Balance

Dreams, The Yummy Ones, Part 2

8th of Ready’reat 481 ONT, Galley of the Champions Boot, 7:23am

Hiro looked down at the elderly gnome cook and saw the deep worry lines on his face and something more? The way he looked at Hiro suggested he had something to say and was unsure how to broach the subject. It was more than odd since signing on as a cook’s helper the two of them had gotten along very well in the cramped confines of the ship’s galley. This meant to Hiro that this was either really bad news or Hattrutt wanted something big from him. “I was thinking that we could do some sort of egg over noodles or rice with green onion and some spices in a broth to warm the crew up today.”

Hiro opened the hatch to his entrance to the kitchen and crawled through. Whatever was tied up inside the friendly cook would come out in due time and standing around would not get the food ready nor free the words from Hatrutt’s head. Popping through the other side he grabbed a smock as Hatrutt answered, “I think we’ll keep it more traditional and simple today. It’s a long journey to Don-Ton and we need to make things last.” Hiro merely nodded and went about his part in the preparation of the morning meal. It was a good break from the thoughts and dreams that were twisting through his head.

Eventually the crew began to show up and the food was dished out with the normal early morning routine of talk and banter. But as it came to an end Hatrutt turned to Hiro and clearing his throat asked for the biggest favour he’d asked in a long time. “Hiro, I’ve an opportunity in Don-Ton to train with the greatest chefs of this Age and though I’m no spring chicken I want to do it. Imagine me, a galley cook getting this chance to rub elbows and learn things from the best. Now this doesn’t mean I’m leaving the Boot, only taking the time the Boot should be in port to good use. But I need a Sous-Chef, someone who knows my cooking and knows me well enough to be a help not a hindrance.”

“How long will it take?”

“Just the four months we should be in Don-Ton for and then it’ll be back to our normal routine after that. I could train someone in Don-Ton well enough but that would take time away from learning and not leave as good an impression on the masters.” Hiro was honoured that Hatrutt would even think him competent enough to help when true master chefs were involved. He was also feeling more and more tied to the crew and the Champion’s Boot when he should be out finding information about the Phoenix and seeking the path to its lair. Four months was a long time in port and he doubted there would be much extra time allowed for research. But at least he would have a chance to try and that was more than his previous travels had given him. Or he could say no and spend all his time seeking his own answers.

Hiro knew his answer and that was the one of honour to those he considered friends and crewmates, those who had taken a chance and welcomed him in. After all how bad could it be? Cooking was a lot less dangerous than delivering silver in the middle of the night or saving a town from a despot. A small voice in his head kept reminding him that he would have around two and a half years remaining by the time they left and he still ahd no idea how long it would take or if it was even possible to find what he sought.

“I would be honoured to help and doubly for it being you Hatrutt. Let me know what you need of me and I will do it both of time and effort to make it a success for you.” Hiro wanted to ask him for aid in his own research but held off knowing that to learn from masters would require all of the elder gnome’s attention and his own efforts would be sufficient. At least he hoped so. Don-Ton was supposed to be a great place to gain knowledge on magic or magical things.

The remainder of the meal went well and cleaning was done with the return of the good natured banter. Hiro was happy to see Hatrutt had a renewed vigour and energy about him and when he left to go do his daily maintenance on Johnathan he found himself humming an old Fire Nation tune. The gnome had given him a rundown on each of the possible master chefs they might encounter and even an idea of what they liked to make. Hiro was impressed and hoped he too could pick up some useful skills in the process.

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Dreams, The Yummy Ones, Part 1

7th of Ready’reat 481 ONT, Galley of the Champions Boot, 10:08pm

Dearest Chef Nooduleh

It is our decision (after much debate) to allow you the opportunity to apprentice at the Connaught in Don-Ton. This is a four month intensive course where you will study and learn not only form the Great Master Chef Armsy, you will also have the opportunity to have your dishes judged and critiqued by some of Don-Ton’s and Argyle’s greatest food experts such as Master Chef Graham Elliot from the Dwarven Empire, Chef Christina Tosi from the Elven Court and international restaurateur Joe Bastianich, who owns award winning restaurants in High Port, Rehume, Eriadun and of Course the heart of the worlds culinary expertise… Don-Ton. As stated before tuition for this course is 3,263 Don-Tonian Golden Coins, due upon your arrival in Don-Ton. Please present yourself to master Chef Armsy with your owed tuition and a suitable Sue-Chef by the 16th of Sunsebb 381 ONT, 9am. Failure to do so will result in your spot being given to another more worthy candidate.

With grace and dignity,

John Paul, Personal assistant to Master Chef Armsy

Hatrutt folded and unfolded the letter once more running his hands through his hair. He had not expected to be accepted, he had not expected this at all, but what an honour… imagine him, a humble galley cook, cooking up a storm in Connaught, in the heart of Don-Ton… imagine all the things he could learn from Chef Armsy and the others, it would be a dream come true… the Captain mentioned they would likely have to winter in Don-Ton, we wouldn’t even have to give up his post. He recounted his coins. What with the take from the Silver, and his entire life savings… and assuming that Ungle paid him back the 30gp he was owed… he would almost exactly enough to afford the tuition. He was grinning like a gnome a third his age… he was really thinking about it… going back to school! He reread the letter again and his smile fell, he would need a Sue-Chef… where would he find one? And someone who knew his recipes? What was he going to do? He dropped his head on the counter and sighed a bitter sweet sigh knowing his dream was coming to an end before it truly began when he heard a voice behind him

“Morning Hatrutt… I woke a little early, and I know the Master Gunner isn’t supposed to be in the kitchen, but I figured you could use a hand” Hiro said.

Could he? Dare he ask him? He just didn’t know

To Be Continued By TCHAKTULI

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Songs of the Sea

7th of Ready’reat, the Eastern Sea, Champions Boot, 1:03am

Thallion stepped up onto the deck and relieved Prancer from his watch. His report had been the same, all was quiet. The night was clear and starry but very cold. Thallion was thankful he had put on his extra warm clothes, he nodded to Prancer and did his first rotation checking the bow and mid ship first before heading up onto the bridge. As he approached he heard a tune dance across the breeze and smiled, it appeared that the Captain was manning the tiller tonight. The music was soft, but joyful Thallion stopped to listen hearing the melody exclaim the beauty of the water and the journey ahead.

“Na ’Aear, na ’Aear! Mýl ’lain nallol,
I sûl ribiel a i falf ’loss reviol.
Na annûn hae, ias Anor dannol.
Cair vith, cair vith, lastal hain canel,
Lamath in-gwaithen i gwennin no nin?
Gwannathon, gwannathon taur i onnant nin;
an midui orath vín a dennin inath vín.
Trevedithon ’aear land erui ciriel.
Falvath enainn bo Mathedfalas dannol,
Lamath vilui vi Tol Gwannen cannen,
Vi Tol Ereb, ned Bar-in-Edhil i Edain ú-gennir,
Ias lais ú-dhannar: dôr en-gwaith nín an-uir!”

As the refrain began once more Thallion continued his journey and climbed up onto the deck. As he approached the Captain finished his song

“Ilvanya,” the Captain greeted informally “the stars bless us with a clear path” Thallion nodded to the Captain as he approached. He looked back to the west and noted he could no longer see the shore the look of nervousness must have shown on his face for the Captain spoke to it. “The current is better out here, and the stars hold our course, come here please Ilvanya” Thallion did as he was bade joining the Captain at the helm. “The Champions Boot in an elven ship, and she often craves an elven touch.” He let go of the helm and allowed the knight to take it “Feel her, feel the pull of the current, the breeze in your sails the give and take of her timbers as she glides forward. You are a part of her and she of you, and she will always find her way… see that star there?” he asked holding up his hand in an odd position, Thallion mimicked his motion and nodded “That is the great Star Quenya, she shines the way in the northern lands, on tonight’s course Quenya stands at odds with Nimrodel” he pointed to a star just above his pinky finger “Nimrodel is a passionate star, and so we must keep at least a hand span between them at all times, this will hold our course, and we will have kept the peace among the stars for another night” Thallion made the hand motion again to practice, allowing the captain to correct him until he was sure he had it right. Then the Captain stepped back, leaving Thallion on the helm as he walked over to the port side of the bridge and looked out to the sea. “The other races do not understand their gift, to be so short lived, to live in ignorance… it will be a lonely time soon. I suppose all must eventually grow up. The young races will no longer have the elves to parent them… they will need to learn self-control, let us hope that the final lessons we teach are truly worthy of us, and let us hope that they are listening” A long silence held while he looked across the dark sea. “You need practice Young Ilvanya, I will take the watch, you keep the peace between Quenya and Nimrodel” with that the Captain climbed down from the bridge and left Thallion alone with his thoughts.

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Stirings Pt 4

3rd of Ready’reat 381 ONT, Thimes Way, Just off the 3rd Circuit Manor District, Don-Ton

Yuren Burton exited his small manor looking for his daughter Fantine. His property was small and specifically off the main roadways. He maintained it well with an iron fence some twelve feet in height circling his grounds and thick tall hedges for privacy. A quick walk told him she was not here, and just as he began to worry. He noted the gate opening and saw her enter.

“Fantine…” he said as he strode forward to offer a hug “… where have you been my darling, I have been worried” the small gnome hugged her adoptive father tightly and looked up and him and blushed.

“oh father, I have had the most wonderful afternoon…” she said as he released her and stepped towards the gate to assure it was closed. He looked up and down the lane as he shut the gate, and was surprised to see two Black Guard patrolling the area, he quickly closed the gate before he saw them, only half listening to his daughters words. “… and he is so wonderful, and amazing and charming and I think I am in love”

“That’s nice my dear” he said not truly hearing her, he was distracted. What could the Black Guard want in this area? Had he been discovered? Did they know? It didn’t matter he supposed, if they did not know now it was only a matter of time before they did, he could not stay here anymore, he could not risk the safety of poor Fantine. As she continued to speak dreamily of her walk through the park he ushered her inside mentally taking stock of his belongings, how much could he liquidate quickly without raising suspicion? Could he book passage by ship? Or was it safer to go by carriage? Where to go? Eiradun perhaps? He would not be well accepted there but Fantine would do well… the Dwarven Empire? They were a lawful people; should his secret become known he would be sent back… he had to think… he had arrangements to be made. He entered the house locking the doors and shuttering the windows. Then beseeched his darling Fantine to occupy herself while he handled some “business”. She would be sad for leaving, she was finally feeling settled here, but this time he would find a place where she would be safe for evermore, that she would never need to run form again.

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Stirings Pt 3

5th of Ready’reat 381 ONT, Beggers Vantage 6th Circuit, 7th spoke, Don-Ton

The room was crowded as Covafac bent over a table hearing the reports from the many supporters of their cause.

“At the Western Gate the sections are prepared” a portly human spoke

“In the Wing-Ti markets they are straining at the leash” Bamatabois added. Covafac moved pieces on his map as he studied the layout carefully “Our supporters consist mostly of students and workers, the rest will come like a flowing tide” the dwarf added. Covafac looked around the room, a serious look on his face

“the time is near…” he said “So near I can feel it stirring the blood in my veins. Be carful and wary my friends, do not let the wine go to our brains” he smiled looking at his cup, he had not meant to rhyme, but continued none the less. “Strahd is a dangerous opponent, he has weapons and warriors beyond us in every way. What we need is a sign, something to rally the rest of the people, something to call them to arms…”

Gavroche slowly entered the room and slipped towards a table pouring himself a glass of wine. The inn keep down stairs was an avid supporter and always kept the men well supplied. It was Azelma who noticed him first and spoke.

“Gavroche, your late… and look like you have seen a ghost.” She noted with some concern the halfling looked to her as he spoke

“not a ghost… an angel perhaps” his face upturned to a smile. Azelma let out a long laugh as she sipped from her mug

“By the gods…" her voice was light with laughter "Is Gavroche in love at last? I never thought I would see the day” the crowd jumped in to rib and tease the young boy recently in love

Covafac approached with a sad look on his face as he spoke to the crowd and Gavroche

“Friends, it is quickly becoming time for us all to decide, do we fight for what is right? have you all asked yourselves the price yo might pay… Bamatabois and I have seen war…. But this can’t be a game. We must all understand… Gavroche you must understand that we all must adhere to a higher calling, leave this girl alone and move on as we strive for a larger goal, out little lives do not matter, it is what we achieve together that counts… the longest night will end at last!” the crowd cheered to Covafacs words and Gavroche nodded, he was committed to the rebellion, but deep inside his heart still yearned for Fantine.

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Fire Under the Gibbous Moon

Hikaru staggered from his cabin chased by dreams that would not leave with the waking of his body. With the roll of the ship he closed the door leaning hard against it to balance his unsteady feet yet another roll sent him staggering to the railing. Dazed he stumbled forward one hand held the rail as the other sought purchase and found nothing. ‘Lost… all Lost…’ He shook his head as if to throw off the thoughts. “No,” he mumbled, “I’m not… I still have time.”

The wind clawed at his body, naked save for his smallclothes, yet he ignored its icy grasp and staggered on silent feet towards the bow. He rubbed at an eye with the heel of his hand and shook his head to bring focus. Flame! He needed a flame, a candle or lantern to center himself and drive off the dark dreams. The moon shed plenty of light having begun its retreat from full and Hikaru slowly worked his way to the bow and the lantern hung there.

He grabbed it from the rung and dropped into a kneeling position. Reverently he placed it in front and the light flared in intensity and became a beacon into which he stared. He prayed the old prayers to Ymeri, the ones now found only in the dusty tomes within the temple vaults. He did not seek her and given the dreams he hoped this night her attention was elsewhere for he suffered and could not face her presence in this state. He did it because they calmed him and set his thoughts back to their proper places. But if there was solace to be had in the flame this night it was destroyed by the feminine voice in his head. ‘Five years to search, five years before you must journey to my palace with or without the Phoenix.’

Hikaru nodded numbly to the flame as it shifted back to a normal intensity. Drawn by the old prayers she had looked at him and reminded Hikaru. Five years to seek the answer to her riddle and do what he must before she called him to her. Five years from the last lash and lick of flame on his skin that fateful day where the Daimyo and his followers looked on in dismay. But less than three now remained and he was no closer to unlocking the puzzle as he was the day he stepped beyond the borders of his home. And every day the weight of it dragged him lower, crushing him under his failure.

It wasn’t just the letter from home warning of the Daimyo’s black hands reaching out for him that pushed him to join the crew of the Champion’s Boot. It was his own desperation to travel faster and further that put his feet upon the deck and agreed to what little pay he could make as a cook’s helper. Yet that plan had seemed to backfire on Hikaru as well for they stayed only as long as necessary in any one place to turn a profit or aid a cause before moving on. He’d had no time to research and none to speak to as confidant. So he was trapped both physically and in his own mind over what he could do and where he could go. Less than three years before his debt was due.

The Phoenix holds the answers you seek
Safe within its lofty mountain stronghold
Only in Balance will the Path be opened
Yet Yang blazes in dangerous ascendance
Vengeance is not justice without tempering for
The brightest light cannot be seen without darkness
Transform, transmute, transcend and know truth
Or lose Yin to the darkness of the soul and be lost

The words were burned into his mind and he could see them as clearly as if they had been written on parchment. But without knowing more he could not pierce their meaning beyond needing the Phoenix to save his nation.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Mandy stared at Hiro’s back, her eyes tracing the multitude of wicked scars that crisscrossed its surface. These lash marks were not like the ones she’d seen used on the Boot to discipline the crew where the result was a shallow cut and plenty of pain to teach a lesson. No, these looked cruel and deep though healed as if meant to do much more than punish. She wondered if they still hurt him but knew he was unlikely to answer that question. Mr Hiro didn’t talk about his past.

She’d been drawn by the surge of light and had been surprised to see him kneeling there praying in Wing-Tai to the lantern. ‘What god lived in a lantern?’ she wondered. But it was cold and he was nearly naked so she approached and hesitantly called out, “Mr Hiro… Mr Hiro it’s cold out and, well you aren’t really wearing the right clothes to be out here.”

He turned towards Mandy staring past her for the longest of moments then smiled wearily up at her, “Right you are Mandy. Only a fool would be out here dressed like this.” She looked around for something to give him for warmth but the closest was the blankets on Johnathan that she dare not touch. “It seems Lockland has given me nightmares and I needed the cold to shake them from me.” She could hear the lie in his voice but he patted her on the head and stepped past her before she could answer. Not that Mandy was certain he would listen. There was a fever about his eyes, a burning intensity and need for something though he would not voice it. It scared her to see her friend like this but what could she do? Maybe one of the others would know, she’d ask a few of them tomorrow about it, discreetly.

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Tummy Time Pt 2

5th of Ready’reat, the Grove of Klohant Vlazohr, 2:47pm

Curtis looked on in awe of the great chevron. He wasn’t sure what to think of it, but since it appeared there had been a steady breeze from the south, he often kept to the north side of the chevron as a wind break. It was the oddest thing he’d ever seen, and was sure that sometimes if could hear sounds, maybe voices on the winds. They were always just too faint, too far away for him to grasp what was being said, but the one voice sounded strong and powerful, like a goddess perhaps? Well one thing was for sure, until Maul-Chaluim returned, absolutely nobody should touch it.

“ZUB ZUB” Curtis turned and looked around the side of the Chevron.

“Really Leven? Your just gonna rub a rag on it… it could be magical” if the small gnome cared at all about what Curtis was said, he didn’t show it. The eccentric little bearded creature just scrubbed away at the great Chevron pulling moss or dirt or any of the leaves that had fallen on it and making its surface shiny and silver. Curtis watched in fascination… he had known Leven since they had arrived here, and he had never said any more than ‘ZUB ZUB’ to him. He only knew his name was Levan from Soaz, and who knew how she had figured it out. Levan had a little him built in the root structure of one of the great trees, he was often seen wandering around the grove, collecting seeds, planting them elsewhere, raking leaves, pruning sickly trees and generally taking care of the grove. Why he did it? Or how he knew what to do… What Zub Zub meant… none of them knew? But the gnome was harmless, and from his carful watching it appeared the Chevron wouldn’t hurt for it either. Hours passed before the little gnome finished his task, and when he was done a great gust of wind rose from the south

“That is much better…. Thank You” the voice was clearer than it had ever been before, as if it were directed at them… and it was beautiful, perhaps the most powerful and wonderful voice he had ever heard, it was truly the voice of a goddess he decided. He watched as little Levan bowed deeply to the south and then marched off with his rags toward his home. Curtis darted off the path and into the thicker woods, hiding a bit and staring into the south… he could not see anyone… he could see no goddess peering down to them, but could still feel the breeze that seemed to come from nowhere. Could the goddess see him, was she a benevolent goddess or a cruel one? Why this shape? He had so many questions, and was eager for Maul-Chaluim to return… he would know what to do.

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Thalion's true form
what????

I focused my thoughts on the Mating ceremony with Versum to distract me from hauling two stubborn fat pigs somewhere they didn’t want to go. I am a very private person. I was careful to always present myself to the world the way I wanted to be seen. When I realized that flit was on the champions boot with me it was a relief to share a bench with him with the privacy screens shielding me from the other crew members. The most challenging part of the mating ceremony for me was the requirement that it be done publicly. Versum was a gentleman and assured me that his bulk and fur would protect me from curios eyes. There must have been ancient magic’s involved because there was a moment where everything faded away; I had a sense of every living creature in the Den that night as if their feelings were my feelings. It felt similar to the guardsman’s need to protect the key master, the gate keeper, and the smith. It would physically hurt me to raise a hand against the pack. It the feeling faded with my orgasm but I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I wonder if that’s what Versum feels all the time?
I struggled the last block to the drain pipe, two large pigs digging their heels in behind me. They could smell wolf here.
Sweat soaked through my best work frock. I was glad I hadn’t ‘dressed to impress’ or I’d be furious right now. The massive bundle on my back was more awkward then heavy but between that and the pigs I was I could use a good rest before heading back to the ship. I had to admit to myself that I was hoping Versum would invite me to spend the night. My shore leave would be over first thing in the morning and there was much to do before leaving Lockland.
“Who goes?” a Low voice called out.
The effects of the moon must have faded since I was greeted by a young man instead of a wolf. It did nothing to calm the livestock. “Ser Thalion of the Champions Boot, please take a pig.” I thrust the rope in his hand and followed him through the passage to the Den. Either they were becoming accustomed to our frequent comings and goings or the pig had him addled since he didn’t bother to send for Versum.
We were met by a handful of men and women no doubt drawn by the squealing. Versum quickly directed his people (pack?) away with the animals. “What is this?” his brow was furrowed and though he sounded short I was learning that was just how he spoke.
“We are leaving for Don Ton soon. I wanted to see you all with some help through the winter.” I ducked into a smaller cave off the main cavern hoping for a semblance of privacy. I dropped the bundle from my shoulders. First I showed him the warm wool blankets. “And look two different kinds of clothes. These one will tear easily if you have to shift unexpectedly and these over here will have you looking respectable when dealing with merchants.”
“Bah. Human trappings, catering to human modesty.”
“I couldn’t agree more.” I smiled and ran my hand over his large bare bicep, ignoring his confused frown. “It helps to think of them as decorative. Besides its winter you need to blend in.”
He sniffed audibly.
I flushed knowing I reeked of work and sweat. “Anyway, these are for you.” I folded 2 cure light potions into his large hand. “They won’t heal much but if you run into trouble they could be the difference between life and death giving your excellent immune system a chance to kick in.”
He stared hotly and didn’t speak.
I like think I’m Nobel and aloof showcasing the greatness of the elves, but anyone who spends more than five minutes with me knows I talk when I’m nervous. “Here this is from Flit.” I tucked a piece of paper in with the potions. “Be careful you don’t lose it. Bring the paper to Sally’s Sow Farm and there is another Pig waiting for you. They promised a 300 pounder so don’t let them cheat you.”
“You smell aroused, are you in heat again?”
“Umm, how did… you didn’t notice before?”
“Of course I did.” He scowled, “It is impolite to acknowledge these things to outsiders, and many creatures are embarrassed about their natural reactions and try to mislead you.”
His disapproval did not intimidate me. “I must smell awful.”
He sniffed again. “No, I like you much better then when you coat your scent in soap and lies.”
Feeling bold I took his large hand in mine gently removed the vials and pig voucher, placing them carefully on a bundle of clothes I tugged him down until we knelt facing each other. “Do you want to try again? This time I would like to feel your skin beneath my hands.”
He cupped my cheek. “Silly Elf we cannot mate again that is only done once and must be in our true form.”
My heart sank though I knew when we were together before he had done it to strengthen his clan; I had hoped that didn’t have to be all that was between us.
My disappointment must have shown on my face. “Don’t look sad. You confuse me.” He ran his hands over my biceps and my pecs. “You have the body of a warrior, yet you dress like a delicate lady. And your face is that of…”
“An Elf?” I supplied.
“An Elf. You don’t fit, even your smell confuses me. How is it possible that you smell both male and female? I’ve seen beneath your skirts.”
“Elves as decidedly more fluid about these things than any other race.” I was happy to tell him anything. This was more words then I had ever heard him string together. “Sometimes I lean one way or the other sometimes neither or both. I was lucky to be raised in a society that didn’t need to restrict me.”
“Well, not all of us know our true form, or have it so easily presented to us under the moon, many of the greatest of our kind had to quest to uncover their truth, they were considered Alpha’s among mere wolves” he spoke softly; eyes warm despite the perpetual scowl. “A wolf ‘Mates’ only once for the pack, and with who the pack needs, but the man enjoys sex.”
The blankets were soft and warm. We took our time and after though he had to leave to settle some pack matters he returned and woke me for more. In the early hours before I had to leave we lay talking, well I talked he listened. I told him of the extinction facing the elves and he told me more about the genocide of the wolves. I told him of my plans to hire a bard to remind the people of Lockland all the wolves had done for them. He was against it but I managed to convince him to leave me to it. I think he realized that I had to try. If the wolves could be saved there would be hope for my people. I’m pretty sure he didn’t think it would work, but he was kind. He asked me to bring a letter to his cousin in Don Ton.
I dressed and took the letter tucking it into a pocket in my petticoat. “So this joining of the clans, the mating, what does it mean to the wolves? What will it mean when we encounter other were?”
He was startled. “You entered into a mate bond without understanding it?”
“Yes” I replied expectantly, awaiting a lesson in the packs.
“So be it,” The wolf’s grin shone through on the man’s face, “then your quest for truth has indeed begun” with that Versum rose from the blankets, leaving me with a tender kiss before leaving and rejoining his pack

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Tummy Time Pt 1

5th of Ready’reat, the Grove of Klohant Vlazohr, 11:45am

Maul-Chaluim sat cross-legged holding before him a large leaf that held his breakfast, a few toasted pine nuts and walnuts, and an assortment of berries. The breakfast was meagre at best but with the winter months truly upon them food was scarce and he had not had any luck hunting during the past few days. He would have to roam further if he was going to make a stay of the winter.

Grruuummmmmbbbb

Maul-Chalium looked up across his small fire. Curtis sat their wrapped in Maul’s blanket shivering. And staring longingly at the wild elves breakfast. The scrawny little faun was all bone, and rather tiny even for a faun. Maul-Chalium sighed in frustration

“Why didn’t you collect berries last night when I was?” the wild elf asked as he tossed a pine nut into his mouth

“I did” the faun said morosely “but I was so hungry last night… well… I ate them all” Maul glared at the faun, but heard the creature’s stomach grumble again and caved handing him the rest of his breakfast. The faun’s spirits rose immediately as he began o heartily munch on toasted nuts and berries. “Cheer up Chalium!” the faun said with his mouth full “Maybe we will catch something today on a hunt” Maul glowered further

“Perhaps I will… and I know I will be much more successful if you are not tromping along behind me blowing that infernal flute for every creature to hear” the faun had the good nature to look rebuked but only for a few moments.

“Well… I guess I can stay here and keep an eye on the grove for you… I will make sure nothing happens while you’re gone” The faun said proudly. The wild elf raised an eyebrow in doubt but said nothing. He stood and collected his spear and secured his cloak, he looked over to the faun before leaving

“I will be back before dark… don’t leave my blanket on the ground, be sure to hang it and dry it before I return”

“No Problem Chaluim!” the faun said annoyingly cheerfully. The wild elf shook his head before turning to the north and departing the grove at an easy jog.

Curtis finished his breakfast and went so far as to eat the leaf before standing up and wiping off his hands on the blanket. He stepped into the warm sun and appreciated that there was no breeze. Feeling warm enough he dropped the blanket by the dying fire and set forth to look about the needs of the grove. He knew his friend took his duty of protection seriously, Maul-Chaluim had been camped in the grove for almost a year now, waiting for a sign from the Great Grandfather Ram that his term of protection was over. Curtis was going to screw anything up this time, he was going to make sure that the grove was just as pristine and untouched as when Maul left for the hunt.

GRUUUUUUUOOOOOMMMMMMMMMPPPPPPHHHHHHHH

The noise was unlike any he had heard before he turned and was awed by the sight. A great chevron… silver in colour, made of… well… he didn’t know what, but it had risen from the earth right behind his camp. Curtis just knew that Maul was going to blame him for this. It was huge, maybe twenty five feet tall, and at least ten feet wide. He walked around it twice, it was maybe five feet thick. It smelt of metal… but felt like stone, save one fact, it was warm to the touch… almost warm like a body. He looked carefully at the chevron for a long moment scratching his head and debating what to do. His eyes ran over every piece of it, until he came to a point on the bottom and sighed. There was Maul Chaluim’s blanket… pinned under it. Curtis grabbed the blanket and tried to pull… it would not budge again. He changed his stance and pulled with all his might

RIIIIIP

The blanket tore cleanly, Curtis was overwhelmed… he didn’t know what to do. He carefully laid the ripped portion of the blanked on the ground beside the rest of the blanket, put his hands behind his back, turned his back to the great chevron and began whistling and walking away. He would let Maul discover the chevron and blanket… he would know what to do.

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Ymeri's Judgement

13th of Goodmonth, 379 ONT: Azulon, Fire Nation

“Kneel murderer!” The snap of the whip punctuated the searing pain that followed across Hikaru’s back. He groaned in pain and staggered a half step forward before finding his balance. Once more the crack of the whip rang out across the courtyard and Hikaru bit hard on the inside of his cheek to stifle the next cry of pain. He tasted blood and remained where he was. The crunch of booted feet told him Captain Rugenji approached and the calloused hand of his old mentor forced Hikaru to look up into his face. He could see the pain in the old man’s eyes, what this task was forcing him to do out of duty cut him deep, but not as deep as the fresh wounds and sliced flesh of Hikaru’s back.

“Just kneel son, kneel and we can get on with it. Standing here does nothing to erase what happened.” Though it was a whisper, the blow to Hikaru’s senses was too much and he twisted out of Captain Rugenji’s grip. Even those closest to Hikaru were resigned to watch him die. They thought he was the murderer that Daichi claimed. The betrayal stung and Hikaru spat in Rugenji’s face. The bloody glob of spittle was all he could muster as an attack. “I would bow to those with honour and those who rightfully rule the Fire Nation not some craven dog that licks the boots of those who would destroy it from within.” Hikaru never saw the backhand that sent him spinning to the dirt or felt the strong hand fueled by anger drag him forward to the steps of the Damiyo’s Estates. “Ymeri burn you to ash!” Rugenji hissed in anger and thrust Hikaru down.

With his hands bound behind him it took some time to get himself back to a sitting position and Hikaru looked up at Daichi. The two filled the silence with hate and though tradition and duty said that Hikaru should speak first as the subordinate, even one being sentenced, he refrained and in doing so showed as much disrespect as he could to Daichi Ishikawa and his position as the recently promoted Daimyo of Azulon. In the end it would be naught but a token insult and Daichi decided that it was time to rid himself of this pest.

“Hikaru Yamamoto, you have been charged with the murders of six of your fellow students during a training exercise. All murdered by you and your bow with arrows designed to kill when only blunt practice arrows were issued and supposed to be used. Batou Ishikawa, Gon Ishikawa, Hayate Fujima, Katsurou Moto, Makoto Tanaka and Shiro Kita. Brave and honourable sons of the nobles gathered here today who shall never again draw breath because of you.” There were angry mutterings from all around and Hikaru raised turned his head to see all who had gathered. His stare was met easily by angry glares and muttered curses as the families of the fallen filled the courtyard.

He knew his mother would not come. Since his father’s death she had done much to distance herself and their remaining family from court life, politics and the temple. She’d sold their family home in Azulon and she’d moved to one of the outer prefectures. There she fortified herself behind a newly erected estate that was more a fort than a noble’s retirement home. She said it was to mourn her husband but Hikaru knew it was to save those she could from becoming the next victims of Daichi’s increasingly heavy handed soldiers in the city. Her disapproval when he told her that he was going to join up with the military years ago still lingered and he knew not to look for help from her.

Hikaru’s eyes widened in surprise as he caught sight of Yukiko in the background. Their eyes met briefly and she shook her head sadly before stepping back into the shadows of the building and beyond his sight. His shoulders slumped forward knowing that she was saying good bye and that her family would not back him or his claim of self-defense even though she’d been there. He didn’t blame her for wanting to keep her family safe. No, he blamed Daichi and those that followed him and made it possible for good and honourable people to have to hide and bow and scrape for their whims.

“But the son of a traitor is bound to be a traitor and so has shown his true colours even if at the priceless loss of our own children. Know this Hikaru Yamamoto, your line shall be purged of this black blood that fouls the Nation. Today is only the beginning and you shall not live to see its end.”

“Iemera no handan, kasai ni yoru saiban!” Hikaru desperately shouts and the angry murmurs die down at his words. He was invoking an ancient ritual when the accused was the only survivor. He would face the hottest of fires and if found to be innocent would survive the experience. If he succumbed to the flames his family would be purged of the taint of his existence by the cleansing fires of Ymeri. It was the only thing he could think of to save his remaining family. What had taken place was not their doing and they did not deserve his fate.

“You cannot be serious.” Daichi scoffed and leaned back in his chair. “You would face an agonizing end the same as your father did just to save your family? They who declined my invitation to your trial?” He shook his head and laughed. “If you wish to burn then you shall burn Hikaru Yamamoto.”

“I will not.” Hikaru struggled back to his feet feeling his knees twitch with fatigue under him. “I am accused of murder. I did but defend myself from those set upon murdering me at your behest. What happened was justice and when I walk into those flames Ymeri will see my heart and know the truth and conviction of my will. You stole my father from me and burned him alive to hide your crimes. In doing so you stole something precious from my family. So in justice I took something even more precious from you and yours. Your future! Your sons will not bring you the families you wanted to your side and they will see as my father did the depth of your treachery.” Hikaru spat on the cobbles as voices raised in anger turned on him with shouts and curses raining down. “I will give myself to Ymeri and withhold nothing from her. You will see Daimyo.”

Another blow to his head left Hikaru again in the dirt and it was some time before he would awaken to the icy cold of water being dumped over him. Sputtering and once again between the strong arms of faceless guards he now stood before the corridor of fire they’d prepared. Even from thirty feet back the heat was intense. They stepped back prodding him forward with their spears. Hikaru had no choice but forward and so he took a deep breath and fighting to calm the creep of fear into his heart stepped forward and into the blazing inferno that was prepared for him.

His clothing smoked and his hair curled from the immense heat cooked to the point of ash before he even stepped into the fire. He kept his eyes closed fighting to go further as the pain of the heat and flames roared over him. Within he prayed fervently to Ymeri, “See me Ymeri, know me Ymeri. I am one who is devoted to you amongst many who do not. I give myself to you so you may know that my cause is just and my vengeance is unfinished. I pray to you Ymeri to help me so I may help your people who suffer under the yoke of those who would destroy what you have helped to make.” Within the flames he staggered to a knee the air sucked from his lungs as they sought for more in the vacuum of the fire. He could feel his skin blistering and cracking from the heat but fought to move forward while focusing on trying to reach Ymeri.

And then, without warming, the flames shifted colour taking on the crimson glow of magma as a presence could be felt by all who had come to witness the death of a murderer. The flames screamed up higher and higher into the air pressing everyone back by their sudden intensity. Then the pressure of the presence faded and with it the fire returned to normal. The assembled began to talk of how Ymeri had blessed them with her presence and how she had judged the murderer for what he had done. Yet as they watched smug and satisfied that justice had been found and their faith in Ymeri evident Hikaru emerged from the far end of the fire unscathed save for his clothes which had been consumed by the fire.

Ymeri had spared him. His family was safe for now. Hikaru stood defiant and stared at Daichi knowing he was now free and all thanks to Ymeri. But in her passing she had whispered to Hikaru a riddle and a command he would carry on his heart.

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