiously while her arms folded across her chest, "He had something to show you!"
"He?" he continued, causing her to flail her arms wildly.
"Don't be so dense, Jaired!" she scolded through a grin, but before it could get comfortable upon her face her expression went solemn again, "There are many parts at play, and he finally played his hand. If only a little bit."
"What does this have to do with my father?" he asked simply.
"He's still alive, Jaired. You need to find him," she worriedly ringed her hands together, biting at her lip for a moment in a tell-tale gesture that she was holding something back, "He's waiting for you. What you were shown was something that you would need to finish what was started."
Now he wanted to flail. She glanced nervously over her shoulder as the light illuminated the path ahead even more obviously. He understood. She had to go.
"You need to stop worrying so much about the light and the dark."
"No, I was sent to tell you this!"
"I'm sorry... I..."
"You need to be the wind as well as the eye to become the storm."
"I'm sorry I couldn't save you," he said in little more than a whisper. He knew what she was trying to do. What she was trying to say... but he had a lot to tell her as well, and time was not something they had. She lunged forward suddenly, wrapping her arms around his waist in a tight embrace as she shook her head against him.
"You did," she stated plainly, her shoulders rising and falling as she took in a centering breath, "But it was my turn this time."
"Yeah..." he said with a nod, breaking every convention he had as he brought his arms around to return the embrace, "You did good, kid."
"Tell Daddy he doesn't need to be sad..." she said so softly that her words seemed to trail off and fade away.
Just as his hands were about to touch her shoulders he realized she was gone, leaving him holding an empty space as the path that was lit behind her began to fade back into the drifting fog. He looked down into his hands, and in spite of everything and in spite of his very self, the faintest of smiles slowly crawled its way across his lips. Hanging from his fingertips was a familiar chain of nicked copper that was affixed to a carved ivory totem. It was the one that he had given her so long ago. Clever girl. He'd never forget her.
"Mroooow..." Cat interjected, striding by to brush his sleek shoulder against Jaired's shin.
"Yeah yeah..." Jaired muttered with a heavy sigh, reaching back over his head to hang the totem around his neck, "Time to go."
He was running. The mist undulated up ahead like a thick blanket, blocking the way as the dim light was beginning to fade. The only thing he could see was Cat up ahead, an unlikely guide in an even more unlikely place. It was dangerous here. As a Spirit Walker the first step was to create an anchor back in the world of the living, and its purpose was to provide a way back if one strayed too far and got lost in the mists. There were terrible things here. Awful things. They were what remained of those that had gotten lost, warped and twisted, and having long forgotten the trite worries of the living. Things like time. Things like rest. They only sought to find the things that they could no longer remember. They never slept... and they never stopped.
Damn. Either Cat was running too fast or he was slowing down, the encroaching fog growing evermore dense with each step he took. Darkness was setting in and he could no longer see the feline up ahead, but he continued forward as best he could. Something was behind him. He could feel its presence as the hair stood up on the back of his neck. It was so silent... but he didn't look. He had to keep moving forward. Maybe it would lose interest. Yeah, that was likely. It probably had a whole list of things it had to do that day.
He was getting slower. Not good. He could feel the weight of the fog pressing down on his limbs, and he swore something brushed against the skin of his neck. Something sharp. No, he couldn't turn around. Every step forward turned into a struggle, his arms pulling forcefully at the mists in defiance of the undulating restraints. It was right there. It had him. He finally came to a complete stop as though he were encased within the oppressive weight of the fog. Then light began to filter through the haze, and as Jaired glanced down to find its source he realized it was coming from the totem around his neck. The next thing he saw was Cat dashing through the mist right towards him. The black feline jumped through the air over his shoulder and directly into whatever it was behind him.
Jaired snapped forward as he felt himself released, falling into the mist covered ground before scrambling about to see where Cat had gone. The light was growing. It flashed like lightning and he watched in wonder as Cat paced slowly from side to side between him and whatever... it... was. In that moment Cat wasn't the lazy feline that had made himself at home on his Island while Deedi was away, always sitting on his favorite chair and getting hair all over it. In that moment Cat was a lion protecting one of its own. Cat hissed harshly and the abomination recoiled back into the mist, shuffling in a stumble as if in fear for itself as the light from the totem continued to grow. Jaired never got a good look at the thing... all he ever saw was its shadow against the fog. He didn't feel worse off for it, however. Some things are best left unseen.
Cat turned and sauntered towards him, his blue eyes reflected in the totem's light as it continued to flash angrily. Jaired finally pushed himself back to his feet and watched as Cat's pace increased back to a run through the mist. Now he could see it. Just up ahead was a tear of light. A door. He turned to follow and without a moment's hesitation he bound through it right behind the feline. Light raced by and he felt himself being pulled forward once again. It was an all together different sensation this time as well. He felt strangely at peace, and as if everything was finally coming together. His thoughts re-centered. Then he was thrown out like a rag doll as the world came back into focus.
Jaired fell against the side of a wooden crate, wincing for a moment in order to collect himself as the smell of the sea overwhelmed his senses. Yeah. He was starting to sense a trend. He looked about and immediately knew where he was, and had a fairly good idea of 'when'. He was back in the present, rather, at least as well he could figure. He was in Solhaven... at the very docks where he had given Pip the totem that now hung lightless from his neck. Apparently he did have an anchor. He chuckled a bit to himself as he shook his head. It really was Pip's turn to save him this time.
"Aww! What a cute little kitty!" squealed a young girl, and Jaired glanced over to watch as the child knelt down and pet at Cat's black fur. Cat seemed quite okay with this, arching his back against her hands as he purred loudly. Always the lady's man.
"Hello?" Jaired asked, forcing the little girl to spin towards him. Her eyes went wide as if in terror and she tripped backwards, pointing towards him before letting out a frightened shriek.
"Help!" she cried, turning about to run away as Cat jumped aside to avoid being trampled. Jaired glanced down to his hands and his shoulders slouched as he let out a defeated sigh. His fingers were withered away like transparent claws and what remained of his attire drifted lazily about in ethereal tatters. Yep. He was a wraith.
Here on Out
"No no no," he shouted, his ethereal, clawed hands out in front of him to try and console the fleeing girl, "I'm not going to hurt you!"
"Help! It's a ghost! Help!" she continued to cry out, rousing a whole lot of attention in the process as several began to gather about. They were all staring. None of them seemed happy.
"It's okay! You all have nothing to worry about," he spoke, holding his hands outward with his palms upward in a yielding gesture. The crowd grew and a few shouted out their obvious anger at his presence.
"Hurry! Someone kill it! Its going to cast a spell!"
"It won't stop shrieking!"
"Quickly, after me!" came a resolute voice as an armored man stepped forward. His chain mail gleamed in the sun and the blade he held in his hands was encased in white flame. Jaired could feel the heat radiating off of it.
What? A spell? Shrieking? It was all starting to make way too much sense way too quickly. His words probably sounded like horrible wails, and his every gesture no doubt carried with it the perceived intent of malice. It also dawned on him that man's blade was probably nothing out of the ordinary. Except for the fact that it was blessed, of course. Damn. Not good. The fact that the crowd wasn't falling to their knees in fear was a telling clue in and of itself. He was weak. To be fair, though, he was knew to the whole undeath thing.
"Cat?" Jaired stepped back, pressed against the crate while the feline's tail waved back and forth idly. Hmm. Interesting. Why couldn't he just pass through the crate? As soon as the thought struck him he felt himself falling backwards into it as well as its contents. Bolts of brocade? How tacky.
"Don't let it get away!"
He could hear them all approach and the side of the crate shuddered as it was slammed into. The flaming sword was thrust through one of the wooden cracks and it grazed his arm, sending a scorching shock of pain through his entire body as he winced away from it. He glanced at the wound and watched curiously as his ethereal flesh quickly warped and twisted about for a moment before smoothing back away as if nothing happened at all. Well that was useful, but, he'd have to make sure to avoid close calls like that again. One of the boards of the crate was ripped asunder and light poured in. Jaired gathered himself and leaped aside and away from the crate, drifting slowly through the air before landing upon the ground in a crouch.
Damn it. A black blur rushed across the ground in front of him, leaping onto one of the assailants with a rapid flailing of claws. The man cried out in pain as the others gasped in horror, backing away from him as Cat gave him the unfriendly kind of makeover. That was the opening Jaired needed, and he lurched forward to dash through. Part of him could almost get used to this. He dashed through the crowd in an ethereal blur, and Cat hopped free of the victim's bloodied face to run beside him. More people screamed as he made his way through the South Markets. Cat weaved his way about through the frantically trampling feet and Jaired occasionally waved his hands about threateningly to disperse the crowds. They had to get out.
"It is this way! Don't let it escape!" came the resolute voice again. Jaired turned about to see the man's flaming sword raised high above his head, leading the charge, "With me, my comrades! In Voln's Name!"
A resounding cheer followed and Cat dashed on ahead. Yeah. Good idea. Every so often Cat would jump onto an unsuspecting onlooker and create a scene to allow Jaired to dart by. He pondered for a moment if he could fly like this, and focused his thoughts on the sky above as he tried to hurtle himself upwards. He felt a strange sense of exhilaration as he arced upwards into the air, but the sensation quickly faded as he felt himself plummeting back towards the ground. Nope. Can't fly. He crashed into a merchant's cart and sent a various collection of fruit flying in all directions. The whole 'passing through things' was going to take some getting used to, but, being able to affect his physical surroundings was still a bit useful.
"Sorry!" Jaired responded as he pushed back upwards and gave an apologetic shrug, but the merchant placed his hands upon his head and gave a terrified squeal in reply.
Cat was losing him. Jaired turned about and drifted quickly through the scattering streets to catch up. He glanced over his shoulder and saw that his pursuers were getting further and further away. Cat made a quick turn down one street and then another. Before long the feline slowed to a saunter and looked casually about, seemingly content that they had gotten away. Every once in a while a citizen would see them and run off, but, the sounds of the angry mob grew more and more faint.
As they neared the gate Jaired crouched down behind Cat as they waited in a dark alley. A wagon rolled by and Cat made his move, running across the street and then leaping up onto the support of the rear axle. Jaired floated behind as quickly as he could and dissolved his way into the wagon's cargo. They passed through the gates without any further commotion to speak of, and after only a few miles of road Cat jumped down. Jaired fell free of the wagon and made his way over to the feline, chuckling slightly to himself as he idly attempted to arrange his tattered, ethereal garb.
"Good times," Jaired quipped, but Cat sat upon his haunches while licking at his front paw as if nothing of note had occurred. Jaired took in a deep breath as if such a reaction had any meaning anymore. He no longer required air. After a while Cat gave a lazy stretch and then stood back up, turning about before slowly plodding his way back down the cobbled road towards Solhaven, "Hey, where are you going?"
Cat didn't respond, but, somehow Jaired knew that he wasn't supposed follow. He grinned a bit to himself and settled down upon the stones of the road for a moment of rest. Now Cat had saved him, too, and now Cat's work was done. As the black feline disappeared over the horizon he set his gaze East. Towards the Sea of Fire.
It looked like he was going to be alone here on out.
They crawled their way up the side of the dune, careful not to make so much as a sound as sliding cascades of sand tumbled behind in their wake. The three were barely lit by the moon's dim light, its crescent radiating like a shining sliver against the cloudless sky. Rothel lifted his hand as they approached the peak, halting the two on either side as he carefully peaked down over the edge. Content that he had not been seen, and there was no risk of being seen, he signaled the other two to follow.
"So this is where they've made camp," the ahmdir veiled Tehir whispered in a careful hush, inciting a nod from Rothel as the three took in the view.
"Mm-hm," he responded cautiously, making a subtle gesture towards the most refined and decorated tent at the camp's center, "That one is his."
"His?" Ebon asked in a matching hush, glancing sideways towards the two as the younger man's eyes shined in inappropriate mirth within the moon's light.
"Captain Bantel," the Tehir responded with a sardonically raised tone, regaling the name as he continued, "The Slayer of the Sand."
"Toben, shhh," Rothel scolded, his dark eyes carefully scouring the area to take in every detail. Ebon chuckled a little bit, always enjoying the interactions between the two.
"Heh!" Toben chuckled quietly, his eyes displaying the obvious grin that remained hidden beneath his ahmdir veil, nodding across Rothel towards the Faendryl, "Got me in trouble again."
"Both of you..." Rothel growled, forcing both of them to duck their heads and resume their clandestine observation of the Imperial Camp.
Ebon couldn't help but grin. His injuries had healed nicely and he was starting to feel strangely at home in this accursed place. The massive blade was draped across his back, wrapped in the hide of the beast they called a Yierka. They were giant, temperamental lizards as far as he was concerned. They reminded him more of the non-betrothed Ladies of the Faendryl Courts than anything, yet he found himself impressed with the ability of the Tehir to utilize the strange creature in as many facets as they were able. If these people had taught him one thing, it was how to make sure that not a single thing went to waste. Perhaps that was what Rothel saw in him as he laid dying. Nonetheless he was honor bound to help them in this task. No. Now he wanted to on his own accord.
"We're going to be outnumbered," Toben whispered, leaning towards Rothel as he pointed down at one tent in particular, "And look, they've got a lot of pikes."
"Mmm..." Rothel nodded, seeming wrapped in his thoughts as he idly caressed at his veiled chin, "Yes, I've thought of that."
"You have a plan, old man?"
"They're used to fighting us," Rothel whispered, idly rapping his fingertips against the sands as his gaze lazily swept across the camp, "They're used to repelling the hit and run, and the charge of the Yierka. He didn't earn his title for no reason."
"What, then?" Toben inquired with a chortle, nudging his elbow into his former teacher's side to provoke a reaction, "Going to use one of the tricks you learned while you were chasing adventure on the coast?"
"Sort of," Rothel continued, turning a quick glance towards the Faendryl before looking back towards the younger Tehir, "They're used to fighting us."
"Heh!" Toben exclaimed, winning himself a backhanded slap to his shoulder with a duet of 'shushes' from each of his companions. He ducked his head and laughed beneath his breath, "But they're not expecting a Palestra?"
"So what is the plan, then?"
"I walk right up to them," Ebon responded finally, his words low and to the point, "And I tell them that they're all going to die."
"And we handle the rest..." Rothel finalized with a nod. Toben only shook his head and narrowed his eyes searchingly at the Faendryl. Ebon gave him a wink, usurping another hushed chuckle from the younger man as well as Rothel.
A strange company indeed.
Even in the dead of night the Sea of Fire held true to its namesake in these days, the Crimson Moon looming high above to paint the dunes in its bloody glow. Jaired couldn't help but wonder to himself how the Lornon's influence had affected this place, but, as far as he could tell everything seemed as perfectly quiet as it always was in the dead of night. The winds would return with the rising of the sun. Being dead did have its uses. He wasn't thirsty. He couldn't feel the heat of the day or the chill of the night... but... he was developing a sort of hunger that he couldn't describe. Things also seemed to become less real and more detached as time passed, and he mused over the idea that he just might be losing himself and his mind the longer he remained in this state. Good times. It was quite enlightening.
The visions lead him now. He didn't have any reservations about it anymore, and he was content to follow in the path that they illuminated. It wasn't as though he had a choice about it anymore, either. As he drifted towards a rocky outcropping he gained a sudden sense of familiarity. Time and wind had altered the surrounding dunes, but, the rock hadn't eroded quite enough to disguise it. This was the location of the encampment that he saw in his previous vision. Even after all of this time he could still smell it upon the air. It smelled thick, and deliciously sweet. A battle happened here. Death happened here.
His slow, measured gait carried him forward towards the light ahead. The Empire always made their fires too large. One could see them from miles away, especially on nights such as this. They had picked the night in question carefully; when neither moon would be visible and the blackness of night would be nearly impenetrable save for the faintly lit pinpoints of the stars above. Most traditional armies only moved at night when the light was in their favor, but, not the Tehir. They moved when it was expedient and advantageous. Not when it was easy. On a certain level he liked the idea of that.
"Ebon," he heard in a loud whisper. He didn't bother to look around for the source, he simply halted his steps momentarily to listen, "Its me, Toben."
"I know its you," Ebon responded with an exasperated glance towards the sky. Of course it was Toben, "What?"
"Just making sure you were ready," came another loud whisper. He may as well have been talking plainly. The night was so quiet the guards around the encampment probably already heard them both.
"Damn it, Toben. Of course I'm ready," Ebon responded with a bit of a chuckle, finally resuming his stride towards their destination, "Shouldn't you be in position?"
"Small change of plans," Toben whispered. The way his voice stayed in range told Ebon that he was shadowing him, "I'm supposed to watch your back."
"Rothel's plan or your own?" Ebon asked plainly, no longer bothering to keep his voice down as they drew closer.
Ebon nodded without saying another word. That was good enough for him.
Ebon hummed as he walked through the encampment, the point of his blade carving a winding trail in his wake. He wanted them to know he was there. The soldiers all seemed stunned for the moment, some simply staring at him with confounded expressions while others began hurriedly arming themselves. It was ungodly late. The rest were asleep. He didn't know where he had heard the song that he found himself humming along to, but it had settled into his head some time ago and he had grown fond of it. His gaze shifted from side to side, putting on a neutral expression as if to taunt anyone to approach him. He was starting to feel a little surprised that no one had done so yet, as he was starting to get close to the tent that housed the Slayer of the Sand. The Captain Bantel.
Finally. Several drew their weapons and converged upon him in a rush. Now they didn't waste any time. Ebon's grip tightened around the hilt of his blade and in blindingly fast swing he brought it around in a full circle. The blade's immense weight carried it through the bodies of his attackers as if they were nothing more than bails of straw. It was made for killing demons, after all... and Ebon had no qualms about slaughtering humans. His whole life he was raised to believe them as nothing more than vermin. He had come to like a few in his time, but, these were not them. They fell to the sands in expanding pools of blood and gore that was quickly absorbed into the thirsty earth.
More came. Pike-men this time. They circled around and thrust at him in unison, intent on skewering him where he stood. Ebon ducked low, feeling only the brush of the wooden hafts grazing against his back. He reached up over his shoulder and grabbed at the lowest of the pikes, pushing upwards with a sudden lunge to force the rest off balance as they stumbled back to regain control of their weapons. He pulled the pike in his hands free from the soldier's grasp and then jabbed it forward suddenly to force it's butt directly into his throat. Breathing was overrated. With a twist of his wrist he swung the long pike overhead and pierced the forked tines into the chest of one of the recovering soldiers. As the man fell back Ebon let the pike go, bringing both of his hands back to the hilt of his blade.
As far as the onlookers could tell; in one moment the Faendryl was in one spot... and in the next he wasn't. The bodies of the remaining pike-men flailed as they fell to the ground, blood gushing from their sudden wounds to paint even more of the sand a glossy red. Ebon gave the massive blade a flick to his side, cleansing it of the thick gore that had accumulated upon its strange alloy as he recovered from his attack's exertions. A loud series of snaps rang out, followed by the familiar whistle of arrows in flight. Ebon quickly turned about as he draped the flat edge of his massive blade downwards across his back. The projectiles that didn't miss all together bounced off of the blade and were deflected harmlessly aside. Whoever said that swords couldn't be shields just never made one big enough.
Ebon continued humming again, intent on mocking them them all as he turned his way around the corner of one of the tents to take him out of the archers' view. Where had he heard that song? As he mused an archer dashed around the corner, bearing the point of his arrow at him as he pulled the string back. Ebon stabbed his blade forward just shy of the archer's body, but the crescent point brushed against the bow's string to slice it in two. The longbow snapped forward and leaped from the archer's hands in an awkward juggle. Ebon gave him a grin as he tilted his blade from side to side. He was giving the archer chance to run. The archer took him up on it.
He wouldn't be the last.
The night was still young.
He was humming to himself again. The camp was a flurry of commotion as commands were shouted out above the other frantic voices, no doubt attempting to prepare an organized search for their attacker. The song he hummed seemed so peaceful in contrast, the tranquil notes calming his nerves while he continued to struggle to remember where he picked it up. Ebon took advantage of the moment of rest as he plunged the point of his blade into the sands, leaning forward to pick up the bow that he downgraded back into a walking stick. He swung it about lazily, marveling at the comparative lightness. Then something flashed out of the corner of his eye, and as he turned to look he saw the silhouette of a cloaked figure leaping towards him.
Damn, he must have gotten distracted. Ebon brought the unstrung bow before him to parry the ambush, but he was going to be too late. At the moment he expected to feel the impact of steel, the cloaked figure lurched forward awkwardly and then rolled down onto the sands. The human gagged on his own blood, struggling to the very end to steal one last breath. Ebon kicked the heel of his boot into the back of the man's neck. Not to end his misery and cut short his suffering, no. He did it because it seemed natural to do so. As he looked up he realized who his savior was. Even in the dark the ahmdir face-wrap gave Toben away.
"That was close," Toben whispered, stepping forward to close the distance between him and the Faendryl.
"Toben!" Ebon suddenly shouted a little too loudly, causing the Tehir's eyes to go wide. Ebon dashed towards him suddenly, yelling "Behind!"
He didn't need to say anymore. Toben understood and started to bring himself about with a flash of steel from his bloodied takouba. A second cloaked figure rushed towards them and Ebon put himself between them both, making a decisively quick pivot of his heel that presented his back to the assassin. The dagger struck well, he had to give it to the human... but his aim was a bit off. Pain shot through Ebon's shoulder as he violently clenched his teeth in response. Toben's eyes were still wide. That dagger was meant for him.
"Ebon, no!" Toben shouted, and just as he was about to make his move the look on Ebon's face stopped him, forcing a pause "Ebon?"
Toben stared at Ebon's hands next. They were held out in front of him in tight fists, shakily holding each end of the unstrung bow that was now curving around the entire span of the Faendryl's back and shoulders. The wood groaned as if it was about to snap in two while Ebon growled in near silence through his clenched jaw, pulling the two ends just a bit closer together until they almost touched. Then he simply opened his left hand. The bow snapped backwards with merciless force as the tension was suddenly released, slamming directly into the rib cage of the man holding the dagger in his back. Neither Ebon nor Toben could tell if the crack they heard was the bow itself or bone, but the effect was the same in either instance. The cloaked man fell to the ground in a pathetic ball, grasping at the side of his chest as he coughed out loud cries of agony.
Toben thrust down with his takouba, effortlessly skewering the Imperial to silence him. Well, there was no doubt that the whole camp knew where they were now. Ebon gathered his breath and walked over to retrieve his blade, idly rolling his shoulder about to gauge the severity of his injury. Toben rushed up and reached for the hilt of the dagger that was still implanted in the Faendryl's back, but a shake of his head and a brief gesture stopped the attempt. The Tehir nodded his understanding. It was better to leave it in for now.
"What is taking Rothel so long?" Ebon grumbled as he watched the shadows of approaching men stretch their way across the sands; just around each of the tent's corners. They were closing in on them... and they were surrounded.
He felt yanked aside suddenly. The scene faded back into blinding light and he found himself experiencing a situation not all together different from being thrown by a colossal titan. What now? His ethereal stomach lurched and then he felt himself splash down into a pool of water. It was a numb feeling. There was no pain... but he knew he was laying in water. A vaguely unpleasant smell touched at his senses. River's Rest? No... but there was a swamp. The light began to fade. Good.
The water was only ankle deep and a blanket of stars shone brightly above. It was fall. A stone statue loomed above him... but the scene seemed distorted. It was a robed figure, its feathery wings towering over everything. There was an Ebon Gate below it. Wait... no. Was he out of time? Slowly writhing tendrils of light swirled all about, and the occasional blinding flash shot across his vision like soundless lightning. The dull sound of running water could be heard, but, even after he was able to isolate the source the sound seemed as though it were being heard through a wall. What was this place?
Jaired stood up and noted that no water fell from his ethereal form... but as he looked at his hands they were not curved into claws of bone. They were his own. He quickly looked himself over as best as he could, and, aside from the fact that he was still mostly 'see through', he was just as he was before he died upon Coral Island. He strode forward with determined steps, and just as he was about to leave the pool another quick flash of light disrupted his train of thought. In an unrealized instant he was sitting back in the water, leaning back against the statue. He was humming to himself. He knew the song well. It was the lullaby his mother had always sung to him.
Someone was coming. His eyes narrowed while he tried to make the figure out. He felt unbearable torn between this pool and where he was and everything was flickering in and out. Once again, he was in a place between... but the place away was winning. He was going to have to hold on. The man that approached was unmistakable. It was the Boss. It was Krystic. He grinned a bit to himself as he pushed his ethereal form back to a stand within the pool. Another mentor had come to lecture him and show him something, hm? That was his initial thought, but, as his old friend glanced at him questionably and began to speak... realization set in...
"Sure wasn't expecting to see you here," Krystic said.
Here? Then it all came crashing together. Krystic was no doubt a mentor from his past, but, Krystic wasn't dead. A key difference. So how was he able to speak to him in this place? There was only one place and one time a year when the veil became thin enough between the world of the Living and of the Dead. The Ebon Gate Festival. At least for now... Jaired was coming home.
He'd have to make the most of it.
Make the Most of It
It was a fun couple of days. At times he had almost forgotten his own troubles as he was able to walk among his friends as if nothing was wrong. They all saw it, though. They all knew. Jaired was on borrowed time, and as such, he'd have to return eventually. At all times he felt the pull of the winged statue that loomed over the pond. The shallow waters had the strangest effect upon him. The longer he sat in them the closer to himself he became. His hands were his own. They no longer resembled the curved talons of bone, and aside from being mostly ethereal... everything he was wearing when he died seemed intact. After the first day he was able to venture forth almost unhindered. With every step he took he began to understand the Ebon Gate Festival and what it really represented. The power that it had. It was another chance. He could only be left to imagine what those could accomplish that had been 'stuck' for a few years... or a few centuries. Who was counting?
The longer Jaired was away, however, and the further he walked... the stronger the statue's pull became. There was a certain plight involving a demon. He witnessed some of his closest friends disfigured and warped... but... all he could do was watch and offer the minuscule shreds of advice that he could muster. There was no seeing things through to the end this time. He was only being offered a glimpse. All said; he was thankful for it. But it was time to go. That wasn't to say that he didn't make the most of his time... no. One step lead to it all. On a curious whim he attempted to venture outside of the Gate and back into the World of the Living. It worked. The landscape seemed warped and violent flashes of light assaulted his eyes. Everything seemed intent on forcing him back, but, for the time the world would have to deal with him.
His leg wasn't bothering him anymore. The irony wasn't lost on him as he realized he had felt more complete in that moment than he had in a long, long time. He almost felt like he did before the shadows tore him away. It was a moment of clarity. He knew what he had to do... and he knew he had to move quickly, so he wasted no time. The fact that he was dead didn't hinder his ability to handle material objects, so his first stop was to where he kept his arsenal. The first thing he grabbed was the broken katana. He smiled a little bit as he thought back on the Old Man and the Kid. He wished he could have saved them... but he was never really there. He was just a passenger. An observer. He'd never forget.
The Festival was good to him. He came across an adamantine wakizashi via a certain knight. Jaired wouldn't forget that either and he made sure that it was along for the ride. He added his trusty hammer. Then he tossed in a smattering of katars and vials for good measure. Couldn't forget the vials. He counted them over for a moment and then grabbed some more. Could never have enough vials. He had tools now. They weren't gifts from the gods, but they would do. Or were they? The longer he remained away from the Gate the less the statue's pull felt like a tug, and the more it felt like it was simply pulling him apart altogether. It would seem that Helga's was out of the question. He missed her cabbage rolls. They'd have to wait. Everything would have to wait.
As he stepped back through the Gate the wild flashes of light became so regular and uninterrupted that he was forced to bring his hands up to shield his eyes. He felt thrown again. He was back there. The winged statue seemed to glare down at him and he felt a subtle twinge of guilt. Did he push too far? He sat up in the shallow water and the light became unrelenting as the vision of his surroundings were swallowed away. He sent out a thought. It was a goodbye... at least as much as he would commit to. He was never much for them. If there were responses... he couldn't hear them.
The light let him know.
It was time to go...
Get Used to It
All of this was taking quite a bit of getting used to... but he would get used to it. As the light dissipated he felt himself falling back towards the earth, the cloudless night above was swept with the pinpoints of countless stars. There was no moon. His tattered garb flickered wildly as he fell, the sound mingling with that of the passing winds that howled by. The air was dry. He could taste it now. His eyes focused upon his hands as he brought them upwards, the change of position resulting in a lazy side to side rock as he continued to fall. They were his own hands again, and this came as a relief, but he still knew on some level that he wasn't entirely back to his old self. He was still dead. All things considered this was a good thing. Falling from impossible heights and all. If he were alive the impending landing probably would not agree with him too much.
Jaired fell to the dunes with excessive force, sending a plume of sand upwards into the night sky that only fell back down upon him like an abrasive rain. As he sat up he couldn't help but feel that he didn't fall so much as he was thrown. The whole ordeal did seem a bit out of sorts and he did find himself wondering if he had offended someone or something with his overreaching at the Festival. In all fairness they shouldn't have been surprised. They certainly didn't need to lob him about in such a fashion. Sand trickled from his back and his limbs as he casually looked himself over. He wasn't ethereal anymore. Rather his skin seemed pale and in a delayed state of decay.
"I think I liked it better the other way..." he uttered to himself, sort of expecting a response from something or anything. Nope.
All he heard was the sound of the sands pouring down from the sky above. Either no one was listening or no one cared to respond. He pushed himself to a stand whilst swatting at his garb to remedy it of the sand he had procured. It would seem that he had made a rather fine crater in the side of the dune, and the more he looked about the more he realized that the spectacle was intentional. He was getting used to this after all. Remnants of a camp were strewn all about. Decaying canvas of tents, withering posts, and the occasional glint of metal were scattered across the sands. Jaired knew exactly where he was. The winds of time tried to bury it away, but, his sudden arrival had carved it all back into the present.
"Well then," he muttered to himself, taking a few steps forward to try and find the center of the scene.
Jaired trudged along until something stopped him. Something unseen. A subtle gust of wind brushed past his shoulders as he instincitvely stared down at the ground at his feet. The breeze carried with it a telling tale as it pushed sand forth. As he stared an imprint slowly emerged as if the winds themselves were trying to show him something. If his heart were not already still, it surely would have stopped at the sight of the familiar swipe of claws that had dug their way into the dune. Then an equally familiar pommel came into view as grain after grain was blown aside. In short time the sight of an entire takouba was revealed.
And then the light came again.
"Stay close," Ebon ordered, nodding only once to the Tehir beside him before he turned towards the tent. The Imperials were closing in on them and they didn't have the luxury of holding their ground. This wasn't exactly a last stand.
"That is the plan," Toben responded confidently, simply watching as the Faendryl brought his massive blade over his head and swung it down into the helpless canvas to cut the pair an opening.
The two burst through the tent's new entrance and briskly made their way through. It was empty. They could hear the shouts of the various commanders that were trying to flank them. The humans weren't stupid. Ebon and Toben didn't just disappear. A sudden barrage of spears and blades sliced at the sides of the tent, tearing it asunder as the defenders began pouring their way through. Toben took his takouba into a reversed grip and gestured towards Ebon to keep going. The Faendryl glared and grabbed at the Tehir's collar before dragging him along towards the tent's original entrance.
"What are you doing!?" Toben questioned defiantly, trying to free his garment from Ebon's grasp, "I'm trying to buy you time!"
"The plan was to watch my back, remember?" Ebon responded calmly, glancing over his shoulder for a moment at the Imperial guards that were rushing towards them, "Stick to it."
Ebon threw Toben forward suddenly through the opening of the tent, but he was right behind him. The two stood back to back as they found themselves at the center of the encampment. Toben gave his wrist a flick and brought the point of his takouba out in front of him as Ebon slammed the crescent shaped point of his blade into the sand. The guards formed ranks all around them in a mad flurry. The gleaming points of countless pikes pointed their way, and several polished swords of varying design pointed towards the sky to signal the attack.
"They'll come at once," Ebon remarked slowly, turning a confident glance towards Toben in suite with a nod, "You'll know when to do what you do."
"Got it," Toben replied as he leaned forward to take on a low, seemingly feral stance. His free hand reached up and pulled a pair of goggles down over his eyes, "Lets do this."
They'd practiced this. The stance was by design, and as the first line of men closed in on them Ebon reclaimed his blade and swung it about in a complete circle, slicing mere inches above Toben's crouched form before bringing the edge of the colossal weapon down upon the ground. A wave of shock shuddered forth with blinding speed, sending most of the guards to their backs as a blinding curtain of sand erupted upwards. Toben rushed forward, the point of his takouba finding the neck of one of the commanding officers with deliberate ease before crouching back down. Ebon's blade swung above him in another terrible cleave, cutting in two those that were within proximity. Blood mixed with the sand as it all fell down to the ground in a rhythmic platter.
It was raining in the Sea of Fire.
Rothel watched as a plume of sand suddenly lurched upwards at the center of the camp. It had been painful to watch this long, but, he finally had his signal. He raised his arm, his saber clenched confidently in hand, and pointed it forward. A resounding chorus of battle cries rang out to mingle with the sibilant roars of irascible yierka as they bound forth down the outcropping. The angle was extreme, but Rothel knew that it was the least defensible position... and that the yierka could handle it. The massive reptiles easily navigated down the jagged stone, and as they approached the flimsy borders of the camp they tore aside the flimsy wooden and fabric barricades as if they were nothing.
Ebon and Toben stepped and whirled about in the blinding chaos. Their blades took turns taking lives as the screen of sand continued to descend all around them. The cavalry was coming and they both knew it, and this enlightenment only served to fuel their cause. To Ebon it all seemed so pointless. He didn't know the full scope of why these men offended the Tehir so... but at the same time he didn't care. A deal had been struck, and he would see it through. At least that is what he tried to keep telling himself.
He was doing it for her.
Ebon and Toben suddenly crouched down low to take cover as the marauding wave of stampeding yierka ran by. The cries of the dismembered and of the dying surrounded them as the thunder dissipated, leaving the two alone for the moment as they rose back to a stand. An arrow whistled out through the night towards Toben, and the Faendrly simply brought the broad side of his blade in front of the Tehir to deflect it. There wasn't much left of the encampment anymore. The yierka and their riders were efficient.
"Well played!" shouted a disenchanted voice as a man emerged from the tent at the camp's center. It was him. Captain Bantel.
"You're done, Imperial bastard!" Toben growled, breaking from his position beside Ebon as he took a few steps towards the Captain.
"Oh?" Bantel asked in response. A trio of heavily armored men walked forward to take up positions around him. He wasn't alone.
"Wait..." Ebon suggested in a plainly stated calm, reaching forward to place his open hand upon Toben's shoulder to halt the Tehir's progress.
Toben turned towards the Faendryl with a slowly exhaled sigh, only nodding before the sounds of another imminent charge began to swell all around them. The Captain began looking frantically from side to side in a sudden fit of nervousness as the growls and roars of the approaching yierka filled the air around them. One of his guards broke rank and ran. He wouldn't have mattered. The yierka ran across them all as if they were never even there. The glint of metal swung intentionally about as parts were tossed asunder and blood was set free.
The Captain Bantel. The Slayer of the Sand.
He'd never have his moment.
In the hours that followed, and as the howling winds began to herald the rising sun, Ebon learned many things about the Tehir. He expected them to return at the battle's conclusion, but, that was not what happened at all. Once Rothel was assured that the area was secure, and that either all of the Imperial men were dead or had decided to chance their fate with the sands... they began salvaging. The weapons, the armor, the wood of their furnishings, the canvas of their tents. Everything that could be saved and used, was kept. They even lifted the corpses of the dead out into the dunes to be swallowed by the sands. This was in no way disrespectful as the Tehir saw it. Quite the contrary in fact, as it was what they considered a proper burial; even for one of their own.
As the day broke it came obvious that the Tehir caravan was coming to them, and not the other way around. Toben took the time to explain to him that the outcropping of rock that the Imperials had set their camp beside was not just a pile of stone. Its caverns ran deep, and from them trickled a spring. In the wet season, if one could properly call it that, the sand upon which they stood would become fertile for some time. The currents of water here were fickle, but, they came every year. Without fail. That was when Ebon realized that they were never after blood, or anything so trite as revenge or pride. The battle he just fought would assure their survival and easier days ahead. There was something settling about it.
Most of the tribe still avoided him. Some were more obvious about it now than ever... but Toben was never far from his side. Rothel was impossibly busy with the salvage effort as the new encampment was slowly beginning to emerge while more and more of the tribe staked out their places and set up their homes. Not a single Tehir died in the attack. It was an unprecedented victory. Too much so, apparently. Some of the other riders made their appreciation known, and finally looked upon him as an ally... but most of the others: prominently the elders and the more superstitious among them saw the Faendryl as a demon. He killed too easily and as a foreigner, without cause.
He didn't mind. He wouldn't be staying much longer.
"Oh, look," Toben said, pointing out the woman running towards them. She seemed happy, and her steps carried her lightly over the sand, "You'd think she was happy to see me!"
There was a certain bravado to Toben's words, and Ebon could only offer him a knowing grin as he turned his attention back to the Seer as she approached. A wide smile curled at her lips and with a few final bouncing steps she flung herself at the Faendryl and wrapped her arms around his neck, much to Toben's dismay. Ebon would be remiss if he didn't notice the way he always looked at her, but, at the moment she seemed a little more happy to see him than Toben. Whether it was surprise, shock, or respect for his compatriot; Ebon didn't return the embrace. He just kind of stood there like a fool as her arms loosened around him and she finally leaned back a little, glancing back and forth between the two.
"It worked!" she exclaimed, her smile softening ever so slightly as she finally let her arms unfurl from Ebon's neck. She didn't look in the slightest bit embarrassed. He was a little bit envious of that.
"Yeah," Toben responded coolly, his tone taking on an uncharacteristic bitterness as he turned away from the two, "But you knew it would."
"Toben?" she asked gently, worried that she may have inadvertently offended him.
"I have to get to work," he said with a parting gesture over his shoulder, walking his way towards the bustle of the growing camp, "My tent won't set up itself."
"Toben..." she frowned, her words barely a whimper as she watched him walk away.
Ebon had never seen her frown before. Not like that.
The sooner he left the better.
One would never know that an armed Imperial encampment was there just the night before. What remained of it had been neatly stockpiled or distributed to those that could make immediate use of the resources. Laughter and song filled the night, as did the crackling embers of the fires. The work was all done and now it was a time of celebration and well-deserved relaxation. It was the first time he had been introduced to Fire Water: a Tehir spirit that was by legend originally concocted as a lantern fuel when other materials were unavailable, which was often in the desert, hence its name. Apparently it was also good for tanning leather in a pinch, or oiling armor, or cleaning a fresh wound. It also got you drunk. Large balls of flame would be spit into the air at the whims of the daring... but it would go without saying that many an eye brow would meet its fate that night.
"He did what?!" Rothel howled in laughter, nearly falling backwards as he struggled to keep his skin of firewater from spilling. Ebon didn't seem nearly so amused, and the other men around the fire just chuckled along uneasily. It was obvious that they didn't want to get involved or weigh in, "He'll get over it, don't worry."
"I don't understand," Ebon asked with a hint of a slur. It would be unfair to call him a lightweight, but, given his profession he didn't abide in drink often.
"Toben looks up to you. He won't admit it, but, I know him better than most, and..." Rothel paused for a moment and gave the other men a knowing look. They responded with nods of understanding before clamoring to a stand and making their way from the fire, "The way she looks at you. It's as if she has always known you."
"You've lost me, old man," Ebon muttered as he took a hearty swig of the drink. It had a good burn to it, but the aftertaste was smooth and almost herbal.
"You understand why we call her True Seer, yes?" Rothel asked, waiting for Ebon's nod before continuing, "She has a very particular talent. A rare talent. You also have to understand that she was not originally of this tribe."
"Oh?" Ebon asked as he turned to better face the Tehir, whom seemed transfixed upon the fire in front of him as he mulled over what to say next.
"She was... 'acquired'," Rothel explained, but his words walked over eggshells. He uneasily scratched at the back of his neck and took another sip from his drink.
"You don't need to dance around it with me, my friend," Ebon replied. Subjects of slavery and human ownership were not foreign issues to a Faendryl, but there was something else at play, "I see how much you all care for her now."
"No no..." Rothel recanted with a shake of his head, the alcohol obviously slowing his words as he stared into the flickering flames for a moment before continuing, "Her parents were very poor, and from a very poor tribe. They saw her gift as an opportunity and... well... they 'sold' her to Toben's father. It is hard to explain, but, she wasn't sold as a slave or into servitude by any means. Part of the arrangement would be that the girl would be properly cared for and introduced to the Tribe as one of its own."
"Sounds like an adoption of sorts."
"Yes!" Rothel exclaimed, giving his fingers a snap in subconscious emphasis, "That works. But that is just it. Toben and her pretty much grew up together... so he is a bi-"
"Ebon!" came Toben's voice suddenly, hollered out through the darkness separating the campfires.
"Ebon!" Toben called out again, a pall of silence falling over the entire area as the Faendryl pushed himself to an uneasy, wobbly stand.
The Tehir noticed and began walk his way towards Ebon and Rothel's fire. He was drunk. They were all drunk. Toben marched his way right up to Ebon and stood well within arm's reach to stare him down. The entire display was so far beneath the Faendryl that it was making him a bit uneasy... for Toben. If he wanted a fight he'd give him one, there was no doubting himself of that, but, he rather liked the man, and didn't want to hurt him over some offense that he had neither intention of nor hand in. A crowd was starting to gather and whispered words he couldn't understand began spreading among them. Rothel seemed intent to just watch. Great.
In a quick motion Toben thrust his hand forward towards the Faendryl, holding forth a clay vessel that reeked of the firewater's fume. Ebon's eyes narrowed as he searched the Tehir's eyes, the light of the fires flickering in their vapid reflection. Toben didn't want a fight, but, he had something he had to get off of his chest... he just didn't seem to know how to go about it.
"For the Fallen..." Toben finally said in calm, even words as he tilted his cup to the side to allow a liberal portion of his drink to spill onto the sands.
This struck a chord as Rothel stood and seemingly repeated the phrase in their own language, so that all could understand. One after another held forth their drinks and poured the contents upon the ground. Ebon offered a nod and did the same, his eyes never leaving the unwavering stare of Toben's. The Tehir slapped his hand onto Ebon's shoulder and clenched it for a moment before giving the Faendryl a friendly shove. Rothel laughed and just shook his head, muttering something about 'kids' as he crouched back down to settle himself by the fire.
"Let us have a drink then! The night is young and the winds of dawn come early!" Toben exclaimed, ushering everyone forward as he stepped over to sit beside his old mentor near the fire.
So that was that, then. As Ebon moved to sit on the other side of Rothel, Toben tipped his cup towards him and the three would go on to talk about many things. Exchanging stories and laughter as the worries of life and of the times ahead would fade away for at least a little while. Ebon did wonder where she was from time to time, though, and often found himself searching over the various figures in the night to see if he could make her out. It was a hopeless venture.
The light returned and faded again, as it had done so many times before. Jaired stared for a long moment at the dimly lit sands at his knees. There were no fires. No laughter... no firewater... only silence. But the sand was damp. He touched at it first, and then to his eyes. Tears? He was crying. No, that couldn't be right. He never cried. Then the obvious occurred to him. The whole reason any of this was possible in the first place. They weren't his eyes. They were her's.
Why were his mother's eyes crying?
She never cried either...
Jaired was losing track of the days. He felt neither heat or cold, nor was he burdened by the troubling necessities of food or water. Being dead did have its advantages on one hand, but, on the other he was still anchored to this one spot upon the dunes. He kept waiting for the vision that wouldn't come... the next step. Every time he looked about he expected to see a sign, but, all he ever saw was wind or sand. Part of him wished some zealot would wander by and release him, but, he knew that there was still more to see. More to do. So far every step along the way had reason to it. Something that he could use.
What was he supposed to figure out? He was starting to wish that his parents and his village were just killed by krolvin or trolls or something because this was all starting to become a real pain in the proverbial backside. He missed being back home. The Villa. The Keep. His friends. Even Cat. Okay not so much Cat. A grin cracked at his blued, decaying lips as he thought about Helga's. He could really go for a glass of scotch and one of her cabbage rolls. It'd certainly take the edge off of things. The more he thought of things he missed, the more he felt himself slipping back away. It was an unconscious thing, but, he couldn't fight it. It was like finally falling asleep despite the mind's refusal to stop racing. He wasn't entirely asleep... the vision wasn't entirely taking over... he still had a hand in things.
A scream cried out. A terrified cry that was followed by a chorus of others. He sat up suddenly in his tent and looked around to take in his surroundings. Okay, he was in Ebon's tent. He was Ebon. There was no telling how much time had past between this vision and the last, but, he didn't really care. He didn't have to. Without wasting anymore time he stood up and walked over to retrieve the massive blade that was propped up near the tent's exit. Damn, it really was heavy. Dragging it behind him he walked out into the light of the day. Everyone was running for cover and pointing upwards towards the sky. He looked up but saw nothing other than the blinding glare of the sun. He lifted his hand to his brow to try and shield his eyes but Rothel grasped at his arm to snap his attention away.
Jaired knew what he meant. That meant that Ebon knew what he meant... and he quickly scanned the horizon in search of 'it'. The demon. It was done waiting to be found. He saw it for just a glimpse as it descended towards him. A perfectly black silhouette that grew in size the closer it approached. He brought the blade over his shoulder and waited, but, the closer it got the slower he felt himself moving. The more unsure. What was going on? The demon began to come into view and everything began to come together once again.
For Jaired, anyway.
He couldn't breathe. The air was stolen from his chest as the demon's terrible shriek rang out. To Ebon it was the unknown demon that had killed his employer, the source of his shame, and the target of his redemption. It was the whole reason he was here. To Jaired it was something all together different. He knew it all too well. He'd been connected to it. It was something he never sought to be near again.
Full circle and all of that.
The Shadow Death.
It fell from the sky like a writhing mass of shadow upon outstretched wings, wildly flailing tentacles of inky black swinging in all directions before forming into the vague semblance of limbs before colliding into the ground. Ebon raised his blade to shield himself from the spray of sand that the demon's sudden landing launched. It lurched forward and let out another terrible shriek that forced most of the Tehir to huddle to the ground and cover their ears. What was it doing out in the daylight? It made no sense. The creature itself seemed to be recoiling at the sun's light, and its hulking form twitched and shuddered while tiny hairlike follicles of pitch black flickered all about.
This was not the run of the mill Shadow Death, and the pit in Jaired's gut grew as he was forced to simply watch as a passenger. This wasn't like anything he had ever seen before: but the presence it emitted, the way the whispers returned to his mind... the hunger... it all called back to him. Jaired's thoughts raced as Ebon rushed towards it. The demon clawed into the sand with a quiver as its body hummed out like a deep growl. Did it know Jaired was there? No, his thoughts were becoming ridiculous. That was absurd. He had to focus. He had to pay attention and remember that everything he was being shown was for a reason.
A wall of black claws suddenly burst forth from the sands right in front of Ebon, forcing him to respond with a horizontal swing of his massive blade. The demon shrieked as the claws were cut asunder, the detached shreds of shadow merely dissipating back into nothing. Ebon was intent on ending it in that moment. He continued to rush towards it as it backpedaled, raising his blade high over his head for a finishing strike. Damn it, no! You never attack Shadow Death from the front! It was luring Ebon in and Jaired knew it. He also knew that there wasn't a damn thing that he could do about it.
The Demon retracted one of its limbs from the sand and absorbed it back into its body with blinding efficiency, shifting its center of balance in response to Ebon's angle of attack. As he swung he tried to correct but the edge of his blade only grazed the creature. Before he could recover a mass of nightmarish tendrils erupted from the Demon's mass to reform the limb. The claws of the limb twisted about until they formed one long, terrible spike that rapidly descended towards Ebon's undefended flank. It was too fast. A sudden burst of movement came from the corner of his eye and in a blur of Ahmdir, Toben put himself between the Faendryl and the Demon.
"Toben!" came a terrified wail. It was her, and she was rushing towards them both, "Toben! No!"
"Stay back!" Ebon commanded, but she didn't listen. It was too much like when the demon was originally summoned. He felt so helpless. Not enough had changed between then and now, and Ebon wouldn't be able to save any of them either. He had damned them all.
"I... owed you..."
Toben slouched towards him as a pitiful, wet cough wracked at his shoulders. Ebon brought an arm beneath the Tehir's to support his weight. The light was already fading from his eyes. The Demon pulled back and yanked the spike from Toben's back. It had ran him straight through the abdomen and the moment the limb was removed, Toben fell forward against Ebon as a fountain of blood splashed upon the sands with a sickeningly brisk pitter-patter. Ebon struggled to lift his sword as the Demon fell back a few more steps. As Toben wheezed for breath the Demon's countless wisps of shadow began shuddering as if in delight, then it turned its attention in an instant towards the approaching woman.
"No!" Ebon shouted, watching helplessly as the shadows flickering over the Demon's back suddenly extended outwards into a pair of unfurled wings.
With one flap it took to the air and then sped towards the Seer with impossible speed. Her eyes that were always so calm went wide as it descended upon her. She'd have no time to cry out as it leaped back into the air with her in tow. She was gone. It took her. Ebon's whole body shook with rage, his teeth threatening to grind themselves smooth as he could do nothing but watch the Demon's form grow smaller and smaller. He did this. This was all his fault.
"Ebon..." came Toben's voice, "Ebon, put me down..."
"What happened?!" Rothel shouted as he pushed his way through the crowd. Everyone was silent, their expressions solemn despite their shaken states. As Rothel shoved his way into view, his heart sank at the sight that he saw, "Toben... no..."
"Hey, Old Man..." Toben weakly whispered, his words gargled by the blood in his throat, "Come here."
He tried to lift his hand, but Ebon placed his over it to keep him still. He'd seen countless men die before, and he knew the Tehir didn't have much time. He closed his eyes to try and calm the boil of his blood. Rothel rushed up and fell to his knees, placing his hands instinctively over the gaping wound to try and stall the bleeding to no true effect. He struggled for his breath as he was far from prepared for this event.
"Toben, don't speak," Ebon said calmly, reaching around his shoulder to unsling his skin of water.
"Don't tell me what to d-..." Toben tried to speak through a chuckle, only to be interrupted by a hoarse cough.
"Alright, fine," Ebon consoled. Rothel was beside himself, frantically fumbling to gather more fabric into his hands to push against the wound.
"Go get her..." Toben whispered in a tired, fading rasp. He was getting further away. Ebon wondered if he even knew the Demon had taken her, "Sh-- she looks at you..."
"I will," Ebon replied, his tone like that of a vow. Rothel shot the Faendryl a searching glance and then quickly looked all around. She was gone. Rothel was quick to put two and two together. He knew there was very little time and that they had to move very quickly. He turned a glance over his shoulder to one of the gathered men and gave him a signal. The man nodded and then disappeared into the crowd.
"E... E...on" the Tehir stuttered, a wince pinching at his face as he brought his hands up to unravel the ahmdir wrappings concealing his face.
"No, don't mo-"
"Shh...t... up," he uttered with a glare, continuing his efforts to unwrap the layers of fabric until his face was finally revealed. Blood trickled down the corners of his mouth, highlighting the faint grin "Take it..."
"Toben?" Ebon questioned, taking the length of ahmdir fabric from the Tehir's hands before they fell limply back to his sides. His breath was growing weaker, "Toben!"
"Heh..." Toben laughed with his last breath, growing perfectly still upon the sands as his eyes stared lifelessly into the blue sky above.
Ebon bowed reverently over his friend, slowly smoothing the palm of his hand down over the Tehir's eyes to close them. Rothel reached over and grasped the Faendryl's shoulder tightly. He had a whole lot of questions, but, he'd have to ask them on the way. It wasn't the right time anyway. The man that disappeared into the crowd earler returned with a pair of yierka in tow, the beasts readied with saddles and provisions. The gathered Tehir moved aside to allow the creatures through and Rothel gave Ebon's shoulder a shake to try and snap him back.
"Ebon. We need to go..." Rothel ushered confidently, setting aside his own emotions for the time being, "We can still save her."
Ebon stood slowly as he began wrapping the ahmdir veil around his face, tying it in a secure knot at the back of his head before turning to face Rothel. He gave the Tehir a nod and then moved swiftly to gather his blade on his way towards the waiting beasts. They seemed eager. They'd need to be...
They had a long way to go.
He was becoming insubstantial again. As the light pulled back and the vision faded, he sat up to find his limbs reverting to an ethereal state. The things he carried were becoming heavy. Too heavy to carry. Everything he died with was turning ethereal with him, but they were not things that he could use. Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time to bring a few things along, but now he would have to choose what to bring and leave the rest behind. It was dangerous to go alone, so he kept the scabbard sheathing the Old Erithian's katana. He could carry it easy enough. Then a flicker of ahmdir caught his eye.
The tips of his fingers brushed at the ahmdir fabric of his face-wrap, a little confounded as to how it wasn't turning with the rest of him. Images of the vision flooded back into his mind like the recollection of a dream. Another piece of the puzzle fell into place. Ever since he'd been given the veil and told it was his father's, the question plagued him as to why an Elf, a Faendryl for that matter, would have possessed one of such a sacred and highly regarded color to the Tehir. Now it all made sense. A gift from a dying friend. Something to take with him and pass on. Jaired saw a lot of himself in Toben; they both wanted greater things for themselves and looked up to the same people. Perhaps... it was not on accident.
If the veil around his face remained within the physical world, that meant that there was hope for the rest of him. Jaired gave a final nod and turned away from the rest of his things. He'd just have to come back for them later. For the time, however, this place was done with him and there was nothing left for him to see. He remembered the way the demon flew with his Mother and the direction his Father and Rothel rode. It was a direction he was told to never go or stare too long towards. It was bad luck...
For in that direction there was nothing but death and ruin. It was the source of countless stories passed down from Tehir to Tehir. An ancient place where many had ventured and few returned, and those that did were forever altered by it. The Ruins of Bir Mahallah. The Great City.
The sun was beginning to rise over the Sea of Fire. The horizon undulated in a deep red haze as the winds began to howl, carrying with them their abrasive sting and the desert's namesake. Sand pelted at the loose lengths of the veil as it flickered wildly in his wake, leaving all of the rest to simply pass through him. Bir Mahallah wasn't much further ahead. Superstition stated that if you could see the spire, you were already too close and that you would be condemned to share its curse. Tales suggest that during the reign of the Drakes, or possibly before it, the Sea of Fire was a fertile valley that was home to a thriving, ancient civilization. Clues of their former existence are scattered all throughout the desert. Strange ruins, eroded obelisks, and passages carved into stone. All seemingly crafted by unknown hands and inscribed with unknown words. The ruined city is their greatest remaining legacy... and a telling clue as to their doom.
Theories and stories vary wildly from one to the next as to the details, but the most prevailing theme is that this civilization began delving too deeply into the darker arts. It is unknown if they brought about their own fate or if it was brought down upon them as punishment, but in the end the valley was scorched away. Perhaps it was in the attempt to wipe clear any memory that these people had existed at all. Then why did the ruins remain? Some argue that it was left as a warning... others, however, argue that it just wouldn't die. The closer he got the more convinced he became that the latter idea was more accurate.
As the light of the sun lifted higher and the winds calmed, he began seeing other spirits drifting about. He slowed as he tried to examine them in order to determine if they would be a threat or not. They didn't seem to so much as notice him, one even passing right through his shoulder with a lifeless, solemn expression. It was the spirit of a Tehir, that much was easy to determine by its lazily drifting garb. The ruins pulled at him. He could feel it. These other spirits were no doubt pulled here as well. As he proceeded he began seeing all manner of ghosts. Tehir, soldiers from the Empire, Hendoran merchants... they were countless.
He started to wonder if there was a bit of credence in the belief that those not properly buried deep enough in the sand are doomed to wander the desert for all time. Even if a body was to be left, it was always placed appropriately along a dune so that it would be properly swallowed within it by the winds. This could be where all of those spirits were eventually drawn to. Left to aimlessly wander until the end of time. Poor bastards. This truly was a cursed place. A handful of qahzumar skittered out of his way, apparently aware of him. Their scorpion-like bodies recoiled as he drifted by, their tentacles held aloft in a threatening posture. He never could stand the damn things. They were troublesome creatures.
Collapsed buildings that were half-encased in small dunes and massive, scattered stones welcomed him as he got closer. The occasional odd symbol or marking could be seen on some of the objects, seemingly remaining in sheer defiance of time. The spire loomed high above while he cautiously made his way into the city proper. Walls and buildings were crumbled everywhere. Sand covered everything and the wind whistled drearily as it crept over brick and stone. There were no spirits here, but he could feel something all about him. Calling him. Pulling him towards the spire. He was anything but alone. Not the TimeEdit
Jaired ran his ethereal hand along the perfectly carved stone of the wall, not disturbing the layer of dust in the slightest. His grip around the ebony scabbard of the katana tightened consciously as he focused on keeping it held. It was starting to get heavy. He was losing track of time as he wandered the winding halls of the spire. The occasional whisper touched his ear, causing him to turn around in search of it's source but each and every time he only saw the inky blackness of the hall. He continued forward, completely unaware of where he was going. He just knew he was going up. It didn't seem this big from the outside. A long hall stretched ahead and within it he felt an unnerving sense of dread. It was a strange sensation, and every fiber of him was telling him not to go... but... he had to. Where else was there?
He slowly crept forward, bringing his other hand to the hilt of the katana as his eyes darted back and forth to try and pierce the darkness. There was no light here, but his undead eyes saw much better than he would have expected in the dark. He couldn't feel it setting in at first. It was so subtle and his attention was so fixed ahead of him that he didn't realize he was slowing down... and then as he tried to move more quickly in response, he couldn't move at all. His eyes began to make something out ahead. Something was moving and coming closer. Suddenly a wave of terror overcame him. It was so palpable he could taste it, and if he were able he no doubt would have fell to his knees in a wail. This was a sensation he had not felt in a long, long time. It was the aura of fear that all undeath emitted.
Its body jerked awkwardly and its limbs shook with each step it took. It had the appearance of a thin, frail man. Every inch of it was wrapped in decaying strips of fabric and it donned a long coat that was probably black once upon a time, but was now grayed from dust and time. The way it dressed, it looked kind of like... himself. Or rather like he would look given a couple thousand years of self-neglect. Was this some kind of 'face yourself' test? He was immediately doubting that this thing wanted to hug things out, however. The fear still crushed at him as he stood motionless, not even able to fight against the invisible force restraining him enough to try and run.
The creature came to a stop directly in front of him and leaned in close. Its face was completely concealed by wrappings except for its eyes, which were nothing more than perfectly black, hollow voids. As he stared into them a familiar whisper tickled at the back of his mind. It was the whispers from before... but they had a different familiarity as well. Suddenly the light returned to smother out his sight, just as it always liked to do.
This was hardly the time for another vision.
The growls of the two yierka filled the night as the beasts snapped and snarled. Rothel and Ebon were charging forward, gripping the reigns tightly as they kicked their spurred heels into the thighs of the beasts. Faster, they had to go faster. Rubble and stone began littering the sands as they drew closer to the spire. The yierka tossed their heads from side to side to try and throw their riders. They didn't want to be there. Who could blame them?
"Damn it!" Rothel shouted, leaning to his side with a sharp tug of the reigns to try and get the yierka back under his control.
Ebon, on the other hand, jumped from his mount and landed upon the sand in a dead run towards the ruins. He didn't have time for disobedient animals. They'd been riding for days and they were too close. Rothel was starting to see the light in the Faendryl's strategy as his yierka began turning quickly all about in a wild spin, looking not unlike a dog after its own tail. His landing wouldn't be so graceful. He was tossed and fell solidly upon the ground before rolling to a stop. The two yierka dashed away as fast as they could, wanting no part in where the two men were going.
"Ebon! Wait!" Rothel hollered again as he pushed himself back to his feet and began chasing after the Faendryl, "Damn it, Ebon, don't be foolish and just rush ahead!"
The Faendryl's steps slowed before he finally came to a stop beside a ruined building. Rothel was right. Rushing ahead was what almost got him killed, and got Toben killed instead. He muttered a curse beneath his breath as he stared towards the top of spire, his eyes transfixed upon it. Swirls of shadow lashed out. It was there. He could only hope that she was, too. Rothel rushed up to Ebon's side and took a moment to catch his breath. The Tehir looked him over for a moment and then followed the path of his eyes towards the spire's peak.
"We have to be careful," Rothel warned. The two began running their way through the ruins side by side, "This place is cursed."
"Lets do it no favors, then," Ebon responded, his blade draped across his back, and his eyes narrowed and intent upon the spire's entrance.
"Ebon, when we-
The light faded suddenly. It wasn't time, though. There was still more to see.
"Waaaaake uuup..." came a hissed, wheezing voice as his sight slowly returned.
Jaired was on the floor and that thing was crouched over him, poking one of its fingers directly into his ethereal forehead and swirling it about. The fear was gone, as was the force that was restraining him. He rolled to the side and sprang upright, staring at the creature with a baffled expression while he felt about for his scabbard.
"Heeeere..." it wheezed, presenting the sheathed katana and then lobbing it unceremoniously into Jaired's hands. He almost couldn't catch it as he struggled with its weight. Jaired grasped the hilt and pulled the broken veil iron katana free. The creature clapped its hands, sending tiny little plumes of dust into the air, "Heehehehehe."
"The hell are you?" Jaired asked, pointed the jagged point of the katana towards the creature that remained crouched upon the floor. Before he knew it, he was restrained again and unable to move. Damn it.
"I don't... remember," the creature wheezed out, continuing with a bit of a laugh. It finally pushed itself to stand, every joint responding with a sickening crack as its limbs shuddered, "The hell are you?"
"Jaired..." he muttered, not really able to do much of anything else at the moment.
"Oh, I remember now," the creature responded, idly bringing a wrapped hand to the pendant at its neck. It was shaped as an hourglass, and there was a tiny amount of sand pouring through it. Just as the last grain was about to pour through, the creature turned it about.
"Remember what?" Jaired questioned as he felt himself able to move again. He slowly sheathed the katana back into the ebony scabbard and clutched at it with both of his hands. Holding it was becoming more and more laborious. He felt like he was running out of time.
"You," the creature wheezed with a nod, "Come. Come. You need to see."
The creature turned about and started shambling down the hall. Jaired followed in silence, his eyes intent upon the creature's shrouded back. He certainly didn't trust it. The hall made another turn that lead towards another set of stairs. The creature gave a wave of its hand for him to follow, and then idly turned its pendant over again. The whispers in the back of Jaired's mind were becoming more and more clear. The words still seemed alien and he struggled to listen. At one point he swore he could make out two words: "Relinquish It".
"Come, come," the creature beckoned again, noting Jaired's hesitation, "You're going to like it."
"Like what?" Jaired asked, squinting, "And wait. What did you mean back there before? You remember me?"
"No no," the creature responded with a raspy, throaty chuckle, "I remember them."
"Them?" Jaired questioned, following a safe distance behind the creature as it slowly made its way up the stairs. The creature slowly turned and simply pointed towards its empty eyes. Jaired mirrored the motion and brushed his fingertips against his brow, "You remember these eyes..."
"Yeesss, yes. You get it," the creature laughed, clapping its hands together again with another plume of dust. Jaired cold swear he heard the bones of its fingers break themselves beneath the bandages.
The creature turned and continued its way back up the stairs. It hummed a song. It was the lullaby his mother always hummed. The one she hummed to him, and the one she hummed to Ebon while he was recovering. How did this... thing... know that song? It turned over the pendant again. This climb up the stairs seemed to be taking forever, and he began taking note of the intervals. The creature turned the hourglass over just as it was about to run out of sand each and every time. Without fail.
"How much longer?" Jaired asked. In all honesty he didn't really care. It was not as though he had somewhere else that he had to be. He just felt compelled to spark up a conversation to pass the time.
"Not long," the creature answered as it struggled with the stairs. To Jaired it seemed so contrary. Just moments ago it had him paralyzed and succumbing to fear for the first time in many years. The only thing he could think of that would be more frightening than that moment would be the return of one of his ex-wives.
"So why are you here?" Jaired inquired. He was dragging the scabbard now, clutching it just above the katana's spiral shaped tsuba. The ebony thumped out as it was brought up each of the steps.
"Always been," the creature responded cryptically, pausing for a moment to turn Jaired a look, "Why are you here?"
"Do you always do that?" Jaired asked with a heavy dose of cynicism, forcing the creature's cheek bones to lift beneath the wraps surrounding its face, emoting the closest thing to a grin that it could properly manage.
"Answer the question."
"Things aren't done," he answered, trying to do his best to sound cryptic in retaliation. The creature only nodded as if in approval and then turned about to continue climbing the stairs.
Damn it. There was no phasing the thing.
They finally stepped out into the open. Even in his ethereal state Jaired felt cold. Night had fallen again and a perpetual breeze swept across the spire's peak. It was cut perfectly flat and there was no sand this high. None that would survive the wind on any accord. The stars seemed impossibly close and he could see so far over the horizon that the borders of the desert were visible. The other thing that struck him was how black and dull the stone was. As he dragged the edge of his scabbard along behind him, the scraping of the wood revealed the polished stone beneath. It was soot. Coils of ancient rope and chain were strewn all about, some of them affixed to large rings of corroded metal that lined the outermost ring of the spire's edge. They looked like restraints. But for what?
"Come, come," the creature wheezed, its shuddering movements almost downright excited as it approached the very edge.
"What is it?" Jaired asked as he walked up to the thing's side.
It pointed down and he leaned over to look. In that moment he realized he had just fallen for the oldest trick in the book. The creature swatted at his back and despite his ethereal state, the strike took purchase. Can spirits fall? He was about to find out.
"See..." the creature wheezed. At least that is what he thought it said. Apparently he was going to be taking its advice as the light returned.
Ebon and Rothel burst out onto the top of the spire. The demon undulated calmly as it rested upon the soot-covered surface of the stone. She was there. She was still alive. Her palm was resting upon it and several perfectly black filaments were embedded around her wrist. What was she doing? Had she found a way to succumb it? Neither of the men knew what to make of the situation, but Ebon grasped his weapon's hilt and rushed towards it while Rothel hung back to take in the situation. This was actually the plan they had come up with as they were making their way up the spire. The demon would be expecting a frontal assault from the Faendryl, so that is exactly what they would give it.
She turned around with a look of picturesque calm as the demon suddenly sprang into life. Its terrible shriek quaked at the very air itself. Without warning it leaped upwards as a pair of wings unfurled from its back. Ebon's eyes went wide as she was buffeted backwards and thrown from the edge. There was no time to think. He could hear Rothel shouting out but everything was being drowned out as he slung his blade back across his back and sprinted towards the edge. He reached down to grasp the end of one of the ancient ropes and jumped.
This wasn't part of the plan. This wasn't even something anyone could train or prepare for. Ebon wrapped the rope about himself several times before tying it tight as he dove straight down the spire's side. As the world raced by and the ground became closer he picked out the sight of the descending Seer. She was reaching for him. If there was ever a time that he expected her to not look so perpetually calm, it would have been then. But no, she simply held out her hand as the layered fabric of her burnoose fluttered wildly all about her. He was gaining on her.
Rothel stood there in a state of dumbfounded shock, forgetting all about the demon as he watched the coil of the rope rapidly whizzing down. It was when he realized that particular coil wasn't actually tied down to anything that a bit of panic set in. He sheathed his takouba and rushed towards the rope to grab at the other free end. He caught sight of one of the giant rings of iron and rushed towards it. He slid to the ground and began prying the corroded metal upwards when the demon fell back to the top of the spire.
Ebon reached his hand down towards her, their fingertips barely touching until finally they grasped one another. He pulled her towards him and her arms immediately wrapped their way around the back of his neck as she held him tight, burying her face into the crook of his shoulder. This was the first time he ever held her back. As they fell Ebon closed his eyes, letting out a long breath as he came to peace with the moment. He had done his part. The rest was up to the rope... and fate.
But she didn't seem all that worried.
"I'm getting too old for this," Rothel grumbled as he stood back up while clutching his end of the rope.
He turned towards the Demon as it bristled angrily upon the spire's edge. It knew what it had done, and now it had effectively separated Rothel from Ebon. Tendrils of shadow slowly rose from the Demon like a slow steam as it took a step towards the Tehir, which drew Rothel's attention to the Demon's limbs. The rope was descending right between them and the coil was getting smaller with every moment. An idea hit him. Rothel pulled his takouba from its leather sheath and rushed towards the abomination. Several perfectly black tendrils erupted from it as he approached, intent on skewering him but each attempt only struck the soot covered stone.
The old man wasn't that old after all, and still had a few things up his sleeve. He jumped forward and slid feet first beneath the Demon, tossing the length of rope aside to wrap it around one of the ceature's shadowy legs. As it lifted its leg in response the Tehir scrambled to grasp the remnants of the rope and ran back around to the other side of the creature. A twisting tendril of shadow formed itself into a trio of razor-honed claws that it swung down at him, but he only changed direction again with the rope in hand. As the creature tried to turn about its limbs became entangled within the rope and it fell upon the stone of the spire with a deafening roar. Rothel made one last pass around it, and then to the Demon's surprise, he jumped upon it.
The Tehir jammed the point of his takouba into the writhing back of the Demon and grasped the hilt tightly, watching with rapidly accelerating anticipation as the last coils of the rope were pulled down over the edge. The creature howled in pain and struggled to reach around itself towards Rothel, but in the next instance it felt itself being yanked down the edge of the spire.
Ebon held her tightly in his arms as the rope snapped tight around his body, stealing the very wind from his lungs as he struggled to remain conscious. She simply held onto him for a moment before pulling back to gaze into his eyes. He was gasping for air, but that little smile curled itself into the corners of her lips and he couldn't help but grin back as he finally caught his breath.
"I knew you'd catch me..." she offered.
"Of course you did," he replied in a wry fashion, but before he could bask too long in the moment she clutched him tightly once again.
The Demon's limbs rapidly reformed into barbed claws that it tried to bury into the smooth stone to little avail. It was being dragged back little by little. Rothel pulled his takouba from the Demon's back only to hack at it again with the broad edge. It recoiled and slipped further back. Realizing its dire situation the Demon's claws retracted briskly back into itself. It even tried to retract its limbs in the fruitless attempt to rid itself of the rope, but, the knot was soundly surrounding it at this point. As its wings reformed from its shoulders Rothel stabbed his sword into it once more.
Maybe she was actually talking to him when she said that last part.
The Hard Way
The Demon shrieked out in agony as Rothel twisted his takouba into its back, sending them plummeting from the spire's edge. As it would struggle to maneuver its wings the Tehir would kick one of them back asunder to force its resumption into a hopeless spiral. He didn't want it flying off and was trying to control their descent, but, it was barely working. They were still falling too fast. Ebon held her tightly as they began swinging wildly from the rope. The Faendryl glanced down towards the rapidly approaching ground below and then back up towards the tumbling Demon. They weren't going to survive like this, and they only had seconds.
"You're not helpless!" she screamed into his ear, and even then he could barely make out her words over the wind and the Demon's howls. His eyes widened slightly as the realization of what she had said settled in. She was right... he needed to get over it.
He took his right hand and reached it back over his shoulder to grasp the hilt of his blade and pulled it free. Ebon gave her a brief look to make sure she was with him. Her nod sealed the deal. Shifting their weight as the demon continued to tumble above them, the two propelled themselves towards the stone of the spire that rapidly sped by. They didn't have long. Ebon slammed the point of the blade into the stone and began grinding it inward as the two began to slow. The ancient brick was no match for the strange alloy as the occasional volley of sparks shot out, but the massive sword wedged itself so firmly that the they suddenly came to a stop.
The writhing hulk of the Demon fell past in a tangled blur as Ebon yelled to Rothel. The Tehir turned towards the noise and watched with surprise as he fell past the duo. How the hell did they manage that? Then he remembered that Ebon was still tied to the rope. He quickly pulled his takouba from the demons back and leaped towards the length of rope that was now stretching above him. He spun about a few times as he grasped it, wincing as the fibers cut into the skin of his hands. Without hesitating another moment he cut the rope free beneath him, finally separating the three from the falling atrocity.
"Are you alright!?" Ebon yelled down, keeping one of his arms wrapped securely around her as she continued to clutch to his neck. She looked down as well, a little grin curling at her lips at the sight of the old man slowly swinging back and forth. Rothel's weight was pulling the rope around Ebon's chest tight, so he could only manage a wheezy little chortle.
"Of course I'm not alright!" Rothel growled upwards, dangling precariously from the rope as he turned his glance downward to watch as the Demon fell to the sands at the spire's base, sending a faint shudder up the wall as a plume of dust and sand rose upwards towards them.
Now they'd have to take the hard way down.
More to Show
The sound of droplets surrounded him. The light receded as it had always done and he sat up with a groan. His ethereal hands clutched at his forehead for a moment and then took some time fussing over the lengths of his face-wrap. It was still intact as well. Could spirits get concussions? Maybe if the fall was far enough. It was dark here... and the droplets he heard weren't water at all; rather they were pebbles of sand that were still descending from somewhere above. He looked up and saw a gash of light within the ceiling of rock... it wasn't hard to figure out that that was where he had fallen through. He was somewhere beneath the Spire now.
He floated to a stand and looked all about. Sand continued to fall from on high, and the floor seemed covered in it for as far as he could see in any direction. The cavern, if could call it that, was massive. Each pebble of sand that fell to the ground echoed about, creating a chorus of reflected sound that bounced from one to the other in a convincing mimic that was eerily similar to the calamity of a storm. The ebony scabbard was only a few paces away. It looked a little worse for wear from the fall, but, it was still intact. He crouched down and plucked it up with both of his hands, struggling for a bit before angling it over his shoulder to ease the burden of its weight. He was still getting weaker.
"Did you see?" the familiar voice of the creature wheezed as it suddenly shambled past him. Jaired merely nodded. Sure, the thought of how that thing had gotten down there with him so fast had brushed his mind, but, he'd seen so many things beyond explanation at this point that he was just going to let this one go.
"Where is this?" Jaired asked as he followed the creature, the curtains of sand slowly cascading over them both as they walked.
"I..." the creature paused for a moment, its head tilting for a moment as it patiently studied the area. It brought up its hand to turn the pendant around its neck over once again, and then simply shrugged its shoulders with a series of crackles and snaps, "I don't recall."
"No?" Jaired questioned, his brow arching with disbelief. There was something about the way the creature said it. It was lying to him.
"Must not have been important," the creature responded, flicking one of its limbs in a dismissive gesture as it struggled to shamble forward.
"Like your name?" Jaired asked brazenly, halting his course as his eyes narrowed upon the tattered back of his companion. It stopped as well, but it didn't bother to turn and face him.
"Spirit Walker..." it wheezed. Was it addressing him? Then it simply turned about and continued forward once again. He gave out a sigh and resigned himself to following once again. The ceiling was getting lower, and the curtain of sand was getting more and more sparse, "The way ahead is shrouded. You will find it there."
"The Demon?" Jaired asked again. He was full of questions that he already knew the answer to.
"You will know the way," the creature responded, but, its tone had changed. It wasn't struggling for its words. This was becoming troublesome, "They will know the way."
Because you've forgotten? He didn't ask it aloud. Instead he only inclined his head in a single nod. He was already seeing it. Her eyes were illuminating a path for him to follow...
They still had something to show him.
The Demon was wounded. They could hear its echoed shrieks as it dragged itself through the darkness. Rothel held the torch out in front of them as they quickly made their way forward. They had no idea where they were going in the dark labyrinth, but they had come too far to leave things unfinished. It was too dangerous to be left alive, and Rothel had made a deal. Every time they came to a turn or a fork in the passage she would point the way. There was no doubting her intuition. At first Ebon wanted to have her wait behind, not wishing to risk her any further, but they needed her. They needed her eyes.
"Are we closer?" the creature asked, willing itself forward despite the debilitated state of its limbs.
"Yes," Jaired answered simply. He wasn't rushing, rather he was biding his time. The visions this time around were strange. It was as if he could see them up ahead, their visages drawn into the air like flickering light.
"What do we do when we corner it?" Rothel asked. Ebon had been a bit too silent the whole time and they were rushing into things without a plan.
"It is hurt," Ebon replied dryly. Rothel wasn't sure if it was recklessness or overconfidence that guided the Faendryl at the moment, but, he hated not having a plan, "It runs for a reason."
"That reason could be a trap."
"It isn't..." she interjected with a slow shake of her head, "This way."
Jaired pointed down the hall, turning towards the creature with a nod. It turned at the pendant around its neck and if the half-elf didn't know better he could have sworn the thing was giddy with excitement. Then again, things like this probably didn't happen to it every day. Debris of large stones and a thick layer of dust filled the halls now. They were close. Very close. As they entered a ruined chamber Jaired went still. To say that he wasn't expecting to see what he saw would have been... melodramatic. Truth be told, in a way that eluded him, it was exactly as he always expected.
"There it is," Rothel said in a low hush, but before he could continue Ebon dashed past him. As he was about to shout out at the Faendryl her hand settled upon his shoulder.
"He must do this," she responded quietly. He would wait there with her, despite every instinct he had.
The Demon recoiled as Ebon closed in on it, drawing into itself as the almost innumerable shadows within the chamber coalesced to its will. The chamber was small but there was still plenty of room for the Demon to move. Several pillars reached from floor to ceiling, but they were too small for either to hide behind and proved more of a nuisance than anything. They only offered the Demon more shadows to work with. The edge of the Palestra's blade cleaved a severing path through the demon's midsection, forcing the wounded abomination backwards as it let out another deafening, shrieking howl.
Several spikes of pure black shot out of the Demon, forcing Ebon to raise his blade and deflect them with the broad spance of its width. His heels dug into the ground as he was pushed backwards, but with a quick lunge he tilted the creature off balance and rushed it once again. He was expecting it this time. Ebon feinted to the right, provoking the Demon to reform its tendrils into one massive claw that was intent on attacking his undefended flank, but in one smooth movement he pivoted about to the left with a backhanded slash. The claw was no match for the horrible edge of the blade. Ebon cleaved the massive appendage right down the middle, passing right through the flailing remnants of shadow that was cut free.
The Demon's shriek echoed through the labyrinth as it fell through one of the pillars, large chunks of debris quickly falling from above with indiscriminate force. Ebon carefully jumped aside to avoid a large stone that crashed into the floor at his feet, but it did little to slow his assault. Dust began choking the chamber as brick after brick fell from the ceiling. Several pelted at the Demon, forcing it to the ground beneath their mounting weight as tendrils of shadow flailed all about. Ebon leaped into the air, reversed his grip upon the massive blade, and then with unmerciful intent he thrust it downward upon the prone abomination. The crescent-shaped point of the weapon plunged directly through the bulk of the Demon, only stopping once it buried itself into the stone of the floor.
The abomination of shadow cried out with such agony that the impure sound forced both Rothel and the Seer to cover at their ears. More stones began to fall from the ceiling as another one of the pillars fell. The Demon was still alive, and it struggled against the blade as Ebon drove it ever further into the stone. It wasn't going anywhere... he was going to make sure of that, but more and more stones fell as the chamber continued to collapse in upon itself. Ebon wasn't going to be going anywhere either if he stayed.
"Ebon! Come on!" Rothel shouted, taking a rushed step towards the entrance of the chamber but her hand pulled his shoulder back, "It's coming down! We have to go!"
"No!" Ebon shouted back, glaring down at the Demon that was pathetically swatting at him and the alloy of the blade impaling it, "It isn't done yet!"
"It is done for now!" Rothel yelled.
"Ebon, please!" she shouted above the calamity of falling stones and crumbling walls.
Her words were the only thing that could have convinced him.
In the Way
Jaired slowly drited through the nearly impassable mounds of debris as he approached. He had to be mindful of his veil and scabbard, but he managed. Nothing was going to stop him now. The dust had settled long ago, but it was still there. Just where his father had left it. The metal was barely visible beneath the layers of age that had blanketed it. It all made sense now. What they had always meant... he had to finish what was started. The Demon was still there, too, reduced to little more than a tiny sphere of black, negative light upon the floor. The Palestra's blade had done its job. However, Jaired knew the nature of Shadowdeath all too well, and that the Demon would only need time before it was back to its previous state. The Shadowdeath never slept, it only hungered.
"Yesss..." the creature hissed behind him. Wasn't there anything in this accursed place that it could not go? "This is where they left it."
"I need to finish it off," Jaired said distractedly. He could hear it in the back of his mind. The Demon. The Shadowdeath. It was whispering to him with unheard words that he had heard before. It whispered promises.
"Nooo, no no," the creature wheezed out with a laugh, shambling slowly towards the blade as it reached a crooked hand towards the hilt, "We need to release it."
"We can't release it," Jaired responded as his eyes narrowed. This was bad. He had to do something about that... thing... it needed to go, "They cannot be controlled."
"Nonsense," the creature laughed with hissed words, waving its hand about in dismissal before reaching it back towards the sword.
Jaired wrapped his ethereal fingers around the ancient hilt of his katana, bringing the scabbard to his hip as he struggled to draw it. He had to do something, but it was too damn heavy. Light flashed in his eyes and he saw it for only a moment. The Old Erithian holding the broken blade through the jaw of the winged demon back on the ship. Apparently he needed help remembering. Everything he'd seen up to this point had been for a reason. The problem was he never learned that technique. It would seem that he would have to wing it. Then the light flashed again and he saw Pip standing in front of him.
"...be the storm..."
Before he could blink the image was gone. She was never there. It was just a reflection... his mother's eyes were showing him what he needed to see. It was all feeling very sentimental and all but it wasn't really helping him. The creature was already pulling at the blade, struggling with its weight along with the fact that it was firmly wedged into the ground. Then he remembered. To be the storm he must be the wind as well as the eye. More damn cryptic poetry about balance, but, maybe he could use it. As he tried to lift at the scabbard to bring it into position it hit him. This whole time it was getting heavier... he was becoming lighter. More non-distinct. It was never because he was running out of time. He was dead. The dead have nothing but time.
The creature lurched forward suddenly, its shaky limbs shivering as it gave off a wheezy cough. It released the hilt of the Palestra's blade and lowered it to drape its crooked, bandaged fingers over the reverse edge of the broken katana that was suddenly running it through. Jaired exhaled a long, non-existent breath of exhaustion as he slouched a bit. He was no longer ethereal and he fell to one knee as the plaguing injury of his leg came back to him in an instant. The weight had caught him off guard. At the end of the day balance is just a concept. All he had to do was shift it.
"Hhheehehehe," the creature rasped, choking a bit as it wrapped its fingers around the broken blade of the katana to grasp it, "You can't kill me."
"Time to go..." Jaired responded as he gave the katana a sudden twist, shattering the pendant of sand that hung around the creature's neck.
The Creature was never his target.
It was just in the way.
"Oh..." the Creature uttered as it watched the shards of glass and the faintly glowing grains of sand descend towards the ground at its feet.
Jaired didn't take any chances. He wasn't going to let that thing have a 'moment'. Summoning every ounce of strength he could muster he forced himself back to a stand and then kicked his reformed foot right into the creature's lower back. The force of the kick propelled the thing off of his sword and right into his father's. The sands of the pendant were what had kept it alive all of these countless years, and once they were gone the Creature simply scattered into a cloud of dust as it impacted the Palestra's weapon. Only its faded coat and ragtag collection of bandages fell to the floor. Jaired dropped back to his knee, gasping for breath that he didn't really require.
The sands from the shattered pendant began growing ever brighter as he curiously reached down to touch them. They felt... hot. The heat began coursing through his body and in mere moments he felt as though he was on fire. He fell to the dust covered ground and writhed as a scream of agony forced itself through his lips. The scent of the sea suddenly overwhelmed his senses and he was blinded by light. Again. This wasn't the light of a vision, however. He felt the sensation of the In Between and the light began to suddenly race by. The pull of the Gate was here... and the clouds were giving way for him. It was overwhelming. Jaired felt as though he was flying forward impossibly fast, but he wanted no part in where he was going.
He reached out to grasp at whatever. He would grasp at nothing itself if he had to. At that moment it was all that he had... but then again... that is all faith really is, isn't it? He took hold and held on as tightly as he could. The light raced ahead but he finally came to a still, and as he struggled to pull himself away from it, it all just seemed to... turn over upon itself. Light became dark. White became black... and the numbness became pain. He sat up and took in a long, long breath. The air was impossibly stale, but it was the first one he had taken in a very long time. It tasted like a damn grave.
Was he alive? Jaired patted himself over and everything was wet with seawater, and every inch of him ached. He also wanted a drink more than anything. Yep. He was alive. Whatever that sand was... it had done its job. Unfortunately; being alive was a bad thing to be in the depths of Bir Mahallah. It was an even worse thing to be within the presence of pure Shadowdeath. He fumbled about in front of him and felt for the Creature's old rags. With a quick gesture he threw a bolt of fire at them to ignite them into flames. He kind of wished that he hadn't, because ignorance can be bliss. He hadn't even gotten his land legs yet and the previously insignificant sphere of Shadowdeath was already bristling all about at his very presence.
No witty one liners this time.
He scrambled backwards upon his elbows as a pair of perfectly black filaments sped towards him like murderous needles. A crumbled piece of the pillar stopped him as he leaned back against it, drawing in a quick breath in preparation for what was in store for him. After nothing happened he found himself staring at the black tendrils as they had came to an abrupt stop. It was always better to be lucky than good. He'd never complain about losing a raffle again. That was all the Demon had in it, apparently, and the assaulting appendages slowly retracted back into the tiny black sphere caught beneath the Faendryl's abandoned blade.
He knew what he had to do. It was time to finish this.
One Last Thing
The ritual was almost complete. Eventually the Demon just went still and the whispers stopped. It must have realized that Jaired wasn't going to kill it once he started drawing the spiral upon the dust covered floor. The randomly intersecting lines seemed to have no form or reason, but their purpose was clear to the Demon. He was sending it home. The dust shifted about upon the floor as if brushed aside by an errant breeze, and the sphere of black began dissipating downward into the spiral. He had to concentrate and keep his focus for the ritual to work. Luckily his thoughts were no longer fragmented, and once again he seemed whole. The shadows had torn him apart during the last ritual, but now the pieces had finally fallen back into place.
Everything had truly come full circle. He had the answers to many of the questions he always had. His affinity for the Shadows, his Father, and the secrets as to why he was never told the truth. He also finally understood why his Mother had given him her eyes. She knew that he would need them to finish what was started. Of course she knew. As the spiral upon the floor swept itself away in one final anti-climactic shift of dust, the demon at the base of his father's sword was simply gone. It was done. Jaired's eyes opened and he let out a long, thoughtful breath. As he stood it dawned on him that the pain in his leg was gone. His hand rubbed curiously at the old scar that had plagued him off and on for the past few years. Maybe this time it would stay gone.
The fire was losing its fuel and the chamber felt so completely silent with the Demon finally gone. Getting out was going to be easy enough. He could use his magic again and his totem was back with the rest of the things he abandoned. There was just one thing left to do. He clenched his linen-wrapped hands around the hilt of his Father's sword and pulled it free of the stone. He stumbled backwards a few steps as he struggled with the weight, and watched with mild wonder as the layers of dust and sand fell from it. How the hell did Ebon use this thing? The strap was still in tact and he swung the massive blade over his shoulder to secure it across his back. Just as the last flickering flame of the fire began to die away he cast the spell that would transport him away.
With a snap of light and a bit of nausea he was back at the site of the encampment, and he suddenly felt like he had all of the time in the world again. He brushed the layers of sand that had already done their best to bury away his things and got everything together. It was going to be a long walk back, but it was one he had made several times before. A grin curved at his lips as he draped the totem back around his neck. The moment the old copper chain fell to rest, the blinding light slowly returned to his eyes.
They had one last thing to show him.
He was in the same place as he was when the vision started, but tents were set up all around him and various people that he remembered from his childhood were mingling about. Ebon and his Mother walked by slowly. She looked a little older and she held her hand over the swell of her stomach. She seemed so... sad. Her eyes were cast downward as they walked, and before long Rothel met up with them. His expression was as solemn as her's. Ebon was carrying a great deal of provisions and it became obvious. He was leaving. This was how it happened. The three began to walk away from the Tehir encampment and Jaired followed behind them.
The three eventually came to a stop and Ebon turned to face his mother. The two embraced each other for a long time and tears rolled down her cheeks. They exchanged words that he couldn't hear but he didn't need to. Somehow he just knew what had happened and what they were saying. Another band of Faendryl bounty hunters were looking for Ebon and harassing some of the other tribes. His presence had also been a great source of friction among the others. Toben's father was a powerful man and blamed Ebon for his death, as he should, but he vowed on blood to never forgive him. Others simply thought of Ebon as a demon himself; one who killed too easily and brought with him great despair. His welcome was wearing thin, and it was too dangerous for him to stay. He had to go.
Ebon knelt to the sand and pressed his ear to the growing stomach of the Seer, closing his troubled eyes as he uttered a few words. She had always told him that if he knew why his father had left, that he would not hate him for it... and now he understood. Ebon finally stood and turned to Rothel. He unraveled Toben's ahmdir veil and then handed it to the aging Tehir. It was destined for his unborn son, and Jaired knew that Ebon was asking Rothel to look after them both. He would. They shook hands and said a brief farewell as Rothel turned and walked away. He was developing a limp. The old man should probably get himself a walking stick.
Ebon and his mother embraced again. After many moments he finally let her go and stared into her eyes. He was not an emotional man, but, he felt this. They said their final goodbyes and then he simply turned and walked away. It was the hardest thing he would ever have to do. Jaired wouldn't know how long she had watched, because as the light returned to squelch the vision away, she was gone by the time his sight returned. His breath hung heavily in his chest as he gazed out over the dunes, then something caught his eye. He could still see his father walking away. He was nothing more than a faint silhouette of light, but that didn't mean he couldn't follow it.
That was exactly what he would do.
It wasn't the first time he had seen it, but it certainly wasn't the first place he expected his father to go. He had followed the memory of his father all this way, and he was even beginning to wonder if Ebon didn't simply go back home to New Ta'Faendryl. There certainly weren't very many places a shamed and hunted Palestra could go, then again, the more he thought about it the more it began to make sense. He'd be useful here. That is not to say that he would have been welcomed with open arms, considering why the wall was built in the first place, but a rogue Palestra would be a valuable asset.
The visage of his father finally faded as he walked through the fortified gates of the outpost. Jaired subconsciously tugged at the strap securing the massive blade to his back and drew in a long breath. This was it. What would he say? He'd thought of this moment so many times before that one would think he'd have something planned... but his mind was blank. He put his doubts aside and strode forward. A pair of guards stepped before him, their swords already in hand. One of them had a long scar running across his face and he gave Jaired a long looking over. He squinted a bit as he gave his compatriot an unsure shrug, then turned his attention back to the Tehir in front of him. It certainly was an odd sight.
"New recruit?" the guard asked sarcastically, no doubt noting Jaired's rather armed state. The other guard chortled a bit and shook his head, "State your business."
"I'm looking for someone..."
"Yeah?" he asked with a chuckle, his brow arched skeptically as he leaned the flat of his blade against his shoulder, "Who?"
"A Faendryl. His name is Ebon," Jaired replied plainly, and his words struck a chord with the guards. Anger crossed their expressions and they pointed their swords at him as they suddenly took on readied positions.
"Another bounty hunter..." the other guard snarled. They knew him. He was here.
"You'd think they'd get the idea," the scarred human grumbled, "Lets make this quick, my shift is almost over."
"I'm no bounty hunter... please..." Jaired said as he slowly held up his hands to try and display his intent. He unraveled the ahmdir face-wrap to reveal his face and stepped cautiously towards the guards, "Give him this, he'll understand. I'll wait here."
There must have been a family resemblance because the two looked almost stupefied at one another. The scarred man sheathed his sword and stepped forward, snagging the long length of ahmdir linen from Jaired's hands before turning around to head into the fortress. The moments felt like an eternity, but before long he saw the scarred man returning alongside an imposing figure. He was moving quickly with hurried steps, clutching the ahmdir veil tightly in his hands as he came into view through the gate. Ebon's eyes met Jaired's, and immediately he knew. To Jaired he had hardly changed a bit from his visions, but for Ebon... this was the first time he had ever seen his son.
"Jaired?" he asked. So they had agreed on his name before he left. His words were almost trembling but the Faendryl kept his resolve.
Jaired simply nodded his head, shrugging the massive blade from his shoulder and planting the crescent point into the ground. He was sure his old man would be happy to see it again, and that he would realize that the sword's presence meant that the Demon was finally gone. That it was finally over. He was right. Ebon's shoulders slouched as if an unbearable weight had been lifted from them as he took the final steps towards Jaired. The Faendryl reached out his hand and set it upon his son's shoulder, giving him a nod of understanding as he searched his eyes. He had missed so much and he had hated himself for it, but he could remedy that now. The two had so much to talk about. So much to catch up on... but they had time.
"I think you owe me a drink..."
Yeah... after all of these years and after all of the wondering... that was the best he could come up with.
Such is life.