Skirmishes and Schisms by FibroJedi | World Anvil Manuscripts | World Anvil

Chapter 6: Pain Responses

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What We Are Accustomed To


Everspring

23, Jylta 545 AFD, 7 Ur

Kighas had finally stopped writhing in his unconscious state and lay almost motionless, sleeping heavily on the bed of maple leaves and ferns Ki-E-Vwa had, at great pains to himself, laid out for him. The Chief had prepared and placed a bowl of freshly-singed herbs next to Kighas' head, which permeated his hut with an aroma that even made the eyes of the Qalathian medic with him feel heavy.

"There," she yawned, "in theory, he just needs rest."

"How much, do you think?" the Foyii Chief asked with concern, "it was quite a hit, but he is also one of our best spotters."

The medic stood and stretched.

"I don't know the normal recovery time for a Foyé13. We Qalathians have a very different lifestyle."

"I realise that," Ki-E-Vwa acknowledged, "but we also tend to overuse Elemental healing techniques."

The medic shook her head.

"You'd notice them being less effective if you were overusing the power, which I assume would help you restore balance. Still, you know your herb-lore," she added, trying to sound encouraging, "so it's not solely about incantations. I just wish we could harmonise our methods - Foyii and Qalathii I mean. Technically, we both draw on nature."

She knelt and placed the back of her hand on his forehand. After a few moments, she nodded in satisfaction and turned to the Chief.

"Don't put him on duty for at least two weeks. I know that's not the conclusion you wanted to hear, but he was affected at a deeper level than his mere body," she reported.

Ki-E-Vwa sighed, but nodded.

"I did sense uncertainty, maybe even fear. But before you arrived, I could not reach him. His inner self, I mean," the Chief explained, "then, feeling frustrated, I had to try and calm my own spirit."

"We were wise to let me attend him, then," the medic agreed, before checking herself, "not because of me per se, you understand. Just someone other than you, in that moment. Stress and anxiety can be contagious, even if they're not directed at anyone."

She looked down at her dozing patient, "you should be able to, as you say, 'reach' him now."

"If you're certain? I may know remedies, but I've never had to deal with anything so serious. Healing minor wounds with Elemental techniques is one thing, but mortal wounds..." he trailed off.

"Normally, you would let Nature take its course, no?" the medic asked, which was answered with a nod.

"But what happened here was not inflicted by Nature. It was a choice of someone to threaten his life. That's why I tried and tried," Ki-E-Vwa sighed, weighed down by the moment, "but he was so far gone, I felt his spirit was beyond even my words, let alone my techniques."

"One has to tend the body before the spirit," the medic explained, "if he were conscious, you could tend the mind before the body, depending on how much damage was done. But he is not presently with us. And I can do no more for his body. It's your turn, or a Foyi at any rate."

"Thank you..., erm miss?"

"You're welcome," she smiled, ignoring the only half-asked question, and packing her bag once again, "I should return to the Stones of Myrn. I need to check if the squad is faring well."

Ki-E-Vwa cleared his throat and glanced away. The medic frowned, and then her stern expression reverted to one of concern.

"If you know something - even if it is via techniques my superiors may not approve of - please forewarn me."

The Chief glanced up at her and leant against the wall of his hut for support, his body feeling drained after the physical and emotional upheaval of the last day.

How can it only be early morning, yet the day already be tarnished by sorrow? he despaired, before returning his attention to the question he had been posed, grateful she had not interrupted his thoughts.

"As far as I know... no one has been killed. But you will arrive to great division, feelings in tumult and the power balance upset."

Her mind raced. "Is Rusziné well?" she asked quickly, trying not to sound curt.

Ki-E-Vwa frowned, perplexed, "is he the leader, or the person who had the greatest responsibility for today?"

"Is that how you identify people in visions?" she asked, surprised.

"I do not need names to discern situations. A vision is rarely perfect and, depending on the Seer, may or may not include sounds. As for names, I only need them when I interact with people, or those closest to them. So, I'll gently ask again, did this 'Rusziné' carry the heaviest burden?"

The medic nodded.

"Then he is well in body," Ki-E-Vwa began to slowly explain, "but the other aspects of him are...in flux. Please, see to him and then the two crumpled Kyadii. Only then, ask about the truth of what you see. Deal with their bodies, then their spirits, then their minds. In the exact way you told me we needed to handle Kighas."

"I have to go now, then," she responded, hurriedly collecting her supplies together.

As she turned to leave, the Chief grasped her hand in his tough, wrinkled own and looked at her firmly in her eyes.

The medic blinked and a look of uncertainty crossed her face, unsure of his intentions, and she felt like all her muscles had turned to stone.

"You have nothing to fear from this aged man," he calmly assured her.

He closed his eyes and a wave of peace, like the gradual but insistent incoming of the tide, washed over her and she relaxed, and gripped his hand in kind.

"I'm sorry, I just..." she began to say.

"And I should have used words," the Chief admitted, "but what I want to say...it may not sound important, but I believe it is."

A moment passed before Ki-E-Vwa realised that, abandoning usual conversational methods, she was simply waiting for him to continue.

"I just want to say, while your attention is on me only...thank you. You are skilled, compassionate and appreciated. I am glad we had your friendship today. Please," he paused, "remember these words."

The medic relaxed and gently smiled.

"I will, thank you."

Ki-E-Vwa released her hand, and she gave the Chief a slight bow. Glancing once more at the sleeping form of Kighas, she departed as quickly as she was able.

What am I about to walk into? she wondered.

 

Viàn Falínai, 7 Ur 30

Jaridà was becoming restless and agitated. Waiting wasn't one of his strong suits and yet he had nothing else to do in the moment. The Kyadii who had remained behind at the Viàn were those too injured or tired to go South to the Stones of Myrn and, while Kyaevy had assisted them, she too seemed distracted. The longer the Qalathian soldier had to wait the more nervous he felt.

Furthermore, the Kyadii who were sat or laid on the grass seemed to be wincing, scratching or rubbing their eyes with the backs of their handpaws. He frowned.

If the ground hurts, stand up. If the bugs itch, move away from them. You're not prisoners here, he thought, but did not vocalise.

"We cannot escape the warmth that comes by day in your lands," a gravelly voice to his left explained, startling Jaridà from his musing.

"It is not even that warm, this is our Winter," he replied in mild confusion.

"Everywhere is warm South of Frossstplain," the Kyadd clarified with more patience than he felt.

"I'm sorry, I've never seen so many of your race in one place before, and I know precious little of your people. Remind me of your name, please?"

"I am Klorwyrrb, Jarrridà. And we are suffering from your daylight, an issue we had planned to avoid. The same as violence we were preparrred for, but some hoped would not materrrialise. The same as ourrrr group being divided."

Jaridà looked up at the Kyadd who was taller and far stronger than him, the fierce champion of whichever portion of their clan had ventured South of their territory. Instead of seeing the anger he expected, he found only sadness, and the Qalathian soldier hung his head.

"Today has not gone at all to plan, has it? And we do not even know if your leader found your friend."

Klorwyrrb scratched his back and forearms and shrugged.

"And you do not know what has become of yourrr leaderrr either, but... rarrrgh!"

The sudden roar drew the attention of all the other Kyadii, Kyaevy included. She was faring better than the North Kyadii solely by having visited other regions over the years. But she was also aware that the mild pressure inside her head would become much worse in a few Urs' time if she could not return home.

"Klorwyrrb!" she cried, placing a hand-paw on his shoulder, "I wish I knew how to help. Healing techniques won't work on what is basically a natural allergy to heat!"

Jaridà closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

I expect you to take it seriously, had been Rusziné's words.

He stood and stretched, then surveyed the layout of the land around them.

"Kyaevy, get them all into the shade of the hills," he instructed, "I know they're burial grounds, but their shelter is closer than a denser part of Doon. And, if there's one thing I know about burial sites, is that no one wants others to die there."

"I can do that," she agreed, "but that only buys us time."

"But it buys us time," Jaridà emphasised.

"True. It's a plan, but this part of the Viàn needs to have personnel here and your Captain will be expecting you to guard the Kyadii."

The soldier shook his head.

"No. He will expect the Kyadii to be guarded by someone trustworthy enough to do so. The person won't matter if the job is done right."

"So...you want me to guard them?" Kyaevy offered.

Jaridà smirked. "And your Hawk."

Kyaevy grinned and nodded. "Clever. Will do. What are you going to do?"

"I have to remain here for signs of someone returning. Or...a Blàmìs. Preferably a Blàmìs, actually."

"Why?" the Kyadd asked, more bluntly than she had intended.

"While I would not understand them if they told me what was going on at the Stones, I need to get a message to the only people who can help these North Kyadii. Possibly, the only people in our whole Realm who would be willing to, as well. For that I only need to be understood."

Kyaevy lifted her head, cupped her hand-paws to her maw and gave two different whistles through her teeth. Within moments, Aillèpi appeared and landed with a thud a few steps away from Jaridà who gazed up in apprehension at the Great Hawk. As if to add comedy to drama, a tiny white bird fluttered down and landed on the Hawk's head, chirping happily.

"Uhm, hi," the soldier started, nervously, "so, I don't speak bird, but can you ask the Mages of Wind and Water to come to the Viàn to help the North Kyadii?"

"Why do you need Water?" Kyaevy asked, as the Blàmìs tilted her head in an enquiring way towards the Kyadd.

"I heard from Rusziné once that combining those Elements creates ice," Jaridà recalled, "I just hope I heard correctly. They don't need literal ice, of course, but..."

"I'm satisfied with that answer," the Kyadd nodded towards the Blàmìs who took flight towards the Capital.

"Hùlan, I forgot to ask about the situation at the Stones!" Jaridà cursed with regret.

Kyaevy leaped onto her Hawk and smiled kindly down at him.

"If the Snowbird goes directly to your Mages, what does she fly over?" she asked

Jaridà closed his eyes and tried to visualise a map.

"North Doon, then Everspring, she passes the Great Oak on the left and exits...over the Stones."

Kyaevy nodded. "You can asks her when she gets back then, assuming your people have not returned by then. Right, I also have a job to do. Stay safe!"

As she too rose into the air, followed on the ground by Klorwyrrb, Jaridà silently cursed again.

But I don't speak bird so how can I understand anything the Snowbird reports back?

It was then that his mind snapped back to his conversation with Klorwyrrb.

You do not know what has become of yourrr leaderrr.

"Rusziné, where are you?" he whispered into the sky.


South Doon, 7 Ur 40

"I...wasn't...made...quick enough!" the medic wheezed, stopping to take some deep breaths of the fresh, clear air funnelled through Doon down the Blànousii River, which ran North to South through the Forest.

Anùl-erdé, she thought, frowning.

She was beginning to feel dizzy, so stooped and cupped some of the ice-cold water in her hands and drank gratefully. The shock of the liquid's near-freezing temperature briefly sent shooting pains into her head, but once they cleared, she felt rejuvenated. Even her hands no longer felt chilled to the bone.

Grasz-ousii, she pondered in thanks.

Knowing she needed to reach Myrn as quickly as possible, she resumed her journey southwards at a swift walk.

"I forgot how big this forest was," she mumbled, "now, I am urgently needed at the Stones. The Wind at my back would be great right now."

Békai, Aevyen? 18 she called through the roof of the Forest.



The Crystal Tower
North of Bezélan, 7 Ur 40

"Slow down, little one," Hera'llyn smiled, before remembering she had only a short time ago been told the very same thing.

The Blàmìs bobbed and sang her tune more slowly the second time. The young Mage had only recently begun to learn what had been dubbed "Sky-Speech", or Tùnethkièl, and was following much of what the Snowbird was communicating. Every few song-phrases, she checked whether she had understood correctly, but as Jakarrn entered the room, she could not hide her relief.

"Oh, thank the Elements, one who easily understands the Mìsii," Hera'llyn sighed.

"You were doing fine, Hera," Jakarrn gruffly pointed out, "have more faith in yourself. I am merely here to back you up."

Hera'llyn nodded then returned her gaze to the Blàmìs.

"Yes, we are aware of the Kyadii, but you say they are now in trouble and need to be kept cool? And the soldier thought myself and Polarnis could help them, if we were willing?"

Jakarrn turned to the map of the Erdàn Savànii hung on the wall, traced where they thought the Kyadii were, and compared that to where it was possible they had come from.

"Hùlan, they're probably boiling up - not literally of course, but it is far too warm for them here. It will be the very definition of suffering for them right now."

"But it's our..." Hera'llyn started to protest before Jakarrn held a hand up.

"No disrespect Hera, but we have to get the Mages that the Soldier requested out there," she said, before briefly embracing the younger Mage, "yes, it's our Winter, but in that season it is half as cold here as where they came from - and that's probably being generous."

The Snowbird hopped onto Hera'llyn's left shoulder and fixed Jakarrn with what she felt was a stern look, which made her drop her gaze to the floor.

"You're right," she acknowledged, "please send word that we are on the way. Oh, and no one should let Carnael know. I will not be reprimanded for doing the right thing."

The Blàmìs fluttered to Jakarrn's nose, nuzzled her forehead, then flew out an open window, clutching a piece of biscuit that had been left on a nearby plate. Hera'llyn stared outside and a vacant expression passed over her face.

"How has Klor'asq not had problems, or suffered with our climate, I wonder?" she murmured.

"Although he was technically no longer a cub when he arrived, he's essentially grown up here," Jakarrn explained, "and he has done so among this Crystal Circle, where we try to keep the Elements balanced."

"I see," Hera'llyn responded, "so, he is more accustomed to the heat than the Kyadii of Frostplain. Presumably, then, Farynna is more accustomed to the Winters than her Sablesand ancestors?"

"Exactly. And Klor'asq may have suffered in his early months here, but we just don't know about it. The Sablesand and the Frostplain Kyadii have more in common than they realise - both are trained to survive - and Klor'asq did. But I'd wager neither he nor Farynna would be comfortable for long in the climates of their ancestors' origins now."

"It's interesting what you can learn in times of anxiety," Hera'llyn pondered, "but we should do what we've been asked now," she smiled, which was met with a nod from her friend.

"Polarnis! Get in here!" Jakarrn shouted down the tower's circular staircase.

"There's no need to be rude, even if it's urgent," the man protested, as he steadily made his way up the steps, "which I gather it is."

Jakarrn sighed and berated herself at not reacting well to pressure. Again.

"I am sorry. You and Hera'llyn must head out now to the Viàn Falínai to keep a group of North Kyadii cold. You can get details there or when you get back, but lives will be lost if you do not go now."

Polarnis nodded.

"Alright. Say I agree, how do you propose we get there quickly? We're not exactly built with flight in mind."

Hera'llyn snorted and stood glaring at him with her hands on her hips in mock offence.

"What did Farynna say earlier about how we could travel there?"

"Right. The Crystal of Aevyen," he realised, "well, Hera? What are you waiting for?"

Polarnis had intended on feigning an insult until he realised her face looked like it had been stopped in time, as though captured in the most lifelike sculpture known outside of tales of imagination. He was about to interject when Jakarrn placed a hand gently on his shoulder and shook her head.

Once movement returned to her head, Hera'llyn rubbed her eyes from her long, unblinking pause and looked suddenly and extremely tired.

"I apologise," she murmured, massaging her now stiff neck, "Aevyenkai received a genuine call for the Wind's aid and so answered it. Who it was from I do not know, but they had a right to ask for assistance, so I had to be sure they arrived safely."

"And can we further impose for our urgent errand?" Polarnis asked, concerned.

"We must go, so It must answer."

She unhooked her brand from her belt, and the blue gem on its tip began to shimmer, before a beam of light connected with the smaller gem in the circlet around her head. Chanting an ancient summoning incantation, she just grasped Polarnis' arm quick enough, before they were surrounded by a swirling fog. Jakarrn coughed and wafted some of it away with her hands, before it dissipated, leaving her alone in the room.

Let's hope Klor'asq gets there in time, then, she mused, he does not have powerful transportation spells to help him.


The Return of the Medic


Tolipōr Bridge, Bezélan Minor
8 Ur

"Nothing like an early Winter morning run to wake you up," Klor'asq grumbled.

He had reluctantly agreed to go to the Stones of Myrn per the Blàmìs' instructions, more to keep his former tribes-folk at a distance from the city - and his lifestyle - than to have some sort of fuzzy reunion with a people with whom he now only shared their appearance. He turned North and ventured closer to the river's edge. His claws dug deep into the cool, hardened ground and he shivered slightly, feeling  shame that his feet-paws had become so sensitive to the cold. If there was one comfort he had grown to enjoy about life in Qal'ath, it was hot food by a warm fire, even if he had to prepare it all first. He shook his head and forced himself to consider the task at hand.

"I wasn't planning on swimming," he acknowledged looking for a crossing, "the only thing more undignified than turning up half the Kyadd they think I am, would be to drag myself on all-fours out of a river."

After a few moments he spotted a make-shift bridge.

"They look more like tiny rafts strung together," he thought with an amused smile, "oh well, they'll take my weight and keep me dry. I hope."

 

The Stones of Myrn, 8 Ur

For over an Ur, there had been near silence at the Stones of Myrn. Ferrfeiss and Arrnwarr were still on the ground clinging to each other, now more for comfort than distress and protection. Rusziné had managed to pull himself into a sitting position against one of the Stones, and stared blankly at the ground, while fatigue, regret and disbelief weighed on him as an overburdened carrying-pony.

For their parts, Ayàvi and Nìrsen, after consulting their own Hawks, had dismounted and begun to check over their birds for injuries or minor sprains to ensure they were in the best condition possible. Generally, both had fared well with having only sustained a few cuts and abrasions.

If anything, I am more concerned about them, Ayàvi's Hawk thought, centuries of cooperation and stability undone by one man.

"I think you should speak to him," Nìrsen whispered, glancing to Rusziné.

"You mean Maergràvo15, right?" she replied, gesturing to her Hawk.

"You know that's not what I meant," Nìrsen retorted through gritted teeth, "I respect you, but you're being stubborn when there's no need. Speak with the Byāntite man."

"And say what?" she hissed, "'sorry your King hates you'? 'If we had not turned up, the Foyii-Qalathii pact would still be intact?'. 'I'm sure exile in the desert isn't so bad?' There's nothing I can say to fix this."

"I don't disagree, but I didn't tell you to fix anything," Nìrsen pointed out, "I said I thought you should speak to him."

Ayàvi glanced sideways, away from both men. "I don't see why you couldn't do it."

Nìrsen sighed, "look, I can't explain why, alright? I just feel you're the best person to do it. You can connect with him, better than I, at any rate. I'm not great with conversations, as this one proves. Now, please offer to speak with him."

Just when it felt like the exchange would tie itself in knots or endlessly repeat, Rusziné himself spoke up, startling both of them.

"That would be appreciated, actually," he affirmed, "and there's something I would ask of you. One of you at any rate."

Ayàvi bowed her head, turned around, sat down next to Rusziné and waited.

"I can hear better than most non-Foyii," Rusziné explained, "but it is always better to talk to the person you want to help, or you have a problem with, than to talk about them," he explained, smiling slightly at her over his right shoulder.

"I'm sorry," the girl responded, shaking her head and flushing in embarrassment, "I should have remembered that heightened senses was a possibility when they translated your name earlier."

Rusziné huffed.

"There were too many people, too many grievances, too many emotions, too many sights for anything to make sense in that moment. I understand."

After a pause, he lifted his eyes to the spot on the ground where his discarded sword still laid, abandoned.

"Ayàvi, I know you're a Foyblànii and what I'm about to ask is the opposite way to returning home for you, but," he began to explain.

"Whatever it is, don't worry about it. We... actually have a home to go to today," she pointed out, sadly, "I'm n-not gloating, I p-promise, just..."

Rusziné placed a dirty, hurting hand on hers.

"Don't be afraid to speak the truth. You only told me what I already know. But it is only partly true," he smiled, "anyway, the huge favour I'm asking is for you, or a Hawk-Rider, to take my sword to Camp Hope in Byantē Territory."

Ayàvi placed her other hand on top of his and pressed down gently in response.

"The one in Aevyenù Woods just South of...well, up in the cliffs above..."

"Tolmyr Sands?" Rusziné interrupted, "you can say the name. Later, I will be seeing 'how welcoming it is at this time of year', remember?" he smirked.

"Yes, everyone present will be seeing the same from a distance, even those that reluctantly felt obliged to depart with Carnael."

"You can't be seen to be disloyal to the King and remain in the City," Rusziné explained, "some of the squad members have family in Bezélan, others just fear for their own lives. I don't blame them. Even the ones who pushed me into the Kyadii leaders."

Ayàvi frowned.

"I would. They chose their actions to discredit you, to make themselves look better in front of their King. To, if they could, get the Kyadii killed, which was Carnael's wish. Your exile is their fault."

Rusziné shook his head.

"They're the products of the kind of people Carnael has created during his reign. They are responsible for their actions, don't get me wrong, but the ultimate blame lies with the King," he sighed, "I thought I was making progress with him, trying to make things better with small decisions and plan changes here and there. But it seems he was just waiting for the right time to get rid of me. He was always going to succeed at it eventually, because we are so vastly different. But I reckoned on having more time - and certainly hadn't considered being banished from the Realm," he paused looking up at the sky, more to stretch his neck than to gather his thoughts, "do you know what the most frustrating thing is today? Aside from people nearly getting killed and my being betrayed, I mean."

Ayàvi stared aghast at him.

"There's something more frustrating than that?"

Rusziné gave a bitter laugh.

"Yes," he confirmed, "and it is this: the mission - as laid out by Carnael before we left the Capital - was a total and complete success."

"But he said you'd failed to kill them?" Ayàvi frowned.

"Because not killing someone is deemed a failure in the king's eyes? Yes, I suppose it is," he acknowledged, "but not because of that, no. I was told to make sure the Kyadii got no closer to the Capital than the Stones of Myrn. He had not once told me, or even inferred, that I should kill the Kyadii. He's not exactly a subtle creature - if he wants something badly enough, he can be quite decisive. Anyhow, when I met Carnael beforehand, he agreed capture was preferable - especially of any Kyadii at the Viàn, so as not to kill people on a burial site. That requirement was met. The situation was eventually diffused with, I think, no loss of life."

At that, Arrnwarr lifted her head and twisted her ears towards him.

"That the Forrrest people did not kill was not a surrrprrrise. But you were so arrrmed as to seem on a warrr footing, yet you say you only wished to stop us? I prrresume to send us home?"

Rusziné nodded.

"That's how I explained it to the king, yes. But, as you have seen, Carnael does not like being proven wrong - especially if methods by others seem too similar to those of a pacifist."

"That's ironic for a ruler who would rather run from a battle than fight one," Ayàvi snorted, squeezing Rusziné's hand, which he reciprocated.

"He doesn't know the meaning of 'battle'. One day he will, though. His attitude invites attacks - which he then uses to justify his own aggression. It sounds an endless cycle," Rusziné explained, clenching the fist not being held by Ayàvi, "but it does not have to be endless. And it isn't, even if the destiny cannot be guessed, let alone known. It is brought to a conclusion by the strongest, whatever form strength takes."

"I assume the strongest or largest army?" Ayàvi asked.

Rusziné shook his head.

"No. Well, yes, it could be, but that's not a guarantee of victory. Ask these Frostplainers - stealth can bring a swift resolution to a conflict - or start one. Mental strength is how mages conduct operations on the battlefield. Moral strength draws worthy allies. Your Hawks bring intelligence, perspective and communications - which is far more valuable than the damage their claws and beaks inflict or the Aevyen nature-spells they conduct through their wings."

"So Carnael can be defeated?" Ayàvi asked.

"Everyone can be defeated, Ayàvi. You, me, Carnael, Qal'ath, the whole Foyii peoples - it matters not. It's failing to accept that which leads to apathy and invites your own destruction. I'm sure these Deenfeiss Kyadii had an excellent plan that should have been successful. So did I. Yet it was your Foyblànii who first brought clear wins and Carnael who emerged the greatest beneficiary of it all," Rusziné sighed, "I am just glad that the one part of my plan that mattered to me - saving the Kyadii's lives - was successful."

Without turning to face him, Ferrfeiss cleared his throat and said, "Forrr what it's worrrth - thank you."

"As for your request, Rusziné," Ayàvi said, returning to the beginning of the conversation, "yes, I can return your sword to Camp Hope. I assume that is a message of sorts?"

"You assume correctly," he simply responded.

Releasing his hand, Ayàvi stood and picked up the weapon and examined it. An intricate great-sword of delicate craftsmanship, it felt lighter in her hands than she had expected from its length. The hilt was engraved with vine patterns and, while a traditional cross-shape, at either side of the cross-piece were wing-like extensions. Yet it was the gem in the centre that caught her eye, for an eye is what it seemed to her, albeit one that appeared mostly square.

"It's not a square, by the way," Rusziné explained, seeing her puzzled look, "it is an uncut gem of some description, held in place inside the hilt.

"So it's just a square window, if you know what I mean? Metalwork really isn't in my skill set," Ayàvi smiled.

"Yup, a square window. What I do know about the gem is that it was put in there by Qal'ath's Crystal Circle when they gifted the sword to me. I've never seen anything like it, though I don't think it has any powers or Elemental properties. It is interesting to turn a sun- or moon-beam to red on occasions, but I've never seen anything happen by doing so."

"Not every crystal needs to be mystical," Ayàvi pointed out, "though I wonder how I'm supposed to carry this. It's about three quarters of my height!"

"You remind me a lot of a friend I once knew in Byantē," he grinned.

"'Moral strength draws worthy allies'?" Ayàvi smirked in response.

"I've never claimed a moral high ground," Rusziné chuckled, "I have had my share of...moments."

He reached behind him, unclipped the harness that usually held it in place on his back and threw it to the Foyblàni girl. She nodded in thanks and, after a few grunts of frustration, finally secured it around her and the sword on her back.

"Thanks for not rushing to put it on for me," she smiled.

"No thanks necessary," Rusziné nodded, "I would have helped if you had asked, but you didn't - and it didn't look like you needed help, either."

"Why make the girrrl weakerrr if, by doing it herrrself, she can become strongerrr?" Ferrfeiss agreed.

"We still need otherrrs too," Arrnwarr pointed out, forcing herself to smile.

Ferrfeiss grimaced, then allowed his own face to relax and he nuzzled her forehead with his nose.

"Yes, we do," he accepted.

Rusziné was about to reply when a sudden rush of Wind16 swept through the Stones, carrying with it leaves, dust and small sticks. It was over almost as soon as it had begun and, once the debris had settled on the ground once more, a Qalathian medic stepped into the circle and looked around aghast and what she saw.

"Ajàbénà, békaisé-kai nerdàn?"

Arrnwarr growled, which was picked up by Rusziné.

"Paraphrasing for those that do not speak that language, she asked, 'what happened here'? Which, to be fair, is a very good question," he acknowledged, "and one with no easy answers. Just like, 'when, while serving Qal'ath, did she learn Foyiitùn?', for example."

 

The Viàn Falínai, 8 Ur 15

Jaridà had taken to pacing around, impatience now having taken root, partly to stay occupied and partly to keep warm. A light snow had begun to fall which, while probably welcomed by the Kyadii, would still be insufficient. From what he could tell, Kyaevy had managed to round up all the injured and exhausted Kyadii and reunited them at one location among the hills of the Viàn. She and her Hawk were stood atop one of them, conversing with the Snowcats17, though he could not hear even the muffled sounds of their voices, let alone their words.

At least that means they are, in fact, sheltered. Sheltered from the supposed 'heat' of our Winter. Why do people in the Capital not learn much of societies, cultures and races outside of our own? he wondered, hùlàn, even of those races found within Bezélan's walls?

It was then that, just a few paces away from him, the gentle snow began to pick up pace, swirl and howl. Jaridà covered his eyes and turned his face away.

"Well, that came out of nowhere!" he said, startled.

"On the contrary," a calm male voice replied as the soldier turned back, shocked to see an older man and younger lady step out of the swirling snow-mist and it die down as quickly as it had arrived, "it came from the Crystal Tower."

"C-Crystal Tower? You got here qu-quickly," he stammered, both from the suddenness of their arrival and the surprise that one so young as Hera'llyn appeared was a mage of such importance, "th-that's a good thing, not a criticism. Thank you. Please, follow me, they are being guarded by a Great Hawk."

"Huh, a soldier under King Carnael who is polite, cares for others and understands urgency," Hera'llyn chuckled as she trudged along behind Jaridà.

"That's the influence of my immediate superior. You might get to thank him later if we can finally get everyone together," the soldier replied, "today has been...difficult."

"Where are your overheating Kyadii?" Polarnis asked in concern, which turned to annoyance after a laugh from Jaridà.

"Look for the huge Hawk and head for that."

Glancing up, Polarnis sheltered his eyes and saw the huge form of one on a nearby burial mound.

"You'll have to forgive him, soldier," Hera'llyn smiled, "Polarnis spends a lot of time looking at what he is treading on."

"Yes, yes," the man muttered, "and 'not enough time looking where he is going to', so say the others."

 

Outside Saf-Athan Palace, 8 Ur 15

"Qal'ath thanks you for your service this day," Lytania announced, doing her utmost to sound authoritative, yet grateful, "and requires your attendance at the entrance to Tolmyr Sands no later than eighteen Ur. Unlike your former Captain, you must be armoured and armed. We will not have Rusziné fleeing or attempting to reverse the outcome of his rebellion today."

Marshall Jewan, while standing slightly in front of the others in the squad, was staring blankly at the stone wall behind Lytania's head.

How could I have been so selfish? Rusziné didn't deserve that, he regretted with bitterness, and he will not try to flee. Whatever they think of him, he knows when he is beaten.

The Royal Guard paced along the line counting, and then frowned.

"Is this the whole décantà?" she demanded.

At that, Jewan lifted his head and did the same count as Lytania, before clearing his throat.

"Excluding Rusziné, we are missing at least Jaridà," he reported, with little emotion in his voice, "but he had been left in charge of the Kyadii at the Viàn."

"Why had the exile put Jaridà in charge when he should have been?"

Jewan sighed, to the annoyance of the Royal Guard.

"Because the Kyadii had a 'divide and distract' approach," he explained, "meaning some were at the Viàn, while others sneaked through Doon. Rusziné could not be in two places at once."

Lytania snorted.

"So, how many cats did Jaridà let loose on his watch?"

"None, ma'am. Most were injured and all were demoralised. Their attacks were stopped, either by us or by the Foyii," Jewan continued, "and not a single Kyadd managed to get closer to Bezélan than the Stones of Myrn."

The Royal Guard took a deep breath and realised the Marshall had, in all but official wording, announced the mission had been, by definition, a success, but without displaying any malintent towards the King nor the Realm.

"Fine," she nodded, feeling deflated, "do any of you other loyal soldiers dispute the report of the Marshall? How about Y'mtyrn? Oesuli?"

She only picked those ones as they had demonstrated "clear loyalty" at the Stones, Jewan seethed.

Oesuli saluted the Royal Guard.

"The Marshall's reports have always been as accurate as possible," she explained, "and, as much as I would like to see further retribution on the Snowcats, his report is still accurate."

Thank the Elements, Jewan thought, relieved.

"A pity," Lytania accepted, "now, I grant you the remainder of the day off-duty, but do not be late for the event at Tolmyr Sands."

And with that, she turned her Kyjushii around and guided it back towards the Training Grounds.

"The Event," the Marshall mused, she'll do anything but call it 'injustice'.

As Jewan watched the deep red battle-cat disappear around the corner, he felt the eyes of the décantà on him. Turning to face them, he shrugged and yawned.

"You don't need any instructions from me. I'm just a Marshall and you have orders from a Guard. It's quite simple really," he emphasised,  "we have the day off and you know where to be and when. You all know how to dress for the event. So, I guess I will see you all then."

He was about to wave them away when he checked himself, "but if anyone sees Jaridà, please relay the Royal Guard's instructions. I would not see him punished for not following rules he did not know existed."

Leaving them with that thought, he trudged away with a heavy heart and a gnawing conscience.


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