Balance

When you Grotto go...

It was getting late. Hikari stood and stretched looking down at the still sleeping form of Tar Di. She lay near one of the many fires burning on the beach with her protector, Dallan Steelhand sitting beside her. The Knight of Tukin had made a valuable ally and someone Hikari found to be sensible and easy to speak to. He had sworn to keep Tar Di safe as thanks for Hikari rescuing him from the slave pits. She’d tried to express her gratitude on a couple of occasions but it seemed Dallan was not going to let his debt go that easily. She brushed a few stray locks back behind an ear feeling the lethargy that dragged at her from expending so much energy. But she still had so much to do and looked back down at tar Di.

Hikari was worried. Days since Tar Di had unleashed the chaos magic and yet she still would not wake. Day after day she’d channeled her own mystic energy into Tar Di to help pay for the debt incurred for such a spell as her apprentice had cast and still no change. She wanted to yell, to scream and rage in her frustration and show Tar Di that this was the least of the possible consequences to her using magic without understanding it. But she couldn’t do any of that. Honestly Hikari would be happy with just having Tar Di awake and herself again. But another day of channeling magic had not changed things.

She looked across the beach to where Taaj and Mandy sat close together and sighed. There was no point in deluding herself about that situation anymore and it was more than obvious that Taaj was not using Mandy for some scheme. After all he’d had plenty of opportunity in the confusion of the escape to take her away from all this. So why did she feel sad when she looked at Mandy? Her friend was happy, as happy as one could be spending most of her days repairing a ship and running from trouble. But still happy and Hikari should be happy for her too. She sighed and looked away.

Thalion and the others needed her to remain clearheaded and focused. They’d started another war and there was little time to dwell on what had been. Ships out there were searching for the Champion’s Fist and a veritable army was seeking them from inland. They’d not be completely seaworthy by the time they had to leave but their guest status depended on them not fighting this next group and they were going to honour that commitment. And to be focused she was hoping to make a connection to someone special.

Wrapping her cloak tight about her to ward off the chill, Hikari moved away from the fires and further down the beach. She spied a stocky form detach itself from near another fire and could only sigh. Thorbil had spotted her leaving. So much for a few moments alone.

“Going somewhere Mistress?” He gave her a bow and then fell into step beside her.

“Grotto,” Was all she said. He was only days old and had picked up a lot of tidbits here and there from the others and even some of the freed Dwarven slaves but in those few days he’d also picked up much from her. He was loyal to a fault and she could shout herself blue in face before he would be sent away and so she had changed tactics and spent time instructing Thorbil on her habits and tendencies and what she expected from him. Hikari had pushed hard to make certain that Thorbil knew that he could serve her as his own choice and he was free to leave or stay as he desired not because of some magical geas.

“Tomorrow we will continue to practice and train together along with Dallan, Taaj and a few others. If we are going to be effective we need to know what each of us does in combat so we don’t get in each other’s way.” The gentle sounds of the surf on the beach and the hum behind them of talk was relaxing in comparison to the days of running and fighting. Soon enough that would change again and Hikari didn’t want to lose anyone, not if she could keep it from happening.

“Aye Mistress. Shall I inform them of the drills?”

“After breakfast Thorbil.” The black haired dwarf nodded but said nothing more. Hikari wondered what it was like in Thorbil’s head. Was it an empty place that was filling with thoughts and ideas and information as they gave it to him? Or was it all there and the more they spoke and trained the more certain things came to the fore? Did he have as much trouble as she did in her own memories, as jumbled as they were? She shook her head to clear it of those circular thoughts for they all coped in their own way and Thorbil would manage. Maybe one day though he’d use her name instead of Mistress for everything.

Arriving at the grotto Thorbil took up position in front and Hikari moved inside. A few whispered words sent lights sancing into the small space and she settled down near a small tide pool crossing her legs and baring her right shoulder, the one with the tattoo dedicated to Pan. It was supposed to be magical somehow but Hikari had never learned how or even if it was. Not that it mattered when the gods had stopped speaking to her anyway. She took out the small pan-flute and started playing. She’d figured out much of it on her own and was not half bad anymore and filled the grotto with the haunting notes of the flute.

While she played she let the lights dance and focused her thoughts out and away hoping they would be carried to Pan and perhaps he would at least hear her even if he didn’t answer.

It’s a strange thing to have fought so hard to live, to defy destiny on more than one occasion in an effort to live my own life and not to dance to someone else’s tune only to now find myself feeling lost. I’m adrift and without focus beyond trying to save those I care about and just live. It should be enough helping Thalion and the others rescue and free slaves and bring evil men low. But I still feel like something is missing. Is this really to be my life? I spoke to the others about starting up a mercenary company of sorts, one designed to try and make Argyle a better and safer world to live in, not to just make war. But is it the right thing to be doing? Or am I going to only cause more pain and suffering to those who don’t deserve it?

Or maybe I’m just feeling lonely. This world is a harsh one and nothing is forever but it is made tougher by not having anyone to share it with. I’m not talking about friends or people I care about. I’ve got both. But I see people in love or those who have had love every day and wonder what it is like? It fortifies them and drives them to do things I hesitate at doing and even in the loss gives them something to keep close to their hearts. Miriel, Thalion, Aurelia even Mandy and maybe Flitt (he might just love eggs)? They know it. All I have is a faded and jumbled memory of a love that never came to be.

And then I wonder if the path I walk now, made by my own will and that of yours and Ymeri is the one I should be on. I know life has no guarantees and am more than acquainted with chance and chaos and how they affect things. But there has to be a reason I am me. A reason that I, Hikari exists beyond a reflection of my own will and a stubborn unwillingness to give up this life. Should I pursue making the company? Will Tar Di be ok? How are my pandas? Will I ever find someone? Is there a reason I am here at all beyond you not liking other gods meddling? Please, a little guidance would be a blessing right about now. And though I may not be who I was I am grateful to both you and Ymeri for all you’ve done and would not mind if you visited every once in a while even if it is just to mock me.

I promise to not be as dense as I was. Though that was the sword’s doing a few times so I can’t be blamed for that. And it was a good plan in theory to start with and as a soul returned to its body there was probably good reason for me to not really know I was dead before right? Right, well, thanks for listening Pan.

Hikari let the music and lights fade away and sat there for a long time in the dark just listening to the surf. Her duties were still waiting for her though and before too long she left the grotto once more with Thorbil close behind to take up her tasks again. Maybe tomorrow Tar Di would wake fully…

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If a tree fell in teh woods... Pt 2
Mature Scenes, Rated R

8th of Wealsun, 383ONT, 2:09pm The Goddess of the Night Winds Holy Palace, Plane Unknown

Please Listen While Reading

Sa’Nara returned to her Goddess Glorious Palace. She took about three steps before learning against the wall, weak in the knees and panting, she sighed a heavy satisfied sigh.

“Are you ok, was their battle?” Ariuk asked jumping to her feet and rushing to aid the Vassal of her Mistress. Sa’nara looked at the concerned Angel and smiled.

“I am better then ok, I am… I am…” she leapt into the air spreading her wings and soared upward through the sky window. Only when she was at the centre of the great four winds, feeling them buffet her from all sides did she stop and breath in ecstasy. Ariuk was hot on her heels, flapping her wings slowly to hover just behind the beloved vassal

“What? What happened?” the Angel asked. Slowly Sa’Nara turned, a grin cresting her majestic face.

“The Goddess, she used me, she was in me once more…” Sa’Nara said

“Psshh, that happens every day” Ariuk huffed, secretly jealous of the favoured vassal of her goddess. It was the highest honour to serve, and yet Her Mistress chose for her to do nothing… why was she not good enough.

“No… not like normal, she used me, was in me… and we had, had a mortal… in us” the last two words were but a whisper as the import dawned on Ariuk

“You… you copulated on behalf of the Mistress?” Aruik asked, astonishment obvious in her voice. The angel soared up beside Sa’Nara, eager for her to dish on all that had happened.

“I did, she guided my every movement, the mortal was… was engorged” again the last words were but a whisper on the wind “She had him captivated by her spell, by our beauty and grace, we were… beside a tree, and summoned him deeper into the woods” Aruik leaned in floating on her every word. “She used my hands to remove our dress, then to remove his pants. He was blond… all blond and his voice had a cute kind of drawl, like he wanted his words to be as long as they could” Sa’Nara shivered in delight as she recalled the thought. The two winged women slowly lowered until they perched on top of the palace. Sa’Nara looked at her, her cheeks looking rosy with the thoughts of what would happen next “She guided my hand to grab his, his quivering member… it was warm, I could feel her joy as his lust grew… he needed her, he was an addict, she was his drug.” Aruik nodded eagerly, this was no surprise, none could resist the glory and grace of her mistress.

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“Then what?” She asked eagerly

“She steered me to guide him, inside of us… I could feel him impale me, it was hot, and wonderful and glorious and amazing… it was like nothing I have ever felt before….”

“and then?” Aruik whispered, curious as to what this strange act entailed

“We were three, and then we were one… for a long time, it felt like forever… almost five minutes… together as one” she gasped as she recalled the feelings. “Our Goddess was not finished with, she wanted to keep some of him with us, a memento of our conquest…” Sa’nara turned and face Aruik, who was rapt at the story “she pulled from within him a piece of his soul, a piece of him, and it entered me… and he screamed in the pleasure of his gift, and I cried out on her divine glory, and she called a primal call of satisfaction as she righted the wrongs in all of our souls!” Sa’Nara shouted the words as she told of the experience her Goddess had given her. Aruik was speechless, amazed, jealous and perplexed by these events.

“What happened next?” the Angel asked

“I was made to extend a finger, and trace it down his forehead to his lips, he kissed it, then she had me speak ‘That will do Benjamin, that will do nicely’ and then, leaving him to collect our clothing and bring them to us later, she spread our wings and we soared into the air and back to the ship. She landed and dismissed me” the vassal drummed her hands on either side of her in excitement “IT WAS AMAZING! WORLD CHANGING! DEIFIC! I was her and she was me, and together we touched the very soul of a mortal… I have been used to take lives before… but this… this was different, this was like nothing I have every experienced”

“She has never done this before?” Aruik asked

“When she coupled with Harold, she would always send me away… as if I was not yet worthy of such an event… before the Goddess did not wish me to be a part of that… but I have grown now, she loves and trusts me more, and now I have felt… Love” Sa’Nara said, awestruck by the realization of what this development meant.

“It sounds wonderful” Aruik said, unsuccessfully trying to keep the self remorse from her voice. Sa’Nara took her into a warm embrace

“Your time will come Aruik… She has a plan for us all… you just have to be patient… it took years for her to be ready for me to have ‘the sex’ with the mortals for her… your time will come, Goddess knows your purpose… and you will to, in time” the two smiled at each other

“You are so wise Sa’Nara” Aruik said, wiping the tears from her eyes

“My Goddess enters me often, I have been known to pick up on a few things while she is there” the Vassal said through a chuckle. “Now… what business do we have here?”

“Raptors chasing the lost soul through the lower kitchens” Aruik said jumping to her feet

“Then, let us see if we can not accommodate these Raptors and this Soul.. the Goddess seems to enjoy it, when many become of one”

Aruik helped Sa’Nara up and the two dropped back into the palace, renewed with vigor and energy to be doing the work of their Goddess

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Cainian Hearts

8th of Wealsun, 383ONT, 1:58pm, Cainian Resistance Headquarters, Fort Aderaid.

Please Listen While Reading

Harold “Prancer” Forbes, heir apparent of Cainia and leader of the resistance against Omaru sat around the war council table, His Uncle Harold sat across with several commanders of the Dwarven mercenaries and captains of the Cainian Guard. They spoke of their plans to move forward, about where the next assault would come from, and how they would counter it. They spoke about war and the most important ways to survive. Prancer heard nothing. His eyes were locked looking out a window to the south, staring thousands of miles away, thinking of her. Was she ok? Did she miss him? Had he been replaced? His heart yearned for her; he damned his duty to these people, were his life his own he would stand up and leave the meeting, the fort, the entire war… he could live blissfully sailing on the Champions Boot with his beloved for the rest of his days. Tears welled into his eyes as he saw her face, her hair blowing in the wind and the sound of mirth and amusement as she puzzled over his “human ways”. He recalled her ‘nest’, and her come hither look as she called him forth to lay with her. He had been privileged enough to know happiness, and now, without her the colour had drained from the world, he had been killed, but continued to walk and exist.

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“What say you my Prince?” his Uncle asked, drawing him back to the present. He looked down feigning fatigue to wipe his eyes.

“I am sorry Uncle, I must have drifted for a moment…”

“The Duke was wonderin’ aloud who will lead the forces into Narlington, breaking the siege tis no easy task” Commander Keeoto offered

“I’ll do it” Prancer declared

“Prince Forbes, tha wasn’t the intention, we can’t be risking…”

“I’ll do it, I won’t be hiding from danger, there is no…. worthiness… there” Prancer declared, for one last moment looking again to the south… she was out there somewhere, and should he live, he would live being worthy of her.

“alright then, it is decided, the new campaign begin tomorrow” The Duke said, looking hard at his nephew

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If a tree fell in the woods...

8th of Wealsun, 383ONT, 1:58pm, Cove South of Honastice
Just past the tree line at the end of the beach….

“Ye don’t have a concern for yer self, do ye, lass?”

Miriel turned her head from the tree, blinking once in in puzzlement at the gruff voice behind her. A dwarf, newly freed, regarded her with arms crossed and a face to match. “I suppose it would not be impossible for the tree to be guarded; thank you Dwarf, I shall take care while felling it.”

“That is not what I meant, lass. Ye’ve slept with a stranger, a slaver to boot; have ye no shame?”

She rolled her eyes. “That is a human flaw, Dwarf – perhaps you no longer fit your beard?”

“Leave me beard out of this, and it’s not proper fer Dwarves either, missy!”

“Then that is your problem, Dwarf; I am neither. Prepare yourself, tree." Miriel wrapped her arms around the tree, fingers barely touching, and wrenched. A loud ripping sound reverberated as she tore the tree, roots and all, out of the ground and tossed it aside with a casual flip of the wrist. “This tree is safe,” she told the half dozen men and women waiting for it. They glared at the dwarf, who clearly did not mean to aid them and ignored their departure as he stomped closer to Miriel.

“Blasted bird! That’s not what I meant!”

“Then say what you mean, Dwarf. I’ve no time for guessing, nor to explain the differences between myself and a bird.”

He gritted his teeth loudly. “It is plain to all ye’re not used to worldly customs and what not, and common sense aside ye rescued many a good person and deserve to know. A decent lass wouldn’a carry on with casual sex, nor would a decent bloke ask it of er … ‘tis not right! And if none on ye’re crew will tell ye so ye know what’s proper, then I will!”

“I need not your prudish warning, Dwarf,” Miriel replied, staring at him without expression. “Your people may view copulation as shameful, but mine view it as it should be; a pleasant past time that one can share with anyone they wish.” She shrugged her shoulders and let her face take on a superior air. “The act of sex is not important, beyond giving pleasure and friendship; it is the intent behind it that matters. Sir Benjamin’s intent is clear and without deceit, unlike many I have met, and I welcome the distraction he gives me.”

Miriel’s eyes drifted away from the dwarf, resting on a spot beyond him in an unerring stare in the direction of Cainia. “I do not even know if you are alive, my love,” she murmured. “Do you think of me? Will I see you again? How long will I have to protect my heart before you return to me?” Her right hand went to her mouth and she gently bit her thumb, while her other hand began to stroke the swells of her breasts. She closed her eyes, meaning to enjoy the sensation, but was interrupted by a bellowing protest.

“Lass!! Ye’re not alone!!”

Miriel opened her eyes, amused, as the dwarf stared at her with a look of shock and panic before bolting away from her, his gait strange as he ran after his fellow ex-slaves. “He is right,” she said, turning to the side. ”I am not alone, am I, Sir Benjamin?”

His smile was answer enough.

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Beach Life Pt 2

8th of Wealsun, 383ONT, 1:55pm, Cove South of Honastice.

“Options?” Thalion asked of the officers and friends who had gathered on the beach, most were their, save Miriel, but he had a good idea where she would be as the Beach Knight had sauntered off in her direction. Thalion tried not to think of poor Prancer and keep his mind on the moment.

“I could do a very VERY VERY crude patch in about twelve hours… wouldn’t hold up to a storm or any tight maneuvers, just enough to keep the water out, but I would need a new beach or dock soon to work on it… I can’t do these repairs on open ocean.” Mandy said

“Hunting team isn’t back yet, but as is things are gonna be cramped and tight on board, not a lot of space to do anything fancy with this many people on the ship” Flitt added

“I think we have food enough for another couple weeks… Fishing and Hunting would ease that further though, but I can make it stretch without anyone going too hungry” Bronwyn put in

“We still need to go get Thaden” Teagan chirped up.

“OK” Thalion said making the tough call. Mandy, get us patched as best you can, you got your twelve hours and anyone you need to help. We’re going back to Theringrad Islands, I’ll take a team to go collect Thaden, while the ship finds a solid hiding spot in the island chain and holes up for repairs. I want look outs and lots of warning for trouble. Once the ship is sorted, I want Ku-Aya and a team out hunting and fishing with the little skiff and grabbing any useful supplies from the nearby islands. Use Bitey and Eltheron for transport if need be. Ideally we can get our feet back under us and be on our way home in no time… everyone clear?”

“Aye Aye Captain” came the chorus as they split up to hustle on with their duties

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Beach Life Pt 1

18th of Wealsun, 383ONT, 1:32pm, Cove South of Honastice.

Benny pulled his cart out of the thicker forests and onto the sandy beach. It was laden with boards, nails, tar and various other construction materials. The people here had created a bit of a shanty town along the beach and the impromptu deer fire had become a full-on beach kitchen

“alright, alright, alright” he said to himself as he guided his war horse who pulled the jolly little cart towards the beach construction station that had been hastily erected. He was gonna miss the hustle and bustle here, these seemed light good folk, and he didn’t want to anything bad to come upon them. “Miss Doyle, I have yer delivery here for ya” he called as his cart came to a halt. The girl looked up from the wood piece she was shaping. He doubted anyone had ever looked so happy to see a pile of lumber and nails in the history of this little cove.

“Just in time Benny!” Mandy said, dashing over “Jonathan, Jesse, grab Nathan and start unloading the cart, I’ll need lumber over by the saws, and a pile for nails and tar to be moved to the ship asap” she called over her shoulder before facing the beach bum “Thank you a thousand times Benny, you just saved me weeks of work” her smile warmed his heart “The Captain said he wants to see you when you get back, something about settling up” she said

“Well, I told yer Cap that I had that bit sorted, but I do have some news for him, where is old pointy ears at?” he asked. Mandy barley suppressed a giggle before pointing

“Over by the beach kitchens, I think he’s arguing with George about the slaves not needing to be counting calories” Benny looked back over his shoulder picking the elf out among the few other gathered in the kitchen area, he chuckled to himself before turning back to face the Master Carpenter

“and if I were looking for that tall delicious drink of something special, where would a treasure hunter strike rich?” he asked

“I assume you are talking about Ms. De’Jairi?” she asked, Benny gave her a single slow nod “She’s at the far end of the beach helping fell the trees”

“Lot a strength in that women, lotta strength” he said dipping his head to Mandy before taking a stroll towards the Kitchen area.

“I don’t care about the research Mr. Wyson, we’re going to feed everyone what we can, Versum and his pack are out searching for more supplies, I want a balanced meal for the slaves and working men for at least the next two days, then thoughtful rationing… Hikari, please check his work.”

“Aloha Captain, fine day for a cook out” Benny said as he sauntered towards the gathered group

“Ah, Sir Aguire, welcome back!” Thalion said with an easy smile

“Woah, let’s put a stop to that right here, Sir Aguire is my Old Man, or my Two Older Brothers, for now, we can just stick with Benny”

“Benny it is” Thalion said stepping forward to shake his hand, his elven eyes glanced up and down the beach and quickly caught sight of the wagon brimming with supplies. “How much do I owe you for supplies?”

“My gift to you and yours Captain, think nothing of it… I told the Steward I was building a little shack out here, that I may be back for some more stuff later… shouldn’t kick up too much of a fuss” as Benny spoke the Captain eyed the supplies coming of the wagon, Benny had bought only the finest in building material

“Benny, you have to let me do something for you, that must be over a thousand gold on that wagon there” Thalion said

“I’ll tell ya what, yer heading south towards them elven lands… I been thinking for a while of upgrading my board, if you can bring me back a sizeable piece of paulownia wood, I think we could call it even Steven” Thalion smiled and shook his hand again graciously accepting the deal.

“done and done my friend”

“I do have a bit of bad news… looks like Marmaduke had a longer arm then I thought, his folks were out in Aguire and putting together a sizable force to come sweeping along the coast. I bet you have little more than a day before the beach here is swimming with slavers thick with cuffs to bring you in” the Captain’s face fell as he heard the news, he knew Mandy needed at least four or five days to get the ship ocean ready again.

“Thank you again Benny, I appreciate you telling us” Thalion said

“Think nothing of it Captain. I vowed to keep Aguire safe, that to me means keeping it safely on the side of right as well. I’d be thankful if you were gone before they got here, some of those boys conscripted are from my father’s farms, I’d be in a tight spot if you turned blades against them”

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Sluggin in out in Cainia Pt 7

11th of Wealsun, 383ONT, 8:57pm, Voblyn Forrest Patrol, Cainia

The dwarves marched silently through the thick forest, many shields at the ready held high should arrows rain down on them. They were approaching the third hour of their patrol, and outside of a cough or an order the group had said nothing.

“My old patrol used to laugh or tell jokes while we marched” Narnok whispered to Obick as they trudged forward.

“Was your old patrol led by a dim witted orc?” Obick said back, a fair amount of disdain in his voice

“Shut up new guy” Sims through in from behind, “you can tell your jokes to Rags”. Nanok said nothing, he’d heard of the brutal ambush these guys had fought through last month, it seemed like the wound was still fresh. Although maybe telling jokes wasn’t the best idea. This had been the only unit to push back against the elven ambushes and fight through. Since then, this unit had been nominated for elf hunting duty. The Sons of Treefall were apparently based up here in Voblyn. They were to find their camp and make continued operations “difficult” for the elves. Since then they had been on steady marches searching the forest in quadrants.

“What are we going to do if we…” he cut himself off, as the entire line took a knee as one, shields up covering their heads. Point had seen something and called a halt. He hurried to mimick his friends. A whisper echoed back down the line.

“Sarg needs a volunteer” it said, he turned to Sims to pass it along and saw the anger in his face

“Get your ass up there New Guy!” Sims spat, refusing to pass the word down the line… Nanok paused a moment before nodding, this was his chance to actually join the unit. He hurried and jogged up the line, taking a knee beside the famed Sargent Boytano.

“You the volunteer?” The Sargent asked. Nanok nodded “Good Felllow” The Sargent said clasping him on the shoulder, he then looked to the two other assembled dwarves before speaking. “Ok Gents, we got ourselves a steep hill, that leads to a canyon with a thick treeline on the other side… if I were a pointy eared murdering tree hugger this is the exact spot I’d set up to cut me some dwarf beards. Thrain, take Browner and Chip, go a hundred meters or so along the hill line, find some good cover and set up crossbows, Lucky, take Squirrly and the Good Bishop and do the same going that way…” he pointed off to his left. He turned putting a hand on Nanok’s shoulder looking him in the eye “Ok Kid, when everyone is in play yer gonna head down the hill there, keep yer eyes peeled, for any sign of the enemy. Get across and check out the immediate area, if everything is clear, I want you to break these smoke sticks on the far side of the bridge, once the smoke screen is in place the rest of us will come down in a hurry and support ya. Got it?” He asked. Nanok nodded

“Uh… Sarg?”

“What’s up kid?”

“What do I do if they start shooting?” he asked

“Find cover and crack the smoke… we’ll be on ya quicker than a Halfling on a slice of pie” The Sarg said giving Nanok a wink. Nanok smiled to try and hide his fear, his shaky hands took the smoke sticks and he got ready to go.

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Hids and Seek Pt 2

11th of Wealsun, 383ONT, 8:57pm, Champions Fist, Theringrad Island Chain, Harbor of LEFTITE island, 57 nautical miles east east south of Honactice

Ku-Aya watched from the bridge as the crew scrambled to baton down the hatches, and secure the ship for movement. One eye carefully supervised the crew while he listened to Teagan and Bronwyn discuss their fate.

“Gods be damned, Six? Six ships?!” Teagan was cursing as she paced op and down the bridge

“Ship will be ready to be underway in under-five Ms. Beese. I recommend we get out into open ocean and let sails fly… use the currents and the winds and outpace them” Ku-Aya said with confidence. He commanded several vessels in his day, he could feel the speed buried in the haul of the ship, just waiting to be set free, this would be the safest and best course of action. Teagan was shaking her head

“We’d have to come around two islands to break into the wind, and they are already upwind of us trimmed and at full sail, we’ll never get up to speed… and even if we did, we aren’t going to lose four corsairs quickly, we’d never make the rendezvous with the Captain…” she paced back and forth again “We have both Bitey and Eltheron with us, they don’t know exactly where we are, hell, the sun is going down, we can even use the vampire. I say we stand and fight, teach them for wanting to mess with my crew” she growled

“Are you nuts?” Bronwyn interceded “You want to get in a straight up fight against six ships? To of them being Galley’s? You recall that we currently lack every single person on this ship who referred to themselves as a knight right? We have no magic, no gods, most of our command crew is missing and we don’t have anyone who can speak to either Bitey or Eltheron, so they won’t be much use to us… we’ll be dead in minutes if we fight. We need to weave and hide in the islands, they don’t know for sure we are here, they will scour the area and when they find nothing move on… it’s the best plan…”

“Begging your pardon Ms. Penrose…” Ku-Aya cut in “but you made our point, they have six ships, they can easily cover this entire island chain. We have to assume at least some of them are from Honastice, and know this area better than us; you want to dodge in and out of the shallows, at night with a green crew in an unknown area? I can’t say that your plan fills me with confidence”

“This from the man whose plan is sailing towards them and turning left?” Bronwyn shot back annoyed. The three glared at each other for a moment. The thudding on the stairs brought their attention back to the now as Willhym climbed to the bridge

“All cannon’s loaded and ready Ms. Beese, I’ve taken Doug and Rick to aid me lest you call boarding repel” he said

“Thank you Mr. Tyre” Teagan said, looking back to the opening of the harbour. She thought for a long moment before coming to a decision

“OK, their all good points, we’re gonna do all three… sneak through the islands forcing them to split up, set an ambush to cripple any ships we can who split off from the rest, then cut out into the wind and hope we have enough of a lead to lose them on our way to the rendezvous. Bosun, darken the ship, I want it as silent as possible as well. Master Gunner, I want the crew armed, see to it, but do not fire without my command. Quartermaster, check the charts we have, find me the…. the Third best spot for an ambush in this stupid island chain… let’s get it done” she said dropping to a whisper for the last

“Aye Sir” the three said breaking off to their duties… Ku-Aya took a few steps then turned back

“Ms. Beese…” he said calling the Mates attention

“I’ve heard your piece Bosun, I’ll hear no complaints to my orders…”

“Not at all, he said waving that aside… but we have an extra problem… Thaden was dropped off two days ago on the northern most island in the chain, we were to swing by and pick him up tomorrow on our way to the rendezvous”

“Salt her water gash!” Teagan swore “was his island livable?”

“It had plant life, if that’s what you’re asking, but it wasn’t that large…”

“He is a more than able warrior and a powerful caster, he will have to make do until we collect the Captain and come back, we aren’t going to have a chance to go looking for him nor can we risk a crew to fetch him… I’m sorry”

“You are ordering me to leave someone behind Mam, that is not something I am accustomed to” Ku-Aya said stiffly

“You think I want to?” she scolded him, if you know a way to go get him I am all ears?”

“Let me take Bitey and swim out to the island, we can go underwater so we want be seen, I’ll collect our Waylen and bring him back” Ku-Aya implored

“I can’t allow that” she said shaking her head “I need you here on the ship, I can’t spare my Bosun while we are carving the shallows, you know that” she looked up at him, seeing a look of disappointment on his features, her cheeks turned red with anger “Listen Bosun, my job is to keep this crew alive and meet the Captain when he comes ashore with wounded slaves! Thaden is more than capable of taking care of himself for a few days, and I promise you we will come back for him. But we are the only shot for those slaves, and for our officers dragging them in. By the Gods I swear I will be there when they break the treeline… do we understand each other Bosun?”

.

“Yes Mam” he said, his tone flat, but anger in his eyes

“Are we going to have a problem Bosun?” she asked, meeting his gaze with a steely one of her own. There was a long silence between them before he gave his head the slightest of shakes

“No Mam, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll dark the ship and silent the crew as per your orders”

“Dismissed” she said, turning away briskly towards the helm and preparing to get the ship underway.

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Hide and Seek Pt 1

11th of Wealsun, 383ONT, 8:35pm, Theringrad Island Chain, LEFTITE island, 57 nautical miles east east south of Honactice.

Hugh Herwy bent over, hands on his knees as sweat poured in thick salty drops from his brow. He sucked in as much air as he could while nearly vomiting. The stories had said that Hell had been locked away from Argyle… they lied, he had found it. Suli bounded past him scrambling up the rough hill.

“Come on Mr. Herwy, yer gonna miss it” Suli said as she waved him along excitedly.

“I’m a commin, I’m a commin, ya fancy little sprite” he grumbled the latter part under his breath as he staggered forward. This had started two days ago, when the damn cook George had recommended that the crew make an evening hike up the largest hill on their little island to take in the ‘wonderus’ sunset. Most of the crew had passed on the idea, there were plenty of sunsets to be seen, why climb a stupid hill to see one. But the cabin girl had wanted to see it, and since the Bosun had made it his life’s mission to make his life miserable, he had been voluntold to escort the cabin girl and the powder monkey up the damn hill with George each evening. What a crock of shit, to top it off, Guiome got out of it, just because he didn’t have legs he got out of having to walk up the stupid hill… “lucky son of a bitch…” he grumbled “wish me legs were blown off” he staggered a little further grabbing the now familiar scraggly tree that helped him summit the final rise.

“Not Bad Hugh, Not bad at all… you shaved 2.3 minutes off your last time… I wish I could work with you here for a few weeks, then we’d see real progress” George said with exuberance. Hugh ignored him, instead he slowly dropped to his knees, then laid down on his back, trying to slow his thundering heart from pounding its way out of his chest… if ever in the history of the human race a man needed a drink, Hugh needed it now.

“Frack off George” he shuttered. The cook waved him off good naturidly and walked over to the rocky outcrop with Suli and Deborah.

“What a sight!” George exclaimed to the children “The red’s sea, the amber sun under the purple clouds… the birds… By the Gods THIS IS WHAT LIVING IS!” he yelled excitedly. The girls giggled at his outburst, and Hugh despite himself couldn’t help opening his eyes and turning his head… it was a pretty good sunset after all. “Suli, what’s your favourite thing you can see here?” George asked in excitement, as if he had any other mode other than excitement, this had been his tradition the last two nights as well, quizzing them all on what their ‘favourite things’ were. He rolled his eyes waiting for the inane answers.

“the Dolphin’s jumping over there” she said pointing out to the north at a pod of blue dolphins. Hugh had to give her that one, he wasn’t so cynical to say that dolphins weren’t cool… a good omen of Aleau they were; and that was a much better answer then ‘the wind’ that she gave yesterday.

“They are MAGNIFICENT!” George jumped with excitement as his whole body seemed to vibrate excitedly, Hugh rolled his eyes, they were just dolphins, hardly worth creaming yer pants for… unless they were Aleau’s dolphins… he granted himself a small chuckle as he sat up. After the pod had passed from view into the shadow of an island George turned to Deborah

“What is your favorite thing that you see tonight Deborah?” George asked, all theatrics and enthusiasm. The human girl took a moment to think as she stared out at the Sea.

“I guess… I guess it would be how pretty those ships look” she said pointed to the North-Western side of the island

“OH!” George cooed “I hadn’t even seen them… they are marvellous, great…”

“Wait Ships?” Hugh said standing up now so he could see where they were pointing. His eyes weren’t what they used to be, but they were still sailors’ eyes. Six ships, four corsairs and two galleys’… all human design, all coming from the western arc of Honatice. He squinted hard trying to make out the flag… they were silhouetted it was impossible, but their array spoke to him, these were ships on the hunt “By Hansels sweaty well used balls are we the pickle stuck in the demon’s ass” he swore

“Hugh! Not in front of the girls!” George scolded

“We got to go, NOW!” Hugh barked turning and heading for the path

“we havn’t heard from you yet or…”

“Those ain’t friendly George! The Bosun and mate’ll want to know of this, and I’m sure as shit bettin we pulling anchor minutes from when they hear!” Hugh said already on the path and hurrying his way down. The girls and George followed fear and realisation coming to their faces

“You don’t think it’s Omars do you?” Suli asked as they scrambled down the steep embankment

“Omars, Talib, Slavers, Vampires… pick an enemy, the Cap sure ain’t lackin for them… but I’ll bet me rum ration for the next two ports that they aint here to be friendly with us” Hugh said, scaring himself into a soft run

“shit” George said, falling into pace behind the sailor

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Bendu Last

12th of Wealsun, 383ONT, 3:37am, City of Itocoztli, Bendu Island

Aury and Okamura continued to back up. The Inoshishi swung his might katana with two hands carving back the iods. Still they thronged forward their maruahuitl clubs slamming at them, points dripping with a green gooey poison. If the Iods minded being killed by the tens they didn’t show it, the music didn’t stop, nor did the chanting, they merely armed themselves and attacked.

BANG

BANG BANG

BANG

BANG

BANG

Aury ducked behind Okamura after unloading into six foes. She hunched while opening her revolver and allowing the steaming shells to drop onto the ground. With expertly trained fingers she loaded the cylinders while dodging and weaver her opponents. They had been routed back towards the slotted pyramid. At its base they found a set of stairs climbing the exterior towards the top. Still torches that flickered with toxic green light danced as they marked the stairwell. Even as they slaughtered their enemies they were forced backwards up, towards the great fire. She looked to Thaden dismayed. His strikes had become very defensive, now he parried, and with each step he climbed he gasped unable to catch his breath, and tortured by the constant pace he was forced to keep.

“We can’t be forced to the top, there is no escape from there!” She cried as she squeezed off two shots at a pair of Iods.

“Watashi wa anata o rikai shite imasenga, karera wa watashitachi o toppu ni oshitsukete imasu. Sore wa shidesu!” Okamura called back. She had no idea what he meant, and without gestures the two were unable to communicate. Back they were pushed, Aury was forced to open her second ammo pouch. That meant she had 96 more bullets left. That meant 16 reloads, then nothing, a quick scan told her that there were for more than 96 Iods left. Thaden swung his sword at an Iod and missed, he over stretched and swooned forward almost collapsing down towards the iod swarm below. Ignoring the pho-paw Aury reached out with one hand grabbing his tail, while the other fired off another two shot at the iods close enough to dare to swing. The momentum carried Thaden behind her where he slumped on the stairs shuddering and panting. His sword was held in a death grip, knuckles white and wrist shaking as his eyes were wide with pin prick pupils.

“I will need to carry him, can you cover us?” she called to Okamura

“Nani? Shinpaishinaide, kare ga kitara, kare o hakobu hitsuyō ga arimasu. Watashi wa anata no sokumen o hogo shimasu” The inoshishi warrior said, slashing viciously twice and driving the enemy back temporarily. Aury didn’t pause, with speed graced by her goddess she reloaded her revolver, then slung Thaden over her shoulder and took to the stairs. For the next five minutes that is how they proceeded. Aury climbing about twenty steps while Okurma held them off, she would then fire off six shots while he climbed up to her, reload and repeat. By the time she reached the top of the monument she knew she was down to her last forty bullets. The top was flattened with a giant steel fire pit the roared with green fire. There was also several bloody chopping blocks, and Aury was disgusted to see that the far side of the pyramid had severed head piling up below… where the bodies were… that remained the question. There were three priests at the top of the pyramid, one clicked and squawked as she approached, he earned himself a doubled tap, this immedatlty silenced the other two, who put their hands up in surrender and dropped to their knees. This also seemed to take the fight out of the onrushing iods, who backed down by about thirty steps. She glanced down the bloody soaked head side, it was a lot sheerer then the way they’d climbed, but possibly doable… and far less Iods gathered around the bottom then clogging the stairs. Things did not look promising.

”Arigatō, anata no ken wa anata no meiyo ni tsuite kataru” Thaden croaked towards Okamura. The Inoshishi turned and bowed deeply to the Guard Mouse

“Anata no soba de tatakau no wa tokkendeshita” Okamura responded as Aury set Thaden down in a sitting position, the Guard Mouse could not bow, but inclined his head as much as he could manage

“What did he say?” Aury asked looking from Okamura to Thaden, to the priests to the Iod hoard

“Watashi wa anata o sukuu koto ga dekimasen, gomen’nasai. Kanojo dake ga kono Ni~Tsu o dasshutsu surudarou” Thaden said to the warrior, his voice gathering a little strength. It sounded sad and forlorn, Aury had never seen him so weak before.

“Watashi wa utagatte ita. Watashitachiha yūjin to shite, meiyo to notatakai de shinudeshou” Okamura declared a grim grin coming to his face, he turned and faced the crowd again, feet shoulder width apart, ready for their next rush whenever it should come.

“What did he say?” Aury asked again, watching the curious exchange between the two.

“That he is happy to feel his sword in his hands once more…” Thaden said pausing to cough and clear his throat.

“help is nearly here… remember dear Aury, no matter what, Thalion must get that cube, and bring it to the temple in the centre of this island… that is the priority, then we can look to more personal matters”

“Enough riddles…” she said scolding, as she pointed her revolver at a priest who was edging towards his knife “What’s going on?”

“I never practiced Vaapad, I thought the temptation might be too much… that I might not be able to stop… I had read a little of it, but when Meagre offered me a chance to experiment I turned away. I always fancied Ataru myself… today however… well we do what we must” The Guard Mouse said, summoning what was left of his strength and forcing himself to stand.

“Thaden, What are you talking about? What’s going on” Aury asked, concern growing in her voice. He ignored her and drew his blade, pointing it at the green fire while reaching a single hand out towards Aury. He closed his eyes, took several deep breaths and then…

The green fire swirled and rose from its colander in Great Ocean like movements it rose and ebbed floating and surrounding Thaden. Then it was dark, all the fires, all the torches of green were suddenly extinguished as the Guard Mouse absorbed their flames. His eyes opened and they shone with the green flames of the sacrificial rite.

“SHIFT” he commanded. Aury had no choice, she felt her form twist and change as she became Aury Cat. His eyes closed once more, then he blinked twice, once with his normal brown eyes, the second time the green flames were back. “Goodbye Aury” he said and then pointed up. As if propelled by a rocket Aury when careening into the sky, shooting ten, twenty, fifty, one hundred and fifty, two hundred feet into the sky. Her eyes teared as she watched below, from her height she could just see a green explosion shooting outward, centred on where Thaden had been. She felt herself at last hit the apex of her launch, felt the cruel mistress gravity begin to take hold as she began to fall. But she didn’t, a large talon wrapped around her gently cradling her and turning to glide away. She looked up, and let out a breath she didn’t know she had been holding, never had she been so happy to see Eltheron in her life.

“Eltheron…” she called in Auren, hoping the wind didn’t steel her voice “we need to go back for Thaden, he needs us”

“I can’t Aurelia, Thaden sent for me, and told me should I come any closer to the island, it would be my end… I’m sorry”

“We have to go back!” Aury cried, she couldn’t let him just die, couldn’t let Okamura die

“I have no doubt that we will Aurelia, I am not one to leave friends behind, but we cannot go by air… and the ship is in need of your aid. Let us collect our people, collect Thalion, he will know how we can rescue Thaden… he almost always has a plan” the great eagle said as it turned towards the west and began flying over a span of ocean towards a few nearby islands. There was no point in arguing. Aurellia could see that. She could feel Thaden was alive, but little else in their bond translated. She would collect her friends, collect the five, and they would rescue Thaden and Okamura, she vowed it.

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