Baten Kaitos: Dark Conviction

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Baten Kaitos: Dark Conviction

Post by Silvan Arrow on Wed Aug 01, 2012 11:16 pm

“Our delusions of peace, of stability, of control will be torn from us, and all will be left raw in the wind to see the truth. To see what the vanity of power has done. And those highest, who guard the very fables and legends, yet so blinded by status…

They shall fall farthest, and unforgiving time shall march on. They will be forgotten to the very stories they guard, and only then will they understand what it truly is to be alone in their burden.

But time will not mourn.

It will forget the legend.

It will forget the trust."

The setting could not be more idyllic. Floating amidst the endless blue sea of the sky, a tiny speck of land drew closer and gradually resolved into an island the size of a small continent, defying the laws of gravity with the potent magic that held it aloft. The land of Anuenue sparkled like a jewel against the cloudless blue background, covered in lush, green jungles and accented with rainbows circling its highest peak.

Murmurs of admiration echoed through the airship bearing the insignia of Wazn. After three long days of air travel with no landmarks in sight, the sense of relief was almost palpable. Regardless of whether this was their first trip to Anuenue or a return visit, the sight of so much color bordered on sensory overload for people living in perpetual winter.

Rhia Aymon fell into the first group, those who had never been to Anuenue. In fact, she had never left Wazn or even been on an airship, so her mind constantly processed the new sights, smells, and feel of the wind as it whistled around her and played with the loose strands of her long black hair. As Anuenue drew closer, she moved to the upper deck of the airship to get a better view.

A total of six Wazn airships floated through the skies, each one decorated in full celebratory splendor and pulled by a white, feathered skyfish. The airships flew in a protective ring formation around the White Dragon, the last living dragon in the world and Wazn’s national symbol. Larger than an airship, she was a gentle giant and beloved by the people. Her wings kept a smooth, steady rhythm, one that she could maintain for days on end if necessary. The Ice Queen sat astride the White Dragon’s broad shoulders in quiet dignity, surrounded by a half dozen of the Royal Guard. She had made most of the journey in an airship but had moved to the White Dragon in preparation for their arrival. Appearances were everything when it came to politics, after all. The airships held a full complement of the Knights of Wazn and half the Royal Guard. As a member of the Royal Guard, Rhia’s airship maintained a position directly beside the White Dragon so that she could easily get to her queen’s side in case of an attack.

Not that anyone expected any trouble, of course. In fact, the whole purpose of making this journey to Anuenue was to celebrate and renew the terms of peace that bound the Six Great Nations. On this Tricentennial Anniversary of the nations’ ascension to the sky, delegations from each nation would gather to discuss and agree upon any revisions to the peace treaty. After each nation’s leader signed the treaty, a three-day celebration would take place in Komo Mai, the capital of Anuenue. So in hindsight, six airships’ worth of Knights and Royal Guards was probably overkill. However, sometimes a show of power could also contribute to keeping the peace, particularly when dealing with militaristic nations like the Alfard Empire.

The lookout barked out the order to prepare for landing, so Rhia returned to the lower deck and gathered with the rest of the ship’s passengers for a quick headcount and briefing. As they came into dock and disembarked, the ground swayed beneath Rhia’s feet after spending so much time in the air. She shook it off as best she could and assumed her place in the Royal Guard’s formation around the Ice Queen, while the Knights formed two orderly columns on either side. As they began the march toward Komo Mai in full armor, one single thought dominated Rhia’s mind:

‘Anuenue is way too hot…’

The rest of the day’s events passed in a blur of pomp and ceremony. The delegations from each nation, consisting of the leader and advisors/guards/dignitaries, paraded through Komo Mai amidst a sensory cacophony of noise and flamboyant colors. The citizens celebrated their arrival with music, clouds of flower petals, and dancing. The sheer amount of activity made Rhia uneasy. Compared to the quiet orderliness of Wazn, everything was just too…much. Too much noise, too much color, and too much encroachment on personal space. Did the glinting armor and weapons of the Knights and Royal Guard mean nothing? The Knights were hard-pressed to hold back the throngs who all wanted a glimpse of the elusive Ice Queen, and Rhia kept a hand on her bow at all times, ready to pull it from its harness on her back at a moment’s notice.

Once the delegations from each nation had gathered in front of the palace, Queen Corellia of Anuenue addressed the crowds from the balcony. Her voice echoed strongly and with authority, most likely amplified with Wind magic so that even the citizens in the back could hear. She spoke eloquently, welcoming the delegations, reminding the people of the wars that had led to their existence in the sky, and reiterating the importance of continued peace. Rhia ignored most of the flowery words and instead glanced around at the other delegations. Even though she had never traveled outside Wazn, she could figure out easily enough which delegation belonged to each nation: the earth tones and sturdy uniforms of Sadal Suud’s lord and advisors, the proud knights and rich fabrics adorning the king from Diadem, the garish and eclectic garb of Mira’s dukes and dignitaries, and the golden armor and lavish silks and furs that marked the emperor and soldiers of Alfard.

Her speech concluded, members of Corellia’s court dismissed the crowds and showed each delegation to their assigned suite of rooms. The summit would begin tomorrow morning, so they had the rest of the day to get settled and rest from the journey. Wazn’s commanders wasted no time in organizing the Knights and Royal Guard into watch shifts and giving instructions for where they were allowed to go while staying in the palace. Rhia was on second watch, so she spent her off-hours exploring the palace and acquainting herself with its layout. Wazn’s delegation was in the eastern wing of the palace, and she passed a number of representatives from the other nations and many colorfully garbed servants who asked if she or her Queen required anything. Rhia shook her head wordlessly at each inquiry as she strode down the hallways purposefully and started silently wishing for just a moment of peace and quiet away from all these people.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The next three days passed in a familiar routine, rotating between watch and relief shifts. When Rhia wasn’t on active duty, she mostly kept to herself in the rooms reserved for the women of the Royal Guard and only ventured to the palace kitchens for food. Her guard shifts took place wherever the Ice Queen was, whether it meant standing watch outside her suite, taking up a position along the wall during formal dinners, or standing behind her chair during the peacekeeping meetings that would drag on for hours at a time. Rhia had long since perfected the technique for standing in one place for hours at a time, but nothing could have prepared her for the stifling heat that Anuenue’s climate and so many warm bodies created in the often-crowded rooms of the palace. If it weren’t for the subtle Wind and Water spell that the Ice Queen maintained on her Knights and any active members of the Royal Guard to keep them cool, Rhia would surely have fainted while wearing her metal armor over her wool-lined uniform.

On the afternoon of the third day of the summit, Rhia was standing watch outside the door of the Ice Queen’s suite along with another woman from the Royal Guard. The morning’s peace talks had passed smoothly, and Corellia had adjourned the nations’ leaders until dinner that evening. Rhia was grateful for the break so she didn’t have to listen to more political banter that, quite frankly, nearly bored her to tears. The doorknob clicked, and Rhia glanced to the side as the door opened from the inside to reveal one of the Queen’s maids, who couldn’t have been older than 16. She bowed shyly and addressed Rhia. “Her Majesty wishes to speak with you, Miss Aymon.”

Rhia shared a perplexed look with her watch partner but followed the maid. They found the Ice Queen sitting in an overstuffed chair in the main room of her suite, reading an old tome from the palace’s impressive library. She looked up as the two women approached and smiled at them in greeting. The Queen was an attractive woman for her age, with only a few wisps of gray hair betraying that she was in her fifties. Her dark brown hair was piled in an elaborate up-do on the crown of her head, and she wore lavish robes made from exceptionally soft wool dyed in the cobalt blue and silver of the Royal Family.

“Thank you. You may leave us,” the Queen said, dismissing her maid with a gentle wave of her hand. Rhia bowed in respect as the maid curtseyed and scurried to a separate chamber. “Please, sit and talk with me for a spell,” she beckoned, indicating an empty chair. Rhia raised an eyebrow but did as she was told, perching uneasily on the edge of the chair. The Queen was a benevolent ruler, but she carried her regal bearing as a mantle of authority that demanded respect. “Tell me, Rhia, how have you enjoyed our stay in Anuenue so far?”

Rhia paused for a moment. Was this a trick question? Some sort of test? Surely the Queen was asking her for some sort of assessment of their hosts’ trustworthiness and the level of security in the palace. “I…have been pleased with our hosts’ attentiveness to your safety and well-being, my Queen. We members of the Royal Guard have lacked for nothing that would impede us from carrying out our duties.”

The Queen tsked lightly and reached for her cup of tea from the table beside her chair. “Come now, that is hardly an answer to my question. You sound like you’re reporting to your commanding officer.” She took a polite sip of tea and asked again, “Let me rephrase. How have you enjoyed the sights in Komo Mai? Have you been to the town square or the marketplace?”

Once again, the Queen’s questions caught Rhia off guard. Surely the Royal Guard was expected to remain at the palace at all times. They could hardly go gallivanting around town when their Queen’s safety was at risk! She replied hesitantly, “I…have not left the palace since our arrival, my Queen.”

The Queen’s brow furrowed at her answer, and for a moment Rhia wondered if she had said something wrong. But how could she? She had been nothing but diligent in reporting for all her shifts on time. “Hmmm…not even once? Have you been assigned too many watch shifts? With so many of the Royal Guard here, no single person should shoulder an unreasonable number of shifts.”

Ah, here was the real purpose behind the questioning, Rhia realized. The Queen wanted to test the dedication of one of her youngest guards. Well, Rhia would not complain about her workload in the slightest. “My schedule has been perfectly manageable, my Queen. But given the delicacy of our mission and the sheer number of people in the palace, it seemed most logical for me to remain here during my relief shifts in the event of an attack.”

To Rhia’s abject horror, the Queen actually laughed. Had she summoned Rhia here just to poke fun at her? Surely the Queen was not given to such cruelty. “Oh, Rhia, your dedication to duty makes you a true credit to the Royal Guard. But I had hoped that you would use your time off to…loosen up a little. Go see the sights. Experience a different culture. This is your first time traveling outside Wazn, correct?”

Now Rhia was completely lost for words. Of all the conversations she had envisioned having with the Queen, she had not even considered this possibility. “T-that is correct, my Queen, but…it hardly seems appropriate for a member of the Royal Guard to…go sightseeing when her first priority is your safety.”

Now the Queen took on a positively predatory look, like a hawk about to pounce on an unsuspecting mouse. “So what you’re saying is that you would guard your Queen anywhere, even outside the palace?”

Rhia nodded emphatically. “I would hope that is a given, Your Majesty.”

The Queen then drew herself up, as if gathering her mantle of authority. “Well, then, as a queen visiting from a foreign country in the name of peace, I think it is important to mingle with the citizens here and maintain a positive public image. Therefore, Miss Aymon, I order you and the rest of your guard shift to attend me while I visit the market.” She smiled knowingly while Rhia’s mouth dropped open, wanting to protest but not daring to contradict her queen.

Rhia momentarily broke decorum as an uncharacteristic blush colored her cheeks. “But…but…it’s dangerous! What about your safety, my Queen?”

“This is a summit to celebrate peace, dear, not a war conference. With such diligent guards, I shan’t have a care in the world.”

They both knew that the Queen had her cornered now, so Rhia had no choice but to bow and excuse herself with what dignity she had left to collect the other five women on her guard shift. Unlike her, the other women were delighted with their new assignment and the chance to get out of the palace. Rhia just wanted to go crawl in a soundproof hole.

At the market, Rhia’s nerves hit an all-time high as she tried to keep one eye on the Queen and the other on the noisy, colorful crowds that pressed as close to the ring of guards – and their weapons – as they dared for a glimpse of Wazn’s mysterious monarch. The Queen would occasionally address one of her guards for her opinion on a particular fabric or trinket while the others would maintain their positions and the salesperson would sing their wares’ praises.

“Come now, Rhia, this fabric is quite lovely, is it not?” the Queen asked, beckoning Rhia over to inspect the cloth swatch in question.

Rhia pretended to study the fabric for a few polite seconds, but she had no idea what kind of answer the Queen expected. Quite frankly, the chaotic swirl of vibrant colors in the fabric made her eyes hurt. “It is very colorful, Your Majesty, but it feels a little too thin to be practical back home in Wazn.”

“A most astute observation, dear, but I do like the colors,” the Queen replied, humoring Rhia. “Can you suggest another fabric that would be more suitable for our country’s climate?”

Now Rhia was convinced that the Queen was testing the limits of her sanity. She had no idea how looking at fabrics in a crowded marketplace would help her loosen up. All she wanted to do was return to the palace where things at least made a little bit of sense. She could not completely hide her utterly lost expression as she moved closer to the racks of fabrics. “I…um…”

Just then, a panicked shout rose from somewhere in the crowds, and Rhia whirled around to see the source of the distress, only for her heart to sink into her stomach. A fleet of armored airships, at least a dozen, of Alfardian design were making a beeline for the marketplace, flying way too close to the ground for comfort. Judging by the cannons and ballistae mounted prominently on the bow of each ship, these were most definitely not with Alfard’s peace delegation.

Within seconds, chaos erupted. The first deafening boom of a cannon sent the crowds into a mass panic, with people running in all directions and shoving against each other in their frantic attempts to flee. All at once, the entire group of Knights and Royal Guards poured into the market as a single, armored unit, shoving aside anyone that impeded the way to their queen. The orders of the commanding officers rang loud and clear over the din of people shouting. “To the airships! Get the Queen to the White Dragon!” Rhia knew it was risky, but they had no other choice. The airships had cut off the route back to the palace, where the other nations’ leaders were no doubt hiding, protected by their guards and Corellia’s powerful mages. Only Wazn’s Knights and Royal Guards had braved the madness and risked their lives to rush to their Queen’s side.

Rhia threw her arms around the Queen and tried to cover her head while they ran, surrounded by the protective circle of Knights. Around them, cannon blasts continued to strike the ground around them and rain down clouds of dirt that obscured Rhia’s vision and clogged her windpipe. One of the deadly lead balls landed too close, and the horrific crunch of metal punctuated the dying screams of the Knights struck by the blast. The White Dragon had spotted the Wazn group running for the port and dived towards the dock, roaring in distress. Within moments, the Knights had unceremoniously hauled the Ice Queen and a half dozen of her most experienced Royal Guards astride the White Dragon, and she wasted no time rowing for height so that she could hopefully outrun the slower airships.

The rest of the Knights and Royal Guards sprinted towards their assigned airships and battle stations, just as they had drilled before leaving Wazn. Rhia summoned her wings, feeling the welcome chill from their frigid membranes, and pumped them to boost her over the airship’s railing and onto the upper deck, where she could most effectively use her bow. The six ships lifted off and spread out to engage the far more numerous Alfard fleet. It was a suicide mission, but no matter what, they had to buy enough time for the White Dragon to get away.

And Rhia knew that she, along with every Knight and Royal Guard present, would gladly make the sacrifice without question to ensure the Queen’s safety.

Luckily, the smaller, lighter Wazn airships had the advantage of speed. All six Wazn ships dodged the initial volley of cannon fire as the Knights and Royal Guards prepared to counterattack. The Wazn ships made a series of quick passes by the Alfard ships, and each time groups of Knights leaped aboard to engage the Alfard soldiers in close combat. At the same time, Rhia and her fellow archers covered the melee fighters with volleys of arrows. Bodies fell on both sides, but within a few minutes, six of the Alfard ships were boarded and temporarily out of active battle as the soldiers fought the Knights for control of their ships.

The other six ships, though, started to turn the tide in Alfard’s favor. A ballista from an Alfard ship struck one of the skyfish pulling a Wazn ship, and the poor creature bellowed its death throes as the captain desperately tried to control the ship’s fall to land on the ground. The remaining five ships closed ranks to face the Alfard ships as a unit. Rhia summoned arrows from the Magnus deck on her hip, loosing one after another in rapid succession. Most of them found a target in the flesh of an Alfard soldier, but more continued to pour out from below deck. One of the Knights barked her name and pointed towards a group of soldiers preparing to fire a cannon. Without breaking rhythm, Rhia summoned a Fire-elemental arrow and fired it. The flaming barb struck home inside the loaded cannon, igniting the gunpowder and setting off a massive explosion that sent the airship plummeting towards the ground. A cheer went up from the surviving Wazn Knights who had boarded the other Alfard ships, and they continued the fight with renewed vigor.

Then the ground plummeted out from beneath Rhia’s feet.

In the confusion and smoke created by the cannon explosion, one of the Alfard ships managed to sneak behind Rhia’s ship and blast it with the cannons. The horrid sound of splintering wood filled the air as the Wazn ship split straight down the middle into two separate halves. Rhia found herself in free-fall for a few seconds, arms and legs flailing as she desperately tried to tell which way was up while keeping hold on her bow. She unfurled her wings, and the broad membranes immediately halted her descent as they caught the updraft. Rhia righted herself and bottomed out of her free-fall, gliding just long enough to get her bow into position. She nocked another arrow and pumped her wings as fast as she could to make a beeline for the nearest Alfard ship.

If she were going to die, she would go down fighting.

Rhia’s pulse pounded in her ears while she ducked and wove between volleys of arrows and cannon fire while trying to shoot her own arrows at the Alfard ships. Most of her shots missed their targets due to her constantly dodging enemy fire, but she managed to wound a few Alfard soldiers and at least take them out of the fight. Within minutes, she was gasping for air. Keeping herself aloft while wearing her metal armor was grueling enough, but working her bow in addition made it absolute torture.

Without warning, a blast of searing heat and pain unlike anything she had felt before caught Rhia from behind, and she screamed in agony. A cannon blast had struck the closest Wazn ship, and the blast had seared Rhia’s wings and pelted them with bits of wooden shrapnel. Her left wing, which took the worst of the hit, immediately folded, and Rhia dropped like a stone. She tumbled head over heels in a tangle of limbs, flapping her right wing madly while the ground rushed towards her at an alarming rate. Somehow she managed to force her left wing to open halfway, and she slowed her descent just long enough so she could hit the forest canopy feet-first.

Falling through trees was definitely more terrifying – not to mention painful – than falling through open sky. The thick branches reached out to grab her, cutting and scraping any exposed skin while knocking the wind out of her lungs and probably bruising a rib or two. If it weren’t for her metal armor, Rhia would have likely broken every rib in her chest and skewered herself on the sharp blades of her bow. Finally, she broke through the thick press of branches and fell the last heart-stopping twenty feet to the ground. She crumpled into a heap upon impact, her bow miraculously landing beside her, and groaned in pain. Every muscle and bone in her body was achy and bruised, but her wings hurt worst of all. She didn’t think it was possible to damage one’s Wings of the Heart, but they burned and throbbed so badly that she could barely breathe. And if her situation weren’t bad enough, she had landed in the middle of a dense jungle with no idea which way led back to Komo Mai.

‘I’m going to die out here, and no one will ever know. They won’t even find my body…’ Finally, the pain was too much to bear, and Rhia’s vision went dark as merciful unconsciousness claimed her body…
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Re: Baten Kaitos: Dark Conviction

Post by Guilty Carrion on Fri Aug 10, 2012 5:44 am

Komo Mai, the infamous City of Flowers, was truly a sight to behold, especially in the roar of celebration that the Tricentennial Anniversary had brought with it. All the world’s culture and pride was on display, and no one could be more pleased than Queen Corellia at the hospitality her people showered on the foreign dignitaries. The Rainbow Nation was never one to shy away from guests, and on this most auspicious occasion, it was of the utmost importance that everything went according to plan. Moments before her speech, however, Jorgr, one of her six court mages silently asked for her ear. The Queen listened for a moment, before a displeased frown settled onto her previously elated features.

“What do you mean he’s not in his chambers?”

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Across Anuenue, through the infamous Holo Holo Jungle, and down the winding mountain side, sat the waterfall village, Opu. Compared to the riotous bustle and colour of Komo Mai, Opu was far more tame and subdued. While the Tricentennial was of importance, here, the people focused on their day to day work, all those wishing to celebrate having gone off to the capital.

Against the grain, however, came a lone figure clad in clothes of fine make and radiant colours. Elik wasn’t much of a stranger to Opu, frequently visiting to discuss theories and ideas with his mentor, Bartemius.

As the only two Chrono mages of particular skill in Anuenue, they had no other peers to discuss techniques with, which left few options for Elik. Skilled he may have been, Bartemius’s age gave him a viewpoint most effective for cross-examination. And the theories they were to discuss today! Elik’s smile was normally a vibrant thing, but on this occasion, it was as brilliant as the sun above with its intensity. His mentor’s residence sat near the bottom of the falls, but Elik felt almost no rush as he moved past the familiar residences and faces.

The crisscrossing bridges swayed gently beneath his feet, the light spray of water from the falls cool against his brow. He paused for a moment, letting the pristine water trickle down his head and soak into his clothing. The cool moisture put an extra spring in his step, soothing the aches and pains from the journey. The animals in Holo had been particularly tiresome, but there was little to be done about it now. He’d managed to only lose a few hours to them.

Descending the last few steps of the village, Elik broke into a light jog as the aged door of Bartemius’s home came into view. Reaching the door, he raised his hand and knocked elegantly three times, before stepping back and waiting. And waiting. And waiting.

A short eternity later, the door was flung open from within, deftly missing Elik by mere centimetres. The mage barely even reacted, raising an eyebrow slightly at the panting woman who stood in the doorway. “Marle. Always a pleasure.” The brunette grimaced at him, eyes narrowing slightly. “I trust your father is home?”

Sighing, Marle nodded, stepping aside to allow him inside, Elik sweeping inside without a moment’s pause. “He’s in his study.” She muttered something about that being SUCH a surprise, but he paid it no mind, hurried steps weaving past furniture until he came to the disturbingly dilapidated door that held the study. Bartemius’s home was grizzled and old, much like its owner, despite how much Marle was trying to maintain the place. She had been a shopkeeper’s assistant in Komo Mai when Bartemius had moved home, and she had come with her father to try and keep him healthy. Elik often wondered if Bartemius wasn’t driving her mad, but tried to give it little thought. Marle was dangerous enough as it was.

With that in mind, he pushed the door before him open with one good thrust of his arm. The mage threw both his arms wide at the grizzled old man hunched over his desk, crossing the room without delay. “Bartemius!” The old Chrono mage barely glanced up from the tome on his desk before him, and his pupil wasted no time pulling up a chair beside the gnarled oak that served as the old man’s seat. “You are in excellent health, as always.” His eyes darted to the book, scowling momentarily when he didn’t recognize the words within. “You’ve gotten a new book and you didn’t tell me?!” The old man swatted at Elik’s hands as they snuck towards the tome.

“I’ve only just gotten it, boy, a rare collection of theories from the Witches of Wazn.” The younger man’s eyes widened and he gazed at the aged leather and parchment with a fascinated respect. “Marle had to barter with the merchant for two hours to get it.”

Elik grinned at the old man. “She did seem quite displeased when I arrived. I should have assumed you had something to do with that.” Bartemius snorted roughly, his ragged beard rustling at the motion. “Her suffering is a tragedy, but I trust the tome is worth it?”

“The witches of Wazn are a secretive group, who rarely share their knowledge with others, especially those with the capacity to understand it.” Stroking his bearded chin, the old man leaned back slightly in his seat, the wood groaning in protest. “The concepts they speak of regarding the elements are incredible, boy, as if they never lost the knowledge of the Gods. I can barely fathom what they speak of regarding wind, but if such theories were realized…” He shook his head.

Elik’s eyes were wide as saucers, hands practically twitching as he listened to his mentor. “But what of Chrono, Bartemius? Do they have theories on Time itself?” His words were fast and frantic, boiling out of his mouth almost faster than his lips could handle. Chuckling, Bartemius turned the ancient pages.

“Yes, boy, and our theory…” Finding the correct page, he pushed the tome towards the younger man, who eagerly hefted the tome, fingers brushing the yellowed pages with reverence. “…is amongst them.” Elik didn’t look up, pale blue eyes devouring the text laid before him. “They speak of it as possibility, but Chrono is a volatile magic, and the witches have never truly attempted to create such a spell.”

Elik looked up for a moment, eyes sparking with enthusiasm. “Then we could succeed where even the witches dare not try! Chrono mages are rare; it wouldn’t be unheard of for the Witches of Wazn to have never had one of considerable talent! With two though, we might be successful!” Bartemius nodded, as if the two were simply reading each other’s minds.

“I’ve taken the time to prepare a Magnus.” He stood, legs shaking as they laboured to support him, but he shook of Elik’s attempt to help him. Hobbling along, Bartemius slowly lead the young man to another room, absent of any furniture save for twin mats sitting parallel on the barren floor. “It will take time, but with focus, I believe we should be able to harness the energy necessary.”

Lowering himself onto the floor, Bartemius motioned to the opposite mat, which Elik quickly took. “Well, we both have nothing but time to spare, don’t we?” He grinned at his mentor’s weak chuckle, before settling into a comfortable cross legged position and lacing his hands in his lap. “Whenever you’re ready, Master.” With a sharp inhale, the older man began a soft murmur, voice deep but gentle as he spoke soundless words from languages forgotten in the world.

Moments later, Elik’s own voice joined, a higher tone than his mentor’s, but still rumbling in power as the words flowed unbidden from his lips. The room filled with their unified but disparate voices, the Magnus between them glowing faintly in reaction to their chant.

For hours, the two men didn’t move bodies stiff but lips in constant, singular motion.

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“Chrono.”

The final word boomed in the enclosed space, and the two men took a deep breath in unison before opening their eyes. The Magnus sat between them, its glow gone, but the blank image within replaced with a blitz of colours that seemed unnatural and ethereal to the normal eye. The unique image upon it was one Elik had never seen before, as he gently lifted the card from the floor. After a moment of just staring at the card, he glanced to Bartemius, hunched over and brow glistening with sweat. “I think we’ve done it.”

Bartemius laughed for a moment, before coughing roughly into his hand. “You shouldn’t have doubted, boy. You’re skilled, and with my help, it was inevitable we would succeed.” Elik laughed at his gruff compliment, holding the card up to the light for a moment. “At least, it looks like we’ve succeeded. We won’t know for certain until we test it out.”

“That will have to wait.” Marle’s voice drew their gaze to the door, and she glared silently over a large pot of stew, the intensity of it making Elik shrink back slightly. “You’ve been making that damn thing for two days. Both of you need to eat.” She jerked her head down the hallway, before stalking out of view. Bartemius stood, grumbling as Elik moved to stand only to stumble about on his practically unconscious legs.

“You need to stay put more often.” He muttered, hobbling out of the room, seemingly unaffected by such a long period of stillness. Elik’s legs took several minutes to wake up, and then another ten was spent massaging them to get rid of the stiffness. Once they were acceptably awake, and didn’t try and seize the moment he took a step, Elik hurried out of the room to join the others.

Bartemius sat in the main room, slowly eating the food before him as Marle tapped her foot impatiently behind him. Her gaze snapped to Elik when the floorboards creaked beneath his feet, and he immediately held up his hands in surrender, only for the woman to lob a satchel at him roughly. Fumbling about with it for a moment, he fixed her with a quizzical gaze once he secured his grip. “I thought something was off when you just showed up. You DO know it’s the Tricentennial Anniversary, don’t you?!”

He blinked, raising an eyebrow in confusion. “Isn’t that next week? I made the plans so that I wouldn’t miss it.” Marle ran a hand down her face, Bartemius chuckling as he took a bit of his stew. “Is it honestly today? I should be able to make it if I hurry…”

“It started two days ago!”

Elik pursed his lips, before his eyes widened in realization. “Oh! OH! That’s right! Last week I was busy with Jorgr at the School of Magic!” Dread crept into his features, fingers scratching at his chin. Queen Corellia would not be pleased with him not being present for the summit, nor would all the other mages for having to cover all of his workload. “Two days ago…it’s a three day event! If I hurry…”

Marle nodded towards the door. “I packed some Camp Magnus in there for you. Eat on your way.” Elik nodded in thanks, slinging the satchel over his shoulder and bee lining for the door. “And bring it back, Elik!” He waved over his shoulder, already out the door and racing up the street.

The mage moved as fast as his tired legs were willing to permit him, but two days on a cramped floor had evidentially taken their toll. Running uphill was murderous, but the punishment Corellia would have waiting if he was any later kept him sprinting. The sun was barely rising in the sky, he noted with a quick glance over his shoulder, the blazing orb illuminating the Celestial Tree as it towered over the horizon. The sight was breathtaking, but he kept his pace. He’d need every spare second he could to get through the Holo Holo Jungle in time.

He laughed humourlessly as he raced across the swaying bridges. “Spare time.” Calling on his wings, Elik snapped them out to their full wingspan before giving a series of powerful beats that carried him upwards on the powerful updrafts that surrounded the waterfall. His wings glinted in the sunlight, beating furiously to keep altitude and keep him airborne.

Outside Opu, Elik’s wings rebelled much like his legs, weak from his lack of sleep, promptly dumping him in a rough tumble along the trail towards Holo. The mage rolled and yelped before coming to an abrupt stop at the base of a tree. His wings vanished in a flash of light, leaving him tangled in his mantle and in a rather undignified heap. His luck, it seemed, was absolutely rotten today. Tugging the mantle off over his head, Elik sighed as he dusted the dirt from his arms and shirt before climbing up to his feet. The trees of the jungle loomed ahead, and the mage tapped the small pouch at his waist containing his Magnus, fingers thumbing through the deck rapidly.


Well, burning daylight, Elik. He mused, following the beaten trail silently into the jungle. As he stepped inside, the air around him seemed to come alive with the songs and buzzing of birds, insects and all the myriad other beasts that called the dense forest their home. The trail became more haphazard with each step, before eventually the dense underbrush swallowed the path whole. Elik paused as it vanished, flicking his gaze about to try and find where it started again for a few moments before sighing. Good thing I have the guide stone.

Reaching into his deck, Elik thumbed for the Magnus for a moment, freezing when he heard the crunch of the underbrush behind him. For a painfully long second, he didn’t move, not even daring to breath, waiting for whatever it was to move again. The crunching continued after a moment, and he swallowed, fingers stopping on the Magnus. The crunching grew louder, picking up speed. Tightening his grip on the cards, Elik spun quickly on his heel.

A lone striper leapt at him with a ferocious roar, and the mage leapt backwards from the tiger-like creature’s lunge as he pulled a pair of Magnus from the deck, eyes glinting at the animal. “I’m in a bit of a rush, kitty, so forgive me if I’m not gentle.” The cards burst into a vibrant glow, dancing red arcs bursting from within as Elik channelled their energies. “Fire Burst!” The cards erupted, twin plumes of fire leaping at the unprepared striper. It leapt back from the first burst, narrowly avoiding the fire, but the second burst scorched along its flank, the creature hissing in pain at the hit.

Surprisingly, the striper didn’t back down, hissing furiously at the mage and swiping at him with its paws, managing to rake one of them painfully along his arm. Elik hissed, glancing quickly at the wound before back to the circling predator. It was hungry, no doubt young, and the way it crept in on him meant it knew full well that had hurt. The young man tapped at his deck, debating his choice for only a moment, before the striper lunged. Snapping the card out in a fluid motion, he gritted his teeth. “Chronos Blow!”

The card glowed brightly, but the green energy that emerged from it was far from the simple fire of his previous fire spell. The energy seemed almost solid, shifting between a myriad of colours before it struck the striper dead on, energy violently pounding into the creature. Bits of the creature seemed to age, while others shrunk some even swelling or shrinking under the spell’s turbulent hit. The energy contracted into itself, before combusting in a flash of invisible light, throwing the striper across the clearing before dissipating into nothing.

Elik watched the fallen creature for a moment, nodding silently to himself when it didn’t stir. Tucking his spent Magnus back into the deck, he promptly pulled out the card containing the Guide Stone from the School of Magic. For whatever reason, the rock served as a basic compass of sorts, as the Holo Holo Jungle made most other methods of navigation useless. Releasing it from inside, he held it in the palm of his hand for a moment, before the thunderous boom of cannon fire drew his gaze skyward. “What in the world?” He murmured, as the first airship came into view, followed closely by several others, the echoing roar of weapons filling the sky and quieting the jungle around him.

Eyes wide with horror and curiosity, Elik called on his wings and pumped himself upwards, catching a tree branch and hauling himself into the tangled canopy surrounding the clearing. A moment later, he emerged from the twisted branches, the height allowing him to make out the details a little better. Most of the ships were clearly of Alfardian design, their striking lines and golden plating making that much obvious. The others were more difficult to place, but once he caught the emblem of the White Dragon, the Wazn ships were promptly identified.

The two sides tore into each other without hesitation, debris and bodies falling from the warships like a hellish rain. Had the summit failed so horribly that the nations were already waging war in Anuenue’s own sky? They had come from the general direction of Komo Mai, and Elik’s heart sunk. His people had no army or warships to defend themselves, only the Queen’s guard and the Court Mages.

And he was one of those mages, so damn focused on some trinket spell, he had abandoned his duties! Scolding himself mentally, Elik made to move back into the jungle, only for the splintering boom of cannon to draw his gaze skywards again. One of the Wazn ships splintered in half, countless crew plummeting from the falling ship as its sky fish thrashed violently against the binds dragging it towards the ground.

One of the figures, unlike the others, stopped in their freefall, wings flared and beating for altitude. Surely they didn’t intend to keep fighting? As the figure climbed higher, he swallowed a knot in his throat, watching the silhouette weave amongst the giants, seemingly ignorant of the futility of its fight.

When the ships exchanged another volley of fire, he lost sight of the lone fighter; grimacing as another of the Wazn ships took a blow from the cannons. The fight seemed pointless from here, titans tearing into each other across the sky, like something out of a bad dream or wild story. Elik squinted as debris rained from the damaged ship, spotting a streaking body amongst the rubble. “Just another causality…” He muttered, blinking in surprise when the body’s wings snapped open partially to slow their fall. Elik practically leapt from his branch when they careened into the forest, disappearing into the canopy not far from his perch.

He wasted no more time on the fighting, leaping from his perch and dropping gracefully to the forest floor below. He was powerless to assist in the sky, and even if he could fight, he had little idea who was in the wrong. But that falling figure, they could be alive. And if they were, Holo Holo was no place for a crash landing. Leaping over a fallen trunk, Elik doubled his pace, feeling the jungle around him stir as he moved closer to the battle site.

The fallen would draw out the beasts, no doubt. Any survivors would be hard-pressed to endure the hunger of the jungle, if they could even attempt to fight the creatures at all. Spotting a tear in the endless canopy, Elik slowed to a stop, squinting through the gap and spotting the tears and breaks of shattered branches. It took only a moment to decipher which way the breaks pointed, and he was off again.

He found her only a short distance from the entry point, crumpled in a heap of limbs and shattered wood. Approaching cautiously, he spoke softly. “Hello? Are you alright?” Probably not, he knew, but he’d rather not end up with something pointed at his throat for simply trying to help. She didn’t stir, chest falling and rising quickly beneath her armour, but she was at least alive. He crouched beside her, eyeing the trees all around for a moment before wiping the blood from the cuts on her face. The fair skin spoke of Wazn, and a quick check on her battered armour confirmed the suspicion.

Slinging her arm over his shoulder, the mage hauled her off the ground, grunting in exertion. The deadweight was bad enough, but her armour was making it worse. For a moment, he debated taking it off, but decided against it. She’d be spooked enough when she woke, he didn’t need to make it worse. Starting forward, Elik glance at the Guide Stone in his free hand. Komo Mai was to the south, but he was no doubt in the deep woods of the jungle by this point. There were far worse things than a hungry striper this deep, and he’d be a sitting duck with the injured woman. “Well, Miss, it seems we’re going to be doing a bit of camping…”

The highlands wouldn’t be too far from here. It was a bit of a long shot, but he might be able to find a place to hide out until she woke. He gave her a look, wincing when he caught sight of her mangled left wing. It looked like it had been scorched, and numerous cuts covered it, likely from shrapnel. Taking a deep breath, Elik headed west, hoping his luck would take a slight turn for the better.
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Re: Baten Kaitos: Dark Conviction

Post by Silvan Arrow on Wed Aug 15, 2012 2:25 pm

A soft groan passed between Rhia’s lips as her body slowly stirred to wakefulness. She cracked an eye open and waited for her blurry vision to adjust. It was too…dark. Even when her vision cleared, shadows obscured most of her surroundings. The world was tilted at an odd angle, and it took her a second to realize that she was lying on her stomach with her wings spread out on the ground beside her.

‘Ugh…what am I…?’ she wondered silently.

Then she remembered.

“Where?! What?!” Rhia exclaimed, still out of it as she tried to jerk into a crouch. She instantly regretted the sudden movement, her body reminding her that she was wounded. Her arms curled around her armored torso protectively from the pain in her bruised ribs, and the exposed skin on her arms and face stung from countless tiny scrapes. But worst of all was her wings. Her sudden attempt to move made the dirt and countless tiny pebbles on the ground scrape against the raw, scorched membranes, and her mouth opened in a silent, pained gasp. She instinctively tried to dismiss her wings in hopes that it would dull the pain, but it only made the burning sensation radiate inside her body. She groaned and called her mangled wings back out as the lesser of two evils. “Ugh…the Queen…” she grunted, not knowing if the White Dragon had even made it out safely.

"Ah, you're awake. I'm cooking a little something, should be ready momentarily."

Rhia gasped at the unfamiliar voice…the unfamiliar male voice, to be precise. She could now tell she was inside a cave, but the shadows, accentuated and sharpened by a campfire, made it difficult to pick out details. The man who had spoken smiled over his shoulder, but Rhia couldn’t see it. Panic temporarily blocked out the pain of her wounds as she forced herself into a crouch and scrabbled around for something to use as a weapon. The sudden movement threw her into a fit of vertigo and blurry vision. Her bow…where was her bow?! Her fingertips brushed against a familiar wooden object, and she held her bow out defensively, with the wickedly sharp blade on the end pointed in the general direction of the voice. “W-who are you? And why did you bring me here?” She scooted backwards, keeping her mangled left wing behind her while holding out her right as a threat.

The figure turned back to his fire. "I am the kind soul who dragged you out of the woods to safety." He was silent for a moment. "You can call me Elik, miss. Elik Medwin."

Rhia's brow furrowed as her panic shifted more to confusion, but she didn’t lower her bow yet. "You mean...I'm not your prisoner? You're not one of the Alfard soldiers that attacked my Queen?"

The man who had introduced himself as Elik suddenly stood with a flourish, and Rhia flinched instinctively at the sudden movement. The glow from the fire provided a backlight to his mantle, which billowed dramatically in constantly shifting shades of dazzling blues and greens. He slowly approached, holding two bowls of some kind of stew or gruel, and Rhia could finally get a better look at him. He was tall – taller than her, actually – and lean, with his trimmed goatee and fancy clothing giving him a kind of rogue-ish appearance. "Do I look much like a soldier, miss? I'm from Komo Mai." He frowned for a moment as he set a bowl of soup in front of her. "So, Alfard started that fight, did they?"

Rhia finally relaxed a little as she set her bow down and reached for the bowl of soup. A frown crossed her face while memories from the battle flickered across her mind. “Yeah…they just came out of nowhere. Twelve Alfardian airships stormed the marketplace with cannon fire and tried to take out our Queen. All the Wazn Knights and Royal Guards rallied from the palace to protect her, but…I don’t know if any of them survived.” Suddenly her head jerked up, eyes wide and expression hopeful. “The White Dragon! Did you see if the White Dragon carrying the Ice Queen escaped?”

Elik looked slightly unsettled at the cannon fire comment, but he recomposed himself before Rhia thought much of it. "It wasn't in the skies during the conflict, so I can only assume it's gotten away." He spared a glance toward the opening of the cave. "She can't have returned though. The barrier went up not long ago. I doubt the Queen would risk another attack in lowering it."

Rhia once again took on an expression of panic and surprise, though it was for an entirely different reason. “Barrier? What are you talking about? Are you saying I’m trapped here?” Everyone probably assumed she had died. What would her family think? Her sister? And what if those Alfard airships pursued the White Dragon all the way back to Wazn? She had to get back to Wazn and the Queen immediately!

Elik peered at her curiously, one eyebrow raised. "You didn't know? The Celestial Tree and the Queen can raise a protective barrier around the entire continent. When it's raised, nothing can get in or out."

Rhia just stared at him in bewilderment. "No...I never heard,” she replied, almost as if in a daze. “No one expected trouble at this summit, so the barrier was never part of our briefing before we left Wazn..." Although, she had to admit, it would have been nice to know that little bit of info ahead of time.

Elik shook his head ruefully. "An oversight, no doubt." Changing the topic, he indicated the bowl of soup with a wave of his hand. "You should eat, it'll do your body good to have some energy." That said, he paced back over towards the fire, looking out the front of the cave.

Rhia took a small experimental sip of soup while keeping one eye on Elik’s pacing form. It was simple but filling, and the welcome heat warmed her insides after lying on the cold ground for so long. After a few moments of silence, she remembered that she hadn’t even introduced herself. “It’s Rhia, by the way,” she stated, almost as an afterthought. “Rhia Aymon. Royal Guard to the Ice Queen.” She lifted the soup bowl again and abruptly hissed and tensed up as her wings throbbed in pain again. She barely managed to keep from spilling the hot liquid on her hands as she set the bowl down and reached across to grip her left shoulder in a futile attempt to ease the burning ache.

"Well, Miss Aymon." Elik chuckled as Rhia hissed, earning an angry glare from the woman. "As you can no doubt tell, you've damaged your wings. The small wounds I've dealt with, but that is beyond my capabilities to mend."

Still glaring up at Elik, she ground out between her teeth, "Your concern is touching... So what, I just haul around these mangled things until they regenerate?"

"You've damaged something spiritual, yet physical. Do you think that's something that just magically sorts itself out?" The way he was still so carefree and nonchalant about the situation irritated Rhia to no end. It was like her anger rolled right off his shoulders.

"I don't know. I haven't exactly been in this situation before!" By now the pain was making her grouchy on top of Elik’s infuriating sense of calm. "So what am I supposed to do?"

"For now, you eat and rest. In the morning, we'll head for Komo Mai. The School of Magic has a healer of some skill, so provided they aren't too taxed after the attack today, we should be able to get you fixed up, hm?"

The pain quieted down enough until it was simply background noise to the conversation. Rhia sipped slowly at her soup, careful not to making any sudden movements that would aggravate her wings, while mulling over Elik’s words. "How far is Komo Mai from here?"

"Far enough to be difficult without your wings. The beasts will pick up on the weakness, and will come sniffing." Elik grinned, nodding towards her weapon. "I hope that bow isn't just for show."

Rhia failed to notice his attempt at humor. “Well, I think I bruised a rib or two in the fall, but I’ll make do.” She peered more closely at Elik, noticing his distinct lack of any indication that he had traveled armed. No sword scabbard rested on his hip, nor a harness or sheath for any kind of weapon. As far as she could tell, he wasn’t even wearing any kind of armor. How in the world had he survived, prancing around a hostile jungle in that garish getup? “And what about you? I don’t see a weapon on you anywhere.”

Elik simply shrugged. "I don't have a weapon. Little need." He pulled out a Magnus from the deck on his hip and flipped it around so she could see its face. "Magic is more my forte than the physical side of combat."

Rhia leaned forward and peered at the Magnus for a moment, trying to make sense of the colors and patterns. The swirls of colors making up the spell were much more abstract – and likely more difficult to harness – than the simple physical objects contained within her Magnus. “Huh…a Mage. Never fought with one of those before…” she muttered, almost to herself. Satisfied with her inspection, she drained the last of the soup and set the bowl aside. She figured sleep would be futile at this point, especially with Elik around, but she would need any kind of rest her body would permit before fighting her way through the jungle in the morning. Since she couldn’t dismiss her wings without extreme pain, she was stuck lying on her stomach. She spent a few minutes shifting around, trying to get comfortable in her armor, which she absolutely refused to remove with Elik in the vicinity. She finally managed a tolerable position and rested her head on her folded arms, resigning herself to a stiff back in the morning. Just as Rhia closed her eyes, she lifted her head and cleared her throat to get Elik’s attention. “Um…thanks…for helping me…” she said, almost as an afterthought, glancing to the side to avoid meeting his eyes. She quickly put her head down again before he could start any more conversation and, after a quick glance to ensure her bow was within arm’s reach, closed her eyes to try and sleep.

Rest alluded Rhia for most of the night. Her wings spasmed with pain on and off, and the slightest noise from Elik moving around the cave made her twitch and crack open an eye. Sheer exhaustion dragged her down into fitful dreams a few times, but she mainly dozed when she could quiet her mind enough to get any kind of rest.

The first rays of dawn brought Rhia out of a half-conscious doze as soon as they alighted over her eyelids. She moved slowly, groaning at the stiff muscles in her back and neck while trying not to brush against anything with her wings. She kept one eye on Elik, who was still at the mouth of the cave, while she paced back and forth to get the blood flowing in her limbs again and set about organizing what remained of her gear. Her bow had survived the fall intact, but it needed a new string. Luckily, the Magnus pouch at her hip had somehow avoided the grasping arms of the tree branches, so she’d only lost a few Camp Magnus. She still had a couple of Magnus with spare bow strings, so she called out one of them and restrung her bow, giving it a few experimental tugs to make sure her shoulders could handle the strain with her damaged wings. She also gave the blades a few swipes with a whetstone to sharpen out the few minor dings they had sustained. She had to improvise a bit with the straps of her bow harness, but she managed to adjust it so they wouldn’t brush her wings or squeeze where her ribs ached. Her armor was dented in a couple of places, but it would still protect her far better than anything else she had in her Magnus deck.

Satisfied that she could do no more to prepare, Rhia joined Elik at the mouth of the cave, though still keeping a respectable distance. Face to face, she was finally able to get a clear view of his features. Oh yes, he was definitely taller, and Rhia had no doubt his looks would send the women of the Royal Guard into a twitter. They were notorious for having a wicked rumor mill that put even the court ladies and nobility to shame.

Rhia hoped Elik couldn’t see the weariness on her face or the low hum of her aching wings and ribs that beat at her senses. “Lead the way,” she said with a wave of her hand. “I hope for your sake that your magic can somehow repel the monsters’ claws and teeth.”
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Re: Baten Kaitos: Dark Conviction

Post by Guilty Carrion on Mon Aug 27, 2012 3:30 am

Elik had kept watch through the night, pausing every now and again to check on Rhia as she ‘slept’. He had noticed his movements often jolted her out of rest, and after interrupting whatever rest she was getting a third time, he resigned himself to standing a still vigil at the mouth of the cave. The night had dragged on; worries for his family and the people of Komo Mai at the forefront of his mind, making time seem to drag on, an irony he found devoid of humour.

Finally, after what felt like an eternity, the first rays of the sun broke over the canopy of the Holo Holo, and he gave a light sigh of relief as she stirred behind him. Elik moved little as she prepared eyes half shut until the soft echoes of footsteps on stone snapped them open and he turned to her partially. She was tall, almost as tall as he, and the pale skin had the slightest shine in the light. The slightest sheen of sweat coated her, no doubt a mixture of pain and exhaustion, but he paid it little mind, offering a light smile to the Royal Guard.

“Lead the way,” She waved towards the door, and he gazed back out at the jungle. “I hope for your sake that your magic can somehow repel the monsters’ claws and teeth.” He chuckled, shaking his head slowly as they stepped through the mouth of the cave into the early morning sun.

“Not as much, but the idea is not to let myself get close enough that their claws and blades aren’t an issue.” He spared her a quick glance, blue eyes sparking playfully. “Besides, I have a guard with me. I have faith that your skills will keep me quite safe.” She raised an eyebrow at him, clearly not amused by his words.

“Oh? You must be desperate if you’re settling for one with mangled wings and…” She winced as she stumbled over a small rock, “…bruised ribs.” The mage spared an inquisitive glance as she grimaced, but despite any apparent pain, the woman continued to keep pace with him. The high lands of the Holo Holo were easier to navigate and less populated then the jungle portions, but the terrain was slightly less forgiving than the soft underbrush of the thick plants. It’d be easier on her once they returned to the trail.

The ‘trail’ was essentially a well worn track of stone that most travellers preferred for its sparse beast presence, but Elik knew they didn’t have the luxury of taking the long way around. “Well, there were few other volunteers, I’m afraid. Besides, you’re bound to be tough to have survived a drop like that with one wing.”

Rhia was keeping pace, but every time he flicked his eyes to her, she seemed a little paler than she had that morning. At his words, she spared a quick look to her mangled wing; her features set in a stiff deadpan that made him crack a smile. “It’s not something I like to do on a regular basis.”

“I would hope not. Not every stranger is as chivalrous as I to rescue maidens who crash in the jungle.” His companion simply rolled her eyes, and they fell into a silence that was neither comfortable nor awkward. After a short distance, Elik slowed to a stop, eyes watching pools of water on either side of their small pathway. He half turned, looking at the dark blue cautiously for a moment, before his lips settled into a thin line and he breathed in a hushed whisper. “Don’t. Move.”

To her credit, she immediately froze, eyes darting about for the perceived threat as her arms tensed towards the harness of her bow. The mage stared at the water for a moment longer, hand edging slowly towards his deck when the pool to his back exploded in a shower of water and the form of an Acheron snapped upwards at him. He stumbled forward, tumbling into the water face first, but managed to straighten himself quickly enough to back pedal from a second Acheron that emerged from the deceptively deep water of the pool.

The guard reacted far better than he had, whirling around at the first Acheron, drawing her bow and slicing with it’s blade in one fluid motion. The creature staggered back, clacking its sharp jaws together as the diagonal slash bled thick red. She grimaced in pain, summoning an arrow and notching it, glancing over her shoulder briefly at him. “Tch…on your feet, klutz!”

Elik chuckled humourlessly, eyes watching cautiously as the Acheron before him snapped its jaws once or twice before rushing forward with them wide open, likely to bite the moment it got close. With one hand on his Magnus, Elik rattled off the animal’s information under his breath, before realization lit up his face. “Water elemental! Fire, they’re no good with fire!”

The Acheron drew close, and he wasted no more time talking as he drew the card he’d selected. It lacked the quick firing power of his spells the previous day, and the energy rippling along its surface was far more vibrant and unstable. A few beads of sweat trickled down his brow, eyes darting between the magic forming within the Magnus and the rapidly approaching beast. It snapped forward, as Elik released the build up, a plume of fire erupting out and scorching at the animal’s open mouth.

Whatever issue he had found with the animal, his companion was having very little with her own. Her arms moved in a rhythmic flow, summoning arrows to be nocked before the previous arrow had even found its target. The arrows sunk into the soft tissue quickly, and the Acheron turned it’s flank to break a few of them on it’s thick shell, before snapping angrily at Rhia, who deftly sidestepped the attack as she back-pedalled up the path for distance. She paused briefly at Elik’s call, before summoning a fire elemental arrow, nocking it and standing her ground to the rapidly approaching Acheron. It drew closer, jaws snapping furiously at her, but the guard simply loosed her arrow.

The flaming arrow pierced through the creature’s eye, and its head jerked back, before exploding in a burst of fire. The headless form collapsed to the rock lifeless. Elik panted silently himself, his own foe’s skull charred from the fire unleashed point blank into its open maw. The woman seemed to be no worse for wear, and he offered a grin. “See? Told you.” Her response was a huff, returning her bow to her sling without delay. The look she shot him as she walked past could have killed, but the mage simply smiled wider as she went past.

"Keep stumbling around like that and you'll get us both killed." She gave their surroundings a once over. “So…where next?” Rising from the water, Elik shook himself for a brief moment to rid his clothes of loose moisture, before climbing back to the path and standing beside her.

“Well, we aren’t overly far from the main trail, but that will only take us so far.” He gestured towards the thicker canopy to the south of them, his face settling into neutrality as he spoke. “Given the nature of what’s happened, and your injuries, time is most definitely not on our side. We’ll have to cut through the thick of the jungle for the fastest route to Komo Mai, and it will not be an easy task, I assure you.” She nodded, taking a brief moment to retrieve some of her arrows from the fallen beast, before the two were underway once more.

A few more minutes of steady walking brought them to the main trail through the Holo Holo, a path wide enough for a single cart to move either direction, although the wild growth seemed to constantly threaten the edges, trying to take back the beaten dirt for its own. After a brief moment’s pause for Rhia to catch her breath, the pair began the long walk towards Komo Mai.

Silence reigned between the two, nothing save for the chorus of wildlife and the steady thump of their boots filling the air. Occasionally Elik would point out a rogue root or stone that threatened her path, but the woman barely replied, simply nodding and sidestepping the obstacle. In those brief moments, he could see the paleness of her face, but it was the lost look in her eyes that resonated with him. The mage had little doubt he’d see the same thing if he looked in a mirror.

The silence made it far too easy to lose yourself in your thoughts, and his constantly drifted towards Komo Mai, where this whole battle had apparently started. How much damage had the attackers done? Was the School alright? And what of his family? Or the Queen? Jorgr and the others were capable, he knew, but the risk to Corellia would be immense with an entire fleet of airships. So lost in his thoughts, Elik barely noticed when the path curved sharply north, stopping only when he nearly walked off into the brush. If his companion had noticed his near blunder, she said nothing.

“Well, Miss Aymon, that was the easy part of our journey I’m afraid.” He motioned off to his left, into the thick of the ancient, gnarled trees, somewhat dark despite the rising sun. “The remainder of our journey will be through the thick brush.” He gave her a quick once over, rubbing his chin in thought for a moment before continuing. “How badly does it hurt to dismiss your wings?”

She glanced back at her wings, grimacing at their mangled appearance. "I tried dismissing them last night to dull the pain from the burns, but instead it felt like I was being burned from the inside." He frowned as she paused to think. "I could try dismissing them again, but I could probably only stand it for a couple of minutes at the most."

“I see. Well, the jungle is going to be fairly thick from here on out, so I suggest tucking them in tight if you can’t dismiss them. We’ll move a little slower so they don’t get tangled in anything.” He looked into the jungle, eyes scanning for any sign of movement aside from the harmless birds, anything that might betray a lurking predator. Satisfied there was nothing in the immediate area, he stepped off the trail, glancing back at Rhia and holding out a hand to help her down the incline. “Shall we?”

She flinched slightly at his extended hand, tucking her hands close to her sides and pulling her wings around herself protectively and descending past him without a word. He watched her walk for a moment, a bemused expression on his face as she moved ahead into the jungle, but after a moment he hurried after her. “You’ve never travelled the Holo Holo before, have you?” Reaching into his pocket, he pulled the small landmark stone out, its faint light shining opposite the direction they walked. “You’d best stay close, or you’ll get lost rather quick. The landmark stone is the only reliable method to get through quickly.”

Rhia peered at the stone for a moment, before nodding with a quiet “I see”, trailing behind him slightly as they continued on. Elik didn’t understand the need for distance the woman seemed to have, constantly putting a solid space between them, but he could only assume it was a common trait of their people. What seldom folk from Wazn he’d seen were merchants of the quiet sort, and she was the first he’d ever really interacted with.

They traveled in silence for what seemed like hours, the jungle growing thicker and more difficult to navigate the further they pressed into its depths. They’d pause every so often, listening for the tell tale approach of a striper, but fortune smiled, sending none of the infamous predators their way. Rhia kept a good pace, but he could see her paling the longer the spent moving, and with so much ground to cover still, Elik couldn’t really risk her collapsing. As they entered a small clearing, he came to a stop, pocketing the stone and looking back at her. “Shall we take a break?”

She shrugged nonchalantly. “Whatever you want to do.” He nodded, smiling to himself as she took a seat on a fallen log. He spent a few moments sorting through his Magnus, before retrieving a pair of trail rations camp Magnus. Elik held on out to her, which she took with mumbled gratitude, promptly materializing the food and busying herself with it. Elik kept his distance, quietly chewing the jerky as his eyes examined their surroundings.

Gazing up through the small gap in the canopy, he squinted at the sun sitting just past it’s zenith in the sky. They were making decent time. If it weren’t for her damaged wings, they could have been making better, but they had to make due with the pace she could muster. At this rate, he wagered they’d be in Komo Mai just after nightfall, provided they avoided any major run-ins with the wildlife.

A faint rustling from Rhia drew his gaze, and Elik glanced at her, only to feel the rushing air as an arrow sailed past his head. The mage blinked once at the woman, who was scowling rather furiously in his direction. “Move, you scatter-brained idiot!” His eyes flicked behind him, and the twisting vines lashed out, tossing him roughly across the clearing as Rhia fired another arrow into the bulb that served as the plant’s ‘head’.

Groaning lightly, Elik pushed himself out of the dirt, shaking his head as he got to his feet. “That’s a…” He snapped his fingers, trying to call up the name before his companion huffed in exasperation, drawing a flaming arrow out of her deck and nocking it.

“It’s a plant, and it’ll burn.” The arrow soared across the clearing, burrowing itself into the bulb of the plant before bursting into a vibrant plume of flame. It thrashed violently as the fire rapidly consumed the bulb from the inside out, but they had little time to celebrate their victory, two more of the plants creeping in from the edge of clearing. They were eerily silent, he noted, making no sound as they moved across the jungle floor. “Take care of that one!” She barked, and Elik nodded, turning to face the one closest to them.

For a moment, he considered taking her approach and simply burning the plant, but his spells weren’t as precise as her arrows, and posed the very real risk of igniting the entire jungle around them. With its weakness not an option, the path was clear, and Elik drew a pair of cards from the deck, quickly tossing forward the first as the plant lashed out with a sweep of its vine, only to find the limb entangled in what appeared to be a scarf of some sorts.

Without hesitating, he called on the magic inside the Magnus. “Chronos Blow!” The energy lashed out in it’s volatile arc, hammering into the creature and sending it skidding back as the energies tore at the exposed ‘skin’ of it’s bulb and vines. Pressing the attack, Elik drew another, firing off another Chronos Blow that hit the bulb full force, and the plant shuddered violently under the assault before collapsing backwards into the thick of the jungle. For a moment, the mage considered ensuring it was done, but if the thing retreated, that was as good in his books.

Turning, the man could only sigh lightly as Rhia silently retrieved her arrows from the fallen plants she’d taken care of. She certainly was capable; there was little doubt of that. “Thanks for the save.” She shot a withering glare, wincing slightly as she squatted down to retrieve her final arrow.

“It's a wonder you've made it through this jungle in one piece before…”

“I prefer to stick to the trail myself. I’m not much for hurrying.” He sighed, scratching the back of his head before retrieving the landmark stone from his pocket. “I get the feeling we’ve over stayed our welcome here though. If we keep up this pace, we should reach Komo Mai tonight.” She nodded in agreement, and the pair headed into the jungle once more.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Sighing heavily, Elik wiped his brow free of sweat, eyeing the stone with a slight squint. After countless hours of walking, he knew they were at least getting close to the edge of the Holo Holo. Once they were free of the jungle, it’d be easy to reach Komo Mai, but the sun had long sunk behind the horizon, and twilight’s last rays were fading quickly. The landmark stone wasn’t much of a torch with its soft light, and Elik gave another sigh, turning to Rhia. “Alright, we’re getting close, but it’s getting too dark to just keep stumbling along. Think you can lead while I make a light source?”

She nodded, muttering a brief “Sure” as she moved to the front, trying to follow the faint trail through the underbrush. Elik started after her, pocketing the stone, confident they were headed in the right direction as he drew a small fire Magnus from his pouch. Murmuring quietly, the fire emerged from the card, and he placed it in the flat of his palm, holding it above his head and illuminating a small circling around them.

For the first time since he’d pulled her to the cave, Elik got a good look at her wings, and grimaced at the burn marks that marred her left wing. The back of her neck had the lightest sheen of sweat, and he noticed her steps lacked the same confidence they’d had earlier in the day. The injury was getting to her, but the guard was saying nothing. He wasn’t sure if it was determination or stubbornness, but chose to let the matter lie. They’d come too far to simply make camp now.

They moved in silence, Rhia leading just ahead, although he noticed she was constantly checking over her shoulder to ensure he was still there or wasn’t following too closely. The mage was beginning to suspect she still doubted his words about not being her enemy, and he had half a mind to mention it, only for the echoing clank of armour plate to fill their ears. He frowned, unsure of what the source could be, but just ahead, the briefest glint of metal and a shape he could have sworn looked like a dragon emblazoned on it appeared between the trees before disappearing.

Before he could even open his mouth though, Rhia had frozen, but he could tell by her posture it wasn’t from fear. “That armour is from Wazn!” She started forward, walking faster than he’d seen her do all day, and the mage following quickly after her, squinting into the dark trying to make out the armour’s wearer. Her pace only quickened as the brief flickers of light disappeared, and Elik found his feet stumbling over the dark roots that littered the path.

“Slow down!” He called quietly, a knot forming in the pit of his stomach as she pushed on, seemingly ignorant of his warning.

“Hey! It's Rhia Aymon from the Royal Guard! Can you hear me..?” She disappeared through a small gap in the trees, and Elik swore under his breath, pushing himself through the small space and coming up behind her as she finished shouting. She was stiff, and when his eyes adjusted to the clearing’s dim light, he immediately knew why, his own blood running cold. Four skeletal figures turned slowly towards them, hollow eyes staring silently. Each was clad in black plate armour as dark as the night air around them, and the closest wasted no time swinging its large sword in a harsh arc towards Rhia’s head.

Elik wasted no time, flaring his mantle up and pulling Rhia down under it as his free hand readied a Magnus. “Close your eyes!” The card shone brilliantly, far brighter than any he had used thus far, but the skeletal swordsman paid no heed as it raised it’s blade up above it’s head for another attack. “Light Flare!” The card went dark for a moment, before the clearing erupted into a shining flash of brilliant light that forced the mage to shut his eyes lest he blind himself.

A screaming chorus of hisses filled the clearing, and when the light faded, Elik quickly moved in front of Rhia, eyes narrowed on the four skeletal fiends. “Skeletal Swordsmen. Resurrected by dark magic from the time of the Gods. They’re not fond of light.” He spared her a moment’s glance. “Are you alright?”

She opened her eyes, and she seemed startled by his proximity, back-pedalling away for a moment. “I-I’m fine.” She stammered, looking to the skeletons as she readied her bow, calling on an arrow that shown with a brilliant light. “These things won’t be.”

He nodded. “Be careful. They’re a tad worse than the usual beasts.” The two said nothing more, Rhia nocking the arrow as Elik readied up another spell, eyes flashing dangerously in the low light. The weakened skeleton lunged forward, but its breastplate shattered in a surge of light as Rhia loosed her arrow with perfect timing. The creature tumbled backwards, before its body crumbled and burned to ash in the harsh light radiating from her arrow.

Elik sidestepped a sword slash as he readied a pair of Magnus, jumping back to dodge the sideswipe that follow, wincing when he felt the blade slice through the fabric of his shirt and trail against the skin of his stomach. The wound was shallow, merely cosmetic, but the blacken blade of the skeleton stung painfully. He didn’t give it a chance to press the advantage, condensing twin light flares into a single cone of blinding light that seared away the skeleton’s skull, leaving its body to crumple into a heap. He spared a glance to Rhia, who had closed with the other remaining skeleton, and was deftly blocking its blade strikes with the blades of her bow. The manipulation of its shaft was skilled, almost entrancing the way she struck back with one end, and blocked with the other.

He didn’t have long to marvel though, as the remaining skeleton lunged forward with an upwards slash. Elik back-pedalled, tilting his chin back as the blade sliced through the air, barely grazing past his chin. He grabbed one of his Magnus quickly, barely catching the tell tale reds and oranges of the fire as he quickly grappled with the skeleton’s free hand and the hilt of it’s blade, pushing the weapon away from his face. Despite his size, Elik didn’t have the physical muscle to fight against the magic infused abomination, feeling the sword loom closer to his face with each pressing second.

His eyes darted, looking for a way out, pausing when he caught sight of the Fire Magnus still clenched in his hand fighting against the sword. His hand shifted its grip, moving up from the hilt to the centre of the blade, pressing the Magnus tight to the center of the blade, pushing with all his might against the weapon. The center gave him more leverage, but he couldn’t fight the skeleton from its stalemate, and the mage looked towards Rhia in desperation.

The bladed end of her bow lashed out, shattering the skeletal neck of her opponent and tossing the skull away as the rest of the body crumbled to the ground suddenly. Before she could even celebrate, he called to her. “Rhia! The knee!” She looked to him, meeting his eyes with her own, before summoning up an arrow and firing it with the precision he was rapidly coming to expect from her. It pierced the soft point of the armour, cracking through and dropping the skeleton to one knee. Elik pressed his advantage, shoving the sword over the skeleton’s face as the Magnus beneath his palm stirred to life. “Fire Burst!” The fire didn’t emerge as it did normally, blocked by the bulk of the sword, but that was the plan. With the Magnus between his hand and the rapidly heating metal, Elik barely felt the tell tale sting of burning skin as the center of the ancient weapon began to glow.

Channelling more Magnus energy into the spell, he grit his teeth against the rapidly spreading sting sensation in his hand, as the center of the blade began to drip. The molten steel fell to the skeleton’s face, burning a hole clean through and earning a furious screech from the creature, but before it could mount any proper resistance, the center of it’s blade gave way, dousing it’s skull in molten slag that quickly devoured it’s skull. Elik retracted his hand quickly, watching silently as the Magnus inside the slag was devoured greedily by the metal.

He spare a quick glance at his hand, unable to see the full extent of the damage in the dark, but from the lack of feeling, he suspected he’d need the healer’s assistance himself. With a light smile, he turned to look at Rhia again, mouth open to speak. He didn’t even get a word out as a towering form appeared above her, clad in the shining armour of a Knight of Wazn, but raising a massive hammer to strike. There was no time to react.

The hammer swung low, crushing into the side of her armour with enough force to lifted the armoured woman off her feet and sent her crashing across the clearing with a scream of pain that made Elik wince, squeezing his eyes shut as she came to a rough stop against a tree a few feet from him. “Rhia, are you alright?” There was no response; the woman slumped on the ground, one arm wrapped around her battered chest and the other vainly trying to clutch her bow. He moved to step closer to her, only for the echoing clank and hissing laugh of the massive ‘knight’ to bring his attention back to the threat.

He could see it now, the lifeless eyes staring out of the helmet at him. He’d heard the odd rumours that the skeletons of more powerful magic were known to loot the fallen in Holo Holo, but he’d always dismissed it as paranoid rambling. He’d need to share this disturbing discovery with the other court mages when he got to Komo Mai. Provided the sinister creature didn’t kill him and his companion here tonight.

He’d never seen one so massive, and it carried a great hammer in only one hand, the other possessing a broadsword of terrifying size, the armour of a knight only serving to make the creature more daunting of an opponent. It swung the hammer high at him, and Elik hopped back, feeling the ground beneath his feet tremble as the weapon smashed into the earth. With a pair of fire Magnus in hand, Elik circled round the skeletal titan as it watched him with it’s dead eyes, sword spinning in it’s grip as it primed the hammer for another swing.

“Fire Burst!” The flames arced out of the cards, slamming into the creature’s armour, earning a grin from Elik. It fell shortly after the spell faded, the knight’s armour having deflected all of the fire with no apparent harm to the creature within. It screeched in a mocking way that sounded almost similar to laughter, swinging both its weapons in a horizontal slash, missing Elik by a few inches as the mage once again retreated for ground. He thumbed through his Magnus desperately, unsure of what could really bypass the armour; save for anything other than wind, which he by principle just didn’t carry.

His back found the firm wood of a tree, and Elik ducked swiftly to avoid the hammer strike as it shattered through the wood of the tree with disturbing ease, showering the mage with a hail of splinters and wood chips. He glanced up, seeing the titan raise it’s broadsword for a plunging strike, quickly snapping up a card. “Light Flare!” The blinding light stopped the attack, and he scrambled between the skeleton’s legs and beat a hasty retreat across the clearing, trying to ignore the hissing scream of the monster pursuing him.

He couldn’t just keep running like this, and he knew it though. Rhia was injured, and no doubt in need of desperate medical attention after that hit. But what could he do to get through that armour? He didn’t have anything capable of piercing the thick steel, and he didn’t have the physical prowess to get in close with the skeletal titan to try and get a spell through the gaps. It was then that he felt it.

A suffocating swirl of Magnus energy that even managed to drown out the constant hum of the barrier above, and Elik turned partially to see the source. “How…dare…you!” Staggering up from the ground, Rhia’s eyes were glazed over in what he could only assume was a mixture of pain, adrenaline and pure rage, a dark blue aura pulsing darkly around her frame, the waves of energy colder than anything he’d ever felt before. Once her footing was sure, the guard raised her bow, an arrow of glowing light materializing in her grip. “How dare you defile that knight’s memory!” The arrow sailed past him, followed by another, and another.

The mage half turned, watching them burrow into the armour in a small circle as the Magnus aura around Rhia channelled into the last arrow she had summoned, a seemingly normally one that swelled with a visible ripple of power. “I’ll make you pay! Piercing Blow!” The infused arrow rocketed forward, racing past faster than anything he’d seen, slamming into the center of her arrow circle. There was only a split second pause, before the energy channelled into it erupted in a detonation of dark blue ‘flame’, shattering a crack up the length of the titan’s armour.

Elik saw his chance, hands flaring as he raced forward, drawing the light Magnus energy from the light arrows and channelling them into a shimmering orb in his palm. The titan hissed in pain and anger, dropping its hammer to grab the mage by his collar and hoist him off the ground. It squeezed, intent on choking the life out of him, but Elik opened his hands, the orb of light dropping into the gape as he gasped. “Light Flare!”

The resulting blast blinded Elik, even through his closed eyelids, but the echoing scream of the skeletal titan ringing in his ears and the abrupt drop to the ground told him it had worked. For a few moments, he simply lay in the dirt, blinking rapidly to try and restore his vision without any linger spots. Once he was content he could at least see, he hauled himself up to his feet, looking at the crumpled pile of armour. Whatever had been inside, he had little doubt there was nothing but ash now.

He turned to Rhia, and spotted her lying once more in a heap on the ground. Elik raced to her side, propping her up lightly with his arm. She was pale as a ghost, and the thick sheen of sweat spoke poorly of her health. She said nothing, groaning lightly in protest to his moving her. He offered a humourless smile, brow creased with worry. “Told you I had faith, Miss Aymon.” Without another word, he hauled her to her feet, slinging an arm over his shoulder and tucking her bow over her shoulder to hold it. She barely moved, mostly dead weight, save for the weak limping steps of her feet, but she tried to stay mobile with him at least.

To their fortune, it was only a few minutes through the jungle before they finally emerged on the rock road that lead down to Komo Mai, which sat silently on the horizon, several small lights on but the most of the city likely asleep after an arduous day of work. He was glad he couldn’t really see the city. He dreaded the damage he’d find there.

Rhia was soundless, and he found himself shaking her frequently to ensure she wasn’t falling asleep on him. In her condition, that was the last thing they needed. As they moved down the trail, Elik found himself murmuring under his breath.

“Cast light upon the darkened earth,
save those lost in despair.
O Mighty Ocean, guide us as we journey through
the darkest pit of night.
And may time, ever fleeting, forgive us;
we, who have forsaken our song
and buried our future.
Find us, O Mighty Ocean, and forgive us.”


He’d never been one for prayer, but with everything that had happened…it seemed they would need all the help they could get in the days to come.
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Guilty Carrion
Poltergeist
Poltergeist

Join date : 2010-01-12
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Posts : 856
Age : 27
Location : The Underdark


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Re: Baten Kaitos: Dark Conviction

Post by Silvan Arrow on Wed Oct 03, 2012 1:10 pm

Rhia’s vision flickered disturbingly between blurry, amorphous shapes and complete blackness as she fought to hold onto consciousness. She was dimly aware of her feet limping along while Elik supported her weight and her head lolled heavily between her shoulders. But the pain. Ah, gods, the pain was unlike anything she had ever felt. Her lungs felt too large for her bruised, battered, and likely shattered rib cage, to the point where even the slightest breath was agony and holding her breath until her lungs burned seemed like the lesser of the two evils. It certainly didn’t help that her armor had crunched inward where the undead knight’s hammer had struck it. Her wings throbbed worse than ever after slamming into that tree, and they hung limply and dragged the ground behind her, adding a thousand tiny stings from the dirt and sticks chafing them.

If Rhia had been in any sane shape of mind, she would have been freaking out that Elik was half-carrying her. As it was, she barely registered him constantly shaking her to make sure she didn’t fall asleep, while each step jarred her ribs and further scraped the torn, mangled membranes of her wings. She thought she heard him murmuring something that sounded like a prayer, something almost familiar, and she tried to focus on it as a distraction from the pain.

After some time – it could have been minutes, hours, or even days – Rhia felt the ground level out under her feet and harden into a well-traveled path. She heard a heavy door groan open, followed by Elik shouting. She wanted to tell him to pipe down and stop blasting her ears, but she didn’t have the strength. She didn’t even bother to try keeping her eyes open anymore. Moments later, she heard additional worried voices and felt sets of hands grasping at her armored body. The world tilted underneath her, and she finally lost the battle for consciousness.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Rhia moaned softly and stirred as she slowly worked her way back to consciousness. Without opening her eyes, she could tell that she was lying on her stomach in a soft bed, wide enough for her wings to spread out on either side. She stirred slightly and took an experimental breath, mindful of her ribs. She felt only a slight twinge of pain and inhaled deeply, feeling the whisper of a soft sheet against her bare skin.

‘Wait…’

Rhia opened her eyes with a start and quickly craned her head to take in her surroundings. She almost immediately wanted to squint them shut again. After the dense shadows of the Holo Holo, this room was far too bright and white. Sunlight streamed through the curtained windows, and a tall, white curtain blocked her view of anything beyond a few feet from her bed. Under the sheet, she had been stripped down to nothing except her underwear, and thick white bandages covered her breasts and ribcage. She started to panic as her breathing quickened. Who had seen her like this?

“Oh good, you’re awake!”

Gasping in surprise, Rhia jerked toward the sound of the voice to see a hand push the curtain aside just enough for a thin, willowy woman to step through. She was middle-aged, with a gentle smile and hair pulled back that had been dyed a vibrant shade of blue. Typical of Komo Mai, Rhia was quickly coming to realize. “I’m so sorry to startle you, dear, but I had thought you would sleep for a few more hours at least.”

“W-who are you?” Rhia demanded, but her voice felt dry and scratchy from dehydration.

If her harsh tone offended the woman, she didn’t show it. She simply smiled and replied, “Of course, where are my manners? I’m Fayne, a healer and instructor here at the School of Magic. One moment, please.” She poked her head out of the curtain to whisper something to a passing shadow that Rhia could see through the curtain before returning her attention to her patient. “Now then, how are you feeling?”

Rhia relaxed slightly but didn’t take her eyes off Fayne while she did a mental inventory of her aches and pains. “Better…my ribs barely hurt now.”

“And your wings? Do you feel any discomfort in them? Do you think you can dismiss them?”

Rhia hesitantly glanced to the side to check her wings, afraid of what she would see…and then breathed a sigh of relief. The light blue membranes were as whole and unscarred as the day she had first learned to project them. She shifted them slightly and thankfully felt no pain. Finally, she cut their ties to the physical realm and dismissed them without the slightest discomfort. She returned her gaze to Fayne gratefully. “Thank you…”

Fayne smiled wider and nodded. “My pleasure, dear.” Just then, the curtains parted slightly, causing Rhia to flinch further under the sheet, but it was just a nurse with a tray of food. “Ah, perfect timing. Thank you,” Fayne said as she took the tray. “Here, Rhia, you need to eat to regain your strength.

Rhia blinked in surprise as she slowly moved herself into a sitting position, holding the sheet around her with one hand the whole time. “H-how do you know my name? And…where are my clothes?” She secretly hated the sensation of anything other than clothes against her bare skin. It made her feel too…open and vulnerable.

“Elik told us when he brought you here last night,” Fayne replied as she set the tray in front of Rhia. It was simple fare – a bowl of soup and a loaf of bread – but it smelled delicious after eating so little in the Holo Holo. She held the bowl with her free hand and sipped slowly while Fayne talked. “As for your clothes and armor, we had to remove them so we could treat your injuries.” Rhia’s head snapped up with a panicked expression, and Fayne quickly amended, “Oh don’t worry! It was just me and my two nurses, and they are both women as well! You’ve been behind this curtain the entire time.” Rhia breathed a quiet sigh of relief. “The servants are washing your clothes and will return them in a Magnus when they’re done. As for your armor…the leather pieces are fine, but the metal may be beyond repair.” Rhia nodded in understanding, remembering all too clearly the feel and sound of the metal crunching under the hammer blow. Fayne continued, “Although, if you want my advice, you may want something a little more lightweight for this warm climate. I can’t imagine how you didn’t get heat stroke wandering around the jungle with that heavy armor and wool uniform.”

Rhia nibbled at the bread quietly, trying to figure out what questions to ask. “How long have I been out?”

“Judging by the sun, a little over half a day. Quite remarkable, actually. No one expected you to wake up this soon, considering the condition you were in last night. Elik did well to get you here so quickly. Another hour or so, and you might have been beyond our skill to heal.”

‘Huh…that close to death…’ The thought was a sobering one, and Rhia lapsed back into silence while she drained the last of the soup and set the tray aside. She almost didn’t want to ask this last question, but she figured it would be better to know anyway. “Where…is Elik?”

Fayne smiled slightly at the question. “Oh, he’s been in and out most of the day. I treated a couple of small injuries for him. He keeps asking about you.” Her smile turned rather mischievous. “Hmmm…quite the looker, he is. And exceptionally charming.”

Rhia’s eyes widened in horror at the implication. “N-no! It’s nothing like that!” she stammered a little too loudly.

And then, as if on cue, a distinctly male voice sounded from the other side of the curtain. "I heard a familiar voice. I trust Miss Aymon has rejoined the living?" Based on the volume of Elik’s voice, he was approaching the curtain a little too quickly for comfort.

Rhia gave a frightened start and immediately ducked under the sheet, pulling it nearly over her head as she lay on her stomach. “S-stay away!” she shouted at Elik.

Completely unfazed by the exchange, Fayne stood and poked her head out of the curtain to give Elik a polite smile. “Good afternoon, Elik. So good to see you.” She paused to glanced back at her patient, still hiding under the sheet. “What Rhia means is that she would prefer to get dressed before seeing you.”

Rhia glared in Elik’s general direction at the sound of his amused laughter. "No brazen hug of gratitude? All my efforts for naught, it seems." The very thought made Rhia gasp and blush multiple shades of red.

"In your dreams, pervert!"

“I am not a pervert, Miss Aymon. I simply know how to appreciate beauty." Rhia growled under her breath. Elik was already too good at getting under her skin with his inability to be fazed by her temper.

Luckily, the timely arrival of a nurse spared Rhia a few moments of sanity from Elik’s verbal banter. She politely stepped past the mage with a smile and entered the curtain, holding out a handful of Magnus to Fayne. "I've brought the Magnus you asked for, ma'am."

Fayne smiled in delight. “Ah, wonderful! Here you are, Rhia.” The first four Magnus contained Rhia’s two sets of armor, Wazn uniform, and bow. She grimaced at the image on the card holding her metal armor. She could clearly see where the undead knight’s hammer had struck it and practically destroyed one side. Until she could get back to Wazn’s blacksmiths, the metal armor would be more of a liability than any sort of protection. The next several Magnus held a variety of lightweight outfits in various colors and fabrics. “Go ahead, pick whatever you would like,” Fayne prodded. “I just need to undo your bandages first and make sure you’re healed enough to move around.”

Rhia nodded hesitantly and then tried not to flinch as Fayne undid her bandages and felt around her ribcage with firm, yet gentle touches. She hated physical exams, even if the healer was a woman. Thankfully, Fayne didn’t take long. “Everything looks fine. Any minor twinges of pain you feel now should be gone by the morning.”

“T-thank you,” Rhia replied, pulling the sheet back around her naked torso and flicking through the proffered Magnus as quickly as possible. She frowned at her choices. Most of the outfits were too tight, too bright, too short, or too flowy to be of any practical use. She heard Elik chuckle softly, as if he could tell her predicament, and she exclaimed, “Just…stay on the other side of that curtain if you value your head!”

“I am quite fond of it,” he replied matter-of-factly, but he stayed put as Rhia demanded. She finally found something tolerable and materialized her bra and leather armor first. Having something covering her skin made her feel slightly more normal as she struggled and contorted her way into the provided outfit. When Fayne protested her choice of a men’s outfit and wondering who had slipped that Magnus into the selection, she finally gave in after calling for a seamstress to make some quick adjustments so it fit Rhia’s figure better. The shirt was a deep violet and sleeveless, with black and silver trim along the hems and running down the middle in lieu of buttons. The pants, after some quick Magnus-induced alterations from the seamstress, fit snugly around her legs and were made of a dark gray, breathable fabric that allowed full freedom of movement. Over the shirt went a long jacket with a high collar that reached down to just above her knee, made of a slightly lighter shade of gray with some sheen in the fabric. She kept her boots and, after much insistence from Fayne, attached to them the violet cuffs that came with the outfit and donned a pair of violet and black fingerless gloves. She reattached her Magnus pouch to its belt around her hips, strapped her bow and harness to her back, and hesitantly stepped outside the curtain to rejoin Elik. To her immense relief, the simple act of walking did not trigger any twinges of pain or vertigo, though she would probably need one more night of sleep before she was back to full strength.

Rhia gave Elik her best annoyed expression and crossed her arms over her chest. “Yeah? What do you want?”

The mage took her grouchiness in stride and offered his usual charming smile. "It's really not a matter of what I want, Miss Aymon. You were worried earlier of being trapped here whilst your Queen could be in danger. I've taken the liberty of arranging a meeting with Queen Corellia for you."

Rhia paused and blinked in surprise. Of all the things Elik could have said, she did not expect him to have gone to the trouble of arranging an audience with Anuenue’s monarch for her. She instinctively thought to thank him, but the words died on her tongue before she could make herself utter them. Old habits die hard, after all. Instead, she shook her head a little, as if to clear the cobwebs, and deadpanned, “Well, what are we standing here for? Lead the way." If she had her way, she would be on an airship heading back to Wazn by the end of the day and would never, ever have to look at Elik’s so-called “charming” face ever again.

"But of course," Elik replied with an affirmative nod. He turned to Fayne first and offered one of his classic charming smiles. "Thank you for your assistance. I'll be sure to return the favor someday."

Fayne returned his smile and replied, "You can return the favor by making sure this one," she gestured to Rhia, "gets enough rest and stays out of trouble."

Before Elik could make any additional comments, Rhia interjected by addressing Fayne. “Thank you for everything. I wouldn’t be here without you.” Despite her previous feelings of awkwardness, she was completely sincere in her gratitude.

“Of course, dear. I’m always happy to help.” Fayne smiled and then made a shooing motion with her hands. “Now away with you! You mustn’t keep the Queen waiting!”

Elik swept an elegant half-bow and led Rhia out of the School of Magic and towards the palace. On the way, they passed through the marketplace, and Rhia paused mid-stride as she finally beheld the aftermath of the Alfardian air raid. Most of the colorful tents where vendors hawked their wares had burned to the ground or at least sustained severe fire damage. Black smudges of gunpowder marked the numerous small craters where cannonballs had struck the ground. The scent of ashes, smoke, and fire still hung heavily in the air, making Rhia’s nostrils sting. But the worst part was the mood of despondency that hung like a shroud over the people. Brightly clad citizens that had danced and celebrated to herald the beginning of the peace summit now wandered through the carnage with their heads down, their expressions glazed, as if still refused to believe that their idyllic paradise had been attacked. Some tried to rummage through the refuse for anything salvageable, while many others simply wandered without a purpose.

Rhia stayed quiet while she and Elik passed through the market towards the palace. She couldn’t see his face from her position behind him, but his shoulders slouched ever so slightly. These people really had suffered, just like her Wazn kin. She spared a glance upward and grimaced at the faint sheen in the sky that indicated the presence of the magical barrier surrounding the continent. The thought of being trapped here only strengthened her resolve to try and return to her Queen’s side, to do whatever she could so that this kind of disaster wouldn’t befall her people.

Rhia was no stranger to court etiquette and protocol, having served the Ice Queen for years, but she was surprised at how quickly she and Elik were taken in, most likely due to Elik being a member of the court. Two guards escorted them to the grand hall, where Corellia waited on her throne, and the attendants presented them with all the usual gusto. Rhia immediately sank into a kneel with her right arm crossed over her chest, as was customary of Knights and Royal Guards in Wazn, while Elik dipped into a full court bow with a flourish of his cape. She spared a quick glance upward though, and took note of Corellia’s expression. Her mouth was set into a hard line, and her features were aloof and calculating. In a nutshell, she did not look pleased. Rhia would have to tread carefully.

"Queen Corellia, may I present Rhia Aymon of the Wazn Royal Guard, servant of the Ice Queen," Elik introduced, indicating Rhia with a wave of his hand.

Rhia rose from her kneel and tipped her head respectfully. “Thank you for seeing me at such short notice, Your Majesty.”

The shows of respect did nothing to soften Corellia’s expression, and her tone of voice was one Rhia knew all too well: carefully neutral, but with an edge that demanded obedience. “Elik has spoken highly of your skills, Miss Aymon. You are a Royal Guard from Wazn?”

“Yes, Your Majesty.” When Corellia didn’t speak, Rhia took it as her cue to continue. “Your Majesty, I have to know…what happened during the battle? Did anyone from Wazn survive?”

Corellia’s expression softened slightly in sympathy. “Wazn suffered heavy casualties. The White Dragon bearing your Queen got away safely from what I could see, but all the airships from Wazn went down. I sent the delegations home with the few unwounded survivors, but the wounded who are still here will need some time with our healers to recover.” Corellia studied Rhia’s expression, which was a mix of sorrow and rage at what had happened to her people. “Although, something tells me you did not seek an audience with me simply to ask about the aftermath of the attack.”

Rhia nodded. “With your blessing, I wish to return to Wazn and the service of my queen.”

Corellia’s features hardened once again. “In other words, you wish for me to lower the barrier surrounding Anuenue. That is something I simply cannot do without knowing who carried out the attack.”

Rhia stood in stunned silence for a moment. “But you know who was responsible. Those airships were clearly from Alfard, and…”

“And the Alfardian emperor is adamantly denying that he had anything to do with the attack,” Corellia cut her off abruptly.

Rhia’s composure started to crumble under Corellia’s infuriatingly cold, calculating logic. “That doesn’t mean anything! If Alfard is responsible, then they need to be…”

Corellia cut her off again, her gaze locking onto Rhia’s and silencing her by sheer force of will. “I think you fail to understand the severity of this situation. The Six Nations are in an uproar, and the peace is hanging by a thread. If I start accusing Alfard without irrefutable evidence, the other nations will start pointing fingers at each other, and we could see a war that would completely destroy what remains of humankind.” Corellia pinned Rhia with a stern, unwavering glare. “This barrier is the only thing protecting my people, and it takes time and an immense amount of magic to recreate it when I lower it.”

“Meanwhile, Wazn has no magical barrier, and we just lost scores of our best Knights and Royal Guards fighting on foreign soil,” Rhia interjected, now far beyond caring about etiquette and protocol. “They will need every warrior if another attack comes against our queen!”

“You think those airships meant just to attack your queen?” Corellia’s voice rose in volume. “You forget that they attacked innocent civilians as well who look to me for protection. I will not lower the barrier and put my people at risk when they have already suffered enough.”

At that point, Rhia finally snapped and shouted, “You…have no right to keep me here!”

Instead of shouting back, Corellia’s voice lowered to just above a whisper, but her thunderous expression coupled with her tone made Rhia shiver as she leaned forward in her seat and looked Rhia square in the eye. “I have not just the right but the sacred duty to do what is best for my people, and I shall not compromise that duty just to satisfy the petty tantrums of a single guard.” Satisfied that she had thoroughly humbled Rhia, she met Elik’s gaze and gave a dismissive wave. “Please escort Miss Aymon out of the palace. I have nothing further to say, and I need to oversee the reconstruction efforts in the marketplace.”

Rhia started to protest, but Elik simply bowed and guided her by the elbow out of the great hall. Rhia cursed and fumed the entire way out of the palace, and she finally snapped and punched one of the pillars once they were outside. Elik remained surprisingly quiet and watched from a distance while she blew off steam and finally sagged sideways against the pillar, closing her eyes briefly. The adrenaline left her system in a rush, and she felt physically and emotionally exhausted. “Now what do I do? I… have nowhere to go and no way of knowing if my queen is safe." She grimaced at the damage in the marketplace, and another thought crossed her mind. “My family probably thinks I’m dead.” She imagined her parents receiving a condolence letter from the palace and her little sister crying alone in her room and clenched her fists helplessly.

Elik stood nearby with his hands behind his back as he looked off into the sky, lost in thought. “For the time being, there isn’t much you can do.” He glanced off towards the horizon and added as an afterthought, “Unless you, by some act of providence, found evidence substantial enough to convince Queen Corellia to lower the barrier."

Rhia shoved off her pillar and turned back to him with a frustrated glare. “And where would I find that kind of evidence?” she demanded, waving her hands in a futile gesture. “It’s not like one of those Alfardian airships is just lying around for us to search!”

Elik raised an eyebrow. “The knights didn’t shoot a single one down?”

Rhia blinked in surprise at the question and paused to think. “W-well…we did. I detonated one of the ship’s cannons, but I never saw where it landed. I don’t know if we shot any others down, because I was out of the fight by then.”

Elik nodded for a moment and shrugged. “Well then, perhaps we could ask some of the citizens if they happened to see something? It’s fairly hard to miss a battle of that scale.”

Rhia just stared at him for a moment like he was crazy. She did not relish the thought of trying to interview complete strangers about details of the battle, but she finally decided that it was better than standing here doing nothing. She sighed in frustration. “Fine. Let’s get this over with.”

The afternoon proved to be a lesson in futility. Rhia was sorely inadequate at carrying on polite small talk with civilians, and many of the people they interviewed were too distracted with rebuilding to be much help. Elik didn’t fare much better, despite his natural ease with conversation. They took a break in the town square as the sun started to dip below the horizon. Rhia took a swig from a water flask and grumbled, “This is a waste of time. Most people had their noses to the ground during the attack or were in hiding, and understandably so. It's not like they would just stand around and watch a battle like that for amusement."

Elik rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "You'd think someone would have seen something...I saw you fall into the Holo Holo. Surely I wasn't the only one watching?"

At those words, Rhia turned around abruptly as realization hit her like a hammer. "YOU were watching the battle! Surely you must have seen whether we shot down any of those airships or where one of them landed!"

Elik paused and blinked. “Oh, that’s right!” he exclaimed after a few seconds of silence. He thought for a moment. "One of the ships...just before you fell it went...south. It was dropping low but was still airborne last I saw it. Towards the Celestial Tree."

Rhia just stared at him in disbelief for a few moments. “And…you couldn’t remember this earlier because…?”

Elik shrugged. “Slipped my mind.” He laughed a little, as if to a private joke. Rhia just glared at him for a while with an expression that was clearly not amused.

After her furious death glare failed to wipe the amused expression off Elik’s face, Rhia turned on her heel and started walking. “Come on.”

Elik blinked as he trotted to catch up to her ground-eating stride. “Oh? Where are we going?”

“To the nearest inn.” Realizing the implications of her words, she whirled around and pointed a finger at him to cut off the innuendo she knew he was about to spout. “Don’t even think about it.” Elik just grinned in amusement at the slight blush on her cheeks. “It’s too late in the day to start heading for the Celestial Tree. I need a guide, and, given your warped perception of time, I wouldn’t see you until next week if I tell you to meet me somewhere.” By this time, they had arrived at the inn, and Rhia marched up to the front desk and paid for two rooms, much to Elik’s amusement. She pressed a brass key into his hand and said, “If you’re not awake by dawn, I’ll bang on your door until you get up.” That said, she turned around and stomped up the stairs to her room, making sure to lock the door in case Elik got any funny ideas. After divesting herself of her outer garments, weapons, and armor, she lay face-down on the bed, grimacing at the slight twinge in her healing ribs. She prayed silently that she would be back to full strength by tomorrow and sank into a restless sleep.
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Join date : 2009-07-09
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Re: Baten Kaitos: Dark Conviction

Post by Guilty Carrion on Wed May 01, 2013 11:29 pm

The inn was rather quiet, so early in the morning, but that was perhaps just another symptom of what had happened in the days prior. Sitting leisurely in the deserted lobby, Elik watched the sun rising peacefully out the window, a bowl containing his breakfast sitting untouched on the table. Periodically, the silence was disturbed by a trio of thunderous knocks, but he paid it little mind. Most likely someone was trying to wake their companion.

It was only when the knocking stopped completely that his curiosity was piqued, the tell tale creak of steps signalling someone’s descent. The mage turned partially in his seat, just in time to lock eyes with a rather furious pair of brown orbs that looked strikingly familiar. It was only after a moment of silent stare-down that he recalled his companion, and the chrono mage offered a smile to the clearly furious woman.

The royal guard’s arms crossed sharply over her chest, booted foot tapping loudly as her eyes bore into his own like a pair of furious arrows. “So here you are. We were supposed to leave,” Her eyes snapped to the window, likely checking the position of the sun. “Over an hour ago, and instead you’re here, having tea and stuffing your face!” With every word her voice seemed to grow louder and louder, but the outburst didn’t really phase Elik.

“Good morning to you too.” He replied, chipper and friendly despite her hostility. The woman didn’t seem pleased by his utter lack of reaction, throwing her hands up in exasperation.

“This isn’t funny! We’ve got a lot of ground to cover, and don’t have time for tea parties!”

“I wasn’t particularly looking for tea. Just breakfast. Have you eaten?” The reply was instant, and Rhia was taken aback by the innocent question. After a long moment, the guard ground out a reply.

“N-no, I was just going to eat trail rations on the road.”

Elik paused in his meal, raising a curious brow at her. “That isn’t healthy.” He remarked, motioning to the seat across from him with a smile. “Sit and eat, then we can go.” He returned his attention to his poi, as she regarded him with readily apparent annoyance.

“You’re not going to budge on this, are you?” Her stomach rumbled, and she flushed before dragging the chair out and dropping into it unceremoniously. “Fine! But it better be something quick.” It was only a few moments later that the innkeeper brought another bowl of poi, which was immediately regarded with a slight grimace. “What…is this stuff? Doesn’t look like any breakfast food I’ve eaten.”

Elik tilted his head as he finished a spoonful. “It’s called Poi. It’s a fairly common food here on Anuenue. It’s not exactly a traditional breakfast but…” His eyes flicked to the window, glazing slightly as his thoughts drifted to the scenes still fresh in his mind from their trip through the markets. “…other dishes will be less common after what happened. Need to conserve what we have.”

She took an experimental mouthful, and for a brief second, the stern façade vanished and her features brightened. It lasted only a moment, before the cold and stern ‘neutrality’ was back in place and she commented idly. “Seems safe enough.” Nothing more to say, she resumed eating.

Neither spoke for the remainder of their breakfast, either focused on the meal or on thoughts that they didn’t want to voice. Not surprisingly, Rhia finished first, while Elik was content to actually taste his food and paid zero mind to the not-so-subtle death glare his companion was shooting him. When his bowl was finally done, she was up like a rocket and straight out the front door.

Sighing, the mage gave a polite thank you to the innkeeper before following after Rhia into the early morning sun. The warm sun’s rays were a pleasant way to begin their journey, and he hoped that it would continue to shine throughout the trip. “I suppose we’ve exhausted enough of your patience, hm? Do you have the necessary provisions? It’s a long walk to Opu.”

She gave a wave of her hand to the magnus deck at her hip, a seemingly confident air hanging off her shoulders like a noble mantle. “I went through my stash while someone else was busy with breakfast. I’ve still got plenty of camp magnus from before I left Wazn.” He nodded lightly, tucking his hands into his pockets with the slightest upturn of his lips.

“Ever prepared, are we? People from Wazn are a special breed, aren’t they?” She gave him a blank stare, and he could do little other than sigh with a happy chuckle. “Very well. Then let us be off. If you’ll be so kind as to follow me…” The mage started through the streets, painfully aware of the sharp gaze digging into his back. She certainly was a special breed.

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It was within the first hour of their trip that Elik concluded neither of them were suited to each other’s desired traits in a travelling companion. Elik’s leisurely stride kept poor pace with Rhia’s militaristic march, and there was never anything that seemed to take her eyes strictly off the road winding off in front of her.

Not to mention the fact that she seemed utterly determined to say nothing to him for the remainder of this ‘partnership’. Periodically, he’d ask a question about her, or of Wazn, or even something as simple as how she slept, and it was met with a cold shoulder so flawless he almost felt his body temperature drop every time the woman employed it.

As the sun rose further from the horizon, and his feet began to ache from the demanding pace she was setting, Elik caught her shifting onto the slightly branching road and cleared his throat to catch her attention. She ignored him, and he sighed as his quickened his pace to catch up, hand outstretched to catch her shoulder. “Rhia, that’s not the wa-”

The second his hand brushed the fabric of her shoulder, the guard’s entire body stiffened. She jerked her shoulder sharply, practically leaping several steps backwards from him while her hand tensed over the bow slung on her back. His hand remained where it had made the contact, eyes watching her strange reaction with a mixture of concern and surprise. Even the wind between them seemed to have died, before the mage motioned back to the road. “That’s not the right way. We need to go to the Holo Holo jungle again. That leads to the Ancient Library of Magic. Not exactly your destination, hm?”

There was a pregnant pause, Rhia’s eyes cold and almost dead as they searched every nook of him for something. After she had seemingly discerned whatever it was, she nodded lightly. “Right. Let’s keep moving then.” She stepped wide around him and forged ahead at an even faster pace than she had before. Elik watched her back for a few lingering moments, looking at his hand in curious confusion before jogging after the woman.

Whatever he’d done, it had made things worse. The silence before had been awkward, but now it was strained and tense. He didn’t even bother trying to make some sort of small talk, every bit of her body language projecting hostility to his presence, but he couldn’t even place what had triggered this. Did people from Wazn just not like working with outside nations? Had he committed some kind of cultural faux pas that his lessons hadn’t included? Did she just plainly hate him, for reasons he couldn’t even begin to fathom?

The mage lost himself in his thoughts, as he was prone to, and the pair continued their journey to the Holo Holo with no further difficultly. As they entered the woods, she slowed her pace enough to trail behind the mage, who’s distracted mind only vaguely remembered to pull out the Landmark stone to ensure their safe passage. It wasn’t long before the grand canopy swallowed the sky from over their heads, pressing in with a thick humidity that hung on like a weight round the neck.

Elik was use to the sweltering temperatures of his home, and paid little mind to the density of it. A brief thought flicked through his mind to check on his companion, far from her native lands of ice and snow. He turned partially to her, mouth open to speak when he heard the tell-tale twang of her bow and felt the arrow whiz past his body far too close for comfort. Whatever it hit howled painfully, and his eyes snapped in the general direction to see only the rustling of bushes.

“Pay attention, Mage.” Her words practically oozed venom, and Elik winced slightly before rubbing his head sheepishly with an awkward laugh. “How you’ve survived this long is beyond me.” His eyes flicked down to the landmark stone, lips tensing for only a few seconds before splitting into a confident grin.

“More than my fair share of luck.” He replied, looking at the stone for a second longer before he started through the underbrush again. “It’s this way.” After a moment of silence, she began to follow again, weapon still at the ready with another arrow knocked.

Elik’s hand drifted to his hip, resting on the deck as he tapped his thumb quietly against the side. He’d not be caught off guard again. The jungle remained still around them though, and experience told him that it was simply their luck for travelling in the heart of the day. Predators were more active during the early morning and late dusk, when they could find more prey moving to and from their nests.


Their trek would continue under hindered for several hours, the under brush rustling around them on many occasion, but rarely anything ever emerged, save for an odd occasion where an olifant raced past them and neatly weaved past the panicked arrow it’s sudden appearance had caused. Elik did little to stifle his laughter, which only earned him a scathing look and ten minutes trying to keep up with her anger fuelled pace.

It was as they came along the shores of one of the Holoholo’s many rivers and inlets that Elik flicked his gaze to the sky. “It’s about time we took a break for some food, I think.” Stretching his limbs out, the mage quickly dropped down on the bank of the river and began thumbing through his magnus for his meal.

The stones behind him scraped and rustled, and his eyes flicked up to a displeased looking Rhia. But really, when was she pleased with him? “We already had breakfast. Why do we need to stop again?” Flicking out one of his cards, he called the dried meat out and took a leisurely bite as the woman watched silently.

“You don’t travel often as a Royal Guard, correct?”

“Actually…” She looked away, cheeks tinting ever so slightly, but he wrote it off as the heat. “This is the first time I've left Wazn with the Royal Guard. The Ice Queen doesn't leave her domain except on the most urgent business.”

“So travelling like this is a first, then. A bit of advice from a seasoned traveller…you shouldn’t travel on an empty stomach, and rest often to keep your energy up. It’s better to take some extra time reaching your destination than to run into something predatory exhausted, hm?”

There was a thick pause, before she ground out begrudgingly, “I guess you have a point.” Rhia’s eyes bored into him intensely, and the mage raised his brow expectantly for her continuation. “But only as much as we absolutely need. I don’t want to get stuck out here at night.”

He nodded, taking a bite of his jerky. “Agreed.” His companion shuffled up the stream a bit, taking a seat a few feet from him before digging up her own rations. She tore into it with all her usual vigour, and for a brief moment, Elik wondered if anything could ever make the woman slow her pace a bit. Without pause, he called. “So why is it you’re in such a rush to get back to Wazn? Surely this can’t all be simply for the Ice Queen?”

“Well of course I need to return to my Queen's side now that an enemy has revealed itself. My duty is paramount." She paused, eyes glazing as if somewhere far from the bank. "But also...no one from the Royal Guard knows that I survived. They will almost have returned to Wazn by now and will deliver the news to my family…I would prefer to spare them that grief if I can, especially my younger sister. She's too soft-hearted for her own good.”

That made more sense. He nodded lightly, offering a slight smile. “Well, I’m sure we’ll find this airship without much difficulty. Queen Corellia won’t deny hard evidence, and then we can send you off to Wazn and your family.” The guard nodded lightly, clearly more focused on her thoughts than the conversation, so he let it die without complaint.

The clearing was still, save for the gentle wind rustling through the foliage and the songs of birds echoing through the trees. Elik was almost tempted to lay back and enjoy the rays a bit longer, but any attempt to doze off would likely make his companion either abandon him or throttle half his life out. The wind picked up ever so slightly, running through his hair softly and making his mantle flutter behind him. These were the moments he loved the most, and he often found himself wishing they’d last just a little bit longer.

Before he could drift any further into the tranquility, the mage heard the softest flutter of a giggle dance through his ears. Curiosity immediately peaked, his sky blue eyes drifted slowly to Rhia to see what could provoke such a display from the stiff guard. It was only when he caught sight of the long black feather rising from the gold green plumage of the plump little bird currently crooning against her knee that his body stiffened completely.

“Miss Aymon…what are you doing.” He hissed, never letting his eyes wander from the chick that looked at him curiously for a moment before stabbing it’s beak towards the ration in Rhia’s hand. The creature had little luck reaching it, and chirped loudly in protest, which only made the mage tense even further. There was no reply to his question, and the mage rose sharply from the ground.

“Miss Aymon…” He called only slightly louder, eyeing the brush around them nervously. Inching closer to her, Elik froze as the entire jungle around them abruptly fell totally silent. No rustling olifants or chirping birds. Even the wind itself seemed to have died. That did not bode well. “Rhia!”

Her head jerked up, likely startled, and the chick wasted little time giving a noisy chirp and sharply pecking her hand. “Ouch!” She shot him a look. “What?!”

“That isn’t something you should be around. At all.”

She raised her brow, clearly skeptical of the danger a chubby baby bird presented. “Why? It’s clearly harmless.” There was a sharp gust of wind, followed by another and another, pounding at the pair in almost timed intervals. Swallowing the lump in his throat, Elik looked up to the sky as the shadow loomed above the pair.

“A Holoholo chick isn’t dangerous. The Holoholo bird, on the other hand,” There was a thunderous screech of protective fury from the heavens, and all the colour drained from his features. “Is incredibly dangerous and very, very protective of its young.” The brilliant orange-gold plumage filled the sky, the truly titanic bird circling like a vulture as it screeched again.

Rhia’s eyes snapped to the sky, and she paled as the sheer size of the creature settled on her. Slowly, she climbed to her feet, ignoring the small chick beside her chirping happily at the appearance of its mother. With only a moment’s hesitation, she grabbed her bow from the ground, slinging it over her shoulder as her eyes drifted to Elik’s. “So…we run?”

The river was blasted with a surge of wind as the Holoholo bird banked sharply and dropped into a dive with its massive talons reared. Elik gripped Rhia’s shoulder reflexively, shoving her roughly to the side as he grabbed several cards from his deck and snapped them forward. All three shined with the chaotic swirl of his trademark magic, eyes pulsing dangerously with magnus energy. “Chronos blow!” He bellowed; the magic erupting with far more fury than the lower levels had ever mustered.

The bird screeched but took the spell directly in the intensity of its dive. Its course shifted under the turbulent attack, crashing into the river several meters downstream. Elik wasted no time materializing his wings, beating them once or twice as his eyes snapped to the slightly staggered guard. “Fly as fast as you can, and don’t fall behind.”

Her wings snapped into existence as the words left his mouth, along with an arrow for her bow as she readied the weapon. “Right. Lead the way.” For once, he was glad at her ability to be completely and utterly serious. With a few furious beats of his wings, Elik rose into the sky with Rhia in hot pursuit. The wind was in full swing above the dense canopy, and it filled their wings with a powerful tailwind.

The furious screeching rose from the jungle, and the shimmering feathers of the Holoholo bird rose from the river into full view once more. The massive predator wasted no time beginning its pursuit, powerful flaps of its wings rapidly devouring the distance they’d built up in their small head-start. Elik grit his teeth, gripping a card from his deck as he glanced back at Rhia. “We can’t outrun it! Slow it down with whatever you can! Once we’re far enough away from its nest, it’ll head back for its young!”

She nodded her ascent, banking expertly on her wings and firing the arrow without delay. The great bird shifted its weight ever so slightly, dodging the arrow with ease. Her arrows flew with speed and precision, some barely nicking the creature as they sailed by, but soon the creature was almost on top of her.

Elik swept wide on his wings, conjuring a plume of fire in his hands as he raced by the titanic avian. Thrusting his hands forward, the fire slashed across its torso, cooking skin and singing feathers as the creature screeched in anger. It snapped furiously with its beak at him, trying to ensnare the less nimble mage as Rhia used the temporary distraction to get some extra distance on the animal.

Once she’d attained a solid distance, she returned to the ‘fray’, firing arrows at the slightly more stationary bird. Several found their home in its thick hide, and the bird’s attention began to shift once more from the mage to the archer. Using the opening, Elik drew another chrono spell and slammed it down into the Holoholo bird’s head.

It wobbled in the air, wings beating furiously as it focused on righting itself. The sheer force of its wing beats pushed the air into Elik’s wings and propelled him after his companion as she continued their furious retreat south. It was a long painful moment as he rocketed along, wondering whether or not the bird would continue its pursuit. One last shriek sounded behind them, and they glanced back to see it flying quickly in the opposite direction. Elik sighed heavily in relief, already descending towards the canopy as Rhia circled back towards him.

On the ground, neither spoke for a few minutes, instead panting for breath as the rapid flight had taken more energy than either had been prepared to expend. After he’d regained his breath, the mage straightened; wiping the beads of sweat from his brow with an amused smile. “So, how are you enjoying your visit to Anuenue, Miss Aymon?”

She flapped her surprisingly dark wings in an effort to cool herself, fixing him with a deadpan. “No offence, but I will be glad to return home. Wazn at least doesn’t have giant killer birds.” He chuckled lightly, looking up at the sun as his wings disappeared back into the ether.

“A fair point, I suppose. The excitement isn’t for everyone.” Pulling the landmark stone from his pocket, immediately thankful the rock hadn’t fallen during their flight; Elik gave it a cursory glance before turning the direction they needed to head. “Well, if anything, it gave us the motivation to cover some extra ground. Shall we continue?” His smile took a mischievous edge. “But please refrain from approaching anything else you find ‘harmless’ and cute.”

She huffed, returning her bow to its harness. “No worries.” She moved ahead of the mage, powering through the underbrush with ease before glancing over her shoulder at him. “Well? Let’s go. We’re burning daylight.”

The mage shook his head with a tired sigh, walking slowly after the woman as he held the stone up into view. “Miss Aymon, do I have to remind you about the necessity of a landmark stone?”

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“Opu won’t be going anywhere, Miss Aymon.” He called, moving leisurely behind her ground-eating stride down the cliff side path towards the waterfall village. She didn’t slow, not that he overly expected her to, and the mage flicked his gaze to the sun rapidly disappearing behind the horizon. Its light silhouetted the towering form of the Celestial Tree, its upper branches glowing softly with the magnus used to fuel the grand barrier protecting Anuenue from further attack.

The sight would normally be soothing, but now it brought only discomfort. The tree’s barrier was something that shouldn’t be necessary, and yet someone had seen it fit to force the docile land to wall itself off from the world it was trying to welcome. There was a rough call of his name, and he pulled himself from his thoughts and looked further down the path where his companion stood impatiently waiting by the first rope-bridge into Opu.

A few moments later and he was within speaking distance, getting a sharp look and expectant brow from the guard. Raising a hand and waving it dismissively, he stepped past her and onto the lightly swaying bridge. “Don’t worry, they’re well maintained.”

“I wasn-”

“My mistake. You waited out of concern for me then?” He replied with an airy laugh, and he could practically feel the heat from her face behind him. “Regardless, I don’t think it’s in our best interest to continue this late in the day.”

“When we’re this close?” The mage glanced back, pausing mid-stride to fix her with a slightly incredulous look. Rhia stopped, crossing her arms with a huff. “What? The tree is right there. It can’t be much further.”

“I don’t think you understand the sheer size of the Celestial Tree, Miss Aymon. It will take us another few hours just to reach its base.” She blinked at his frank explanation, looking at the colossal tree with slight incredulity. “The Celestial Tree is one of the largest known natural features of the world, if not the largest. Be thankful we don’t have to climb it. That alone could take the better part of a day.”

“Oh…”

Satisfied he’d made his case, the mage continued forward, only to pause at the familiar face watching him at the other end of the bridge. “Marle. An unexpected pleasure.” He called cheerily, moving the last few feet between them and inclining his head in greeting to the woman.

Bartemius’s daughter nodded back, eyes clearly more focused on Elik’s travelling companion. “You’re back awfully quick, Elik.” Her tone was much lighter than his visit before, meaning he’d had the fortune of catching her before her father had managed to drive her back up the wall. “And with a rather odd companion as well.”

“That I am…” He chuckled, gesturing towards his mentor’s daughter for Rhia. “Miss Aymon, this is Marle Gattis, the daughter of my mentor and one of my oldest friends.” His eyes flicked to his friend, who watched him suspiciously with her dark blue eyes. “Marle, this is Rhia Aymon, a member of the Wazn Royal Guard.”

There was little more than a nod from the Waznite, and she barely offered a stiff handshake that Marle lightly shook with a curious brow. “It’s…good to meet you.” Elik held in a sigh at her ‘greeting’, wondering if Wazn just didn’t bother to teach their guards how to behave in a public setting.

“What brings you back to Opu, Elik?” Marle wasted little time cutting to the point, leaning back against the post for the rope bridge and watching them both impassively. Native to Komo Mai, Marle stood out amongst the more muted pallet of Opu’s gentle folk. Her hair, a rich dark black highlighted with vibrant streaks of golden colour, pulled into a draping braid that hung loose over her shoulder as she regarded the pair. “For your sake, it better not be my father again…”

“I’m afraid not. I’ve come on…” The mage turned to the great waterfall, not meeting his friend’s inquisitive gaze. “…less than pleasant business this time.” Marle straightened ever so slightly, clearly suspicious as she placed a freckled hand upon his shoulder. “You’ve already heard, hm?”

“When the barrier activates, it’s only a matter of time till you assume the worse, Elik.” She looked to Rhia, a gentle breeze from the falls spraying the trio with a light mist and making Marle’s sleeveless dress flow softly. “…Then the ship I saw…what did it have to do with all this?”

Rhia’s eyes widened slightly, immediately stepping towards the woman with intensity burning in her eyes. “You saw it?! Where did it go? Where did it land?!” The former shop-keeper shuffled backwards slightly, caught off guard by the woman’s sudden intensity. “If you know where it is, tell us! I need to convin-”

Elik’s arm shot out in front of Rhia, cutting her off and making the guard jerk back several steps to maintain that distance she valued so much. Elik gave her a glance that spoke sharply for her to remain quiet. “It’s likely one of the airships that attacked Komo Mai.” Marle’s expression sharpened, concern evident on her features as Elik placed her hand in his calmly. “I checked on everyone. They’re safe and unharmed. Hokuao’s shop wasn’t close to the attack, only some minor dings and dents.”

She released a heavy breath. “May the Ocean keep them safe…” She turned away from him slightly, motioning off towards the Celestial Tree. “The ship went down over there. Not far beyond the Tree, into the southern jungles. There was smoke for most of the day it crashed, so you’ll likely be able to find its scar.” She looked back to Elik, a light hopeful smile on her face. “I hope that’ll be of some use..?”

“It’s more than I could have hoped for, and saves us having to interview the entire town. We’ll-” He stopped himself, hearing the tell tale groaning of wood under heavy footfalls. Pivoting on his foot, Elik’s eyes dryly narrowed on Rhia’s back as she thundered back across the bridge. “Miss Aymon, please tell me you weren’t planning on continuing tonight?”

“Of course! We need to reach the ship as soon as possible!”

“Why? With the barrier up, they have no way to escape the continent. There will be countless more predators at night, not to mention the Skeletal Swordsmen will be swarming the wreck for weaponry.” She fixed him with a sharp look, and Elik gestured with his hand lightly to Marle, who blinked at the motion. “Why don’t we simply rest the night with Marle and my mentor, and we set out fresh in the morning?”

There was a sharp hit to the back of his head, and he chuckled sheepishly. “Providing she is kind enough to put us up?” There was a moment of awkward silence as she glared sharply up at him before a long, relenting sigh.

“Alright, I can do that…provided you let my father sleep, Elik. No theory discussions, no meditation sessions. Understand?” He nodded quickly, and she nodded down the path before turning with a slight huff. “Mages…”
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Re: Baten Kaitos: Dark Conviction

Post by Silvan Arrow on Sat Jun 08, 2013 7:30 pm

Rhia tried to keep her expression blank, but she couldn’t completely mask the slight scowl across her lips as she trudged behind Elik and Marle, back toward town…the exact opposite direction she needed to go. Her boot-clad feet felt like lead, dragging unwillingly along Opu’s main dirt path when every fiber of her being told her to turn around and sprint towards the Celestial Tree. Even though Elik had said it would take several hours yet to reach its base, Rhia knew they would find answers at the tree, and answers would mean returning home.

Or at least, that’s what Rhia kept telling herself, because she couldn’t bear to think of the other possibilities yet.

It was the hope of convincing Corellia to lower the barrier that allowed Rhia to suppress the panic that tried to take over whenever he stepped too close or reached out with a wayward hand. At first, she had had little choice but to trust him when she was so badly hurt in the middle of the Holoholo, but now, with her strength recovered and her injuries healed, her mind suddenly had all the time in the world to focus on things she would rather forget.

Logically and statistically, Rhia knew she was probably safe with him…or at least, about as safe as she could be with an absent-minded idiot mage that wandered through jungles with little more than luck to keep the beasts at bay. But emotionally, she still relied on her sense of duty and desire to return home so that her mind had something concrete to latch onto instead of baseless fears.

So of course, it was little wonder that Rhia mentally railed against the thought of putting off this mission for even another night, even though logic mandated it.

Rhia tuned back into Elik and Marle’s conversation as the girl led them across the last of the series of crisscrossing bridges and stopped in front of a residence with a particularly antiquated-looking door. The gold woven into Marle’s braid glinted in the waning light of the sunset as she reached for a brass key in her pocket. With a warning look to Elik, Marle unlocked the door and said, “Keep it down in case my father is already asleep.”

Rhia simply nodded wordlessly, and Marle opened the old wooden door as quietly as its creaking hinges would allow. It was a cozy home, the ideal size for two, and with just enough clutter from books, parchment, ink wells, and quills that Rhia guessed Marle waged a daily battle to keep the mess in check. The black-haired girl left Rhia and Elik standing in the doorway just long enough to check that one door was already closed. “Just as I thought, he’s already asleep,” Marle spoke in a hushed whisper. Glaring slightly at Elik, she added, “I don’t know what spell you two were working on for three straight days, but next time I’m barging in after two days. He’s getting too old for this.”

"It was his idea, not mine. I can't help enjoying the theories and concepts he conjures up," Elik replied with a grin.

Marle just groaned as though she had heard this excuse multiple times. “Mages…” She threw up her hands in the air. “Oh well, make yourselves comfortable. I’ll go prepare some refreshments.”

While Marle disappeared into the kitchen, Elik settled comfortably on a couch in the sitting room as though he lived there – which, Rhia guessed, he almost did in a way. Meanwhile, Rhia chose a high-backed chair as far from Elik as possible and perched on the edge, still too restless to let herself relax when they were already so close to the Celestial Tree. Elik gave her a curious look but stayed silent, probably knowing it was a lost cause to try and engage her in conversation.

Luckily, Marle didn’t leave them alone for too long. She hustled back into the room with a tray of fruit, bread, and cheese. “Sorry, I would have prepared something more substantial if I had a little notice,” she said, setting the tray on the table between them.

“It’s quite all right, Marle. As always, your hospitality is much appreciated,” Elik replied graciously.

Marle just rolled her eyes, as though she had heard that line many times, but smiled nonetheless. “So tell me, Rhia, why are you so dead-set on finding that crashed Alfardian airship? And how did you wind up dragging Elik with you?”

Rhia quietly reached for a slice of bread and cheese to buy a few moments. “Those airships targeted my Queen, who barely escaped back to Wazn, and I am trapped here unless I can find a convincing reason for Corellia to lower the barrier. Right now the only lead I’ve got is that downed airship near the Celestial Tree.”

Marle raised an eyebrow and gave Rhia a searching look. “And you dragged Elik along because…?”

‘Wait, she doesn’t think…’ Rhia thought with a certain amount of dread. “B-because I needed a guide,” she stammered quickly to try and suppress the blush rising to her cheeks. “I’ve never been to Anuenue before and apparently need someone with a guide stone to make it through the Holoholo.”

Marle looked as though she wanted to ask more but simply shrugged and replied, “Fair enough.” She turned to Elik and started asking him questions about Komo Mai, specifically after the welfare of people whose names Rhia didn’t recognize but assumed were affected by the bombing.

While Marle and Elik quietly conversed, Rhia excused herself and retreated to the kitchen on the pretense of getting some water. Five minutes passed, and she still had zero inclination to return to the sitting room. She wanted to be on the trail to the Celestial Tree, but at present she just needed space from the other occupants of the house. She paced back and forth and then settled for going through her Magnus deck while staring out the window. It was dark by now, so she couldn’t see much of the village. At the very least, it made a decent distraction, until a voice called from the other room:

"I don't know about you, but where I'm from, it’s considered very rude to ignore your host, especially when it's such short notice."

Rhia jumped at Marle’s voice, her Magnus nearly flying out of her hands. Now thoroughly abashed, she quickly stuffed the cards back into their pouch and returned to her seat, head slightly down and cheeks flushed. “Sorry…”

“You’ll have to excuse Miss Aymon,” Elik added with his usual charming smile. “She’s never left Wazn, and I’m afraid the Royal Guard doesn’t stress etiquette as much as the court here in Anuenue.” Rhia shot the mage a glare but had at least enough sense to hold her tongue.

Marle looked like she wanted to say something in response, but she shrugged and changed the subject. “Ah well, I suppose I’ve kept you both up long enough. Elik, you can stay in this room and sleep on whatever is most comfortable. Rhia, if you’ll follow me.” The Royal Guard followed Marle to a small room in the back of the house with an old, raggedy cot in the corner. Bookcases of old, musty tomes lined the walls, and various parchments were scattered across the desk and floor with hastily scribbled notes. “Sorry about the mess, but my father tends to get carried away when he’s working on a new spell.” She paused and then added, “Elik just makes it worse.” Rhia couldn’t help but grin a little in agreement. “Anyway, you’re welcome to sleep on the cot. I’m going to head to Komo Mai first thing in the morning, so I’ll be gone by the time you wake up.”

Rhia nodded somewhat awkwardly. “Um…” She paused to try and gather her thoughts. Marle had been kind enough to give them lodging for the night, and so far she had done a pretty poor job of showing any gratitude. “Thank you for everything, and…I’m sorry I’ve been so rude. It’s just-”

“I know, I know,” Marle interjected with a sympathetic smile. “Stranger in a distant land. Wanting to go home. I understand. I hope you find what you’re looking for tomorrow…and that Elik doesn’t drive you too crazy.” Rhia forced a smile back, and then she was alone in the room. Safely away from prying eyes, she finally felt the day’s exhaustion – from hiking through the jungle to her panicked flight from the Holoholo bird – catch up to her. She draped her long coat over the back of a chair, laid her bow and Magnus beside the cot, and passed quickly into a deep, dreamless sleep.

*~*~*~*~*~*~

Rhia’s eyes popped open as soon as the first rays of dawn peeked over the windowsill and alighted across her closed eyelids. She took as little time as possible getting ready and made her way back to the sitting room to fetch Elik, whom she guessed was probably still asleep. She saw the back of his head first, as he was sitting upright in a chair, though slightly slouched. “Elik, wake up. We’ve got to…” she trailed off at seeing him sitting up with his eyes open. “Wait, how long have you been awake? How come you didn’t wake me?!”

A long, silent pause stretched between the two, and then Elik’s eyes suddenly blinked a few times. His head turned sluggishly to regard Rhia. “Hm? What?”
“Wait a minute. Were you asleep with…your eyes open?”

“No, I sleep with my eyes shut quite tight, thank you.” Elik rubbed his eyes for a moment, which still had slight bags underneath them.

“So then you just sat here, in a chair, fully awake? Did you sleep at all?”

"I slept plenty." Elik waved dismissively. "Keep your voice down, I'd wager Bartemius is still sleeping."

“Oh right,” Rhia replied, quickly dropping her voice to a hushed whisper. The absolute last thing she wanted to do was have a second Chrono mage in the room to deal with. She looked down and noticed that Marle had left another tray of dried fruit, bread, and dried meat for them and hurriedly sat down for a quick breakfast. She finished before Elik and said quietly, “I’ll be outside,” and made for the door before he could object.

Rhia paced restlessly in front of house while the sky lightened from the pre-dawn shades of purple and navy blue to brighter orange and yellows. Luckily, Elik didn’t keep her waiting too long and joined her a few minutes later. Rhia made a waving gesture with her hand and said without preamble, “All right, lead the way.”

Elik did a slightly exaggerated bow with a little cape flourish. “Eager to serve, Miss Aymon.”

Rhia fell into step behind Elik as he led the way back across the series of bridges in Opu. The Celestial Tree loomed, tall and foreboding, in the distance. For once, Elik didn’t try to engage Rhia in conversation, as they descended along a narrow path from the cliffs of Opu down into yet another stretch of jungle. It wasn’t nearly as dark and convoluted as the Holoholo, but all the forests and jungles in Anuenue made her long for the frozen ice lands of Wazn. Once they had reached the line of trees, she voluntarily broke the silence. “So how long will it take us to get to the Celestial Tree?” On second thought, she added, “Any other giant deadly birds with overly friendly chicks that I need to know about?”

"A few hours at most." Glance over his shoulder at her. "And no, most of the wildlife from here on out will be quite obvious in their attempts to eat you."

“How reassuring,” Rhia deadpanned as she trudged into the jungle after him.

Despite them entering the jungle in the cool of the morning, when the predators were most active, they ran into surprisingly little trouble. Rhia dispatched the shadow of something moving in the brush that got a little too close for comfort, but otherwise they didn’t run into any major monster encounters, and certainly nothing as terrifying as the Holoholo bird.

Not long after stopping for a midmorning break, Rhia noticed that the trees in the jungle looked bigger than those in the Holoholo. Thick trunks laden with lush, green canopies towered overhead like massive sentinels, some stretching beyond what Rhia could see from the ground. At first the change was gradual enough that she didn’t pay it much heed, but even she, being from a frozen ice land with no trees or perspective of their size, had to admit that they were impressive. “These trees are…extremely tall,” Rhia remarked, craning her head back to the point of getting a crick in the neck.

“You’ve seen nothing yet.”

Rhia turned her head towards Elik’s voice and quickened her pace slightly to catch up, while keeping a safe distance. “Somehow I find that hard to believe. I mean, how is it even possible for trees that big to obtain enough nutri-OUCH!” Rhia had spent so much time looking up at the trees that she had smacked her shins straight into something…large and wooden. She stumbled, backpedaled to regain her balance, and looked down. A massive wooden limb as thick around as any of the nearby trees arched up from the ground and came up to Rhia’s knees. Looking around, she could see more of the things protruding from the soil and interweaving with each other. “What in the world? What are these things?”

“Roots,” he replied simply.

“But…how? The roots are as big as the trees!” Rhia couldn’t tell if he was joking or not.

Elik finally just stopped, partially turned back to her with a rather neutral expression, and wordlessly pointed up. Rhia’s gaze followed his finger…

…and her eyes widened in sheer amazement.

Rhia’s breath left her lungs in an audible gasp. The Celestial Tree reared to the sky, dwarfing the other impressive trees in the forest with its sheer size. Its leafy canopy, lush and green, stretched out like an umbrella over the rest of the forest, with patches of sunlight filtering to the ground through the gaps in the branches. Scores of Celestial Blooms, still in their unopened bud form, accented the branches with their pale-pink petals. The tree’s roots, each as thick as the other trees in the forest, rose above the canopy in a twisted, gnarled lattice that possessed its own unique beauty. Having grown up in a frozen land of ice, snow, and perpetual winter, Rhia was at a lost for words and momentarily forgot to breathe. “It’s…beautiful…”

Elik just smiled. "Quite."

Realizing that was she acting extremely out of character, Rhia shook her head briefly, as if to clear it, and then resumed her usual neutral expression. “So now that we’ve reached the Celestial Tree, we should be close to the downed airship. Marle said it went down into the southern jungles and that we should look for the scar. Does anything look familiar?”

"About as familiar as trees can. The south should be..." He turned to look around. "That way. If we're lucky, we'll find it without much difficulty."

Rhia nodded. “All right, lead the way.” She followed Elik southward into the forest, leaving behind the view of the Celestial Tree and moving deeper under its shadow. They hadn’t been on the move for long before a distinct, acrid scent reached Rhia’s nostrils. Even in snow-covered Wazn, Rhia would know the smell anywhere.

Smoke.

And that meant…

“We’re getting close now,” Rhia spoke in a hushed whisper, moving in front of Elik and forging ahead at a much faster pace while trying to keep her footfalls silent against the underbrush. The scent of smoke grew stronger, and she began to see broken branches overhead in the canopy and fallen limbs littering the forest floor. Even in a forest as dense as this, the trail was easy to follow.

Rhia led the way through a particularly dense cluster of broken branches, ignoring the clinging splinters of twigs that reached out to leave scratches on her arms and clothing. She reached the end of the tangle, looked ahead, and abruptly ducked behind a nearby tree. She waved at Elik to do the same and peeked around at the small clearing in front of her.

They had found the ship.

An airship decorated in the metallic gold and scarlet red of Alfard lay askew on top of the bed of broken branches and leaves where it had landed. Several of the adjacent tree trunks bore scorch marks from the damage that the ship had sustained, and the scent of smoke still permeated the air, even though the ship was no longer smoking. Rhia couldn’t see the ship’s skyfish, as they had approached from the stern, but she could hear the large creature shifting restlessly from its position on the bow and making disgruntled chortles at its surroundings. After a few minutes, two men emerged from a maintenance door in the ship’s hold and spoke to each other in hushed voices. Wanting to hear what they were saying, Rhia slid from the shadow of one giant tree to the next, slowly but surely creeping closer. A third man bearing a formal uniform in the Empire’s vivid colors and an obvious air of authority approached the two from the ship’s bow. Rhia caught the tail end of what he said:

“…the repairs progressing?”

“We’re making progress, Captain, but we had to improvise on some of the parts since we don’t have any spares on board,” one of the subordinates replied. “She should be sky-worthy in another day or so.”

“I suppose that will have to do. Hopefully some of the relief fleet will still be waiting by the time we arrive at the Celestial Alps.”

Rhia raised an eyebrow. Relief fleet? What on earth was the captain talking about? And why would a fleet of airships be stationed in one of the most remote wilderness islands scattered among the Six Great Nations? These soldiers clearly did not know about the magical barrier Corellia had erected around Anuenue and that they were trapped just as much as she. Rhia happened to look over and see Elik hiding behind a nearby tree, though how he had actually escaped detection was beyond her. Regardless, he must have heard the exchange as well, because he had a similarly quizzical expression on his face. Rhia didn’t have time to ponder Elik’s curiosity, because the next part of the conversation drew her attention.

“What do you think the Commander will have to say, Captain?” the second subordinate asked.

The airship captain grimaced. “Probably nothing good. The White Dragon got away, after all. For a bunch of frozen ice-heads, Wazn put up a good fight.”

Rhia’s blood boiled as a low growl escaped her lips and her grip tightened painfully on her bow. These good-for-nothing low-lives had planned this attack from the start, and a powerful commander was pulling the strings.

She wouldn’t give them the chance to escape and report to him.

A Magnus arrow materialized on her bowstring at a whisper of a thought, and she slowly turned to take aim, putting the lethal barb between the captain’s eyes. “Rhia, don’t!” Elik exclaimed in a hushed whisper, but Rhia paid him no heed. She exhaled, steadying her grip and stance, and…

“Hey! Intruders!”

Eyes widening, Rhia pivoted a one-eighty in direction of the shout and loosed her arrow. The barb sunk deeply into the chest of a soldier who had somehow gotten behind them, probably a scout returning to the ship that they had failed to notice earlier. He dropped like a stone, but he had already succeeded in raising the alarm. Alfard soldiers poured onto the ship’s deck and jumped to the ground to back up their captain until a dozen of them stood before Rhia and Elik. Three archers lined the upper deck, while the rest formed a living barrier in front of their captain and drew cutlasses and daggers. They charged for Rhia and Elik’s position en masse while the archers covered them with arrows.

“Elik! The archers!” Rhia barked, summoning another arrow. She loosed two more arrows in rapid succession, taking out two of the archers while Elik’s fire magic scorched the last one. She knew she wouldn’t stand a chance fighting in close quarters among the trees, so she summoned a third arrow and charged to meet the remaining soldiers head-on. Before she could come within range of their blades, she called out her wings, flew over their heads, and flipped upside-down to fire her arrow in midair, taking out a third man before landing on the opposite side of the group. Elik used the distraction to combine Chrono spells and blast a hole straight through the middle, taking out several men at once and buying Rhia a few seconds before using his wings to take up a position on an overhead tree branch out of range of their blades. Her arrows would be much harder to aim through all the branches than Elik’s magic, so she chose to stay on the ground and fight in close-quarters to some of them focused on her while Elik dealt with any that chose to go airborne.

Rhia was in too close to use her arrows effectively, so she gripped her bow with both hands, twirling it like a bo staff and assuming a wide, defensive stance. Three soldiers tried to flank her, but her bow was meant specifically for keeping multiple foes at bay. The blades on either end, though not much larger than a dagger, allowed for precise killing blows in the weak points of armor rather than brute-force hacking and slashing. Holding her bow in the middle, Rhia twirled it over her head and at her sides, fluidly shifting from one stance to the next while never stopping the weapon’s momentum. She deflected their initial strikes, spotted an opening, and, with a quick flick of her arms, stabbed one blade straight into a soldier’s windpipe. She blocked the remaining two simultaneously, a sword coming at her from either side, and lashed out with a circular kick to knock one off-balance while slitting the throat of the other. Completing her spin, she used the momentum to club the third man in the temple before summoning an arrow and firing it point-blank through his chest.

Rhia surveyed the battlefield and saw that Elik had dispatched the remaining soldiers, leaving only the captain, who looked enraged over the slaughter of his men. Drawing a broad, heavy cutlass, he assumed an offensive stance across from Rhia. The two circled each other warily while Elik watched from his perch above the battlefield. “Murderers,” he said. “You will pay for the blood of my men.”

“You’re one to talk, seeing as how your people attacked my Queen and slaughtered dozens of innocent Knights,” Rhia retorted, twirling her bow above her head and bringing it down, one wickedly sharp blade pointed at the captain. “Tell me who ordered the attack, and I might consider sparing you.”

The captain barked a humorless laugh. “Over my dead body.”

Rhia glared daggers at him. “Can do.” With a powerful flap of her wings, she launched herself the short distance between them and stabbed forward with her bow. The captain was far better trained at combat than his now-dead men, and he dished out blows with his cutlass as fast as Rhia could block. He also packed more strength into each blow, fueled by rage and adrenaline, and soon Rhia could feel the burn in her arms. Trying to end the fight quickly, she blocked his cutlass with one blade of her bow, slid forward along the cutlass while blocking, and twirled to come at him with the opposite blade. The captain barely managed to block at such close range, dealt a brutal kick to Rhia’s stomach, and threw a dagger hidden in his boot while she backpedaled. She somehow managed to avoid a direct hit, but the dagger embedded itself in the armor under her clothes and pierced her side.

He didn’t give Rhia a chance to recover and attacked with a head-to-toe slash. The dagger still inside her, Rhia brought up her bow in a two-handed block to stop the cutlass and then flapped her wings to put a few yards between them. The captain moved quickly to close the distance, but she had just enough time to summon an ice arrow and loose it…

…right at his feet.

The arrow struck the ground right in front of the captain’s boots, and ice formed around his feet, holding him in place. He gasped in horror and started to stammer for mercy. “P-please…I’ll tell you anything. S-spare me…”

Instead, a black Magnus aura formed around Rhia’s body, almost as cold as the ice in Wazn, its element pure Darkness. With disdain, she yanked the dagger out of her side and tossed the blood-stained weapon to the ground. She channeled the Magnus essence to her bow, and a massive black arrow took shape. “Your soul will pay the price,” she recited as the incantation for her move and loosed her arrow. “Bitter Toll.” The arrow struck home into the captain’s heart and formed a chain of pure Dark Magnus between him and Rhia. The chain pulsed with a sickening aura as it bled out what remained of the captain’s life force and channeled it to Rhia. She hissed through her teeth as the wound in her side cauterized painfully, though it would certainly leave a scar. Then the aura dissipated, and the captain’s lifeless body slumped to the ground, his feet still encased in ice.

Wordlessly, Rhia returned her bow to its sling as Elik landed softly on the ground nearby. She barely registered him tentatively calling her name as she strode to examine the now abandoned airship and retrieve her arrows. A cursory look on the decks and inside the hold held no physical evidence, but Rhia now had the deceased crew’s testimony regarding the attack and, even more valuable, where to find their allies. They needed to return to Komo Mai quickly, but it had taken them nearly two days to get here on foot. They couldn’t afford that time now, but they also couldn’t fly the distance nonstop with their wings.

‘Wait…’ Hatching an idea, Rhia flapped down to the ground beside the bow and slowly approached the skyfish still harnessed to the ship. The poor winged, feathered creature had heard the fighting and smelled the blood and now thrashed against his bindings, whining piteously. Rhia approached cautiously, holding out a single gloved hand and speaking softly. “It’s okay… I’m not going to hurt you.” After a few minutes, the skyfish calmed enough for Rhia to lay a hand on its snout, and she grasped the guide reins with one hand while drawing her bow with the other. With a few deft swings on either side, she freed him from his bindings.

Rhia could have laughed at Elik’s expression when he saw her reappear, leading the skyfish by the guide reins while it hovered just above the ground on its multiple sets of wings. Instead, she settled for a tiny smirk as she tossed him the reins. “Here. We can get back to Komo Mai much faster this way, and you know the right direction. We need to report our findings to Corellia about this relief fleet in the Celestial Alps.” She used her wings to propel herself upward and settle comfortably on the skyfish as if he were a giant Prancer. She peered back down at him and raised an eyebrow. “Well? You coming or what?”
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