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All Good Things....; Chapter 5: Recaptured!
Topic Started: Dec 10 2015, 04:21 PM (317 Views)
Oru
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Sol
[ *  *  * ]
Hands flitting like nervous butterflies slapped at the doting limbs of wives 6 and 12. The Sultan pulled himself out of bed and sent them all away with an imperious shooing of his hand.

It had been months. He couldn't even recall how long. He yearned to take a stroll in his garden and hear his angel singing. He wished to see the looks of awe and respect on the faces of all his courtiers when she was presented to them as a guest for meal times. He wished to see something new and pretty to look at, even if he could not touch it.

Enough was enough.

Sultan Tul'an vi Kandar arranged himself appropriately and stopped before a mirror. His heart sunk when he saw the still unfamiliar form of the second seamstress standing beside him. He wanted his old woman back. But apparently she was gone too. As well as her kin. The whole women's staff was going mad, it seemed.

He strode from the room with his tiny strides and accumulated a brief guard on the way to the Magus' quarters where he bid a soldier rap smartly on the door. The Sultan nodded at the soldier, and the soldier bellowed, "The Sultan wishes your immediate presence, Sir Magus!"

------

Meanwhile, somewhere away from that place, in a small set of old KelKerry caves (Recently left, it would seem, and not as far reaching or connected as the others - just deep enough to avoid a good sandstorm) was the intrepid band of escapees.

Mid'gha hummed absently as she wove together some cloth for a new wrap for Shara - she had been able to procure most of their supplies, being of a rather forgettable face and demeanor. One good thing about servitude is that one learns to avoid attention. It wasn't the gaily colored silks of the palace, but it was a comfortable, clean fabric. The unused portions Mid'gha absently handed to Boil so he could hold them aloft while she wove, so they would not get into the way.

Jade and Shara still practiced their basics with Raka and Walker, especially after the last close call. Shara was very dexterous and caught on quickly (much to Raka's obvious delight - which meant he scowled less.)

Jade however, was frequently having trouble with anything that might set her off balance. Once, while attempting a kick, her wing lashed out to compensate and she knocked Shara into the sand.

It had been funny at the time. But several days later, she and Walker had worked on a few techniques to minimize the subconscious reactions of her wings. It was going... well.

In the evenings Raka would have short, violent dreams, but infrequently cried out. Shara would always find her way over to his side to be sure he rested. When Jade saw that she would inevitably glance to Walker, curious if he ever had bad dreams. He was always so composed, so calm. It was hard to think of him ever being angry, or frightened. She no longer had nightmares, only creepy shadows of now fading memories. But each night she prayed to Ryvena for the safety of her brother Dust, and of the hope she had for seeing him again.

Another sun rose in the Desert. Another night passes into day.
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Gigantor
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[ *  *  * ]
Each wrap of the guard's knuckle on his door pounded in his temples tenfold. Then the bastard started his yelling. He rose from his table where he had been mixing herbs, some of the fumes were responsible for the headache but the sudden appearance of the sultan promised a whole new level of pain.

He straightened his back, slipped on the vizier gown the Sultan had gifted him, cleared his throat and adopted the fake air he put on around the pudgy fool. He threw the door open wide and quickly, he relished the start it gave the large guard and the squeak from the sultan. Dima put on his best smile and pushed passed the guard to close the door behind him and lead the sultan away from his chambers.

Dima: You have the look of trouble in your royal eye of deepest azure, please let us speak in a more appropriate. You have blessed me with a sitting room possessing the second grandest view of the kingdom.

Once they were far enough he began prodding the fat man for his business.

Dima: Speak to me my lord, I fear I've neglected you in all my preparations to retrieve our lost lambs.
****

Once again they found refuge in the abandoned homes of the Kel'kerri, still in possession of their freedom yet forced to live in hiding with a constant eye over their shoulders. Still, it was a life with her.

Though he ever left her side for more than a perimeter check or to fetch provisions, he rarely got close to Jade. The most of their physical contact was made during their training, but he embraced her constantly with his inner self, the part of him that wanted to protect her from harm while she flourished.

He made sure never to miss one of her smiles or watching her ear catch her hair. While awake, she made music for him in her laughter and at night it was in her slow even breaths while she slept.

Every night he tried willing himself to dream of her, it often worked., until a new woman started appearing. She wore a cowl and clothes of midnight, all her could see off her face was her mouth and the pale skin of her chin. She was short, standing no taller than Shara. He would always find her in stone tunnels that were magically illuminated by the laws of dreams. She kept backing away from him in the dreams, keeping her distance but always staying in his view. He would begin to follow but then he lost memory of it. It left a feeling that settled into him during his wakeful hours.

Boil was an unexpected guest and an unwelcome one. Walker hadn't been able to rest completely with the goblin sharing their camp but while Mid'gha kept him busy, he seemed to stay out of trouble. He trusted the woman so he left the goblin to her.

The goblin liked the old woman but kept apart from the others. That seemed to keep the shadow from looking his way. Boil didn't want that, not at all. He dropped off a satchel of edible mushrooms to Mid'gha then skulked away when she had nothing left for him to do. He'd noticed the fiery one was watching the sands tonight.

A large crooked grin split the goblin's swarthy face. He collected handfuls of rocks and tracked the warrior to a group of rocks. He climbed to the top and looked down at Raka. He squatted then wrapped a stone against the boulder. The racket frightened a gecko out from the rock. Boil hooted with excitement then threw a rock at the lizard. The first stone missed but the goblin quickly lined up his second shot and made his target, hitting it in the head.

Boil: Suppa!

He squealed then ran to collect his prize. He held it up like a trophy to Raka then snorted some more. Movement drew his eye to a fat lizard trying to remain still and camouflaged. Boil grinned and pointed quietly at it.
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Oru
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Sol
[ *  *  * ]
Sultan Tul'an vi Kandar meandered with some urgency to a lush sitting room where he collapsed in exaggerated fatigue onto a plush purple chaise. He fanned his face and pulled his eyebrows together in an air of pleading. "My clever Magus, I am beset upon by feelings of unease! The angel has been gone from the court for months now, and I find my mind plagued with fearful thoughts of her well-being. Surely you are closer to finding them? Any word of your progress would put my heart at ease, Magus."

His hands fluttered about with gesticulation like nervous butterflies and his face was in a soft pout. He looked to Dima with imploring eyes.

----

Mid'gha accepted the small pouch of mushrooms and added some of them to the brothy soup she was making. Jade leaned over her shoulder with wide, inquisitive eyes, and she taught both of her young ladies what she was doing as she did it. Shara knew most of this already, but Jade watched with vast interest.

As Walker and Raka made a point to teach her ladies how to fight, she made a point to teach them how to survive. One and the same in some situations, but knowing how to block a punch will never be as handy as learning how to boil water and make soup.

-----

Raka watched the goblin with disinterest. The creature was an ever present distraction. At least now it didn't smell as badly - Mid'gha had taken a whole evening simply in convincing the goblin to bathe. (It had been a vast improvement.)

When the goblin struck down his lizard and started making waggling eyebrows at the bigger one, Raka's left eye twitched. He looked at the lizard. He glanced down - a scimitar and a length of chain, really not appropriate tools for this sort of task. He thought about throwing a white hot flame at it, and cooking it in the same instant - but he had already used quite enough of his gift. So instead, Raka started a very slow breathing exercise, ending in a sharp 'Hya!' and his arm darted out to the lizard.

The lizard, with faster reflexes then he thought, lashed out and bit the meat of Raka's hand, jerked back, and was gone in a flash.

Raka scowled darkly at the place the lizard had been.

Stupid lizard.
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Gigantor
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[ *  *  * ]
Edgar was leading his warriors on a retreat through sand dunes as raiders took chase on horseback. A dozen thieves shouted at their mounts for haste to ride their prey down. Edgar got over the hill and disappeared behind it. When the second horse made it over the crest, the first horse and its rider were being cut down by Jacintha's retinue. A simple bait trap that he employed often because of its high success rate.

It was good to have so many eager meat bags to work his rage out on. Edgar didn't take failure well, especially when he suspected sabotage. He watched his chief subject behead a pair of warriors with a speed difficult for normal men to follow.

Edgar: I've got my eyes on you, bitch.

He muttered then began rounding up his men. Let the woman finish cleaning.
*****
Dima chose to remain standing while the Suktan collapsed onto a chaise. He tried to soften his brow to play off sympathy. He reached down and took the Sultan's heavily ringed hands between his which were like skeletons in comparison.

Dima: My liege, I know exactly where they are. I would never let such prizes of my Sultan's collection go without precautions. I hesitated to speak up but I lacked certain things to grant me enough power to bring everyone to heel, without causing any damage to those same precious prizes. Also I trusted in your wisdom in sending the garrison leader and the lady Jacintha to bring them in personally.

Now the magus took a seat beside the fat man.

Dima: I'm very close to the necessary magics but I lack certain arcane wisdoms. I've been toiling away and working throughout the nights so that I could be prepared for you to call on me. Alas, I'm still a step or two behind. I fear damage would come to the angel at my current capabilities.
******
The goblin sat flat on his rump when Raka took his turn at hunting. When the lizard won the day and earned a bite of hand meat, Boil fell on his back chortling merrily with his feet pointed soles up to the sky. He took some deep breaths to calm the laughing fits and got to his feet. He had a leather rod and prodded the dark cracks under the boulders. A small lizard and a snake were scared from hiding and quickly dispatched with sharp blows to the head with the rod. After each kill he looked over his shoulder at Raka and grinned gloatingly.

Boil: Lucky Boil hear to hunt. Horns would starve.

Then Boil spotted a large pair of eyes watching them from the sand. No, it was watching Raka. The goblin scuttled out of the line of sight and crept low in the sand on his belly. He closed the distances silently as he could then when he was close enough he dove forward and drove his hands into the sand clutching around the thick neck. There was an explosion of sand as a lizard almost half Boil's size came out thrashing and snapping in the air. Boil hooted with victory then in alarm as he realized the true size of his capture.

The lizard bucked him off and turned a vicious towed sets of teeth. A thick goop drooled between the gaps. The goblin cocked his head to the side now that he could see the type of lizard.

Boil: ohhhhh new beastie. Make you pet!
*****
Walker came over the hill with thoughts of his dreams forefront in his mind. Raka should be nearby on watch. The ladies said they'd take watch to allow the men a chance to hone their sword skills.

A full hunt was on when he found Raka watching the goblin tackling a large lizard. The goblin kicked his reptilian for off of him and stood for a new bout but his nose caught something on the air. His large yellow eyes looked up at Walker and he hissed, giving the lizard a chance to escape under the sand. The goblin huddled toward a boulder and kept it between him and Walker. That suited Walker just fine.

Walker: Draw your weapons!

He pulled his tusks, now fashioned to batons making them into kamas, and charged down the slope to engage his friend.
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Oru
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Sol
[ *  *  * ]
Jacintha wrapped up the encounter with succinct ease. She and her unit tidied up and dispatched any stragglers. She moved through the rest of her day acting as normal. She wasn't stupid - she knew the best way to pretend she didn't do anything was to just act as if nothing had happened. She may not be the social chameleon that Fiora was, but she had learned enough to remain stoic and impassive in most situations that mattered.

------

The Sultan watched Dima as he spoke like an eager child would watch her mother when being assured that there were no monsters in the closet. He seemed visibly comforted by the fact that Dima had his precious treasures in his sights, that at first he missed the insinuation.

As he nodded, leaning back in the chair, he thought about Dima's need for power. His and got slower, and his eyebrows raised and he leaned forward quickly again in delight, still grasping Dima's hands. "My dear Magus, I may have the answer you seek! As you know I have a great many wonders.... Perhaps something in my vault would be able to assist you in this noble undertaking?"
-------

Raka scowled even deeper at Boil when he started showboating his lizard killing skills. He stood there, bland-faced and unimpressed as the Goblin battled with the much larger lizard before him. Let him struggle, nasty little turd. He was actually enjoying the show when Walker showed up. When Boil scampered off to hide with a hiss, Raka let out a chuckle.

Walker's challenge was accepted gladly. Raka hissed out towards Boil, "This is how you deal with shadows." He dropped the end of his chain and pulled his Scimitar out, holding the blade in his left while dragging the chain in his right. With a snarl, Raka sprinted across the sands towards Walker. His Scimitar was held close in to defend and He whirled the chain up and around towards Walker.

---------

Jade and Mid'gha finished the seasoning part of their meal, and they then allowed the meal to simmer in the pot over the low flame.

When Mid'gha got up to take a brief walk around the camp, Shara and Jade took turns brushing out and wrapping or braiding each other's hair. As Jade painstakingly wove Shara's unruly curls, she asked, "Shara... I think you and Raka are absolutely adorable. No, stop blushing. I think you're good for him. He actually smiles sometimes, I see it you know. You might not, I think he tries to make sure you aren't looking but he does!"

Shara giggled. "Well I think you should say something to Walker. With how he looks at you I think he could use a little chat."

Jade stammered, "What? No, he doesn't... I never...

"They're more alike then they think. Neither wants to show us how they feel."

They shared a shy sort of secret chuckle, and when they finished up Mid'gha had returned. For a few minutes afterwards, Jade took to the sky to stretch her wings out. She did not fly far, or too high just in case, but it still felt good to get wind under her wings. She also took the opportunity to keep her eyes out for trouble... and to think.
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Gigantor
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[ *  *  * ]
Walker hooted and dove into a roll to descend the hill. The ground erupted in clouds of sand where the chain links thudded into the ground, but the shadow evaded them. He churned up his own cloud of dust and quickly jumped through the shadows to gain a new angle on Raka.

He came out just behind Raka's left shoulder, he flipped up his kamas for his attack when the air was filled by shrieks from Boil. The goblin was jumping up and down and pointing at Walker.

Boil: There! Hothead, there!

Walker cursed the goblin under his breath and simply charged at Raka. He couldn't help but smile, the rushing, chilled air of the night was cooling and he could almost forget he wasn't constantly being pursued.
*****
The magus was growing weary of his act of attention and sympathy for the Sultan until the vault was mentioned. Then he listened very carefully.

Dima: I'm certain I can make some use out of the many treasures in your vast vault - The spoils of your several war victories. I've heard whispers that you possess a djinn vessel in your possession. If this were to be true, a moment with a creature like that would certainly guarantee me complete victory.
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Oru
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Sol
[ *  *  * ]
Raka sent out a furious swarm of chain attacks, eventually dropping the scimitar entirely in favor of a double handed grip on the length of chain. As the sand settled, he kept his ears peeled - and was rewarded by the hooting of the goblin. He let out a bark - which may or may not have been an actual laugh - and turned with a flourish to face the charging shadow. He roped out a length of the chain before him in a semi circle, and then started to slowly spin the other end.

He knew Walker would deflect the chain Raka was spinning, but he hoped to yank the chain in the sand up underneath his friend's feet. His face was quirked upwards in a grin -an actual grin - and he moved smoothly to meet Walker on the sands.

---
The sultan listened with rapt attention to Dima and his face split into a relieved smile. "Oh my dear Magus! That is true, it was acquired by a lesser duke and I chose it as a tithe three seasons ago during my birthfeast. Come come." He rose to his feet and immediately his attendants were at his side and he swept down the hall towards a heavily guarded vault. He took a key from the folds of his robes and turned it in several locks in some sort of pattern. The great gilded doors opened soundlessly to reveal a vast, lavish space, filled with shining artifacts.

With ignorant haste, the Sultan ushered Dima into the vault and wove his way to a marble pedestal near the center. Perched on top was a golden oil lamp with strange, otherworldly inscriptions.

The Sultan stood there happily, as if he was showing his parents an excellent grade from school.

"I am very excited to see this, Magus!
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Gigantor
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[ *  *  * ]
Boil shied away from the boisterous weapon play. He watched them as any opportunist would, the first thing immediately identified was he was no match for either of them, not in his wildest dreams. The shadow moved as if floating on air, it was broken and confusing to the goblin. Coming from too many places at once. Raka he could follow but it wouldn't help. He was the master of his area, keeping the chain lashing to push Walker back.

It didn't help Boil's nerves that both men seemed to be envying themselves. Soon, he noticed he wasn't the only spectator as a pair of black eyes poked through the sand surface. Boil lifted a stone the half the size of his palm and got used to the weight with a few test lobs.
*****
Walker caught a lucky break when one tusk caught inside of a chain link, he pulled the line taught and hooked his other tusk into the now immobile chain, with a spin, he pulled hard trying to take Raka off balance.

Scorpio wakened sluggishly, but again it was fooled by the rush of excitement and not the chill of a fight for survival. There was no need for it here, it began withdrawing back into dormancy when a passing image came to it.

It wasn't needed now, but it would be very soon. It would be ready.
******
The struggle not to grin was real for Dima. Now, he only had to get rid of the foolish sultan and all would be sent. He went so far as to take the man's hand and place a dry whisper of his lips to a knuckle.

Dima: Respectfully, I must ask you to refrain from staying with me. Djinnis are tricky and should you actually have an Ifrit instead, well it would be best if I be the only one to get harmed. But surely, time is wasting, lead me, sire.
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Oru
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Sol
[ *  *  * ]
The Sultan gently lifted the ornate oil lamp from its perch and hend it out to Dima with all due reverence. He stood there dumbfounded for a moment when Dima took it from his hands and then he clapped brusquely, dismissing his guards. They waited patiently for him just outside the door. The sultan clapped boyishly in excitement. "Please tell me all about it when you emerge, Magus. I shall be waiting for you in my solarium."

With that, the Sultan turned and was gone. Attendants closed the doors behind him and Dima was left alone with the lamp.
-------

Raka felt the chain go taut and smiled. He pulled just enough for it to be tightly clenched, and then when Walker yanked with his other tusk weapon, Raka rushed forward with the momentum, rolling to the opposite side and taking the chain with him, hoping that the momentous backlash would trip Walker by surprise.

Walker was a very capable fighter, and sparring with him had been the best practice Raka had ever received. Not only did it test his limits, what with being able to hide so adeptly, and with how nimble he was, but he wasn't being beat to hell every time he messed up.

He was even enjoying himself.
------

Jade excused herself with an anxious fidget from the soup-crafting lessons. Shara gave her a knowing smile and took up the burden of Mid'gha's gentle teachings. (Yet firm, very firm. Mid'gha was a perfectionist in her everyday. it was as exhausting as it was admirable.)

Jade heard the clanging of Walker and Raka's sparring and grinned. As she did, she took off at a sprint over the dunes and threw herself off one of the rolling hillocks of sand, throwing her wings wide so the dry breeze could lift her up.

Her muscles were overjoyed at the exercise, and she sighed long into the air as she rose into the sky. And not only was this good exercise - but she could scout the area too! It was best to do it around this time of day, close to sunset. Twilight as difficult for humans (And Jamata, naturally) to see things flying in the sky.)

As she wheeled about, lost in her thoughts, something caught her eye. She took a slow loop around a particular outcropping of rock and gasped in surprise before hurriedly wheeling around to return to camp.
Edited by Oru, Jan 27 2016, 11:26 AM.
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Gigantor
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[ *  *  * ]
Edgar refused to give up the chase. They spent several days fighting off bandits while making forays into tunnels but to no avail. With every extra moment spent on the sands was more time for injuries, casualties, and stress on their meager supplies.

In time, Edgar admitted defeat to his lieutenants and led his soldiers to an outpost to lick their wounds.

He was pacing inside his room at the inn a few streets from the bazaar. For the tenth time that day he nearly grabbed his gear to ride off in the desert alone to keep searching. His anger and impatience was close to grabbing hold of his senses but so far had managed to stay put. The time at the outpost had been good for Edgar as well, though his skin still bore some scars he was mostly recuperated.

Jacintha was in the next room. She had been oddly quiet throughout their extensive search of the desert but she made no outward appearance of annoyance over a failed mission. He knew that woman and knew that if she ever failed a mission she would be making a bigger racket than he himself did. Likely, she'd still have them out in the desert.

There was little Edgar could do. His men needed the rest time and he needed the time to devise his own plan. He sat at the small table in his room and drew out a map of the sands.

Where should they look next?
*****
The sparring match continued with Walker and Raka dancing around strikes and ducking swings. Their weapons clashed together but not a single wound was shed. Unless you counted the times when Walker and Raka would kick the other in the rump whenever an opening was revealed. Raka's skills had improved so quickly that Walker found a true opponent in the wielder of flame.

Walker lowered his weapons and pointed to the darkening sky as Jade flew passed them.

Walker: Appears she has some news to share. We'll pick this fight up later.

Walker quickly began swatting at his clothes to free the dust as he approached their small campfire. He could smell soup bubbling that made his mouth water.

When he met up with Jade, he gave her a questioning eyebrow raise.
*****
Boil lost track of the lizard then forgot about it completely when the winged woman flew above them. He ducked behind some rocks, at first thinking it was a roc or a condor, but then poked his head out when it was clear.

Now that the men were done fighting -more because Walker was leaving- Boil came out from the rocks to stand near Raka. He gave them man a grunt then pulled a lizard from his bag and began gutting it.
******
Dima waved to the Sultan as he left the vault. With the fat man gone, the magus turned his attention on the golden lamp resting on a mantle of marble with the top carved to look like a cloud so the item looked like it was floating.

Before touching the item he held his hands above it and whispered some words of power. Lines of power descended from his fingertips and wrapped the lantern like a falling spider web, the strands settled on the metal and glowed a crimson red before fading to black. Then, and only then, did Dima lift the lamp into his hands. He turned it around until he found what he was looking for; around the base were the symbols of magic used to contain the creature. In those tiny scrawled symbols, Dima was able to discern the details he needed; and as he thought, the lamp contained an Ifrit.

He gave it a rub with his hand. Smoke blew out of the spout, first white then turning green. The smoke swirled around the room like a giant serpent until a body started to take form. Dima waited patiently until the creature took its full form and floated down to stand face to face with the magus.

The creature was the size of a man, with a bald pate, long pointed ears, and a black goatee that curled at the bottom. All in all, the appearance was a bit of a disappointment for the Magus. It was hardly frightening. The Ifrit flashed Dima a charming smile.

Ifrit: Well, this is a surprise. You're not the one I'm suppose to kill.

Dima: You must be referring to the Sultan. Yes, well, you may still get your chance but only so long as you do my bidding.

The Ifrit looked at the lamp, saw the magic webbing enveloping the lantern and sighed.

Ifrit: You are clearly a man who's studied up first. You may have cast wards to protect yourself, but there's no reason for me to help you. So if you would, I'd like to return to my domain and wait for my intended prey so that I can get my freedom.

Dima held up his ringed hand and uttered a word.

Dima: Daedalus.

The Ifrit screamed as shackles of pure energy appeared and clasped around his wrists, a collar winked into existence a moment later to clamp around his neck.

Ifrit: With possession of my true name, I must do as you bid.

His voice was angry and dripping with hate, but he bowed obeissant and waited for his orders.

Dima: I need information. A simple task for a being such as yourself.

Daedalus didn't respond, he only fixed the man was a stare.

Dima: I need zodiac stones.

(Jess, I'll try and send you a picture of Daedalus that I drew up a while ago.)
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Oru
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Sol
[ *  *  * ]
During her flight back, Jade took a detour. She looped around in the sky, hoping to avoid detection. She peered down at the sands rolling past the large outcropping of rock, and spotted a few ragged shelters haphazardly clinging to the outside. Several white-haired figures caught her eye, and when she made to wing away - one standing atop the rock waved at her.

She almost swerved away in outright panic, wings beating to remain level. Gazing at the woman -an older woman - from here, she swallowed a dryness in her throat. How did she miss one old woman climbing the rocks? It wasn’t THAT dark. Scolding herself, she looped around again and sure enough, the old woman waved. Again. Jade waved back before she could stop herself.

The old Kelkerry woman motioned for her to land, and without even wondering, Jade did so, alighting delicately at the other end of the outcrop of stone. No other Kelkerry made a motion to come up; they barely registered her existence. The old woman smiled and said in alarmingly clear Common Tongue: “I dreamed that you had companions, flying girl.”

“Oh. I…”

“No need to be frightened. I have dreamed about you. You are the sky, there is the day and the night, and the Earth Mother and her daughter, Spring.”

Jade blinked at her and the old Kelkerry nodded sagely. “And others. Others as well. But small. Not as grand. And more still.” She hesitated. “Well? You should go fetch them.”

And with that, The old woman turned and began to deftly (and quickly for a gal her age) climb down the side of the rock face, leaving Jade bewildered. After a moment she took flight again, winging back towards their softly glowing campfire. She contemplated the encounter as she flew and by the time she landed and approached her friends she had decided that the Kelkerry would never ever work for their tormentors and that going there might be the safest option for them!

“I just met some Kelkerry. They say they dreamed about us. They invited us to their camp, maybe three hours walking that way.” Jade pointed, an excited smile on her face. Shara mirrored her excitement, and Mid’gha made some sort of pious gesture, clasping her hands.

“Kelkerry shaman. They have truth-dreams.” Mid’gha confirmed. “But we eat first.”

Raka smirked over at the goblin, watching him gut the lizard. Whenever Boil looked over though, he would casually look back towards the rest of their companions. He pounded sand off of himself to, and reattached the chains around himself. He sheathed his scimitar and shook out his dreadlocks before taking his position opposite Walker, near to where Shara sat by the soup.

When Jade shared her tidings about the Kelkerry, Raka clenched his jaw. “I don’t like it. If this shaman ‘dreamed’ us, then she would know who we are. Why would she take the risk?”

Shara smiled over at him. “Because some people are just good.”

Raka scowled, crossing his arms over his chest. The look was of grudging acceptance - an expression the group would have grown quite used to in their time together. Shara giggled.

Jade and Shara both looked to Jade for the final say.

-----
Jacintha remained calm.

In her room next to Edgar’s, she was sitting cross legged, back ram-rod straight and eyes closed. She breathed slowly and surely. She used Edgar’s pacing as a metronome at first, but when he began to get more frustrated and edgy, the rhythm changed. But by that time she was in her meditations. She would spend an hour in this way, leveling her mind and organizing her thoughts. Still no word from Dima or Fiora. She missed her little flower.

Hopes of revenge prickled along her skin.

After the tunnels first bore her fruit in her search, she sent a discrete message through the trinket to Fiora, informing her of their location. After that she had stuffed the trinket away in her side bag without a second look. She awaited their summons home.

She remained calm.
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[ *  *  * ]
"Kel'kerri have been kind to us in the past. If dreams of us are reaching them, then perhaps there is a deeper connection with us and their kind worth exploring." Walker mused.

Boil jumped to his feet, belched then wiped an arm across his Grady mouth, leaving a visible streak of dirt behind. "Long talk for yes." He snapped then seemed to realize he who he was talking to, or maybe it was how Walker stood at the comment, but Boil immediately darted to the outer rim of the camp; strategically closer to Mid'gha and Raka.

"Goblins and sand elves hates each other. Bet Boil not in dream. Boil left croaked in sandstorm."

"That's a lot of scaredy talk for a no." Walker quipped back almost playfully.
*****

Daedalus and the magus stared each other down silently for several moments. Eventually, the Ifrit floated above his lamp and sat cross legged.

Finally it was the summoned being that broke the silence. "A wiseman, he who takes his time to ponder a question."

"You're bound by a rule of three." Dima pointed to the markings on the lamp. "They also state any who make a wish, sets you free."

With a growing smirk, Daedalus crossed his arms over his chest, allowing the magus a view at his bronze manacles. "If you know all of this, why haven't I heard a question yet?" The Ifrit complained and hovered toward the thin man.

Dima's ringed hand came up sharply, halting Daedalus. "My first question is this: I want to know the locations of the zodiac stones."

Daedalus threw his head back in a roaring laugh then tugged on his beard. "A collector or a player? No matter, I will provide the answer to your first question." He spread out his arms then clapped them over his head then rubbed them together; a large tapestry on the far wall of the Sulatn's many wives burned away in a flash to be placed by a map of the world. Glowing stamps appeared marking the stones and their locations.

Forgetting the Ifirit in his excitement, Dima ran to the map and rubbed his hands on the lines and studied it with awe. Some of the locations were in lands the Magus wasn't familiar with, in fact, there were lands on the map unknown to him. His question had stumbled him into a rare knowledge. But there was something wrong. He turned on Daedalus.

"There are only nine! Where are the other three?"

The Ifrit smiled viciously and his eyes lit up with glee. "It would be my pleasure to provide the answer to your second question. Cancer, Gemini, and Capricorn are inert and can't be located."

Anger bloomed like a burning heat at the back of Dima's neck that sent waves of fire up his scalp. He wanted to lash out and watch this demon quake in fear at the powers of a human, but there was little point. He still had accurate information to work with. His eyes drifted down to the markings on the lamp. It wasn't long before his trained eye found the pattern in the magic markings.

"Now, for my third question: Who did your true master send you to kill?" It was Dima's turn to smile. Daedalus lost his mirth.

"Tul'an vi Kandar. The current Sultan."
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[ *  *  * ]
Shara couldn't help but giggle at the interaction between Walker and Boil, and Mid'gha favored the goblin with one of her own kindly smiles. She efficiently doled out small bowls of the home made soup and as they ate in relative silence, the night remained calm around them.

Finishing quickly, Raka began the simple task of replacing their camp on the back of the black steed. It tossed its head impatiently, as if reading his tension. Stemming at once from his own personal experience in Dima's service, he was anxious about meeting these Kelkerry. Often enough in the past he had been part of raids on their nomadic tribes. Some of them knew him as what he was. Granted, he wouldn't be flaunting fireballs or lighting himself on fire, but still... he realized how unique he appeared. The stubs of horns were slightly more pronounced now, having been unable to adequately file them in he past Months of their escape, and his hair was still in blood red dreadlocks and he was still wiry and taut. And there was the chain and the sword, and his general demeanor that were pretty obvious....

Jade helped Mid'gha quickly tidy up after their meal, and she excitedly skipped on ahead with Shara as they started to make their way over the sands towards the outcrop of rocks she had seen.

Sure enough, they came into view, back lit by the brightness of a half moon and a sky full of glimmering stars. Not a cloud was in the sky and the sands gleamed like quicksilver. Raka was quiet and broody (as per usual, which made SHar aand Jade chuckle behind their hands together) and Mid'gha hummed a quiet tune as she surveyed the area around them.

Apearing out of the shadow of this outcropping came the old woman, flanked by a dozen spear-armed Kelkeryr hunters, all stoic and subservient in posture. As opposed to the old woman who smiled broadly with arms outstretched by her sides.
"Welcome to our camp, strangers. Welcome. We have seen you in the summer smoke, and I have dreamed your coming." She fixed Raka and walker with two separate stares - still grinning - and then looked pointedly to he spot that Boil hid among the small throng of escapees. "All of you."

Jade smiled shyly. "Hello... I am -"

The old woman nodded once and raised a hand. She replied, " -The sky. That is what you are. And you are the Night -" She nodded at Walker, with a hand gesture that spoke of reverence. She looked at Raka, "....And you, The Day." She nodded to him. She then bowed at Mid'gha and Shara, "Earth Mother and her daughter the Spring."

Jade glanced at the others with a rising flush in her cheeks. SHara too smiled shyly at the grandness of the introductions.

The old woman concluded with, "Your names are not needed among us here. You may call me what you like, although the people here call me Shaman. Welcome."
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[ *  *  * ]
Instinct made Walker take careful note of the new visitors. He counted the guards, their weapons and type and paid close attention to their stances. Though weapons were ready, most of the Kelkerry stood flat footed and straight legged. An easy position to be caught off guard if one were to rush. But also, it meant they weren't serious about attacking in any major way.

His cloak flapped in the breeze, the folds pulled away from his hands as he held them in salute to the approaching shaman. "We greet you with peace." He spoke seriously. His last encounter with the Kelkerry had been a brief one but he liked the people and found the way they lived in the rocks and sand fascinating. He hoped this meeting would continue the positive streak.

Boil felt no love for the sand elves but he kept quiet. He was surrounded by enemies old and new. The shadow would certainly dispatch him for the slightest of mislooks and now there were the Kelkerry. The shaman locked eyes and smiled prettily at her but Boil remembered when they killed his uncle Red Gus when they stole a few children. his only friends were Baba and maybe Raka. Maybe.

No, it was better for Boil to be a good goblin. He didn't like the way the Shaman saw him when they locked eyes. It was like she knew things. A lot like Baba, the goblin thought but chased it away with visions of stalking Kelkerry with swords coming for him.

He deftly sidestepped closer to the area behind Midgha's skirt.

A large pair of lidded eyes disturbed the sand only in the slightest amount. A few grains rolled away as the large orbs blinked once then began scanning the area. The lizard watched the gathering unknowing of the significance but possessing the knowledge of what his master created him to do. Wretch watched and Dima knew.
****

In the sultan's vault Dima was standing at a nexus of vital knowledge. The Ifrit had just spoken of an assassination plot while his spy was beginning to sound him glimpses of his stone wielders. Flashes of Kelkerry speaking with the group kept trying to invade his focus as he stood face to face with a denizen of the hells. Before speaking to the creature, Dima turned and took the map off the wall pointing to stone locations. He rolled it up and slipped it into a case which disappeared in the folds of his robes. The actions gave him the necessary time to control his faculties while Wretch continued the flow of reconnaissance.

"our bargain is complete. Back inside your lamp." Dima thrust a finger downward. Daedalus laughed then hopped into the air and floated above the spout.

"You amuse me. I'm not normally cast back so soon. Usually, they ask for more." The Ifrit commented.

"Three answers were enough. I have much to consider and new steps to take." He began scratching his chin as he thought over the true meaning of an assassination plot on the Sultan. He head hardly a force, more of a figure head. He had to stop the cycle of thoughts to look at the Ifrit who was still staring down at him.

The Ifrit smiled a knowing smile, winked then said, "I'll be seeing you soon." Then his body became incorporeal and eh shrank out of sight, falling in the direction of the lamp.
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[ *  *  * ]
Shaman smiled at Walker's manners, her appraising eye encapsulating him and placing him thoughtfully aside in her mind for later perusal. She noticed The Day's moody silence, and his watchful, fire-light-flickering eyes as they danced over the sands. She noticed The Spring's constant glanced in his direction; worry, concern and something far deeper there. She noticed The Sky smiling at the Shadow, and could almost feel something in the air between them. She smile to herself.

She noticed too that the Earth held her gaze with unwavering certainty. She nodded her head to the older woman who nodded back. Then, the Shaman turned and began to descend the rock via a narrow, treacherous path discreetly carved into the side. Half way down, a passage seemed to appear and she beckoned them all inside with her, to where dim lanterns glowed, and thin curtains veiled alcoves and other passages. In and down she went to a larger chamber - her own - covered with mosses and lichens, and with a large bowl of water settled in the middle.

Formally, she went to the bowl and ladled out small cups of refreshment for each of them.

Jade accepted with a polite offering of thanks, as did Shara and Mid'gha. Raka refused. Then Shara jabbed him in the ribs, and he murmured a thank-you before grudgingly accepting the cup. She handed the last to Walker.

"I can hear questions on your soul, Shadow."
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[ *  *  * ]
Walker took the offered cup of water and raised it to his lips. The cool liquid sent a refreshing chill down his entire body and invigorated his mind, momentarily allowing him to forget the blazing heat of the desert. The shaman caught the shadow by surprise when she addressed him. If anything, he expected the conversation to take place with Jade. She inspired wonder and awe upon everyone that looked upon her. And yet, the shaman looked passed her at him.

He placed the cub on the ground before him after taking the smallest of sips. His parched throat, now soothed, caused him no irritation when he spoke.

"I have more concerns than I do questions. We're under constant pursuit by men and women so consumed by greed and power they've lost the ability to recognize the value of other living things." He finished and cast his eyes to Jade letting his eyes linger on her wings so that the Shaman would catch his meaning.

Boil tried to sit still and silent. Doing both was difficult for the goblin. He quickly drained his cup of water then began looking around the Shaman's dwelling. There was many things that caught his eyes but they belonged to a Kel'kerri and had no value for the goblin. He noticed that Raka had little interest in his cup of water. Boil sidled over to him and when Walker started talking, drawing all attention to him, he filched the cup, threw back the contents and placed it back by Raka's knee.
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[ *  *  * ]
The Shaman listened with the expression a grandmother would use when their grandchild was sheepishly confiding in them. She nodded delicately and patted Walker's knee. Her eyes turned sad, d she cast them to the low fire against the wall. "Such is the nature of humanity. Although, not all are as they are. Not all yearn for riches or power. Some simply yearn for peace."

She looked over at Jade, who smiled shyly back at her. The Shama took a quick glance at her wings, and then over to Raka. She held his eyes with a steel glare until he looked down at his refreshment. It was empty. Raka scowled.

The Shaman glanced over Shara and Mid'gha as if lingering there was too painful. Shara and Mid;gha exchanged brief glances, but then returned their attention to their mysterious host.

The Shaman sighed. "You may rest here. It is safe for now. Shore up your strength.... And you..." She looked back at The Shadow. "I have dreamed this. There is something you should see." She finished her drink with ease, and then rose back to her feet, offering her hand to The Shadow.

Some prophecy was meant to be shared.
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[ *  *  * ]
Dima returned to his tower to meditate on the information he'd been given. But it wasn't the map leading to the zodiac stoned that filled his thoughts.

Who would want to murder the sultan? The man was a puppet and held no real power. Even his most feared weapon was actually a trap to kill the man. It didn't make sense. He was only in a seat of power because he was a childhood friend to the warrior king Vladimir. Dima held few people to a higher level to himself and his own skills, but King Vladimir was one of them. So thinking that someone was making a move on the sultan to strike at the King was suicide. The sultan was too pathetic to have made any of his own enemies, that was a poor likelihood.

Suddenly it felt like the threads of politics had become far more intricate than he realized. The magus could sense a deeper move being made here. He was discovering more questions than answers which was beginning to trouble him. It was time to collect his weapons. He lowered himself onto his bed then lay flat and his eyes rolled up into his head. His mind shot out from his tower, across the sands and entered into the crowded skull of his familiar. The lizard called Wretch was scratching at some rocks jutting out of the sand. Dima fed the creature some magic and the rocks rattled and shifted revealing a crack leading to a hidden tunnel. Wretch with dima's mind slithered through then chose to crawl along the ceiling and descended into the earth.

Wretch wrapped around a stalagmite as Walker stepped out following an elder kel'kerry woman. When they passed, Dima directed Wretch to search for Raka. The lizard warned his master of danger from a goblin. The absurdity of it was quickly ignored as the lizard was compelled further.
****
Curiosity moved Walker passed any hesitations he felt. Dreams were an important belief in Dei Lunathi culture. Walker's grandmother had been a dreamer and held deep knowledge gained from her experiences from a skill at predicting natural disasters, births, and had a particular affinity for moonsinging; the art used to communicate with the moon during the ceremony of sigils, like the one that set Walker on the guardian's path.

"You put yourself in danger by staying near us. We are marked creatures." He told the Shaman indicating the mutely glowing yellow stone in his wrist.
*****
Fiora crept the stairs of Dima's tower while dressed in one of her finest, and tightest, green dresses. Her hair was raised up intricately with jewelled pins and gems nested in the curls. She wore a bracelet of emeralds matching three rings on her right hand.

With all her protections, planning, and studying, she was still nervous as she stepped up to his door. Three emeralds on the bracelet drained of colour as three trap spells were triggered to end her life. She hadn't even touched the door yet.

The bracelet was useless by the time she entered the magus' private chambers. She felt a buzz as a ruby in her hair traded its beauty for her life. She almost fled.

"Stupid girl. He'll know someone has been here. Get it done." While keeping a close count of her remaining wards, she searched the rooms.
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[ *  *  * ]
Shaman led the way through the lichen-lit passageways, although even then they were dim. It eased Kelkerry eyes to be in darkness. Although they could see well enough to get around, one of their greatest gifts was how they could see so clearly in the blazing desert sun. But the Shaman's eyes, especially of late, much preferred the cool darkness of these caves. She knew her time would be coming soon. It gave her a sort of calm as she walked with The Shadow down the twisting cavern tunnels.

"Every turn in these tunnels presents danger, Shadow. If I hear a cry for help around the bend, will I stop walking towards it because it is dangerous?" She shook her head and looked over at him. "There are some grains of sand that need to be plucked and examined, and some that need to be left out in the sun. This grain of sand is one that needs to continue to wear without interruption."

She turned another corner and the cavern began to open up a bit. She cut off the previous discussion with new words, a smile of distant lore-memory lingering in the corners of her mouth. "Many, Many years ago our clan was blessed by the Moon. She brought us one such as you." Shaman swept her hand out and forward to present the cavern to her guest.

****

Almost as soon as Walker was out the door, Raka was up and pacing in the cushioned confines of the Shaman's room. He tried to chart out the distance from the Sultan's city, how far Edgar would have to travel to catch them, how strong the winds had been and if it would clear their tracks for them in the night. He clasped his right wrist with his left hand and felt the warmth there, just under the surface.

He was wary, so wary. Why hadn't Dima pulled any of his tricks? Why hadn't he felt a pull, or a slap, or something like that time he had been punished before? Why hadn't Jacintha or Fiora been sent after them to kill them in their sleep? He refused to believe they had gotten away, regardless of how... free they felt. Of course, these thoughts usually floated to the surface when Walker wasn't there to calm him down.

A gentle hand touched his elbow, and Shara smiled up at him. "Don't worry. It will be all right."

Raka felt something twist pleasantly in his chest and he smiled tight-lipped down at her. At least he had this.... thing here. This connection. He'd never felt the like. And he found he enjoyed it very much.
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[ *  *  * ]
The scroll marking the locations of the zodiac stones was left open on Dima's desk. Fiora's searching brought her to it in a short time, and though the map lacked appropriate markings to indicate what she was looking at, she recognized importance when she saw it. Carefully she took some parchment and coal and set to work duplicating the map.
*****

Dima sought out the Sultan and found him in his bedchambers. His wives were standing, sitting, and lounging around him. Four of the women were massaging him while two large guards fanned them with large palm leaves.

Upon seeing the man, the magus had a sudden thought that perhaps a jealous, spoiled nobleman wanted the Sultan dead out of principle. It would serve him right. He cast suspicious looks at each of his wives and even spared a few for the guards but he couldn't sense anything duplicitous with them. Their lives were soft and indulgent.

The Sultan looked up and began to roll off the bed to greet him. One of his wives was laying beside him and had to scramble out of the way of being flattened.

"Dima! I hope your time in my treasure room was fulfilling?" He asked, throwing a robe over his shoulders but not tying it in the middle. Dima wondered if he could tie it around his girth at all.

Dima favoured the Sultan with a convincing bow. "You have truly blessed with further knowledge. I have much to ponder and prepare. In fact, I can now retrieve your lost faculty and my warriors. You've certainly been patient and now it's time for that to pay off for you."

The Sultan took Dima's hands into his and kissed them with slobbery lips. Dima resisted the urge to sneer in disgust and quickly pulled his hands away with a quick wipe on his robes.

"Dear Magus, don't let me impede you any further. Go! Go with haste and my blessing."

Once the magus was through the doors he left with haste to find Fiora. He would need Jacintha's handmaiden to track Jacintha down. He may need her physical prowess if the zodiac wielders managed an ambush for him.
*****

Walker's breath caught somewhere between his throat and his chest as he stared at the tableaux chiseled with skill and care into the walls of the cavern. It felt like he'd been transported home. There was so much detail to take in that he could spend days and still not have the complete story. In the far corner was a long rotted cot with a chest at the foot and shelves carved into the stone walls beside it.

He moved away from the murals to the shelves where he found small animals carved out of various stones, some precious and some not but each work was detailed and beautiful. He picked up a tiny wolf cut in a howl at an unseen moon. He put it back down and picked up a carving of alabaster and the creature was one from his home. The tusks he carried with him came from this type of beast and it was a creature Walker's was deeply fond of. He put it back and looked at the Shaman with a thankful smile.

He knelt down to open the chest. It was locked but the metal was so old and rusted that it was a simple matter to pry it off. The chest opened with a creak that made the skin shiver and forced him to wince. Inside, he found several objects. The first was a satchel with a hammer and chisels, the blades of which had been worn down and would need to be sharpened if they were ever to chip stone again. He put it aside and then picked up a book of sketches with occasional pages of notes written in a delicate hand. Images of scenery he recognized from his home flipped by, more animals, and images of people the artist knew, including some Kelkerry.

With a grin Walker turned to the Shaman and held up the book with a picture of a younger version of herself on the page. "Your beauty hasn't faded." Walker complimented then flipped through some more pages until he stopped on something else he recognized. The man he'd seen in the goblin caves, Caleb Cross, was sketched and on the back of the page was a letter to the man. With a quick perusal, his cheeks grew red with embarrassment as he caught snippets of romance. He closed the book without finishing and returned to the chest.

Something under the bed caught his eye before he delved into the chest, he knelt down and reached, feeling something round, and metallic. Beneath the bed was a sword as long as he was tall. The scabbard was dusty with age and the wrappings around the hilt were rotten. When he drew the blade free, the gleaming metal almost hummed in the air above his head. The blade was perfect, it's edge maintained over decades. The tip of the blade was flared into a diamond shape, giving the tip more weight, Walker suspected the diamond tip would provide more momentum when swinging this weapon. And piercing a foe with it would cause a grievous wound.

HIs mind was working through wonder, questions, and homesickness which made him incapable of speaking. He leaned the sword against the cot and reached into the chest once more, finding the owner's sigil.

It was a guardian sigil.
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