Several heartbeats passed, each one coming slow and thunderous like great waves smashing upon a cliff. Even though she didn't say a word, Tiniel's grey eyes darkened, and Arion found himself caught as if in a whirlpool at sea.
Not far from him, even Lureene was able to pick up on what seemed to her a silent, vehement warning that the 'maid' intended for the 'scribe', even as she answered the Princess. "As you wish... your Highness. Will there be anything else then?"
Sense Motive DC 21 (Lureene):
You get the feeling there's more history between Tiniel and Arion than just the fact that they are both elvish intelligence officers. She almost seems to be warning him not to screw up.
Sense Motive DC 21 (Arion):
While Tiniel isn't upset, per se, you can tell in no uncertain terms that she's giving you a non-verbal warning not to mess-up like you did when she herself tested you once before — if only for your own sake. Surely she doesn't think it some test from her Highness, though, otherwise she would never dare to be so blatant in her warning while in plain sight of one so perceptive.
Alis nodded to Tiniel's question, the woman's intense glance at Arion not lost upon her. "Actually, after all that talk of trines, and Fates I'm in an introspective mood. Why don't you light some candles and a cone of incense."
Looking up at Lureene, she continued speaking to the 'servant', "I have a mind to do some Tarot work, and maybe a bit of scrying as well. I'll need the silver silk pouch from my chamber along with the darkwood case beside it."
Alis smiled and nodded. "The very same. Oh, and some fresh tea. Something a bit more mellow than what Giles served us earlier."
As Tiniel bowed and moved swiftly to attend to her appointed tasks, leaving as silently as she had come, Alis rose to her feet and hugged both women at once. "You three enjoy yourselves, and don't do anything I wouldn't enjoy reading about."
Pulling back from her friends, she gave Arion a sly wink and said, "I Gods Save the Keg is the place for up-and-coming nobles to be seen. Why don't you take a few guards in escorts see about raising the bar, hmm? Oh and why don't we swap pets for a bit, El, I'm sure his majesty could use a break from rearing Jasmine's children as much as Grak might enjoy a breath of fresh air."
Lureene ponders the hidden interplay between Tiniel and Arion. She did not suspect any jealous feeling from the elvish maid, yet there was obvious tension there.
I must ask Arion of this...I hope it is not a sore subject for him...
As Alis hugs her, she gently runs her fingers through Alis' hair and gives her friend a wink. "Yes, 'Lis. I think it would be a wonderful night to spend time with such august royalty...along with such wonderful company!" The smile on Lureene's face was a beatific one. She then turns to face Arion, her flirtatious smile mirroring the playful look in her eyes.
"Well, Master Arion. I believe Sash has mentioned you are a mage of some note. I was curious as to whether you would like to see me perform some...magic as well." She pauses briefly waiting for Arion to acknowledge her request then she motions him to step out to the balcony with her. "Trust me, Arion, I will behave myself here." She chuckles lightly as she settles onto the bench folding her golden wings around her slender form. She then starts chanting softly to herself, stretching her arms out as if calling for a long lost companion. The language he does recognize as being Abyssal but the actual words were nonsensical to him.
After what seems an eternity, but is no more than a moment, a softly shimmering circle of golden light appears and expands to several feet in diameter. Once it has stopped expanding, Lureene pulls her arms next to her body and the circle flashes with blinding intensity before vanishing. As Arion shakes the spots of light from his eyes he sees they are no longer alone...
A winged serpent shimmering with opalescent white scales flecked with gold and with golden veins on his thin silvery-white wings hovers in front of the winged angel. Sky blue eyes sparkle and glow with a golden tinge. A forked serpentine prehensile tail, one end tipped with a wicked barb flicks towards the scribe, even as his gaze turns to regard him with a sense of curiosity.
Lureene places a hand on Arion's shoulder and says, "Grak, this is Arion. Arion...Grak."
Outside Villa Sempronius, Jaro found himself shaking his head as Lilyana marched westward towards her home, holding the vase she had tried to give to the Princess as a betrothal gift on her brother's behalf. Heading the opposite way was the Echorn guardswoman with whom he'd briefly chatted before the Marshal had to talk business with her.
So Lily still thinks she's going to hook him up with the Princess even after all that?! Good gods above, that fvcker's a damn saint, I'd have sold her ass up the river by now! At least that dark girl has a level head.
Pausing just outside the estate, grateful that at least the sun had set even if the muggy jungle air still retained the day's heat, he fished around inside one of his coat pockets for his rolling papers and the blended stash of nutmeg, cumin, clove and tobacco he kept therein.
"Waste of a damn day," he grumbled to himself, "Freebooters are gonna light my harbor up like the sunset, and they're arguing about the damn Zucks..."
For a few minutes, the barrel-chested man stood still, looking westward at the palace, it's great dome and sprawling north and south wings silhouetted against the glow of the setting sun. Here and there, he could make out the fleeting shapes of bats wheeling thru the darkness to dine upon insects attracted to the magical lanterns lining the streets around The Green.
Worst comes to worst, that mulatto girl that works for Hlokenar's got a good head on her shoulders and a nice ass. Guess I could rock on with that and head inland.
"Hey baby," he muttered in between puffs of smoke, "how'd you like a hot yard laid up inside of ya?"
It was only the crunch of boots on cobblestones and the squeal of the villa's wrought-iron gate opening that caused him to turn around, mildly curious who followed.
Isaac Hlokenar wrote:
"I'm going to go get myself a damned drink. You coming with me?"
"Ah," he seemed pleasantly surprised, "best suggestion I've heard all day. If it's The Keg then you're buying, The Pier's on me though."
Like smoke, the black-furred animal quivered back and forth across the threshold, barely distinguishable against the yawning entrance to the small house. Chukwuebuka. Why am I not surprised? I guess it doesn't matter if I wear it or not, she knows.
Although it was only a few ounces, the badge clutched in one hand felt more like a boulder. After leaving the villa, Amhranai had felt compelled to remove it from her tunic for reasons she wasn't too sure of, but shame and embarrassment seemed closest to the truth. While some lived for such recognition, the elf had determined such glory-hounding usually led the seeker to their death, more often than not accompanied by many swept up in the excitement. And she had never been one to crow about herself-if it needed doing, she did it without comment and regardless of whether or not anyone noticed. In the end, the priestess realized, she recognized Alis' intentions, but could not overcome years of conditioning in one night. Perhaps a balance could be struck somewhere? I'll have to speak with her about it.
A puzzled look greeted Karaka's statement. "You know as well as I do who this comes from. She's lived on the other side of this copse of trees longer than I've been here and we've had dealings in the past-why are you all of a sudden suspicious of her? Addressing the black-furred animal, Amhranai instructed, "We can speak out here just as well as we can within my house. Speak. What is it you want?"
Placing his spectacles into his satchel, his Journal under his arm, her Scribe said, "I thank Your Highness for Your leave and directions. I hope this night will prove to be fruitful in many respects. I hope to return before the dawn." He bowed loyally towards the Princess.
The fruit of useful information to add to her arsenal
The possibilities of such an evening were lingering in Arion's mind still as he moved onto the balcony when he realised Lureene had begun a conjuring ritual. Around the glimmering golden globe, people seemed to jump from place to place with the strobing between shadows and flashes. Blinking motion indicated the Scribe urgently lifting his Journal to quickly record the shape of the pulsing Rune upon the heads of the Summoner and the form she gave to whom she'd summoned.
An Eidolon! Her Highness must hold some power far beyond what I had guessed if she is confident enough to allow THIS. I greatly look forward to learning somewhat more of her plans, if they include making use of such powerful beings!...and their links to the Abyss...
Arion had begun to step back, out of reach of the tail and crackling electric-arcs, preparing to use his Quill if necessary. He immediately chided himself for allowing his concentration to be so fixed upon the conjuration that he allowed someone to move behind him and grasp his shoulder so easily unnoticed. In keeping with what seemed to be Princess Kirmoon's strategies he played along and dared one non-hateful sentence in Abyssal.
"Re athlek ishbuz-Grak"
"I am not your enemy, Grak."
As Arion watched the serpentine apparition cautiously he addressed the two Ladies,"Lady Ourson, I had realised already what a great enchantress You must be, Your charms affecting me so. This display of Your powers raises more questions perhaps best spoken later. Before we follow our Sovereign's submonition, possibly, You Ladies might prefer to choose other attire or refresh Yourselves? Not that I think You need it, radiant as You seem to me already."
Lureene fails to picks up on the unspoken message from Arion concerning the appearance of Grak. While he does do a good job hiding his concern from the winged angel, she is preceptive enough to realize her actions had caught the scribe at least slightly off-balance.
Perhaps I was a tad hasty here. I should have explained further what I was about to do here.
Even as Grak hisses his own greeting to the elvish mage, she looks down at her own DRESS. While the dress was certainly a comfortable one, and due to her demonic blood, she did not require a heavier dress for the cooler temperatures which would surely arrive as the sun set into eventime. Still she felt a sense of playful anticipation for the upcoming evenings events.
"Well Arion, perhaps a change of clothing would not be a bad idea. I would certainly hate to ruin this fine dress becuase of a careless slip of the hand...while holding a fine goblet of wine, naturally!" As she turns to head back into the study, Grak flying nearby above her, she sees the rehheaded huntress still talking softly with Alis. "I know Sash wants to change outfits as well!"
"Aww, thanks Lissi! Don't worry, I'll be haved." Rocking Tut like a baby, she nodded enthusiastically to her best friend and said, "Yeah I definitely want to get changed! No more gambesons, no more armor, I'm getting dressed up!"
Flashing a smile at Arion, she grabbed Lureene by the hand and skipped off. "We'll meet you up front in a few! See ya Grak, and thanks again Lissi!"
Lureene chuckles at her redheaded friend's enthusiasm. Before she heads out the door with Sasha, she replies to Alis. "Don't worry, your Highness! I will make sure His Majesty will return at a decent hour!"
As she heads off with her friend, she asks thoughtfully "SOooo Sash, what sort of attire would be...appropriate for this pub? This Keg place?"
When the duo had skipped off out of earshot, Alis crooked an eyebrow at Arion and said, "I'll be interested to see whether making a bit of noise around town attracts Shivone's attention. Her... employer seemed to take great exception to encountering Lureene. I wonder if the two of them being seen together in public will peak her interest."
As Tiniel returned with the items her mistress had requested, Alis concluded, "Show them an enjoyable time and have a good time yourself. Just remain vigilant enough to learn what you may. I expect to rendezvous with your direct report no later than 4 in the morning. Make certain my friends are not too exhausted — they need more sleep than we do."
"Oh," she added as he bowed and turned to go, "why don't you change into something a bit more fashionable as well."
With that, the Princess dismissed the young spy before turning her attention to the silken pouch and carved wooden coffer that now rested near her cup of tea.
The sleek black cat slowly started to shift in the darkness of Amhranai humble home. A smile spread across the wild woman's face as she took a couple steps towards the light so that Amhranai could see that she wasn't who she originally thought she was.
She moved a hand that was covered in tattered lacey cloth that was woven between fingers close to her cheek and pressed a finger against her skin. "What Ah've come to ya about is not for da ears of others... And are best kept in private." she said with a eerie grin, her Zuck accent heavy on her words. "Do ya have a spare moment?"
Karaka frowned at the sight of the witch, but didn't dare take his eyes off her. "Careful, my friend. Not long ago, this one was just a young girl, but now... Now she is a panther and her eyes deep, like an old shaman."
Knowing better than to defy a witch's demand for privacy, the warrior merely glanced at the tiny elven woman beside him before looking behind them at the stump of a large tree, long since cleared, to indicate where he would await her.
Amelia smiled at Karaka who pointed out her ability to shape-shift and waggled her fingers at him, "Da old Shaman Ibeamaka passed away an' gave un her power to mi. But Ah am here on friendly terms. Ah mean no harm, Karaka... At least, no one has given mi a reason to harm anyone yet." She said chuckling darkly at her own joke.
"Heh, heh, hmm..." With a decidedly unenthusiastic laugh, the warrior left whispering in his friend's ear, "Never trust a cat to say it is not hungry. Sometimes they just want to play with a kill. Scream if you need me, woman."
With that, the warrior left the two to their conversation, warily eyeing Amhranai's door as he sharpened a knife out of nervous habit.
With the boisterous trio now gone, each attending to their evening attire, the Princess merely smiled at Grak, and said, "If you want to stretch your wings and fly about the gardens then feel free. Just stay close enough that you can hear if I need you to relate something to your mistress please."
With a bob of his head, the eidolon hissed, "Grak will explore the Princccessss' gardens, and ssstay clossse."
Slithering free of the chair back he had alighted upon, he swiftly took wing, scales gleaming like silver in the moonlight as he cavorted amidst the ornamental trees outside, relishing the chance to swoop and soar about.
For a moment, Alis hesitated, mildly irritated at the reminder when she was trying to relax and put herself in a calmer mood. "No, I have not yet mastered that, but I would like to think that I can trust the intentions I see with my own eyes where those close to me are concerned."
"Besides," she added, "a simple prayer of thanksgiving will purge any contaminants from food or drink, and that is a habit to which I am accustomed."
The spy nodded in understanding. "A wise precaution, however, just like leaving an opening to see if an enemy will thrust for it, learning of such an attempt and its intended effects can be useful in and of itself, Highness."
Alis simply laughed and replied with a wave of her hand, "In the presence of others, when all eyes are on me, making such an obvious tell of my paranoia will simply lead those wishing me ill to favor more devious methods. That is why I prefer to leave such precautions to my retainers while masquerading my own method in flowery oratory."
Dipping her chin slightly, she said, "I will however, keep your advice in mind for when I am alone."
Setting the teacup back down, she said with a wink, "Now be a dear and brew a fresh batch without any Oil of Taggit this time. Even purified I find the residue leaves a film on the palette."
The slightly-built elven woman bowed low, speaking quickly. "Please forgive my insolence, your Highness. Madame Sin had intended to conduct this lesson herself, yet I did not wish you or your friends to be shamed, even in private. Since you declined to meet with her now–"
Alis cut her off, "That will be enough, Tiniel. I may be young but I do have some familiarity in dealing with such teachers, just remember that ultimately even your mistress reports to me. I will not punish you, at least not now that we share this understanding. We do have an understanding, don't we?"
With a forgiving smile, Alis motioned for the woman to proceed with pouring a fresh cup before repeating her divination, this time in plain view.
"Now then, if you will please stand in quiet vigil or read a book or some such," she gestured to her waiting cards, "I have some work to do."
Once the spy had found a seat allowing her an unimpeded view of all entrances, Alis finally enjoyed the bouquet of her tea in full, savoring its taste and aroma before setting it aside and taking a seat before the low cocktail table.
Trines, hmm? Seems as good a starting point as any...
Whisking a pad of parchment and a quill to her hand with a gesture, she thought for a moment before writing three lines:
Looking at it, she tapped the quill on the edge of its inkwell and shook her head, dissatisfied. "No, there's one more matter too," she murmured quietly.
Setting the quill aside, she removed her cards from the pouch and began to shuffle and mix them, meditating on that question which was foremost in her mind, speaking it aloud as she did so, "What led to Gwiniel's downfall, who benefited from her death, and where are they now?"
After several repetitions, she finally split her deck into three piles, turning over the cards one at a time, blue-violet gaze drinking in the immediate impressions afforded by the imagery.
The Fool was her downfall?! That normally implies achieving enlightenment, but perhaps... this is more literal. A girl... standing at a cliff's edge... unstable and unawares... as if a whispered voice is beckoning her, leading her on...
"Hmm," she took another sip of tea as she examined the goblets tumbling around the mermaid on the next card.
The Eight of Cups... Spilling, leaving behind riches, yet reversed she is ascending even as she dives deeper into darkness. So rather than scorning riches for soul searching, they simply care nothing for wealth at all. Some goal other than personal gain motivated them.
Looking at the mermaid's half-human, half-fish form she pursed her lips. A creature of two worlds... Poe mentioned they were half-elven and half-Zuck. No, she shook her head, not merely Zuck, Dafari the river tribe. And back in the safety of darkness they hide.
But the Devil... she studied the final card, not picking it up but rather tapping with her finger as she set the prior one back down, Normally the card of bondage and enslavement, yet here reversed. Yet still a devil. Were Poe's friends right? Did the assassins really have nothing at all to do with the Coil?
The Fool again and in the same position no less... So those who led Gwiniel astray think themselves enlightened.. or at least above the affairs of normal society.
And the Knight of Discs for our mysterious assassins... People whose minds are decided and cannot be swayed from their chosen path. Yet riding a dragon... so closely bound to the spirits of nature... to the jungle itself.
Yet The Fool could never be assailed by such a blatant charge, they would simply float above it. The one they were influencing however...
Alis' eyes swept to the last card, which she picked up and studied it with a troubled brow, finish the last of her tea as she did so.
The Chariot, the crux of how they are related... Dominion and conquer by sea? The supposed slavers Amhranai, O'beilumanji, and Pezock mentioned? The same slavery defied by The Devil being reversed?
She gazed more closely, murmuring softly, "She does have red hair..."
Looking towards Tiniel who was seated some distance away, quiet, yet attentive, she said, "I'm starting to believe that Governor Taurion's undoing was not her own."
Alis placed the card back on the table and poured herself more tea, retrieving a piece of honeycomb to sweeten it from the selection Giles had brought with him earlier. "I believe she was being played for a puppet, perhaps by someone arrogant enough to over-estimate their own cleverness. Someone whose person our half-Dafari assassins could never hope to touch, yet who could not remove their plaything from the path of harm. Harm precipitated in answer to and in defiance of the perceived threat of enslavement to a foreign power of some kind."
Her gaze shifting from the surprised look upon her white-haired protector's face to the wooden case holding her mirror, she mused aloud, teacup held in both hands. "Intriguing... how very intriguing..."
Amhranai watched and listened silently, eyes sliding from one to the other as each spoke. No, not Chukwuebuka at all. I have a vague recollection of an apprentice, but that was some time ago. The elf's brow furrowed. Karaka is right, her eyes do look old. Did Chukwuebuka simply pass on or was she killed by a power hungry apprentice? We'll see about your 'friendly terms'.
Stepping forward as he stepped backward, Amhranai gently squeezed Karaka's arm as they passed. The knife-sharpening begun shortly after was met with a nod by the elven woman. The soft rasping of metal against oiled stone was comforting and, with a crooked smile, she locked eyes with the dark-skinned woman. "Is this private enough for you?"
An edge of the badge dug painfully into Amhranai's hand. Grey eyes glared down at the hand. This damnable thing again. I haven't thought straight since I left the villa thanks to this thing! Wait a minute, she didn't say Chukwuebuka, she said-"You said Ibeamaka, right? I don't believe I'm familiar with her. Where did you come from and from which tribe?"
"Yes... it'll do." The witch muttered as she stepped inside and moved around the small hut, curious hands gliding over things, but not actually touching them. "Though yer hostility is unnecessary..." She could practically feel how uncomfortable Amhranai was with her in the room.
"Ah wanted to congratulate you on yer knighting..." she said, turning hazel eyes up to her finally. "And yes, Ibeamaka... she is a woman of a far off tribe in da jungle... Ah sought her out when mi sista was needin help. And now, mi home is needin' help... and mi guidance has led me to see you, da one dat knighted ya,da rest of dem dat yer wit girl... they were very vague and faded in mi vision..." She explained as she moved close to Amhranai again, her long, tattered looking dress sweeping over the floor, making it look like she was gilding instead of walking. "ya and yer friends are da hope for the future, and Ah want ta help." she whispered to her.
I did not invite her into my house. Who does she think she is? Amhranai sighed and followed the woman into the small house, eyes never straying from the interloper. Far off tribe in the jungle? Is she dissembling or doubtful that I'd know of her people?
"Hostile, no. Guarded, yes. What is happening at your home? As you may have noticed, we've had a fair few problems of our own recently. I'm loathe to speak for anyone else, but whatever help you seek may take more time than you'd like. Regardless, I suppose there would be no harm in presenting your request to the Princess. I can take you there tomorrow.
Amelia shook her head, realizing that the Elven woman was confused as to where she was from. Sometimes, it was hard to think clearly on where she was really from since she had obtained the old shaman's abilities. Putting a thin hand to her forehead she let her eyes stay down casted, "No Amhranai... Mi home is Port Eldarion... These are da problems Ah know. Ah am here ta help you girl..." She said looking back up at her.
"Though... meetin' dat princess girl... was on mi ta-do list... Ah can't jus' walk in dere ta hold an audience wit her. No one trusts me..." She said quirking a dark eyebrow at the elf to extend her point to the woman who obviously didn't trust someone that lived close to her for ten years.
"Ah, I see. I misunderstood you. The days have been long lately. So you are from here, but you were trained, in part or whole, by Ibeamaka, out in the Veldt."Should I remember her though? I've seen so many faces over the years, it's impossible to keep track of all of them. No matter, if she's here to help, I'm sure Alis would appreciate it. Amhranai frowned in concentration, mulling words to mollify the woman.
"In turn, do not misunderstand me. I am guarded, yes, but I think most people would be if they'd walked the same path as me. I haven't survived this long without being cautious. It's not that I don't trust you but more a case of self-preservation. As for speaking with Alis, don't worry. I can take care of that. In the meantime, the day is late-do you require food or a bed?"
"Dat's 'lright girl.. and yes, dat is what Ah be sayin'.." she said quietly and slowly lowered her hands from their crossed position.
"Den you an' Ah 'ave a lot more in common den ya realize...As for da food or bed, no thank ya... Ah must be on mi way back ta Chukwuebuka.. she is in nee of mi assistance, if ya know whaddi mean." she said with a small chuckle, pretty sure Amhranai had NO idea what she meant, but that was the fun of it.
With a small nod of her head, the dark skinned woman made her way to the door like a ghost. "Ya can find me dere girl when ya get up in da mornin'." And with that, the voodoo woman turned back into a rather small black panther and ran off, another cat, smaller than she was, tore out after her from its hiding place as Amelia took her leave.
Not ten heartbeats had passed, before a large, dark shape loomed in Amhranai's doorway, the glint of steel evident in the light of the two moons.
"You alright, woman? That witch didn't put no bad mojo on you, did she?" Casting about as if looking for some tell tale sign of a curse, he asked, not waiting for an answer to his prior questions, "What did she want anyway? She's not gonna come back, now, is she? I don't like her eyes... they are not those of the girl who grew up here."
Clearly, for as well-spoken and intelligent as he was, there was still a healthy dose of Dafari superstition in the warrior's heart — at least where young women with the souls of ancient women and the bodies of panthers were concerned. On reflection, perhaps it was not so unreasonable of a superstition to hold on to...
Amhranai met Karaka's concerned inquiries with silence, collecting a candle, flint and tinderbox. The elf was able to see well enough but she knew her friend could not; she also knew breaking the unrelieved darkness might assuage the man's baser fear. Darkness receded as light bloomed into life, itinerant at first and then fixed into a holder on a table. "Sit down. There are some things I need to tell you."
Lowering herself into a folding camp chair, the priestess gathered her thoughts while she waited for Karaka to seat himself. The Dafiri warrior blinked a few times in the light before complying, placing his blade and whetstone on the table before them. He noticed the elf's hands were clasped in her lap, evidently holding something, something that seemed to capture her undivided attention-her eyes were narrowed at whatever lay hidden there and, from the cast of her face, jaw clenched and lips compressed, he saw that his friend was full of uncertainty.
Amhranai's gaze lingered upon her hands until, with a sigh, she looked across to Karaka and opened her hands. In one palm, he saw a mithril device, wings on either side of a blade that pierced a helm. His breath caught, brows knitting across his forehead. Any thoughts of the witch were dashed. Soft brown eyes locked onto the badge as the elf placed it on the table. "What is this?" he asked a moment later, looking up at his grey-skinned friend.
Again, silence greeted his question. It was there in front of her, but she found herself unable to speak. It will all be different now, no going back. Say something! You knew this was coming, best to just be done with it and move on. Slowly, Amhranai unclenched her jaw, blinked once, twice and then found words. "That, Karaka, is the badge of a Knight of Dafar." She paused, putting a hand to her chest. "I-I have been appointed as Knight and Protector by our new ruler. And...I am..afraid of-of what it means."
A sudden desire to leave welled up within the warrior. He knew his friend to be many things, but afraid, uncertain did not number among them and he did not wish to see her so. A shaking hand hovered over the blade and whetstone, wrested away at the last second to clamp down firmly on a well-muscled thigh. Amhranai either didn't notice or didn't care as she continued, "She's a princess, by the way, our new ruler. Alis Kirmoon. She is...different than the old governor. I think we'll finally be able to move forward with her here. I think you'll like her. But you know what a viper's nest we have here. Docile enough on the outside, but just as dangerous as city nobles. She does not and, regardless of her well intentions, this," she pointed to the badge, "will make me even more of a target than before.
"You should have seen Bonati-I could see the wheels turning in his head! And he was not the only one. We must act quickly to assure our friends that I have not been bought out and still hold their interests as important as before." The elf stopped suddenly and shot a piercing look at the man. "You believe me right? That I have not been bought out, that my aims are no different than before?" Her voice cracked, piercing gaze softening, unshed tears blurring her vision.
Karaka rose from his chair. For a split second, the desire to leave returned, only to be burned away by overwhelming compassion. He knelt beside his friend, arm wrapping around her slight frame and drawing her close. Softly, he assured her, "Of course I believe you. And tomorrow, we can be makin' sure the others still do, too. But first, you gonna be needin' sleep." With the slightest amount of effort, he drew the elf out of her chair and, still holding her close, escorted the priestess to her bed. One hand moved to remove the weapon belt around her waist.
Amhranai, hands scrubbing at her eyes, allowed him to unclasp the belt, which he set next to the bed. The arm across her shoulders fell away. A moment later, she felt callused hands brush the soft skin of her neck as he removed her cloak. A hand in the small of her back urged her forward. Hands before her, Amhranai felt the bed below, covers drawn back, and turned to sit on the edge. She was nearly rocked backwards as Karaka lifted a foot to unlace and remove a boot, both of which were gone by the time she regained her balance. She stood once again, wrapped her arms about him and buried her head in his chest. Looking up, eyes clear now, she offered him a grateful smile. A barely audible whisper reached his ears: "Thank you."
Karaka returned the smile and the embrace. She was small enough that his hands nearly touched the opposite shoulder, a fact that he still found amusing. "Sleep now, Amhranai. Tomorrow's gonna be just as long. I'll be right here if you be needin' anythin." He gently pushed her away even as she gave him one last squeeze and walked back to the folding chair he had just occupied. Behind him, he heard the rustling of covers as Amhranai settled into the bed. Settling himself in the chair, Karaka reached for the blade and whetstone. This blade was sharp enough but he had others that could use the same attention. He also knew the noise calmed his friend, strange as that was. Sheathing the blade, he then produced a small vial of oil and rubbed some of the liquid on the surface of the whetstone. Drawing forth another blade, he leaned forward, only to stop as his eyes caught sight of the badge.
A long moment passed before the soft rasp of metal on oiled stone broke the silence, strokes slow and unsteady before acquiring a hypnotic rhythm.
In the surface of Alis' mirror, Alexis nodded solemnly, even as she scooped up an handful of bubbles and reshaped them into the figure of a crude, amorphous giant. "It seems the inside of this vast deciduous tree was some sort of antediluvian arcane engine built for the sole-purpose of drawing creatures of a specific kind to a central locale for routine annihilation. While originally intended to purge this region of undead, a tiny rabbit had somehow found its way into the apparatus thereby reconfiguring it to attract all fauna from miles around to their inexorable demise."
"Uugh..." Alis gave a shudder that set atremble the mountains of fragrant bubbles built up around her. There was a faint squeak of porcelain as she slid deeper into the warmth of her bath, before she wiped away the steam clouding the surface of her scrying device. "So is there any game left in the area, or...?"
Idly she looked over to where Princess Jasmine lay sprawled upon a cushion, her kits all around her, sleeping.
"None whatsoever." Puckering her lips, the blonde wizardess blew at the sudsy figure in her hand and it flew to pieces, falling back into her own bath. Grasping a long, wooden handle with a soft sponge on one end, she sat up, bubbles clinging to the swells of her ample breasts which were set to motion as she scrubbed her back.
"Sir Elorin assures me that the local ecosystem should recover in due time, herbivores expanding into the untapped fields, carnivores following in due time... At present, however, we shall be expecting chiefly lean fare such as vegetables and whatever the sea may offer. I only hope our seed takes root in the soil here–"