View Full Version : The First Chapter

18th of April, 2010, 07:05
Chapter 1: Invasion

In this wicked age, we find ourselves in a prosperous coast surrounded by intimidating mountains. A proud old fortress guards the way to the heart of a nation. A fleet of warships suddenly and rapidly approaches. What fate awaits the denizens of this land?


In the Kingdom of the Sun and Moon

Kurigalzu, Lord of the Waystone Keep, was not a kind man. He was not a cruel man by any means, but he did not take any joy in his life. He was direct, calculating, and efficient -- some might even say cold. His lot in life was to protect the well-being of others, and to his mind there was no better way to do this than to focus the entirety of his being on security. This did not do any kindness to the health of his mind.

High Court was in session, which meant many long and boring pleas by the plebs for resources that simply could not be spared. It also meant hours of useless tradition -- dancing and music and a long evening feast. The High Court only came into session once a year; a fact lamented by many and appreciated by Lord Kurigalzu. Were it not for the national traditions insisted upon by the Lord Sun and Lady Moon, Kurigalzu would have eliminated the frivolous court-proceedings all together and installed a more efficient system for adjudicating important provincial matters.

The Waystone Keep was built for practicality above all else -- a massive granite block built above a road about ten paces wide. Two heavy portcullises stood on the northeast and southwest sides of the fortress, letting authorized traffic travel below the fortress and into the heart of the Realm.

The Lord and Lady of the Realm, however, insisted upon certain traditions. One of these was the court system -- ten common courts held in a year, with a High Court held during the winter solstice and a Grand Court held during the summer solstice. The common courts were simple affairs -- once a month the plebs of a province were invited to the capitol of the province in which they lived in order to voice concerns and settle disputes. There was also a small lunch feast for the nobles of a province to attend -- a tradition which ensured the proper amount of mingling between the noble houses.

Grand Courts were the highlight of the year. Every citizen of the Realm was invited to the First City to attend a grand celebration and watch the most important matters of the Realm get adjudicated. Nobles and political figures were required to attend, of course. Kurigalzu hated the Grand Court.

What he hated more than anything, though, was the High Court. The High Court was held in the provincial capitol -- which the Waystone Keep happened to be, since the province in which it was located was of military significance. This meant that a riot of plebs, drunken nobles, and foolish entertainers entered the Waystone Keep. During this time, maintaining security was almost impossible. This fact did not keep Kurigalzu from trying, much to the chagrin of his soldiers. Every fighting man assigned to the province was on duty during High Court, which did not do much for their morale.

So we find ourselves in the High Court of the Moon -- the Winter festival. The air is refreshingly chill and the people joyous. Fireworks will come with the night, and food and drink will flow freely and heavily for hours. Music and dance. Laughter and love. A disgruntled and overworked Lord suddenly confronted with invasion imminent.

What trouble will our heroes find for themselves in this wicked age?

18th of April, 2010, 11:02
Iraj was angry.

Two nights ago he had found Leili, a cook in the employ of the keep, and Iraj's sometimes lover, dead, killed with a single sword thrust, the work of a professional. She hadn't been raped, or robbed, or tortured, simply slain, and Iraj could not see the reason for it.

Iraj had been stationed as a guard in the Lord's Hall that night, and it wasn't until he had gone looking for her when his shift was done that he had discovered, the blood she was lying in already cool.

Now, two nights later, he was on patrol in Waystone Keep, a scowl on his face, hoping to meet trouble of one sort or another. He prayed that he would meet Leili's killer so that they might compare swordwork. Irah grinned grimly. Leili's killer would be found wanting.

18th of April, 2010, 22:57
The knock on the door was a hard, but muffled thud. The sort that was made not with a rapping of the knuckles, but with the outer side of the palm, above the wrist and below the little finger - a man's knock, but more particularly a soldier's knock, Karathas noted with mild annoyance. A woman's knock, he reasoned sourly, would have had a softer, more delicate touch, as would one of his father's official couriers. A soldier, unlike the afore mentioned cases, had rough hands, unperfumed and poorly groomed, and was satisfied with being forceful in all his actions, thus knocking in a crude but powerful manner that was assured of waking the young lordling from his afternoon reverie.

Karathas sighed and pushed the brown silken sheets away from him. Unceremoniously he shrugged off the young porcelain-skinned girl lying beside him, whose arm had lain across his dark haired chest for the past several hours. The girl made a soft purring noise, but did not wake. Karathas envied her ability to sleep so deeply.

Being awoken was not what irritated Karathas. It was the fact that a soldier waited for him beyond that door. A courier could be curtly dismissed, a woman could be appraised and brought to the bed, but a soldier was always following orders - his father's orders.

Lord Kurigalzu had failed to impart many of his worst and best qualities to his eldest son throughout the years, but in one particular trait he had succeeded spectacularly, which was to give Karathas a sense of military duty. Better still for the somber lord of Waystone, both he and his son were acutely aware of this fact. So when Karathas crossed the cold granite floor and opened the door to reveal the captain of the inner court guard, a grey-eyed, lithe individual named Bram, it was with the knowledge that he would most presently be forced to take his honorable place at the High Court feast.

It seemed to the young heir of Waystone that his father delighted in sharing the torment of his station with his son. It was not enough that Karathas share the burden of responsibility for the safety of the coastal province. No, the lord's son must take his place at the court listening to the drone of endless complaints from plebeians, ingenuous fawning from the minor nobility, and of course the endless transparent attempts by the higher lords and ladies to parade their daughters in front of him, all with their eyes on the rank and prestige such a marriage could bring to their house.

The idea made Karathas' stomach roll over.

Some small while later, Karathas strode into the central court chamber where the High Court proceedings were taking place, clothed in the brown and black silks which were the colors of the provincial military. The dark earthen tones matched his dark hair and eyes. They also contrasted sharply with the festive silver-blues, ermine furs, and scarlet reds sported by the visiting nobles in the typical winter holiday fashion surrounding the Moon festival. The dichotomy pleased Karathas, as he wanted little to do with the dandies from the heartland, and his deliberate refusal to dress up for the occasion was a sound, wordless method of conveying his sentiments.

He presented himself before Lord Kurigalzu as was custom. "Father," he said in a neutral monotone. "Blessed be the gifts of Sun and Moon in your court this day."

A wave of his father's hand greeted and dismissed him in one fluid motion. His presence, not his words, were required at court, and there were many petitions that his father had yet to receive. Best for Karathas to stay, observe and mingle, if he could stomach it.

Karathas looked about for someone, anyone at court who was not a noble. Someone he wouldn't mind passing the time with in a conversation.

19th of April, 2010, 20:33
Layhiri exhaled and struggled into her dress. High Court started today, coinciding with the Winter Festival (as it always did) and that meant a week of celebration. At such times a woman of her talents was always on call. She began swirling her hair into a bun, she hummed to herself as she pinned it in place. She’d be up with clients all week.

Lord Rydal was secretly trading with the barbarians to the North. His plea for more grain was a simple attempt to line his pockets.

After her hair and dress were in place, she began to carefully apply Dala root extract to her eyelids. Personally, she thought the stuff made it look like she’d been in a fight, but the men liked it well enough, and certain appearances were expected at High Court. If anything, her profession needed her to keep up appearances.

Lady Kalauf was having an affair with both her captain at arms and Lord Mallaric. Things almost evened out though, Lady Mallaric was having an affair with Lord Kalauf.

By the end of the week Layhiri would need a vacation and she knew it. Nothing wore her out like the festivities of both the Grand and High Courts. Still, the money during those two time periods was better than any other time of year. She’d live like a queen for the next few months. Two weeks of pure exhaustion a year was more than worth it.

Perathoth, the head chef, fancied the serving girl Gladillna, but she was Karathas’ favorite companion, and he was married besides.

Tonight, the nobles had called her into the High Court proper, rather than the surrounding festival. More than likely Karathas wanted her there to ease the tension. The whole event made his father irritable, more irritable than usual at least. More than once nobles pleading their case to Lord Kurigaizu had baulked at his scowling face, halting the whole procedure. At the very least her music could ease one side of the court, if not both.

Six years, seven months, two weeks and three days ago. The Keep’s walls were high and the tide was out, exposing the sear crags below. She pulled me from the parapet and asked me, “Why?”

She thought it was probably best she as start with a wordless song. Perhaps ‘First Snow of Youth,’ that seemed appropriate enough for the season. The image of Lord Kurigaizu’s frown crossed her mind, and Layhiri decided that sticking to all wordless songs maybe be best for this night. She bit her lip and groped around her tiny room, cursing her dress as she tried to bend at the knees. Of course her sitar would be under the bed, exactly where she left it.

Seven months, one week, two days ago. I returned to Waystone Keep. The cherries were just ready for harvesting and nightingales heralded in the new day. Enheduana met me in the courtyard, the first I’d seen her in nearly four years. As we embraced, she whispered in my ear, “Help me.”

Layhiri was almost ready to join the court. She plucked a thin dagger from her dresser and concealed it in her dress, close to her heart. Someone was murdering young women in the keep, and she had no intention of being caught helpless. Then again, she also had no intention of being alone for most of the night. That was just part of being an Entertainer during the winter festival.

“I just don’t love you,” he told me, the bitter smell of alcohol coming from his mouth as he exhaled the words. The tavern quieted and even -

Stop! Layhiri clenched her eyes and sorted through her memory. She placed each event, each piece of information back in order and chided herself for having let them slip so easily. Breathing deeply, at least as deeply as she could in her dress, she gathered her sitar and ventured into the keep, making her way to Lord Kurigalzu’s court.

Waystone keep stayed homey and inviting to her, despite its military use. She’d grown up playing hide and seek in these halls, and no matter how gloomy and dank they choose to become, they held no secrets for her. Now, they were anything but gloomy. Lord Kurigalzu had ordered every torch and candle lit, as if to drive back any shadows that might hide unsavory characters. As she strode along the well warmed stone corridors Iraj the soldier passed her. Layhiri quickly caught his eye and pantomimed downing an ale, followed by showing all five fingers on her left hand. She hurried on before he could respond. Lord Kurigalzu barely tolerated her presence and certainly wouldn’t allow her to join court proper if she was late. With luck, Iraj would meet at their favorite tavern later tonight. Though odds were he would still be on duty.

She entered court just before the proceedings started officially. Nodding to the Lord and his son, Layhiri did her best to look demure and took her place in the background. When the first noble pleaded his case to Lord Kurigalzu, something about recompense for his daughter’s virginity, Layhiri played her sitar. And she listened, not to the pleading and begging of the nobles and the plebeians, that was mundane, dull and more often than not, false. No, she listened to the whispers and murmurs of the audience and court, and those waiting to be heard. Those who tried to stay just below the level of her music. That was where the valuable things were, where she collected her real pay during these festivals. The type of information that allowed her to collect favors, and favors were worth more than any amount of money.

The first noble finished his case, and Lord Kurigalzu’s frowned deepened. As he spoke his decree, Layhiri played her music, and listened.

Explosive Cheese
21st of April, 2010, 11:56
The band of merchants trudged up the path, kicking up dust as it went. Among them walked a woman in plain, blue robes. As she meandered along, matching the pace of her companions, she moved her left hand up to a raven-coloured lock of hair, pulling it back, and revealing a surprising face. Brilliant green pupils lied at the centre of her angular eyes, resting below long, thin, and curved black eyebrows. Her long, thin nose seemed to point towards her small, tight lips. Though her ears remained somewhat obstructed, small emerald studs were visible at the lobes, and the tips appeared to be sharper than average.
As the band continued their long journey to the fortress, a cat-like grace could be noticed in her gait, an odd contrast with the constant squinting of her eyes. Eyes that hid weariness and anger.
It has been a long trip for Sawrina. First a long journey by sea, then several days journey by land, and once at the keep, her path would only be at its beginning.
Of course, the only boats coming to this land were those of the invading armada, so she had been forced to pay her way on to the forward ship. And while the enlisted personnel treated her with the respect due a Sheld lady, the officers made their disdain quite clear: This was a military invasion, not some noble's pleasure cruise.
And the food was ghastly as well... Neither ships nor the military were renowned for the food they offered, so it came as little surprise that the fare on a naval ship was quite horrible, even the fare reserved for one of her class.
And the boredom! Months on a boat with nothing to do. The few books on magic she had been allowed to bring she had long ago completed, and there had been no active enchantments around for her to study. A ship in the middle of the ocean was apparently as mundane as it gets.
Then when they finally made landfall, came the endless walking, from before sun-up to after sundown, with rests only in order to eat their lousy trail rations and sleep a few measly hours. Though it seemed they were finally nearing their destination; it couldn't be more than a couple days now, the fortress in the mountains already looked to be quite near...

This long, degrading trip would be worth it. She had heard that a servant of a powerful demiurge practised her arts in the land Deemethreesu sought to conquer, and Sawrina knew that if anyone could teach her to use the magic she had inherited, it would be her. She would just have to make sure not to cross the path of that artifact hunter she heard stalked these same lands...

28th of April, 2010, 07:34
Before the South Gate

It was a brisk, clear evening by the time Sawrina and the merchants made camp in front of the South Gate. The first day of the week long High Court was coming to and end, and visitors were barred from entering after sunset. A sweet and savory smell wafted over the gates and onto the caravan, causing many rumbles (and grumbles). The owner of the caravan and his inner circle headed up to speak with the gate guard to negotiate entrance, while the rest of the crew moved to settle in for the night. A relatively large cluster of tents and wagons stood in a clearing a few hundred feet away from the gate -- other late arrivals hoping to seek entrance.

Among the people of the visitor's camp were a troupe of traveling performers, including firebreathers, bards, jugglers, mimes, and a wizened old man with a trunk full of crystal trinkets and oddly carved bits of wood and metal. His body looked weary and worn, but his eyes were full of life, and he constantly glanced around, looking at passersby. His eyes met Sawrina's for a moment and a look of shock darted across his face before he went back to glancing at others.

Layhiri and Karathas
In the Court of Moon

The court is awash with movement. Beggars, nobles, craftsmen, soldiers, mercenaries -- anyone and everyone with something to say is here. Lord Kurigalzu sat on his throne looking severe and unmoved while a soldier whispered into his ear. Suddenly he rose and threw his royal blue cloak over his shoulders. His fingers danced against the moon-shaped pommel of his sword as he spoke:

"There is a matter I must attend to," he said, turning to Karathas. "My son; I trust you to lead the proceedings here. Captain, gather a party of fifteen men and meet me at the South Gate," he said sternly, walking out the door beside his throne.

In the Southern Halls

Iraj stalked the halls near the kitchen, moving towards the sound of the court. That would be the best place to gather information. He turned a corner and suddenly Lord Kurigalzu and near a dozen men (including the Captain) stormed passed him before he even had a chance to salute. The Captain made a vague gesture to Iraj that could have meant either "Follow us!" or "Get to the Court of the Moon!" before dashing off. It wasn't quite clear what exactly was happening, but something strange was going on.

Before the South Gate

Before Sawrina had much of a chance to do anything, the South Gate was awake with shouts and the clanking of chains. The reinforced wooden doors slowly swung open and the portcullis rose to allow a stern looking man with a retinue of grim soldiers to pass.

"HAIL, LORD KURIGALZU!" were the words out of every soldier as they saluted their passing lord.

"Carry on, men. Await my command. Be prepared for anything," Kurigalzu said as he marched down the path to the stables, and his eyes met Sawrina's for a moment before disappearing down the hill. His face betrayed no sign of recognition.

Explosive Cheese
28th of April, 2010, 07:48
Sawrina picked up on the look of shock on the old man's face, and was confused by it. Back home, it could simply have meant that he had recognized her as a Sheld lady, but that hardly seemed likely here... Still, it was no real concern of hers, so she turned her attention back to the gate, and the keep beyond it. She could feel a strange radiance from it. A ancient and powerful radiance.
Before she had time to think on it though, the lord of the keep came barging through. He left as quickly as came, though Sawrina took notice of his glance in her direction.
After he had gone, Sawrina grew disinterested in what had just occurred. Nobles charging ahead with soldiers in tow was hardly anything new to her. She decided to go back to contemplating the strange enchantment she could feel on the keep.
Clearly the keep was the site of some magical rite a long time ago, and a mighty one indeed, if the lingering enchantments are anything to judge by... Blast! If I knew more magic I might discover its nature. I dare not use my amulet's power, not here in the open. Other mages may detect its use, and I do not wish to alert either the demiurge's servant or that damned artifact hunter.
She heaved a sigh, and dropped her gaze back to her food. The mystery will have to wait for later, I suppose.

28th of April, 2010, 09:41
Enheduana was older now. Thinner, harried. We were both older. We sat after hours in the keep's larder, trying to rekindle the past. "Layhirir, I need your help. I need to get out here of before..." She wouldn't look at me, her eyes kept darting to the darkest corners.

Lord Kurigalzu left, and the whole court remained silent for him. Even Layhiri's hands had stopped strumming, and she made almost made a motion to start again, but looked toward the young prince first. The whole courts eyes rested on him.

Six months, one week ago. I traveled to the Grand Court of the Sun. With tears in her eyes a bright cheeked pulled me from the keep's walls and asked me, "why." A haunted women with restless eyes begged, "help." I traveled to the Grand Court of the Sun. People owed me favors and Enheduana needed help.

I found Adar in a tavern, waiting, as he always did. "I owe ya a favor do I?" He spit something black and viscous in his mug before bringing it back to his lips. "Aye, saved me from high treason ya did. I kin get ya a boat out a Waystone Keep. But I be need'n ta talk to Admiral Deemethreesu first. An' he be need'n ta know how ta git in'out 'thoat be'n blasted." Adar laughed and spat again. I began talking. But information is only as reliable as the person I give it to...

Layhrir swallowed and let her arm drop. Something was happening, but nothing relevant came to mind, no hint from guard, rumor from a merchant or idle banter from the servants came to mind. She dug deeper, sifting through her memories, her extended contacts, sailors and traders at the docks. Adar? Now? No. It couldn't be...but.. maybe...maybe. Better play it safe.

Hobbling over to Karathas she leaned in and whispered into his ear, just before court could begin again.

"My prince. I don't mean to alarm, and I realize your father tends to overreact to things. But some sources have hinted to me that some greater danger lies ahead. Perhaps court formalities can be delayed for at least one day?"

And louder, "Please my liege. What am I to play for the court now?"

28th of April, 2010, 13:39
Karathas had never been an easy man to teach. Even as a child, his instructors had wailed and pulled at their beards in frustration, trying to beat decorum and classical knowledge through the young prince's skull. Some instructors had claimed he was not smart enough to learn, and were of course quite wrong. Others suggested he did not have the patience or attention span to internalize his studies. They were wrong as well. Karathas had learned from them - the ancient treaties of nations, the geography of the northern continent, the mighty archipelagos of the Green Sea, and beyond that the golden land of Sheld. He knew of the bond between this realm and its gods, the Sun and Moon - and of the spirits that roamed its rivers, plains, and mountain passes, those who dwelt in rock, plant, and animal, but were much more than they seemed.

All these bits of information Karathas had soaked up like a sponge in a bath, even all the while hurling defiance to his learned betters and sneaking off through the North Gate into the Pass of Orithai, where he would move unnoticed through the merchant caravans, the makeshift traders post, and the untamed ridges filled with the white flower whose namesake gave the pass its title.

It was in the pass that he received his true education, amongst the merchants and the travelers. After all, what use was a map of the archipelago and a lecture on its king from a man who had never left his father's court, when a foreign merchant and his bodyguards could be given a coin for their stories, personal accounts of the slate strewn streets, curved-pillared temples, and cutthroat politics of the city states? These men from distant lands were better tutors by far than those who stayed within the keep. The insight he had taken from them was invaluable, and the prince was aghast that his own father should be so closed off to them.

So many good memories, Karathas reflected, only now coming out of his reverie. His father was coming to his feet, concern hardening in his eyes and set in his jaw.

"My son, I trust you to lead the proceedings here..." Kurigalzu said.

Karathas was naturally curious. What could his father be up to with his guards? Another killing perhaps? He had heard that some women had been found dead in the out of the way places within the keep. Brutally slain, the work of a sadistic monster. Odd that his father would feel the need to personally attend to such business, but then again, Karathas mused, it was an excuse to take leave of the proceedings.

He inclined his head as the Lord left the hall. As he raised it again a voice was in his ear, a female voice and a familiar one at that. Layhiri.

"Some sources have hinted to me that some great danger lies ahead," the woman said to him. "Perhaps court formalities can be delayed for at least one day?"

Karathas considered this.

Layhiri was an information monger. She had been so from the moment she stepped into Waystone about half a year ago. He had heard about her from some serving girls that had shared his bed and once had occasion to meet with her personally. His father had fallen temporarily ill in early autumn and an important matter had come up in court having to deal with the partitioning of bountiful farmland. The timing had been suspicious and acting more on instinct than anything else, Karathas had approached Layhiri for information. Coin exchanged hands and she revealed that the Lord's illness had been deliberate poisoning, not with intent to kill but merely to give one landowner the opportunity to take legal advantage over his rival by removing Kurigalzu from the equation and to prey on Karathas' ignorance.

The end result of Layhiri's information had been a swift recovery for his father and swifter justice for the scheming landowner.

Now here she was, at the High Court, daring to approach him with ill tidings and suggesting that one of the most important holidays of his people - both for secular and religious reasons - be delayed.

"Please my liege. What am I to play for the court now?" she added, louder to throw off suspicion.

He looked at her then and decided that her words demanded more of an explanation.

"Lords and ladies," he held up his hands in announcement, "There shall be a small intermission in case hearing while Lord Kurigalzu attends to immediate matters."

He looked around him and saw irritation on the nobles' faces, at least, on those whom had been waiting to have their cases heard.

"Worry not," Karathas continued, "I am certain this is only temporary, and there is no reason we should not enjoy ourselves while he is gone."

He motioned to one of his guards. "You there, I hear that there are more musicians camped out near the South Gate. I want five who can prove to you that they can play, and bring them unto this hall. And I want a singer too, try to find a foreign woman, for I want to hear songs of other lands. Quickly now, I will not tolerate a long delay."

Then did Karathas turn again to Layhiri, all eyes still upon him. "I have heard the suggestion of music. Let us give this musician a chance to impress us before more entertainers arrive. Young woman, I tire of these traditional wintertime songs. Entertain us with a song that will make me forget that the cold frost blows down from the north."

He then bent lower to her ear and spoke so that only she could hear. "Once the other entertainers arrive, I will give us reason and time to speak. Until then, play for me, and play well, I want to keep this crowd pacified."

He then stood up to his full height and walked to the throne, where he took the seat at its side.

"More wine! Nobles of the realm, fill your cups and raise them. We drink to the light of the Moon, and to the health of our great land. Drink, listen, and be merry!"

Explosive Cheese
28th of April, 2010, 14:19
Once again the South Gate opened, and once again a group of guards came charging through. This group, however, came to a halt in front of the camp.
One of the guards, whose armour gleamed ceremoniously, stepped to the front of the group, and proclaimed, "Prince Karathas demands entertainment. All among you who can play an instrument, step forward now so that we pick five among you."

While the rest of the merchants began their auditions, several of the guards moved through the camp, looking for a sufficiently exotic woman who could sing.
One of them noticed Sawrina's unique features, and approached her. Sawrina had lost interest in the proceedings once the auditions began, but when the guard approached, she did her best to present herself in the most dignified manner possible.

"What do you want of me?"
"Prince Karathas also demands a foreign woman to sing for him of foreign lands. Do you sing?"
Sawrina was about to spurn this insult upon her dignity, until she remembered that she still needed access to the keep if she ever hoped to find the demiurge's servant. Rearranging her face into an ingratiating smile, she responded, "Of course I do. I do hope the Prince enjoys hearing about the land of Sheld, I would not like to disappoint him."
The guard nodded, and led her back to the head guard. "This woman seems sufficiently exotic for the Prince's tastes, and she tells me she can sing well."
"Well her voice seems fine enough, and we haven't much time. Let's hope she speaks the truth, else it'll be dungeon duty for all of us."

Sawrina nearly flared up at this last remark, but held herself in check. She then proceeded to wait for the auditions to be over, and to be led into the keep.

28th of April, 2010, 23:06
There was little time to stand about wondering what the Captain meant, so Iraj fell into step with the rest of the guard following the Lord. The worst that would happen is that the Captain would redirect him to the court.

29th of April, 2010, 12:47
The young princeling laughed as he hurled the book at the battered and baffled instructor. 'Lineages and Family Crests from Across the Sea' another lesson wasted. From our hiding spot Enheduana giggled at the older boy's antics before scampering off to our 'hidden' grove in the courtyard. Inside the cluster of too many different species of tree I tell her I'd read the book. Enheduana didn't believe me, so I scratched out the contents in the soft dirt, page by page, drawing from my memory. By nightfall, I'd run out of space in our little grove. I learned to write before I could read.

"I have heard the suggestion of music. Let us give this musician a chance to impress us before more entertainers arrive. Young woman, I tire of these traditional wintertime songs. Entertain us with a song that will make me forget that the cold frost blows down from the north."

Layhiri glanced up at her prince. Not what she hoped for, but better than any alternative that came to her mind. Now she just had to deal with the court attendies. She gazed out at them. Confusion, annoyance, even a touch of anger and fear cycled through them. Protocol had already been broken, what other rules didn't need to be followed? Clearing her throat, Layhiri searched her memory for an appropriate piece. Silence reigned. If her prince wanted a celebration, she'd give him one.

She strummed and the chord pierced the air, controlling it. Her fingers danced across the sitar, playing out the melody. Love by Moonlight. Appropriate for the occasion, fast and catchy. Her song weaved itself through the tension in the air, caught hold of it and dominated it. By the end of the first stanza, no one thought about Lord Kurigalzu abrupt departure. By the end of the second, merchant and noble alike were clapping in rhythm. There was no tension, no confusion or anger, only her music. As long as she played, things would be alright.

Midway through the third movement, the first few musicians trickled in, and taking Layhiri's cue, joined her playing. Tables were moved and an impromptu dance began. The last of the other performers joined in, a Sheld woman. Layhiri looked the newcomer over as the woman began to sing. Not the best voice, but passable. Odd for a Sheld be here though. More importantly, she needed the energy of the crowd to dissipate. She began to wind the song down. Closing off the last of the fear and doubt. As the crowd looked up at the newly formed band and Layhiri motioned for a slower song, something to bring new lovers closer together.

The band began to play again.

Explosive Cheese
29th of April, 2010, 14:19
Sawrina and the rest of the entertainers travelled through the corridors of the keep, accompanied by the guards. Inside, the magical radiance was far stronger, and Sawrina found herself mesmerized by it, and came very close to activating her amulet in order to understand.

Luckily, her attention snapped back to reality as they entered the revelry in the main hall. Some court-attendant was singing, and the others in Sawrina's group began to join her. Though she was ill-trained for such events, Sawrina joined in as well, choosing to sing along in her native tongue, composing her words upon the spot.

Just as she began to lose herself in the music though, the song was over. Somewhat startled by her loss of composure, she looked around in confusion, before the next song began. Once more Sawrina joined in, this time on her guard, determined not to lose her focus again.

29th of April, 2010, 16:13
Karathas allowed himself an indulgent smile. Layhiri was skilled with the sitar, more than he had given her credit when he first had heard her. His father preferred softer, unimaginative music that hung in the background; the sort that did not impose upon one's train of thought. It was another in a long litany of faults that the prince had found with his father.

The music that had now lightened the hitherto somber, melancholy doldrums within the High Court of the Moon was much more to Karathas' liking. The heavy strumming of the sitar, the vibration of the strings seducing its way into the hearts of the listeners. The younger members of the audience began to sway and tap their feet in rhythm. It wasn't long before the dancing began, much to the chagrin of the older, stodgy onlookers who apparently perished at the thought of a festival being festive. Karathas' smile grew wider.

The other musicians were not all as skilled as Layhiri, the surbahar player in particular. But the man who played the pakhavaj drums and the accompanying sarod player were decent. The added tones of the woman on the bansuri flute were welcome and the man who drew his fingers across the tamburi played off of Layhiri's notes expertly. He remembered the tamburi man in particular - Master Haragji, a local entertainer and tutor. How lucky they had been to find him on short notice.

The final person to join the chorus of music was his requested vocalist, a woman in fine blue robes. By the time she had entered and taken her place however, several dancers had already taken up the initiative, singing their own song to match the tune.

Eventually, strategically, Layhiri calmed the sound down, and with a nod to Haragji, who was obviously the one to lead the group from here, let him take over with a slow, sensual song.

Karathas took the cue and stood.

"Come, gentle guests. This is the eve on which we commemorate the birth of our first Empress, daughter of the Moon and the Sun. Let us dance to celebrate that holy union and its bounty."

He moved away from the dias, striding past several noblewomen without so much as a glance. His eyes did stray as he passed the foreign singer, whom he now recognized as a Sheld. He nearly laughed aloud as an old memory tickled him, a particular argument he had held with a Sheld merchant's daughter he had once tried to woo. It had been an awkward courtship, as both of them had expected the other to take on the submissive, demure role in the relationship. It had not ended well, though it had been entertaining.

Finally he did come to stop in front of Layhiri.

"Your movement has delighted and moved me," Karathas said. "Allow me the pleasure of leading you in a dance."

It was not a question. Layhiri took his hand and strode with him to the center of the floor, where they were soon joined by other couples. They began to move, a simple basic step with a few slow spins, turns, and stalls thrown in. After a few of these combinations, Karathas leaned in close.

"What is it, Layhiri?" His tone was serious.

30th of April, 2010, 19:36
"Your movement has delighted and moved me," Karathas said. "Allow me the pleasure of leading you in a dance."

Layhiri giggled inwardly at the gasps and murmurs from the noble ladies behind Karathas. The situation was a little awkward to be sure and the rumor mill would be hard to deal with for the rest of the month, but with a little work she might be able to turn that to her advantage. Often the hint of power worked better than power itself.

"How could I refuse my liege?" she said, passing her sitar to the nearest musician, the Sheld woman in blue that just recently joined. As the Shelder took the instrument Layhiri sized her up, a striking face, exotic to be sure, hopefully she could play at least as well as she could sing. Then, avoiding the jealous glares of the rest court, Layhiri allowed Karathas to take her hand and lead her onto the makeshift dance floor. Soon enough other couples joined in, but always gave the Prince and Layhiri wide berth as they spun and swayed along the great hall. "I will admit I find this celebratory mood much more to my liking. It reminds me of the High Courts of my youth."

"What is it, Layhiri?" Karathas asked. His tone was serious.

Adar downed his ale and motioned for another. He grinned his toothy grin and looked me over, his eyes lingering just below my neck. "High Court o' the Moon? Scattr'd troops 'n a hidd'n entrence on th' eastern bluffs?" Adul spat again, 'Yer sure?"

"Sure enough," I said, "Give me a signal and my friend and I will meet you at that entrance. Safe passage to the lands of Sheld for both of us."

"Not s' fast lass. I owe ye a favor, but I be need'n Admir'l Deemethreesu ta owe me a favor 'for I kin get him ta help me out. Favors fer information, thass how we work right? How many troops, 'n what'r their patrols like? "

I sipped my wine and tried not to breath in Adar's offensive odor. He might be a sailor, but he fancied himself an information dealer. "Only about 200 troops in total," I lied, "and unless he's changed in the past few years Lord Kurigalzu will keep them running ragged trying to keep order during the festival. Sneaking in a single long boat at the height of the celebration shouldn't be a problem."

"200 soldiers all look'n inside th' keep eh? Aye, you 'n yer friend'll get cross the ocean. O' that I promise." Adar finished his ale, his fifth for the night, and stared at my chest again, "'N ta be clear lass. This covers me debt. No more favors ta ya!"

"Yes," I said as I stood up. "And Adar. If you betray me, I'll make you regret it for as long as I remember." He laughed and moved to a local whore as I left the tavern.

It was never a question of what Adar would do with the information, it was a question of what Admiral Deemethreesu would do with it, and whether either of them had caught the lies she told them. Information was only as reliable as the buyer. Lady Rydal swirled past the couple, her deep purple skirt trailing behind her, arms on her lover. "I hope I'm wrong," Layhiri whispered in Karathas's ear, "Admiral Deemethreesu from the Hakken Kingdom has his eyes on Waystone Keep. I'd heard a rumor that he would attack during The High Court of the Moon."

Lord and Lady Mallaric swayed past them. "My Prince, you dance as elegantly as you speak," Layhiri teased as they passed. "I would have brought this to your attention sooner, but I thought it was idle dockside banter. Even with the festival in full swing Waystone Keep is too well fortified to warrant an attack. Still there's very few things that would draw your father away from proper protocol."

The music sped up and Karathas quickened his steps to match the new tempo. Birth of the Empress. Layhiri was spun and dipped. "What truly worries me is-"

"I'm sorry to impose, My Prince, but I, too, have been enchanted with this young lady and can no longer contain myself. Layhiri, if I may have this dance?" Still in his red and silver armor Jesper stood before the Karathas and Layhiri, the unwanted knight in shining armor.

Layhiri's eyes glanced up at Prince Karathas. Around them, the impromptu ball shifted and moved with its own life. "Oh. Of course. If the Prince will allow it, obviously."

Explosive Cheese
30th of April, 2010, 21:26
Sawrina scowled at the sitar that had just been handed off to her.
Wonderful. First singing then playing. What next, do they expect me to dance and do parlour tricks as well?
She quickly replaced the scowl with a smile, doing her best to mask her indignation. She was not royalty here, she was but a visitor, and a commoner at that. It would not do to invoke the ire of the prince of the keep. She needed to keep on his good side.

As the prince and the entertainer moved onto the dance floor, Sawrina struck up a song she had been forced to learn by her tutors in Sheld. "Strangers in Starlight" was a wistful tune, and Sawrina's favourite. She softly began to sing in her own tongue of the couple who met once under the stars in a clearing, fell in love, and never found each other again, no matter how long or far they searched.

Once it was clear that the nobles were growing bored with the melancholy of her song, she switched over to a faster, more light-hearted song, a song she had learned while staying amongst the commoners. Vulgar, she thought as she looked at the now mirthful nobles, Even the nobility here act like commoners.

She noticed Layhiri moving to dance with yet another, and her inner rage intensified. How long do they expect me to keep playing?

1st of May, 2010, 00:24
And so it must come to pass, Karathas thought to himself as his gaze met Jesper's.

"Not that I could blame you, cousin," he said with a smile, trying to make certain that he did not betray his annoyance. "But I beg that you let it pass, not just for my sake, but for the young Lady Walita."

He indicated a young wallflower in a snowy white dress who was playing with her sandy brown hair, looking bored. Karathas knew it would be a stretch to pull this off, but her father was rich and Jesper was not known for his brains.

"I've heard from more than a few mouths that she has fancied you for a while," Karathas continued, speaking quickly. "I'm certain if you asked her, she would be most pleased... and very appreciative."

He hoped it would be enough. He didn't want a scene, nor did he want to give up Layhiri just yet.

9th of May, 2010, 11:45
"Cousin, Lord-to-Come, and friend: I am hurt!" Jesper replies, smirking unsubtly.

"This is not a personal or political maneuver! I simply wish to dance with the lovely lady here. It's but one dance; can you not allow even that?"

9th of May, 2010, 18:22
Karathas observes the nobles, particularly those ones associated with Jesper's family. It wouldn't do to snub Jesper and them as well by extension.

He turns to Layhiri with a shrug. "It seems I have underestimated Jesper's resolve."

Looking back to Jesper he said with a practiced smile, "Very well, I can see there's no stopping you. Enjoy the dance floor."

He rose Layhiri's hand so that it was proffered to the knight.

"I'll expect her back in good condition though."

12th of May, 2010, 14:14
Layhiri glanced between the blonde beauty of Lady Walita and Sir Jesper, barely catching Karathas' eyes in between. The young prince was more cunning than she'd given him credit for, a shame the ploy failed. She smiled a practiced smile at Sir Jesper and bowed deeply to Prince Karatahs before allowing Jesper to drag her to the dance floor. That was one thing the Shelds had right, woman in charge.

Layhiri moved in step with Jesper's movements, just as nimble and elegant as the Prince's, "My lord, I'm flattered to think a simple entertainer as me deserves the attention of not one but two noblemen. But I feel I would only bring shame to your family. Surely you can find a more suitable dance partner than I?" Out of the corner of her eye Layhiri caught Enheduana enter the grand hall, her favorite blue and black ball gown flowing around her. The noble lady caught her friend's eye and cocked an eyebrow at the celebration that High Court had become. Layhiri shrugged as best she could in Jesper's arms in response to her friend's unspoken question.

"Really? Walita and Jesper? Are you sure?" Enheduana munched on her share of the rye bread and giggled, "You're not just angry at him for pulling your hair all the time are you?"

The rest of the palace was asleep and the sub larder was a cozy, safe place, once a few candles were lit. "No! Of course not. It's just, Jesper's a bit slow sometimes. He'll need someone to take care of him and Walita's family has a lot of money, so he'll be fine with her." We played matchmaker for the whole fortress after hours in our own little refuge. I had all our plans stored away in my head. I still do. "Though that still leaves someone for you. What about Prince Karathas? Only the best for my noble friend."

Enheduana laughed and threw the remains of her crusts at me. "And be tied down to that impulsive brat? I think not. Why don't you marry him?"

The bread crusts bounced off my arm. "Alright, alright. Neither of us gets stuck with Prince Karathas. We'll need signals though. So, if you're dancing with someone at the ball, and you giggle, it means I need to trade place with you right? Are you going to be able to remember all this?"

"Well, my memory's not like yours, but I'm sure I'll make due somehow."

Enheduana giggled at her friend's lack of choice in a dance partner and moved against a wall. There was a cough, a few giggles, a crook of the elbow and an 'accidental' trodding on Jesper's toe. Please, let her remember our signals, thought Layhiri. Enheduana glanced up at her friend, then moved to the band, whispering something in Master Haragji's ear. As skilled as any orator, the musician began to segue way the current song into Flights of Fancy at Spring, slow at first, but gradually building in tempo. Traditionally, at each tempo change, dance partners would switch, by the end the floor was supposed to be a whirling mass of merry chaos.

With the music set, Enheduana moved to the prince and took his hand, "My prince. It is unbecoming of you to sit idle while your subjects make merry." As they entered the dance floor she whispered in Karathas' ear, "Apparently, my friend Layhiri is dancing with the wrong person and should be with you. Switch me at the next tempo change."

13th of May, 2010, 12:20
There were few times when Karathas had been caught off guard in recent memory, but the woman in blue and black formal dress had swept into his vision from out of nowhere. He felt his eyes widen against his will and a sudden inexplicable weakness in his knees caused him to stumble the first few steps as the lady led him out to the dance floor.

That face, he thought. Yes he most certainly recognized it from somewhere. He felt sure of it. In Waystone, among the passages and nooks and crannies. Little snippets of his memory tugged at him, and then melted, falling frustratingly away as his mind attempted to solidify them into precise thought.

He had indeed seen this woman before, but not, he felt, in the way he was seeing her now. The face in his memory did not match the figure that now pressed close to him, the folds of her dress brushing against the hem of his tunic and her bare shoulders proffering a perfumed scent of Oritain jasmine whose aroma as well battered at the walls of his confused mind. Here was a woman, a beautiful woman he thought, but one he did not know. What he knew, in a flash of epiphany, was a child. A little girl.

Finally, one of those ephemeral memories was held fast and he saw the face clearly now, a girl's face, spying on him. He had been at his studies... by the zodiac, it must have been nigh on 15 years ago, and she had been watching him. He had turned his head in one of his expressions of boredom as his tutor fumed at him, and he had noticed her peeking out from a chip in the stone wall that overlooked the small courtyard in the upper keep.

Back then he hadn't been startled, he'd taken her peeping in stride, sticking out his tongue and making a face. She had giggled, and then looked down as if to speak to someone else behind the wall. Karathas had been forced to turn around then as the tutor loudly began to chastise him, and when he looked back again the girl was gone.

Now he peered into the face of the woman he danced with. It had matured, certainly, but it was still smooth, and well formed. Dark hair fell just past her shoulders, and her mouth curled in a tight smile that he remembered most of all. The difference was in her eyes. There was something very wrong about them, he decided. They seemed haunted, harrowed by some great worry. She was trying to hide it, but it shone through nonetheless. The girl's face had had lively, joyous, perhaps even mischievous eyes, but now all that carefree joie de vivre had been stripped away, and in its place was calculation, cunning, and fear, with perhaps just a touch of fatalistic mirth, humor born from facing darkness.

He did not know why he thought about this so much. Karathas was not the sort to speculate about people he had never met, nor those he once knew but never associated with, yet something was compelling him into an expanded state of awareness. This woman was worried about something, and whatever it was, he wanted to protect her from it.

Rousing himself to speak, he answered her whisper with one of his own.

"Thank you, you are most helpful." He pushed gently with his leading hand and brought her closer to him, backing up himself two steps before spinning at a right angle and guiding their dance so that they circled close by Jesper and Layhiri.

"I must compliment you on your perfume. Oritain jasmine, one of the symbols of my house. It only grows in the mountain passes of our province." He smiled at her, seeing if she would smile back.

"Then again, you must know that, being a friend of Layhiri's, you must know quite a bit about everything." He laughed a bit, and then said, "I don't suppose..." Karathas paused, wondering if he should press on. "I don't suppose we've met before, have we? I seem to remember a young girl, remarkable in fact, that used to live here in Waystone. She used to spy on me in class. I saw her a few times after that and then never saw her again. Never got to say hello."

He spun around with her, now not far from where Jesper and Layhiri danced.

"I've always wondered what her name was." He left the question hanging there between them as he gazed into her haunted eyes.

14th of May, 2010, 07:40
In the Court of the Moon

Alas, the tempo changed before the ephemeral maiden could answer Karathas' question, and before she could do more than smile sadly Layhiri had taken the young prince's hand.

Jesper unhappily took Enheduana's hands, who gracefully guided him to the edge of the dance floor and deftly passed him off to the mousy-but-beautiful Lady Walita, who lit up with a glee that far overshadowed the sullen face of Jesper, who barely hide his jealous glances at Layhiri. The young Lady Walita did not seem to notice. Enheduana was nowhere to be seen.

Before the South Gate

Iraj followed his Lord and found himself standing among no more than a dozen men readying horses and provisions for a long journey. Kurigalzu was mounted on a great black mare, giving orders to several armed soldiers, who scattered in all directions.

"Iraj, is it? It's good to see you. I have need of a competent soldier. Consider yourself promoted to Captain. Here, take these," Kurigalzu said, pressing a rolled bunch of parchment sealed with a glob of red wax into Iraj's hands.

"Take this to my son, the prince. He's in the Court of the Moon -- hurry! Look, son, look out to the ocean!" Kurigalzu points to the sea, which was now filled with impressive looking warships.

"It's a goddamn surprise attack. They're going to take the pass by force -- and with those numbers we simply can't hold out. Four score and fifteen out of every one-hundred of those men are going to die, but the pass will fall. My son needs to prepare things here while I gather troops out in the Province -- go now!" Kurigalzu half-snarled the last bit before rearing his horse and taking off with his men, heading down the path to the lowlands of the Province.

14th of May, 2010, 10:19
Karathas stared thoughtfully at the woman who retreated with Jesper.

"How strange," he muttered under his breath as the knight and lady disappeared among the crowd. "I thought I knew every noblewoman here, but she's not one of them. Who is your friend, Layhiri? I feel certain I've seen her before."

He knew in the back of his mind that he should be concerned about Layhiri's warning, that he should have immediately started asking pertinent questions about the danger to his homeland, but all he could think of were those haunted eyes and the memory of a young girl.

14th of May, 2010, 12:22
Iraj clicked his heels together and saluted, one hand over his heart, palm flat. "As you desire, my Lord," he said. He felt his spit go sou in his mouth. Blood and fire would come to these halls soon enough, and yet all he could think of was Leili's faceless killer watching his lifeblood pool around him.

He hastened through the halls of the fortress, the parchments clutched in his left hand, leaving his right free to draw his sword if need be. He thought little of Karathas, seeing little of the father in the son, but his allegiance was to Kurigalzu and he would obey his lord.

He entered the Court of the Moon, saw the dancers, heard the laughter and the conversation. Discreetly, he made his way around the hall, and approaching the prince, saluted. "Prince, I bring these from your father, and with news of import." Iraj was careful to keep his tone even and level, fighting the edge of panic he was feeling at the memory of those ships. Besides, one soldier addressing the prince should not be as uncommon as all that, and should not draw unwanted attention. "Perhaps it would be best if you saw for yourself."

14th of May, 2010, 12:45
Enheduana played her part well, and in short order Layhiri found herself dancing with the prince again.

"I thought I knew every noblewoman here, but she's not one of them. Who is your friend, Layhiri? I feel certain I've seen her before."

Layhiri looked up at the prince. As bad as Jesper to me. Though hopefully he's a bit wiser. "My lord? Lady Enheduana and I grew up in Waystone keep. She comes from a smaller house that prefers to stay out of politics."

Slowly and surely the music sped up, there wasn't much time. "If you wish I can meet you afterwards and tell you the tales of our girlhood exploits. But now is not really the time." Only a few more seconds before the next partner shift, and Enheduana wouldn't be around to swap her back. "The Admiral isn't foolish enough to throw men at the keep's walls without an alternate plan. I think someone has given him information about the keep, something that lets him know he can win." Too late the next tempo change hit and Layhiri was swept away by Lord Rydal, leaving on the words, "Karathas, the court is infested with spies," in the young prince's ears.

14th of May, 2010, 15:49
Layhiri spun away from him, her last words spinning through his mind.

He knew the defenses of Waystone Keep. Its weathered stone walls were deceptively strong, as well as tall and broad. Each block had been consecrated by the blood of heroes during the province's long and bloody history, especially before the war of unification that had made the realm whole over 100 years ago. The entire building was designed as a cunning kill trap for any would-be attackers that wished to invade the nation through the Oritain Pass. Enemies who breached the outer wall would file in beyond the gate into the inner passage, which led directly to the other side of the building as well as the two inner gates. It was a cramped trench with many arrow slits and oil holes looming over it from the high keep walls above on both the east and west sides. Due to the outer wall placement, no siege towers could reach the keep proper to mount the inner ramparts and stop the defenders from raining death onto the assaulting army as it tried to break through the keep gates. Enemy nations had thrice tried to breach Waystone with superior numbers, and each time had been met with horrible losses.

What Layhiri said made sense. The only way to breach Waystone, in Karathas' mind, was through treachery.

No sooner as the next dance had begun, he was interrupted by a soldier bearing a parchment.

"Prince, I bring these from your father, and with news of import. Perhaps it would be best if you saw for yourself," the soldier said.

Briefly Karathas wondered what the alternative to him reading the parchment himself was, but the recent conversation with Layhiri kept him somber enough to not mention this to the soldier, whose name he knew was Iraj. He was a keep guard who suffered from the same lack of humor as his Lord.

He took the parchment without a word and broke the seal, scanning the words quickly.

Explosive Cheese
14th of May, 2010, 21:14
The music switched to a local song, and though Sawrina tried to keep up, her attempts were in vain. She was a decent musician, and as long as she had been leading, everything had been going well. She had chosen songs she was accustomed to, songs from her own land. But she had never been good at improvisation, and simply could not play a song she did not know, in a style she was not familiar with, especially with the constantly changing tempo.

When she saw the solider arriving to talk to the Prince, she stopped trying to play. Any intelligence the Prince was receiving now, especially with his father gone, would likely concern the invasion. If he discovered on his own terms that she had arrived on Deemethreesu's fleet, she would likely imprisoned, tortured, and worse. If, however, she provided him with some came clean, and provided him with useful intelligence... Perhaps he would grant her refuge in this castle, until she found what she had come here for.

She stepped with the sitar onto the dance floor, but soon found herself rebuffed at every turn by twirling dancers. When the switch in tempo came, one noble grabbed her hand, and tried to engage her in a dance. She snarled for the briefest instant at his impudence, but then decided that the only way to reach the Prince right now was by dancing towards him. For the umpteenth time that night, her snarl was replaced with a plastic smile, and her cheeks were growing quite tired at this point.

She danced with the noble, and then the next noble after him, manoeuvreing herself closer to the Prince with each change in tempo. At last, she found herself close enough, that at the next tempo switch, she walked over, and bowed.

"Lord Karathas, my name is Sawrina, Lady of Sheld. I believe I have some valuable information for you concerning the imminent invasion by Admiral Deemethreesu's armada."

16th of May, 2010, 07:36
The scrolls contain official orders promoting a guardsman called "Iraj" to Captain, and a letter from Kurigalzu, hastily written but still incredibly neat and deliberate:

My son,

Things have gone awry. An entire armada of unknown origin approaches our coast with rapidity. The fact that we were only made aware of their presence at this, the final moments before landfall, means that someone has tampered with the ancient Lighthouses along the coast. We received no warning from their omniscient flames, and the monks there are not responding to my divination attempts.

There are vipers among us--vile spies who allowed this to happen. I must rally the Provincial troops to supplement the regular army. The soldier who carried this message is to be promoted to Captain and given command of his own men, relieving some of the pressure on you and allowing you to more easily hunt for spies.

Finally, you must find Lady Enheduana. She is far more than she seems, and we will need her help to repel this invasion and hold the enemy back from the Greater Realm.

We must not allow our home to be taken from us. Gods grant you strength.


16th of May, 2010, 19:43
Karathas crumpled the parchment in his fist. His father had a lot of nerve. Who was this newly promoted sergeant to assume command of the entire keep's defense? It was Karathas' responsibility to lead the defense in his father's absence. This soldier must have his father's trust to be so rewarded. Well, Karathas would give the man some responsibility, but he would not yield full command. The spies would be negated shortly, well before the invaders reached the walls.

"Lord Karathas..." the Shelder singer had approached him while he read his father's note. "My name is Sawrina, Lady of Sheld. I believe I have some valuable information for you concerning the imminent invasion by Admiral Deemethreesu's armada."

He glanced at her, then turned to Iraj. "Captain, you have somehow impressed my Lord father. Perhaps it is because of your long loyal service to Waystone without appeal for greater advancement. Whatever the reason, he has seen fit to give you an important task, and I must trust that you are up to it. You shall be commanding the troops alongside me and seeing to it that this keep does not fall. I have another task that I must see to, so while I am attending to it, you will confer with the other Captains in organizing our defense. Prepare Waystone to withhold a siege."

He turned back to the woman. "Arwina, you said? What is it that you wish to say? Be quick about it, my time is precious at the moment and I shall need to address this court very soon."

Explosive Cheese
17th of May, 2010, 01:29
“My lord, I believe I can help you identify some of the spies within your keep. I... came in on Deemethreesu's armada, on an advance boat. The party I came in with were to infiltrate the keep, and some of them are already here.”

Sawrina pointed to one of the musicians, the short balding man playing the surbahar. “That man there is the head of the party. He goes by the cover name of Aerock Galaj.”

She pointed to a few others among the entertainers, identifying each, and then turned back to Karathas. “There are a few more outside, in the camp of entertainers. Though I know of no other spies myself, I'm sure that Galaj was briefed on the locations and identities of several other parties.”

She looked down at her feet, and continued in a lower voice. “I am not part of Deemethreesu's armada. I payed my way onto the armada and onto the infiltrators' boat, because I have business in this kingdom. There is someone I came here to find, and I would much rather the keep did not fall while I do so. I offer myself entirely to your services. Besides the scant information I have picked up concerning the armada, I am also a practitioner... of certain arts, which may aid you.”

Now I must hope that he doesn't execute me for being a spy or a sorceress. But I have little choice but to trust him if I wish to find the Namer's servant before the armada arrives...

17th of May, 2010, 13:45
Karathas listened intently to what the woman had to say, and when she was done, he raised his his hand and motioned to two soldiers who were standing guard at the nearby hall entrance.

"You obviously have much you wish to say, my lady, but I think it would be wiser to finish this conversation in someplace more private."

He motioned to the two guards who arrived by his side. "Pokqar and Raziel here will accompany you to the guest quarters in the eastern wing. You shall be safe from infiltrators there, and I will be along shortly to go over all of this with you. Thank you for your forthrightness. It is appreciated."

He nodded to the two guards, and they took positions along either side of Sawrina.

"This way my lady," the one named Pokqar said, motioning her towards the entranceway that he had previously been guarding.

Karathas shared a glance with the guard, and he was satisfied to see that the understanding was there in the man's eyes. The eastern wing was built into the side of the mountain, it had only one way out of it, which could be sealed and guarded. These two would see to it that this woman did not leave the eastern wing until Karathas came for her.

He did not know what he would do with her, but until he knew more about what exactly she wanted, he could not trust her, but if she was willing to point out spies to him, he figured she should at least stay within the walls of the keep.

18th of May, 2010, 12:44
Iraj felt his mouth go sour. He had seen the size of the armada, and did not know when his Lord would return.

Still, he was a good soldier and the fortress was well situated. He saluted, then turned, gesturing that the other soldiers should follow.

Iraj had spent months in the fortress, and he knew its plan by heart. The first item was to seal off most of the entrances, followed by stockpiling weapons, especially arrows, javelins, and quantities of rock at key locations. He stopped briefly in the kitchens (how he missed Leili!) to take quick stock of the food supply. So long as Karathas did not insist in a fete every night, they had sufficient stores to last several months. He also made sure that the cooks knew that it would be important to keep a constant supply of boiling water at hand. It might be less harmful than oil when poured on a defender, but only just.

Iraj was also careful to divide the watches, making sure that even the unlikely approaches to the fortress were watched over, while not giving the men time enough to get bored.

He paused at one point, taking a long drink of water, when he spied Jesper staring out into space. "Get your head out of the heavens, boy," Iraj snapped. "They'll be time enough for daydreaming when the enemy is gone."

18th of May, 2010, 12:50
Raziel saluted his lord before falling into step beside Sawrina and Pokqar.

"Have you ever been to the Waystone Province, m'lady?" Raziel said sweetly, "Or anywhere in the Realm of the Sun and Moon, for that matter? It is a wondrous place, truly; though times being as they are, you'll have to excuse our lack of hospitality."

The three of you walked down a series of confusing torch-lit corridors, and Sawrina could no longer tell where she came from. Pokqar remained mostly silent, only humming a cheerful tune from time to time.

"Pokqar here, he wishes he was a bard," Raziel laughed, slapping his fellow on the shoulder.

Pokqar grinned sheepishly before muttering, "It would be nice, to entertain for a living. I do the Lord and Lady's work, though, and that's good enough for me. Ah, look, here we are. Your chambers, my lady Sawrina," Pokqar said, pulling out a set of keys and unlocking a great wood-and-iron door. He waved Sawrina in.

"We'll be your door guards; do not hesitate to ask us anything. I'm sure the Prince will be here soon to talk to you," Raziel said, closing the door behind Sawrina.

Sawrina heard a click as the door locked, and soon after the swoosh of a well-lubricated panel being slid opened. Raziel peeked in through a now-open barred window in the door.

"We've orders to lock you in, unfortunately, but we can let you out with an escort if you need anything. Just knock!"

Raziel smiled before slamming the window shut.

Sawrina found herself in a largish stone room with a four-poster bed on the left wall. The right wall was mostly overwhelmed by an enormous open-air balcony, with a small mirror and stone washbasin next to it. The far wall contained a chest of drawers and an oaken desk with a study chair. Nothing decadent, but it seemed that Waystone Keep knew how to treat its guests. Or was she a prisoner? The Prince wasn't quite clear.

18th of May, 2010, 14:07
Karathas picked up the polished malachite stone that lay beside his father's chair of office. It was smooth and rounded; used for striking upon a grooved indentation carved into the arm of the throne. It was called a judging stone, made for proclaiming judgment over legal matters brought to court. Hefting it for just a moment, he struck the indentation three times in quick succession, making a sound loud enough to bring the music and dancing to an abrupt halt. All eyes turned to him.

"Forgive the interruption, but I have grave news that concerns us all," the Prince said. "Word has reached us that an armada, numbering in the hundreds, has reached our shore without warning from the Lighthouse at Dunjab. The enemy is expected to reach Waystone within a matter of days."

A building murmur of shock and anger started up amongst the crowd of nobles, forcing Karathas to stop speaking. He held up his hand.

"Good people, hear me," he said to little avail. He then picked up the judging stone and struck it twice more. The murmur died down.

"We do not know how or why all this has happened, we only know that it falls to us now to stop it. The High Court is to immediately disband. You who are gathered here, may choose to exit via the north gate towards the greater realm, or through the south gate, to look after whatever holdings you may have.

"I ask that those who go south, if they are within a two days ride, gather whatever forces available and come back to reinforce Waystone. If the keep falls, no force from the north will be able to get through the pass to relieve your homes. Those who cannot make it back to the keep in time, I ask to adopt harrying tactics on the enemy's supply lines.

"Any of you going to the north will need to organize Waystone's supply. If we can dissuade the enemy from direct assault, we will need supplies to outlast their siege. Word must also be sent to the Emperor and Empress, that Admiral Deemethreesu has invaded the Realm. We must have reinforcement."

His eyes washed over the court. It seemed everyone was holding a collective breath.

"Make your decisions as best you can and see to the task in front of you. May the gods be with us."

Karathas immediately went to speak with Captain Bram. "Captain, I need you to post men at each gate, I want them to look out for Lady Enheduana and bring her to me if she tries to leave. I also want you to send a second team to find her, and bring her to me. I have need of her aid and don't want her going anywhere just yet. Oh, and could you also have the musician Layhiri brought to me, I need to speak to her as well. Ah, and one last thing, have the musicians already in the court here brought to the holding cells, except for Master Haragji the tamburi player who is free to go. Someone has accused them of spying and I will need to know their stories. Keep them separate so they cannot confer.

"I will be in the eastern quarters for now. Iraj has been promoted to captain by order of Lord Kurigalzu, confer with him in matters of the keep's defense, but keep me abreast of what methods he's taking."

Karathas gave the captain a salute and then took his leave, heading towards the eastern quarters to talk to the Shelder woman.

18th of May, 2010, 16:04
The Princes words echoed through the corridor as he addressed the crowd. Faint murmurs at best, but Layhiri could guess what he was saying. This were moving faster than she'd expected, and in the wrong direction. Worse still, she lacked information. Without proper knowledge of the situation she was deaf, blind and dumb. She needed to find Enheduana and fast.

Tracing her way through the hallways and corridors Layhiri eventually made it to Enheduana's room at the base of one of the inner towers. Soldiers were already beginning to swarm about in a bustle of preparation. Slipping in she caught her friend slipping into a more basic brown and tan traveler's skirt and blouse. "Duana, I think I've made a mess of things. We're under siege, there are spies about, ones I wasn't aware of anyway, and we're still at least a day out from our ride to the Sheld lands arriving."

Layhiri looked up at her friend. "You'll need to hide Duana. Things are afoot and until I can figure out what's going on, I don't think it's safe. Hide in our special place from when we were just girls and trust no one. I'll come for you when it's time."

Now she just needed to find out about the armada, what information the Admiral received, who gave it to him, and why her friend was so intent on getting to the Sheld lands. Simple enough. Where's my sitar? She thought as she exited the room.

Explosive Cheese
22nd of May, 2010, 08:38
Sawrina didn't have much to say to the guards as they escorted her through the keep. She was busy worrying about what was likely to happen to her now. The prince was under a lot of pressure right now, and she hadn't made the best of first impressions, she was sure. Her best bet was to be honest and forthcoming as much as possible now, and hope that that would be enough to establish her innocence.

She was so engrossed in her thoughts, that she barely registered their comments, and found herself in the room with the door locked behind her.

She sat on the bed, and began idly playing on the sitar. It wasn't any well-known song, neither here nor in Sheld. She was interpreting a lullaby she barely remembered having sung to her as a child, allowing her fingers and subconscious to take control and calm her.

23rd of May, 2010, 16:19
Music flowed in and around the room, and soon Sawrina was lost in her songs, plucking out notes with passion and occasionally singing a few lines softly.

She didn't hear the door unlock, but being as she was facing the door while playing, she certainly noticed Raziel fling it open. In one hand was his bloodied sword, and over his left shoulder was the corpse of what appeared to be Pokqar. His face seemed to have melted away, and his whole body was sickly looking--dessicated.

Raziel flung the body on the ground and kicked the door shut, quickly lowering the reinforced wooden bar over the door frame with his free hand while leveling his sword at Sawrina. It exuded a foul aura that warped the local air around it, as if it were a burning brand.

"M'lady," he said in a voice that wasn't quite his own, "we have some… things to discuss."

He smiled gently, moving slowly towards the balcony.

"You see, we know why you're here," he continued, his voice multiplying into many. Great voices, small voices, disturbing voices. The sound of children screaming, as though from a great distance.

"We know why you're here, and we will not allow you to learn any of that putrid woman's secrets. We've already killed the others, yes! The others in that bitch's wretched harem. The Elder Gods are doomed and dying, and they shall not rise again!"

With a murderous, burning look smoldering in his eyes, Raziel leaped at Sawrina and swung his sword, attempting to separate her head from her neck. His sword sung through the air with a sickening sound, as though the air itself was being cut.

Explosive Cheese
23rd of May, 2010, 23:53
Though she had been paralyzed when Raziel had entered and thrown down the dead Pokqar at his feet, as soon as the sword made its way towards her, she jolted into action. She threw the sitar into the path of the sword, and dived through Raziel's legs.

24th of May, 2010, 10:46
Raziel's sword blew the sitar to pieces, which produced a vile racket that caused him to flinch momentarily, clutching at his temples. Sawrina leaped beneath his legs and rolled towards the door, ending up within arm's distance of it.

Explosive Cheese
24th of May, 2010, 11:02
Sawrina's dive through Raziel's legs knocked him to the floor. He jammed his elbow roughly into the floor, dislocating it.

Sawrina did not waste a moment. No sooner had Raziel gone down than had she began to lift the bar from the door. With the adrenaline still pumping in her veins, it was soon out of the way, and she was out the door in a flash, running down the hallway.

27th of May, 2010, 17:50
Karathas nodded at the two guards in the outer halls. "Follow me."

They fell in step behind him as he marched onwards to the end of the eastern corridor, where a steep flight of stairs led both up to the eastern quarters and down to the ground floor and the inner eastern gateway. No sooner had he ascended the first steps then he heard the echo of a door slamming shut somewhere above. His guards hefted their spears and moved ahead of him, and together the three men completed their climb only to run into a flushed and heavily breathing Shelder woman, the very visitor Karthas had come to see.

She had blood on the hems of her dress.

"My lady," Karathas began reproachfully, but that was all he could say before she interrupted him.

Explosive Cheese
28th of May, 2010, 02:09
"My Lord! I - the guard, Raziel, he, he killed that other one, um, Pocqar, and then he came in the room, and he shut the door, and he came at me, but I went beneath him, and he fell, and I ran, and I don't know if he's still after me! Help me, please, I - I -"

Sawrina took a deep breath. She looked down at her blood-stained robes, before looking back into the Prince's face. When she spoke again, it was in her calm and measured tones from ealier in the evening.

"I apologize for my outburst, my Lord. I have just escaped one of the guards you posted at my door, the one called Raziel. I had been sitting in the room you assigned to me, with the guards just outside. I had been playing the sitar that one of the entertainers of the court left with me - which is now ruined I'm afraid - so I didn't hear anything when Raziel came in. He had the other guard's corpse slung on his back, which he dropped on the floor. He attacked me, but I managed to get out of the way, and he fell to the floor. I got away, but I don't know what's become of him."

28th of May, 2010, 09:54
"Raziel killed Pokqar?" Karathas said with doubt weighing on his words. "Come, show us proof of this. If you're telling the truth, you'll have no need to fear, you'll have three warriors accompanying you."

The sound of light footsteps coming from the stairs below caused the Prince to stop any further conversation. He held up his hand in warning to his guards, but they already had their spears leveled. The footsteps continued, clacking closer and closer still, until finally the lithe figure of Layhiri stood before them.

The Prince found this most unfortunate. He wanted to speak to the knowledgeable woman, but privately, and after he had dealt with this Shelder problem. He somehow felt he wasn't going to get his wish.

28th of May, 2010, 13:51
Layhiri paced down the hallways, barely keeping track of where her legs were taking her. The Shelder woman mentioned that she knew at least a few of the spies, and comparing her knowledge with the foreigner would be a good starting point. She wanted to get her sitar back from the strange woman anyway.

That meant talking to Karathas and finding out where he'd decided to house her, though odds were the young Prince was looking for her anyway. So it was probably best she head back to court. Looking up she noticed she'd wandered into the eastern section of the keep. As she turned the voices of Karathas and the Shelder woman drifted in from further into wing.

"Even better, I can catch them both together," Layhiri thought, marching down the hewn stone hallway as best her dress allowed her. Entering into the flickering torchlight Layhiri learned her ears had not decieved her, Karathas and the Shelder woman were indeed there, as were two guards leveling their spears at her.

"Um...my apologizes. I was looking for my sitar, I believe I left in the care of the young Lady." Looking between them, she caught notice of the blood on the foreigner's dress, and the tension in the soldiers' arms. "What...if I may ask, what happened?"

28th of May, 2010, 17:51
The guards visibly relaxed when they recognized the sitarist. Karathas heaved a sigh and then gestured to the Shelder.

"This woman claims one of the two guards I assigned to watch over her killed the other, and then attempted to claim her life as well. She says she got away. The alleged murderer is Raziel. Does that mean anything to you?"

If someone in the keep were to know about abnormalities in the lives of lowly guardsmen, Layhiri was a good person to ask first. She might know something.

29th of May, 2010, 08:45
"Does that mean anything to you?" Karathas asked.

The sun lit Enheduana's reading room spectacularly for eight hours a day, and merely amply for another four hours. Perfect considering the volume of work I had to pour through.

"Layhiri, what are you doing?" Enheduana stepped in from her bedroom.

I looked up from my labors, "reading through the more recent military records and reports."

Enheduana grimaced and rolled her eyes, "Is that what you do for fun now?"

"Kind of. It is interesting. But more importantly I need to know what's been happening in Waystone Keep since I've been gone. And this is as good a place to start as any," I began turning through the pages faster barely glancing at each one. I knew what Enheduana was up to, and I'd need to read these later.

"You know, as my handmaiden, you should be helping me prepare for this outing with Lord Daru."

"And as your friend I should be helping you prepare for an entirely different outing."

Enheduana bit her lip, "Alright, I'll give you ten minutes."

"I need at least fifteen."

"Thirteen," she grinned at me, "And you have to come with me. Lord Daru is a bore. How did you get all that anyway?"

"Oh, I told the archivist that your father needed them."

"Layhiri! You can't do that! What if someone finds out?"

"Too late, they're already mostly in my head, and they'll be back before anyone notices."

Enheduana sighed and walked up behind me, placing her hands on my shoulders, "It's good to have you back Hiri."

"I've missed you Duana." I turned the page.

Layhiri's eyes scanned the ceiling, reading words only she could see. "Raziel? Long standing soldier in your father's army. Decorated for bravery and honor in both the attempted invasion of the southern barbarians and in a rebellion in Capital of the Divine Kingdom. The only mark against him is a notation that he refused to participate in the execution of the wife and children of the rebellion leader."

"However," Layhiri cut off any unpleasant action the two soldiers might have taken, "however...of recent, the scullery maids and servants have been complaining that he's been more distant and unpleasant. Even the other soldiers have mentioned that being near him for prolonged periods is unsettling for reasons they can't quite describe."

She looked back at the four people before her and smiled coquettishly, "Or so they say around the taverns. Just rumors from when I freelance outside the Keep Milord." Layhiri turned to the Shelder woman, "My apologize Milady, but a musician without her instrument is a bit naked. Do you still have my sitar?"

Explosive Cheese
30th of May, 2010, 04:59
"My apologies, but the sitar was destroyed in the fight. I used it to intercept Raziel's sword, and... well... what's left of it is still in the room... I am deeply sorry."

Sawrina was acutely reminded of her current status. Normally, she would have simply paid for the broken instrument, but since paying for her journeys, she had nothing to offer. Debt was a new concept to Sawrina and one she loathed.

She vowed to pay for the sitar at the earliest opportunity possible.

30th of May, 2010, 14:25

Whilst walking the halls to see to the defenses of the Keep, you saw a soldier running towards you. Raziel, if you recalled correctly.

The soldier rushed towards you, bloody sword in hand.

"C-captain," he began.

"I-I need your hel--" he sucked in his breath suddenly, and clutched his chest with his left hand. His eyes grew dark and he hefted his sword.

"And the best way you could help me," he said in a voice of many voices, old and young, male and female, human and… other, "is to die!"

He thrust his sword forward suddenly, stabbing at your chest. A dim red glow could be seen in his coal-black eyes.

Sawrina, Layhiri, and Karathas

Jesper stepped into the hall at that moment. He unsubtly eyed Layhiri for a moment before speaking to Karathas.

"My liege, Captain Bram reports that supplies have been laid in. The inner defenses are prepared and he requests permission to assist Captain Iraj with the exterior defenses!"

Jesper saluted, and awaited a reply.

30th of May, 2010, 17:19
"Permission granted. Also, let it be known that the soldier Raziel is to be apprehended for questioning. Inform me when he is found." Karathas dismissed Jesper.

The prince then turned to his guardsmen and the two women. "Let us all walk and confirm what Sawrina has said - if you don't mind." His words may have indicated a choice for Sawrina, but his tone did not. "Along the way we can begin to discuss what you mentioned earlier. Layhiri here will accompany us, I'd like her to hear what you have to say."

Turning his head to the other woman, Karathas gave a brief smile. "I'm glad that you happened by, I have a favor to ask of you after this. It involves your friend who danced with me tonight. I have urgent need to speak with her. We are all soon to be in great danger here, and I don't want to waste time. But first, this Shelder woman here claims to have arrived on a front running ship from the armada you warned me of. She also says that there are spies in the keep. And she's about to tell us exactly why she is here and telling us all this in the first place."

Karathas winked at Layhiri and then looked expectantly at Sawrina as he began to walk towards the eastern quarters where the body of Pokqar waited to be found. The group followed suit.

30th of May, 2010, 21:43
Iraj wasn't sure what sorcery this was, or why Raziel was attacking him. Iraj sidestepped Raziel's thrust, his own sword springing into his hand while he did so, and he struck Raziel with a close fist against his chest.

"Raziel!" he shouted. "What is the meaning of this?" he kept his sword up, looking for an opening in the other's defense. In sword play, Iraj knew that fighting an exclusively defensive battle was only going to get him killed.

31st of May, 2010, 06:18
Raziel caught Iraj's fist before he could pull it away, and pivoted in such a way that sent Iraj flying down the hall.

"I-I c-c-c-can't CONTRO-" Raziel's voice seemed to break, and he clutched his throat with one hand as he moved down the hall rapidly toward Iraj, blade snapping for his neck.

Explosive Cheese
31st of May, 2010, 08:03
They walked, and it was a full minute before Sawrina responded. She was thinking phrase her reasons for being here, without bringing up certain... difficult subjects.

"Well, my lord, as I mentioned before, I am a magician of sorts. However, I am but a novice, and there are few experts in my own country. I have heard rumors of a very experienced spellcaster here in your kingdom. I came here to see if I could learn from them.

"The only way to get from Sheld to the Divine Kingdom is by sea, and the Hakken control the sea between Sheld and the Divine Kingdom is controlled by the Hakken. My only chance to make the journey was by boarding the Hakken armada, and it took every gold piece I had to bribe them to let me on one of the front ships.

"I am no friend of the Hakken. They have raided my own nation many, many times, and I have lost several dear friends to them. And I can hardly find the one who I hope shall be my master if the Divine Kingdom falls. So I decided to betray the spies I came in with, and to give myself fully into your service, my Lord. Whatever you ask of me, I shall do."

It felt wrong to pledge herself to a man, but she lived in strange times, in strange lands.

31st of May, 2010, 11:40
Iraj let the momentum of the throw carry him, and he kicked against the wall and came straight back at Raziel. "What are you?" he hissed through clinched teeth. He feinted a thrust at Raziel's head, then redirected his attack at the last moment to try to skewer Raziel through his thigh.

31st of May, 2010, 11:52
Raziel ducked into the first swing and barely noticed the feint. At the last possible moment, he threw himself backwards and landed hard on his ass. Rolling backwards, he flung himself to unstable feet.

"What am I?" he grinned, "What are we, you mean? What we are not is here for you, Captain; we are here for that bitch-servant of the Old One. Not that we expect a lowly soldier to have any inkling of our plans."

He eyed Iraj warily, slowly stepping backwards down the hall.

[OoC: there is an offer waiting for you in the conflict thread, Darius.]

31st of May, 2010, 12:10
Iraj was already moving by the time Raziel said Captain. Iraj took a short leap forward, lips pulled back from teeth in a wolfish grin, and his sword thirsty for blood. Raziel had forgotten that there was a time for action and a time for talking, and Iraj had taken the attempted ambush somewhat personally.

Raziel could tell the torturers his plans until he begged for the sweet release of death.

31st of May, 2010, 12:20
Iraj's sword caught Raziel in the shoulder, cutting a deep gash and throwing him to the ground. His sword clattered to the ground next to him, and his right hand darted towards it instinctively.

He snapped his left hand forward, catching his own wrist. His eyes dimmed, and he began to speak rapidly; his voice and body trembling with strain.

"E-Enhenduana. They wants her dead. And Sawrina and the whole of the Keep if they can manage it. The sword thirsts for the blood of powerful women. There is cabal of female warrior-mages in Sheld. They serve the N-Namer, an Old One. You have to find Enhen-" Raziel choked then, and his right hand snapped up his sword. His eyes were suddenly awash with flame.

He leapt to his feet with such force that he loosened the stones in the floor of the hall. He slammed the hilt of his blade against Iraj's chest, sending him sprawling.

And with that he was gone, leaving ember footsteps in his wake.

[OoC: Darius, see the OoC thread before replying.]

31st of May, 2010, 12:21
Karathas arched his brow at the Shelder.

"You pay everything you have to cross the Green Sea, to come to a foreign shore on a Hakken invasion fleet... all because of a rumor? Even were I to believe that - which you must admit is a stretch because there is very little reason for Admiral Deemethreesu to allow you to spread warning of his invasion as you have - I cannot fathom going through all this just to apprentice yourself to some random arcane practitioner in the Divine Kingdom. It is a large land, true, and we do have magicians as you say, but so does your homeland of Sheld. If you were just wanting to practice magic, you could have done so much more easily than this.

"And now," the Prince continued, "you are eagerly pledging yourself to my service. In full knowledge that were I to accept, you would be soon fighting for your life against a hoard of Hakken."

He eyed Sawrina meaningfully. "Your story is lacking a critical element, and it is clear you are not used to covering such things up. Your only saving grace is that I personally believe a real spy with intent to kill me and everyone else within this keep would have concocted a much better tale during her long voyage."

His eyes briefly glanced over to Layhiri, to see if she shared his assessment before he once again turned his gaze on Sawrina.

"So. Let's say that for the moment I believe you're not an immediate threat to me. Why should I accept your pledge? You have come so far and paid so much to want to plant yourself here, in this place? What could possibly be here that is so important? There is no arcane mentor waiting here that I know of, certainly none so powerful as to warrant your alleged troubles. What are you not telling me?"

31st of May, 2010, 22:35
Iraj coughed slightly, quickly regained his feet, then took after Raziel. The possessed soldier was gone though, his burning tracks soon disappearing into the maze of corridors. Iraj finally stopped, using a bit of cloth to carefully wipe his blade clean of the blood of the soldier.

Prince Karathas would need to know of this. Iraj could care less about this Sawrina or Enhenduana. Neither of those were his charge or responsibility. The fortress and his lord's son, however, those were, and whatever Raziel was didn't seem interested in stopping at a few murders.

Iraj's one consolation was that he had marked Raziel. Next time, one of them would not be walking away from the confrontation.

As he walked through the hallways, he flagged down a messenger.

"Where is Prince Karathas now? I have urgent news that he needs to be made aware of."

1st of June, 2010, 18:41
The messenger stopped and saluted, a closed fist against her armored heart.

"Sir, Captain Bram just sent Jesper to find him. I think he's in the servant's wing attending to that Shelder woman. Anything else, Captain? I'm supposed to bring these orders to Sergeant Raziel..." she trailed off, waving a sealed scroll case about.

"Sir, are you alright? You look a tad shaken, like you've seen a demon or something."

1st of June, 2010, 20:05
"I'll take those," he said, snatching the scroll case from the messenger's hand. "Sergeant Raziel... if you see Raziel," Iraj dropped the title purposefully, "you run. You find one of the other captains. You tell them Raziel is the murderer and should be treated with extreme caution. But most importantly you run. Right now, go and spread the news that Raziel is a wanted man. I'd prefer him taken alive, but it is most important that he be stopped."

Iraj strode off toward the servant's wing breaking the seal on the scroll case as he did so.

2nd of June, 2010, 05:18
The prince's words worried Layhiri. Enheduana needed to leave Waystone Keep, and the incoming armada was her best chance, as slim as it was; yet everyone and everything seemed to be after her. There was nothing for Layhiri to do but wait, and hope an opportunity would present itself, that and pray her friend could remain hidden.

As the entered the Shelder's room Layhiri nodded at both the body and the splintered remains of her sitar. Glancing around to ensure the guards had positioned themselves outside the room, she knelt and picked up a splinter of wood, holding it up to her eye, and staring at Sawrina past it. "Well, this part of her story is true. I'm glad my sitar could perform at least one more noble deed before retiring..."

She stood and idly flicked the broken sliver of wood into a corner. "My lord, regardless of what this woman's true intentions are, and I do think her story is missing a key component, she has a agreed to point out several spies to us. It's the best lead we have and it may be prudent to deal with that issue first." Layhiri looked down at the dead guard and shuddered ever so slightly, "Though maybe in a more comfortable location. We can also speak of other things while we're there."

2nd of June, 2010, 05:49

The scroll read:

Sgt Raziel,

Report to Cpt Samar for duty. Lord Kurigalzu has ordered that he assist in the hunt for spies, and your service record makes you a trusted asset. We need troops on the outside just as much as we need troops scouring the interior of the Keep. If not more so--the spies inside are trapped in here with us. Those on the outside have more mobility, and every scrap of information may be critical.

Do not fail us, Sergeant.

BramCaptain Samar was in charge of the outer guard, responsible for laying traps and ambushes along the southern approach and ensuring that enemy siegecraft did not make it up the pass to the Keep.

By the time Iraj had finished reading, he had made it to the servant's wing. He could hear Layhiri speaking:

"Though maybe in a more comfortable location. We can also speak of other things while we're there."

They appeared to be just inside one of the guest quarters--there were two guards posted outside the open door of one the rooms in the hallway.

2nd of June, 2010, 14:51
Sawrina's lengthy silence was telling, and Karathas knew that he had cornered her.

The body of Pokqar proved her story about Raziel was true. He had been killed by a blade, and the lack of defensive wounds and the fact that his sword was undrawn meant he had been attacked by surprise or by someone he trusted.

"Lady Sawrina, I really don't have time for games," Karathas said. "You've chosen to put yourself into my hands, and doing so in such a short and hectic time requires that you come completely clean. I promise you that so long as your ultimate intentions will not bring about harm to myself or my subjects, then you have little to fear from me. I need to know I can trust you before I start using your information to root out spies."

He then noticed Iraj walking toward him at a brisk pace.

2nd of June, 2010, 20:16
Iraj stopped short, just where Karathas would be able to notice him and call him over. Iraj's eyes were wide, and slightly haunted, and the knuckles of the hand gripping the scroll case were white.

"Prince, I beg a moment of your time." He spared a glance at Sawrina and Layhiri before continuing. "In private would be best. It deals with the security of the fortress."

Explosive Cheese
4th of June, 2010, 00:15
Up until now, Sawrina had done her best to be submissive and respectful. But she could not tell the prince her real reasons for being here, no matter what he said.

She stood up straight and squared her shoulders. Her blazing eyes met his. She would meet his judgement with dignity. When she spoke, it was in the tones she had heard her mother used when issuing commands.

"My lord, I am sorry, but I have told you everything there is to tell. I am here looking for a sorceress of great power, and would gladly aid in the defense of the kingdom if you would have me. If you cannot believe me, then do with me what you will, for there is simply nothing more I can say."

4th of June, 2010, 12:19
Sawrina spoke and Layhiri sighed. When titans clashed the very earth shook and even the best of mortals were forgotten. Best to cut off any conflict before it started, or none of them would live through the week.

"My lord. Perhaps it is best you deal with the matters at hand. There is an oncoming army and a siege to prepare for, spies or no spies. I'm sure whatever Iraj has to say can't wait. Allow me to deal with our guest's accommodations, free of assassins this time, I promise you, and you can handle this matter at you leisure." Layhiri winked at the prince, and bowed her head, waiting for an answer.

4th of June, 2010, 23:56
Karathas nodded and allowed himself to appear to be swayed by Layhiri's words.

"Very well," he said. "Layhiri, I know you are capable and I trust that you do not wish to see your home reduced to rubble. I will need you to keep your eyes open for any signs of malice within the court. Also, I need you to bring Lady Enheduana to me. I must speak with her at the soonest opportunity. It is crucial that I find her, otherwise we might be in trouble."

He turned to Sawrina. "Trust is not given, it is earned. Aid in the defense of this keep, and if we are victorious, I will aid you in your quest. Make your preparations. I will have Captain Bram meet with you later. He will discuss your abilities and determine how best to use them in defense of the walls."

At last he turned to Iraj. "Yes, sergeant, what have you to say?" He led the way deeper into the room, so that the two women could make their way out and let the soldier speak to him in private.

Explosive Cheese
5th of June, 2010, 00:05
As she exited the room, Sawrina let out a small sigh of relief, which she hoped the others did not catch. She'd done her best to mask it, but she had been nervous of the prince's judgement.

When they were outside the room, she turned to Layhiri. "Thank you for coming to my aid. I am even further in your debt."

7th of June, 2010, 04:24
Iraj caught himself about to remind Karathas that he was a captain now, but thought better about it.

"Sir, I had a recent... encounter with Sergeant Raziel, or rather, something that took his form. It was stronger and faster than a normal man, though I di manage to wound it. I failed to capture or kill the creature, however, but not before it pledged that it would kill someone named Enheduana, someone else named Sawrina. He mentioned that they serve something called a Namer, and this Namer was an Old One, whatever that means."

Iraj paused, tapping the scroll case against his leg. "Prince, I don't know if Raziel was possessed by some spirit or some creature has taken his form. I do know that he is a threat to the fortress and should be hunted down. I did manage to wound his shoulder, though whether a man-forged item is enough to hurt whatever Raziel is, I don't know."

7th of June, 2010, 10:31
"Burning hells!" Karathas swore. "Yes hunt him down. And find Lady Enheduana. We need to find her and keep her safe."

Karathas was familiar with religions other than the Zodiac. It was part of his classical education that he often feigned ignorance of. Was this why his father wanted Enheduana found? How did he know of her? Why would he associate with a servant of the Demiurge - enemy of the gods?

"Sawrina!" Karathas half walked, half ran down the hallway after the two ladies. They were at the far end of the hall, nearly about to descend the stairs. He called out to them.

"You serve the Namer." He said it plainly as a statement, with no raised intonation, no suggestion of uncertainty. He wanted to know what Sawrina would do.

Explosive Cheese
7th of June, 2010, 11:34
"I - "

Sawrina turned sharply, her face an open book to Karathas. Shock, anger, hatred, humiliation, relief, fear, and resolve all vied for control of her facial features as her mind raced. She had felt herself safe, felt that she had been given time to escape his investigations. She could not allow others to learn of her service to the Namer... perhaps she could avoid the question? But no, he had seen her hesitation, and she had already failed to hide the truth from him before.

Her face calmed.

"Yes. I do." Her voice was emotionless.

8th of June, 2010, 16:16
Karathas wanted to scream. A heretic. Sawrina was a heretic. And if she was ready to confirm Raziel's story, that meant that Enheduana was likely one too. The thought grieved the prince. He had felt a strong connection with the noble woman he had danced with so briefly at court. He somehow knew that that connection had always been there. But there had been a hole in his memory of her. Could that have been the results of forbidden sorcery?

He looked coldly at Sawrina. To condemn her now would be to condemn Enheduana too. He couldn't do that. His father clearly knew of this somehow. There must have been a reason his father hadn't acted.

To serve the Namer was punishable by death in the lands of the True Gods, nowhere moreso than within the Heavenly Kingdom. Solar priests would flay this woman, remove her eyelids and strap her down in the middle of the Yasil Desert to gaze upon the wrath of Sol. Lunar priestesses would have been far more cruel, taking her to the Forest of Lunacy - not a true forest at all, but rather a labyrinth of stone interwoven with trees that spanned several leagues. The exact methods were known only to the sisterhood, but a heretic could expect to go insane under the gaze of Luna in that horrible maze long before granted the mercy of being ripped to shreds by the night creatures that dwelt within.

To give aid and succor to a heretic was to endure the same fate.

Karathas strode towards the Shelder. "I presume then, that you are searching for someone who could teach you more of the dread Demiurge?" He held up his hand. "You don't have to answer that, it is obvious. What you should know, Lady Sawrina, is that something very dangerous hunts both you and your would-be tutor. If it finds either of you, it will not hesitate to kill you. I am not sure I can stop it - not sure if I should even try, given what you are, but I have orders to protect this keep and the people in it. This demon that hunts you has possessed Raziel. It has shown that it will kill anyone in order to succeed, and that I cannot allow. Therefore you will go with the soldiers. Iraj here will escort you. If it tries to attack you again, our soldier will attempt to kill it. You however, are not to leave this keep, under pain of death should you try otherwise. We will deal with your situation once this siege is over. How we will deal with it, will depend very greatly on your deeds during the siege."

He nodded to Iraj. "Ser- I mean, Captain, this is Lady Sawrina, a novice mage. She is going to help defend this keep and she will take orders from you. Also, Raziel will likely attempt to strike at her again, so you can expect him to come to you. You must find Enheduana, as he will also attempt to kill her if he can. We must protect her above all else, my father feels she is the key to our survival."

9th of June, 2010, 01:34
Iraj kept his face a neutral mask, devoid of all emotion.

"As you say, Prince," he stated, saluted and turned back down the corridor to find Captain Samar and pass the word that Raziel was not to be trusted, and in fact shoudl be treated as a dangerous enemy. He didn't wait to see if Sawrina followed after him, assuming that if she knew what was best she would be dogging his feels.

"So, Lady Sawrina, where do your talents lie? Can you turn our enemies into pillars of fire? Can you make our walls impenetrable?" Iraj failed to keep the scorn from his voice. It had long been his experience that so-called mages were little more than charlatans, and come battle, it was ordinary men killing and dying that determined the course of events. "At the very least, can you tell me where to look for Enheduana?"

His one consolation was that if Raziel was determined to try and kill her, it would make him easy for Iraj to find.

9th of June, 2010, 07:41
Layhiri stayed silent through the whole exchange, staring past the trio down the hallway. She bit her lip and kept her ears open as they discussed. So, servant of a Namer. That's new. As Iraj and Sawrina made their way away from the intersection Layhiri turned to Karathas.

"You've let a heretic into our land's defenses. It should be a simple matter of passing her off as a more standard mage. I believe we have one in the Keep's employ now, Akihiqar, he should be back any time now. And we can use the age old method of simply not telling anyone Lady Sawrina believes in The Namers. Though that leaves me to question, in how bad of a shape are we in? It must be pretty dire if you're willing to let a Heretic, and a foreigner, and possible spy into the Keep's forces."

Layhiri reviewed the previous conversations in her head, "And I think you're developing an unhealthy obsession with my friend..."

9th of June, 2010, 11:13
"I know what I'm doing, Layhiri," the prince said, though as he spoke the words he wasn't entirely sure of their verity. "Right now it's Raziel, not Sawrina who is killing my forces from within. If I'm going to catch that man I'll need some bait, and the Shelder serves just fine."

He looked down at the young spymistress. "As for your friend, my concern stems entirely from a direct order from my father. He believes she will be important in the keep's defense and that I am to find her. That our Lord wishes this is all that need concern you at the moment."

Explosive Cheese
9th of June, 2010, 12:10
Sawrina walked calmly after the Captain, but inside she was fit to burst with anger and hatred. What other emotions she had felt upon being outed fled at the Prince's tone, at the way he said 'what you are.'

What I am? What I am!? I am Princess of Sheld! I am a touched by the fey! I know things about the world he never will! I am a woman, and he is but a man! Who is he to judge me?!

Sawrina's attention only turned to Iraj when he mentioned 'Enheduana' - her would-be-mentor? She heard the scorn in his voice. When she answered, her voice was cold. She had been forced to meekly accept that attitude from the Prince. She would not take such attitude from a man beneath her station.

“Well, Captain, if I knew where to find her, I would not be here in the first place. As to my talents - as the Prince pointed out I am but a novice mage - I could no more turn your enemies to pillars of fire than you could breathe underwater. My talents, as you call them, lie in enchantments - in enhancing existing properties of an item. I could make a weapon aim a bit truer, a shield act slightly quicker, your walls a mite thicker. And while I have a fair bit of stamina when it comes to magic, I could hardly enchant your entire army. I would be exhausted after enchanting 20 soldiers' gear. I will not be able to turn the tide of the battle.

“I am, however, particularly adept at learning new spells. Though I doubt your Prince would allow it, if you have any records of spells, I would likely be able to employ them in your aid.”

She then recalled the feelings she had felt when first entering the castle, and her tone became pensive.

“Although, I might not need any such records... This castle seems to have been the site for a very powerful rite at some point in the past. If I was given time, I might be able to channel it...”

Sawrina lapses into silence as she contemplates the strange aura pervading the castle. She was sure that with enough time, she could solve its mysteries... And make use of it...

9th of June, 2010, 20:25
Iraj snorted. "So, given enough time, you think you might be able to come up with something useful. I'll be sure to let the Prince know so he can see if he can delay the armada long enough for you to find something to help us."

He stopped suddenly and turned to her. "Understand something, lady of Sheld, you were put into my trust and told to accept my command. What I am trying to determine is how you can help aid in the defense of this fortress. If you don't know anything that can directly help us I'll put you to work with the healers."

He started walking again. "Records of spells? None that I know of, and I do not have time to go looking for them. I am to find Enheduana first, then my second priority will be to the defense of this fortress." He raised a hand, trying to forestall the protest he was sure was on its way. "Do we understand each other?"

Explosive Cheese
9th of June, 2010, 20:38
In icy tones, "As clear as crystal, Captain."

10th of June, 2010, 12:48
All that need concern her at the moment? The situation was getting dangerous and out of control. Layhiri pursed her lips and checked the hallways for eavesdroppers. "With all due respect sir. No. I thrive on information, and there's precious little of it right now. Both you and your father have involved my friend, against her will near as I can tell, and now you tell me not to concern myself? I need to know why Lord Kurigalzu needs Enheduana so badly, and what that Shelder woman has to do with it. And may I remind you, Prince, that due to your father's policies against spies, the closest thing you have to a spymaster is the freelancer standing before you." Her tirade complete, Layhiri crossed her arms and stared up into Karathas' eyes.

10th of June, 2010, 13:59
Karathas smirked. "Sounds like you need to have a conversation with your friend, spymaster. You apparently don't know her as well as you should."

Karathas found Layhiri's outburst amusing, if ill-timed. It wouldn't do to have a woman he needed to rely upon playing protective mother to Enheduana. He needed to have a clear conversation with the latter before he could successfully answer Layhiri's question in the first place. He was taking a lot on faith, and only the elusive lady would be able to clear everything up.

"As for involving her against her will," the prince continued, "as you've assured me, she is a noble lady of this province, and therefore a subject of the Heavenly Kingdom, bound as all Celestines are to serve the crown and its governors in times of need. If Lord Kurigalzu believes she can help, then she must according to her abilities."

His face did soften then, as the next words came from his heart. "I promise I will not let any harm come to her. After this is all over, I will compensate her for what she can do for us. I just need to see her. Please bring her to me."

12th of June, 2010, 09:39
"Please bring her to me."

Layhiri closed her eyes and inhaled sharply. She needed to keep her wits about her and her emotions under control. The prince was right though, she needed to talk to her friend, Layhiri doubted that Enheduana knew the exact nature of what was happening, but at least a few clues might be helpful.

"She's safe and hidden. Given these volatile times, I think it's best she stay that way. When and IF she is needed I can fetch her, I assure you she's close by. If you'd like, you can ask me any questions and I'll relay both them and the answers back and forth. I'm a particularly good messenger in that respect."

16th of June, 2010, 00:25
Karathas was momentarily lost for words, then his face creased in visible anger when he took in what Layhiri had just said.

"You mean to say that you know where she is, yet you refuse to show her to me?"

The prince's tone was incredulous, heated, and devoid of the care that it had held when he spoke of Enheduana. "Who do you think you are? That you should determine when and IF a prince's command is to be obeyed? It is enough that I should bother explaining anything at all to you. Freelancer, indeed!"

Karathas stepped closer, raising his index finger in front of Layhiri to emphasize that he was making a point. "Do not mistake my acceptance of your profession to mean you can act in open defiance of the crown. I turn a blind eye to your sort because I recognize your use in getting things that I want done. You would be wise to continue making yourself an asset, and take all care and precaution not to become an obstacle in my way.

"When I tell you I will take care of Enheduana, I do so to assuage your fears that your friend will come to some harm - not because I am trying to persuade you to do your job. You will do your job, or I will find someone else to do it just as well - and then you won't be able to help your friend at all."

Karathas brushed by Layhiri.

"Enheduana must be brought to me now. Since you know where she is, I will expect her in the courtroom within the next quarter hourglass. I trust both of you to do your duty. Don't make me send men to go look for you. And don't try to leave the keep with her either. The penalty for that would be a traitor's punishment."

20th of June, 2010, 18:31
Layhiri silently crossed her arms and eyed Karathas as he went on his tirade. She was allowed her tantrums if he was allowed his; the thought made her chuckle slightly. Though her tantrums couldn't result in an execution. Probably best she reassure him of her loyalties.

"Karathas, how deep do you think this goes? How safe do you think court will be? How many spies and assassins, how many turncoats and traitors do you have? My last count was sixty-eight spies, and that was nearly half a year ago. You're lucky most of them are benign and working for other parts of the Divine Kingdom.

Your father's extremist decree of a spyless court have polarized the information trade at Waystone keep. Information traders like me have no masters, we have to expose ourselves to the public eye, every so slightly, to ply our trade. Recently that's meant executions. As far as I know, I'm the only information trader in Waystone Keep, and I'm only here for Enheduana."

She repositioned her hands on her hips. "Spies, however, have only one master to answer to, they can go for years before needing to expose themselves to danger. Waystone keep is playground for them right now. Spies, assassins and anyone else who's loyalties are questionable."

Layhiri stared into Karathas' eyes, willing him to understand the gravity of the situation. "Court is not safe. This is not an enemy you can fight through brute force. The Shelder woman, Sawrina, and Raziel have already proven how effective your soldiers are against the threat of treachery. I'm not sure why, but my friend seems to be at the center of this conflict, and until we know precisely who is loyal to Waystone and who is ready with a dagger for her, bringing her into the open will only invite disaster. If you weren't needed for a public face I'd actually suggest you go into hiding as well. Call me a traitor if you will, but I am doing everything I can to secure this fortress until your father returns," she bit her lip and stared into the ceiling. Sighing she looked back at Karathas, "But if you're going to insist I play matchmaker for you then I can lead you to Enheduana."

20th of June, 2010, 23:11
Matchmaker? The word confused Karathas. What was Layhiri on about, he wondered. He himself did not fully understand the feelings he had for the woman he had only briefly danced with today. The woman who, apparently, might be a heretic sorceress. He wondered if Enheduana had enchanted him at some point. She was obviously close to Layhiri - a freelance spy. Wouldn't it be convenient for a spy to have a friend sorceress ensorcelling kings, princes, and any other convenient men of power? A sorceress and spy wrapping lords around their fingers.

The thought made the prince's hair rise on its end. Was it just a paranoid thought, fleeting and insubstantial, or had there been some merit to it? Just what was the archaic power of the Demiurge capable of wreaking amongst mere mortals such as he?

He realized then that he was, in fact, scared of Enheduana. Scared to death, and yet irrefutably drawn to her like a moth to the flame. Somehow, he felt, his destiny was entwined with hers. Some cosmic force was drawing him closer to her, and he was as helpless as hooked fish on its primordial line and rod.

"Very well, if it will put your mind at ease," Karathas said. "Lead me to her."

Layhiri probably did mean well, but her position as a spy was coloring her judgment. The time for hiding was nearing an end. War was coming to Waystone, and everyone would soon be called on to make a stand. Karathas was bound to it, and soon he felt, Enheduana would be as well. Layhiri may not be able to comprehend it, but she would not be able to shield her friend forever.

22nd of June, 2010, 15:18
"My mind at ease? I thought I was putting your mind at ease. Regardless, follow me." Something about this whole situation wasn't sitting right with Layhiri. She'd do anything for Enheduana, that was true, but since returning to Waystone Keep she'd notice her friend was different. Troubled and disturbed, far beyond the usual troubles. Even she hadn't been able to get proper answers from the noble woman.

Waystone Keep seemed imposing now. The stone was colder and harder, like the fortress itself was preparing for the bloodshed ahead. Layhiri led the young prince through a winding path. Corridors twisted and turned, and Layhiri moved left or right seemingly at random. Could normal people make it through this path? Or did you need to have her memory to navigate it? It brought to question how Enheduana found their hiding spot, and how she managed to keep making her way back. The thought made her shiver.

"Odd isn't it? Waystone keep has so many secrets. I can still remember when Enheduana found this place, the room we're heading to. We're still not sure what it's for, personally, I think it's purpose was from before Waystone was part of the Divine Kingdom." They arrived at a plain looking wooden door, at the very end of an empty hallway. Layhiri looked at the prince, did he notice anything unusual? Enheduana and her had spent nearly a week here in their childhood, and no one had found them. Later, Layhiri understood why, she'd mapped out the route in her memory and compared it to her other wanderings of the keep, and to some architecture plans, the room shouldn't exist. Technically, they were supposedly onto of court, though this was clearly not the case. Any of her attempts to reach this room by alternate pathways failed. And as usual Layhiri wanted to scream at the wrongness of it, but she held her tongue.

"Here we are. This is the safest place I know of in Waystone Keep." She pushed open the door and entered the small room. It clearly used to bare, but Enheduana had brought in plenty of candles and torches. Enheduana herself was seated in the center, reading a small book. Layhiri closed the door behind the prince, "Duana? I'm here, I've brought a friend."

10th of July, 2010, 13:58
Karathas smiled inwardly at the use of the word "friend." Did a man in his position really have friends? Could he afford them? He had family, he had acquaintances, servants and women on the side, but the Prince truly wondered if he had a real friend in all the world and swiftly came to a negative conclusion. Tragic, in a comical way, that a leader of men should be so alone.

Shaking away the random thoughts, Karathas inclined his head to Enheduana. She was afterall a lady, and only at this point an alleged heretic.

"My lady," Karathas began, "I have been looking for you. Thanks to your friend here, it hasn't been an easy task." He smiled, perhaps a bit too ruefully.

"I've come for several reasons. The first is to warn you that I am not the only person seeking you out at this moment. Someone in this keep, a soldier of ours named Raziel, wants to kill you. Before I go on to say anything else, I'd like to know if you'd be willing to hazard a guess as to why an otherwise loyal and disciplined servant of Waystone would suddenly want you and anyone serving under you dead?"

Karathas wanted to hear how Enheduana would react. What did she know. What would she give away with her eyes? Could this woman truly be a wretched servant of the Namer?

27th of July, 2010, 08:19
Enhenduana looked genuinely shocked.

"I…I have no idea m'lord. You say a man named Raziel wishes me… dead?" Enhenduana folds her hands into her lap and lets her gaze fall.

"To be honest, my prince, I have been having odd nightmares. I've always had trouble sleeping, and my memory prior to coming to Waystone is practically an empty room. Could this… Raziel fellow wanting me dead have something to do with that?"

Enhenduana looked troubled, weary. Still a young beauty, to be sure, but the lines on her face and the darkness behind her eyes betrayed a much older soul. Something had been eating at her, perhaps more than figuratively. As far as Karathas and Layhiri could tell, she was being completely honest in her shock and fear.

"I'm so sorry to have hidden myself, Prince Karathas! I confided in Layhiri, my childhood friend, and she was only trying to help me. Please don't think me to be your enemy -- I love Waystone and its people as I would my own family, had I any to speak of. In fact, you are my family.

"These dreams are awful. I fear I bring danger to the whole of the Realm by staying here. I… I had plans to flee the province as soon as Lord Kurigalzu had mustered his troops and cleared the countryside. My handmaidens bribed some of the soldiers, and I wouldn't be surprised if Raziel was among them. They were to take me to the docks in a few days' time. I meant only to save you from the horrors that haunt my dreams. Horrors I can't even begin to define."

Enhenduana raised her head to meet Karathas' eyes with her own.

"I still wish to flee, my lord, but if there is anything I can do before I escape, I would be honored to help. Please don't tell your father--he'd have my head, I think."

27th of July, 2010, 12:54
Enheduana's words surprised Karathas. Here he'd thought she would simply play dumb, but she had come out saying so much. He had to rethink what he'd meant to say.

"My father? Have your head? I doubt it." Karathas said reassuringly, and not knowing exactly why, he knelt on one knee so that he was level with her eyes.

"He was the one who told me I needed to find you. He thinks you're a very important woman, someone who could mean the difference between Waystone falling or standing in the days to come."

Karathas lay his hand upon hers. "This Raziel, he hunts you and a Shelder woman named Sawrina, who is here, tonight, come across the Green Sea on the Hakken fleet with the sole purpose of finding a teacher. Someone she says can reveal things to her about the Namer."

Karathas followed Enheduana's reaction closely. "Raziel - a madman and a murderer - named you and Sawrina as heretics, but Sawrina of her own volition has admitted her desire to learn of this forbidden art. Had she not admitted such I might have dismissed the report of Raziel's rhetoric as nothing more than a lunatic's ravings, but now, I have to wonder if there is not something to his words. He named Sawrina correctly as a heretic, and he named you..."

He let the words trail off, not wanting to speak them. He felt a pang in his heart, and realized he wanted this girl to have an ironclad excuse. Something that would absolve her of all suspicion.

7th of August, 2010, 11:35
Enhenduana gave the prince a pained look.

"Milord, I'm afraid I cannot stay. I know in my heart that if I remain here, Waystone will be razed to the ground and I will die. Raziel is probably the first of many horrors that will come to the surface in search of me. I don't know how or why, but I have visions of this thing. My thoughts influence causation around me. I need to flee, I need to find out what I am, or if I'm going simply going mad. My mind has power, and insanity would affect more than my own self," she said, letting her gaze fall to her folded hands.

"In the meantime, Waystone needs to be safe. The Realm needs to be safe. It won't be so long as I am here, and we're completely in the dark as to what I am or what is coming for us," she continued, looking Layhiri and Karathas in the eyes.

"I have to go, and soon. With or without your help, Prince, I have to flee. First a Hakken assault, then Raziel, and now I hear that the monks of the coastal lighthouses are not responding to any attempts to contact them. I feel the world crumbling around me. Please, Prince, help me escape this place. You have my word that I will return when I can. When it's safe. When I know."

Enhenduana stood up and clasped Karathas' hands in her own. Pleading emerald eyes stared up at you.



Iraj and Sarwina--what are you doing and where?

7th of August, 2010, 23:54
Iraj had given orders to those who he know found to be his subordinates. He gave orders to prepare for the siege, and made sure that every third man was armed with a bow or crossbow and that they understood that Raziel was to be shot on sight.

He then led Sawrina deeper into the unused portion of the keep, a part that lay undisturbed. His eyes were fixed on the ground, looking for where dust may have been disturbed. In his left hand, he held a torch outstretched as these areas were unlit and dim. His right hand bore his naked blade.

Explosive Cheese
8th of August, 2010, 07:18
Sawrina followed the captain through the corridors, losing track of her position as they turned right, then left, then straight and left again, and on and on... She wouldn't know how to make her way in this maze even if she thought she could escape. Just one more problem to add to the ever growing heap.

The heroines of the stories she'd read as a child never seemed to have it this hard. The princess would one day choose to disguise herself as a commoner and go on a great journey, and reveal herself at just the right moment to save the day. Nobody suspected her, nobody questioned her motives, nobody put her under the charge of some man!

Of course, she'd never believed in those stories. Not really. But a part of her, the part that had told her to set on this journey in the first place, the part that made her reveal herself as royalty to the prince, and wouldn't ever shut up; that part of her mind drew its inspiration from the legendary heroines of her storybooks.

What would those heroines do now? Most would overpower their foreign guard in a great display of heroism and power. She was ashamed to admit it, but if this guard was anything like that 'Raziel', he would be too strong and trained for her to best. Others would outsmart the guard, and get his weapon away from him, lure him away, or get him to do their bidding. Much as she was sure that she was the mental superior of any man, and certainly of a common foreign soldier, this man seemed too driven and loyal to do anything but follow the orders of his liege to the the letter. *sigh*

The classic tactic would be to charm him. She was certainly attractive enough, and so was the guard, in his rugged way. But she knew that men of other lands took the lead in romantic relationships. How barbaric! Normal wooing would not work here.

Sawrina recalled the foreign adventure stories she'd read in secret as a child. She gained a perverse sense of joy in reading about the warrior princes and the passive damsels they'd rescue. A very small part of Sawrina, one she'd never admit to, dreamed to that damsel in distress. And an equally small part of her (though one she didn't completely shut out) wanted to be the evil seductress, who forced the hero to do her bidding. Maybe she could become that seductress now? Charm this guard the foreigners' way and escape with his help?

No. She'd listened to the fairy tales in her mind for too long, and she was sick of them getting her into trouble. She would follow this guard, due her duties as a healer, and then attempt to secure her freedom from the prince through supplication and bargaining. She had little hope of escaping in this way, but it would be better than making matters worse. It was time for her to live in the real world and face the consequences of her childish actions.

"Captain, what are you looking for? Is it something I could help with?" Her voice was laden with respect now, and no longer the cold tone she'd directed at him earlier.

8th of August, 2010, 07:25
Iraj sighed then almost wished he hadn't. He hadn't chosen to be saddled with this woman, and he was rather sure that she would just as soon have someone of better birth than his own to be her chaperon.

"Unless you think you can do something to find Raziel, then the best you can do is keep your ears and eyes open. If I were trying to hide in this keep and avoid the guards this is the place I would choose to come to. I am hoping to find some trace of Raziel's passage." Iraj's voice didn't rise above a whisper. "I'd also prefer for him not to know that are looking for him."

Explosive Cheese
8th of August, 2010, 07:44
Raziel's name sent a chill up Sawrina's spine. His attack had frightened her to the very core, more than any image the Namer had ever shown her (which weren't many, to her dismay). If she could do anything help destroy that vicious killer, she would.

Sawrina's responded with a nod, but then remembered that he couldn't see that from in front of her. She whispered back, "Understood," and joined Iraj in his search. She recalled the foul aura of Raziel's sword, his sickly appearance, his terrifying voices. There was magic at work around him, so perhaps she would be better placed to aid in the search with her arcane sense rather than her mundane ones. She expanded her mind, searching for traces of magic around her, as far as she could reach.

8th of August, 2010, 09:20
The Prince listened to her words thoughtfully, weighing what she said over in his mind.

"You are not insane, Lady Enheduana," he answered when she first raised that point. "Only a sane person worries about the infirmity of their own mind."

He stopped as she continued, explaining her urge to get away from Waystone and the Realm itself, acting as though she were the reason for all the troubles here.

"My lady," he said gently when she had finished, resting his hand calmingly on her shoulder, "Even if you were the cause of all that is going wrong here - an unlikely assumption to make I would add - the time to run is already past. The Hakken are already upon us. They have crossed the many leagues of the Green Sea and shall arrive here within a matter of days. No flight from here will stop their advance, and their numbers are vast. If you truly care for Waystone and the Realm, then I must tell you that running will not save either.

"I believe our only chance to stop them lies with whatever unknown talents that you possess, and I must plead with you just as strongly to stay, if only to help turn away these enemies that haunt us. And if we win the day together, I swear on the emblem of my household, and upon the sigils of the Sun and Moon, I shall do everything in my power to help you with your condition - whether it be an armed escort to safeguard you, access to the loremasters of the realm, my personal assistance, whatever you would require and more than you could ever have were you to flee into the unknown..."

Karathas, knelt on one knee before the beautiful woman, imploring her. Somewhere, dimly in the back of his mind, a more logical and calculating part of him was shouting to be heard, but Karathas was now acting out of an unknown desire to help and care for Enheduana, above all else, save perhaps Waystone. It was his duty to look after the Keep, but it was his desire to look after this woman - heretic or no - and he knew now that he must convince her to stay, at least until the present danger to Waystone was over. After that, he knew he would do as he had promised he would - even if his father and all the priests of the realm clamored for her heretical blood.

"These visions you say you are having - I doubt they make promises for your safety. I doubt that whatever haunts you shall cease to do so when you leave here. You are not the only person whose world is crumbling, Enheduana. An army bent on Waystone's destruction stands before us and I feel - no, I know that without your aid, this place, my home, your home, our Realm, will fall. To what then would you return? A pile of rock and ash where once stood the pride of the Sun itself.

"You have power within you, Enheduana. A power that can be used for good. A power that my father knows and I believe can stop the Hakken, at least long enough for word to be sent and help to arrive. Then when it is safe, I promise not to rest until the spirits that trouble you are vanquished.

"Please, Duana. We need you. I need you."