Old 02-26-2012, 07:18 AM   #1
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A Quarry Unexpected

OOC: Closed thread for myself and Erin_. Enjoy ^^

A figure moved across the bustling plaza, the crowds parted and flowed around the shadowy outline, heedless of its presence. The figure was unremarkable, wreathed in black cloth and with cloak billowing, it was of about man-height, yet if anyone were to study the figure's movements they would see it flowed with an oily, liquid grace, weaving and trickling through gaps in the thronging noonday crowds.

The noonday market was subdued. For it was marked in the calendar as the Day of Repentance in the city of Mors Utharin, capitol of Utharin. Once a year the great market plaza of the capitol was lined on its square borders with gallows holding the dead or dying bodies of enemies of the state of Utharin. The crowds bustled, yet there was little vivacity and each citizen walked with hooded cowl snatched tightly about their head, as if that alone could drown out the soft, hopeless moans of the dying and the occasional thud of bench being kicked from under a new victim of the gallows, followed often by the sickening snap of neck breaking. It was a stark, inescapable reminder of the fate that awaits enemies, traitors and criminals of the Utharin Empire.

The dark figure moved onwards, flowing between carts and hawkers alike, stalls and trading tents that festooned the square plaza, moving towards the dark tower that stood at the head of the plaza, beyond a great circuit wall crafted from gleaming black stone. The Sightless Tower it was called, and it was the seat of the Emperor Uthar XIV, lord of all the lands west of the Emerald Mountains, known as the Utharin Empire. It was a tall, imposing construction, so great that it's furthest peak faded into low-lying cloud and mist high above the plaza. It was black, gleaming, fashioned from the same material as its protective walls. Not a seam, or groove could anyone find in its construction, as if the black, gleaming stone had been grown or hewn by giants, rather than constructed brick by brick in the normal fashion. It's towers and crenulations were sharp and stabbed cruelly into the firmament of the sky above. Dark, silent sentries stood on the obsidian battlements, unmoving, deathly sentinels that maintained a sleepless vigil upon the city that surrounded it.

The dark figure was moving towards the tower, the people of Mors Utharin scurried like ants in its shadow, tiny and insignificant in the presence of its dark majesty. The tower's protective wall opened before the dark figure as it approached, the seams of the door in its construction only visible now as the featureless, smooth walls parted with a gentle hiss and a loud thud. The wide doorway in the walls opened outwards on hingeless doors, a faint, yellow light guttered from the opening in the dull, overcast afternoon daylight. The figure moved through the door, the crowds before the doorway seemed to pick up their pace as the door opened and scurried this way and that, melting into the surrounding marketplace, as if trying to escape from the dull light that emanated from the grounds of the tower beyond the walls.

The doors shoot behind the figure with a loud, thunderous crack, leaving no trace of their ever having existed in the face of the smooth, dark walls. Beyond the walls the figure continued to move under the sight of its deathly sentries, tall, dark-clad and armoured figures, who's insect-like black armour glistened in the weak sunlight as hey watched the cloaked figure move up the empty stairway before the black tower.

The figure moved into the tower without a word to the sentries at the doorway. On closer inspection the cloaked figure was plain save for a golden emblem blazoned on the left breast of his black tunic, a single golden eye surrounded by a halo of starpoints and a single winged thunderbolt beneath that marked him out as one of the Emperor's imperial guardsmen.
In quick time the black figure came to a great antechamber. It's vaulted hallway was crafted from the same black stone as the tower itself, yet here it was inlaid with cold, white marble scrollwork and great floor panels fashioned from the same material, in contrast to the black stone that formed the foundation of the tower's insides. Here the opulence of the imperial court was in abundant evidence, each and every hallway was lined with gleaming gold-inlaid furniture and satin velvet, tapestries spun from the finest silkworm and glowspiders bedecked the walls. The antechamber that the cloaked figure stood in now, before a pair of the armoured sentries was vaulted, above him braziers glowed like far-flung stars in the gloom far, far above. The heady, cloyingly sweet smell of incense was heavy on the air.

The figure waited, unmoving save for the faint draught of air that caught the bottom of his cloak. It stood before the sentries at the doorway, no words were spoken between them. There was silence, for long, long heartbeats the figures waited in silence. The figure wreathed in shadow stood, poised, body tense, coiled like a cat ready to spring into flight or fight at a moment's notice. Suddenly the armoured guards parted and the door into the emperor's throne room creaked open. The heavy, carved wooden doors swing outwards, cold, white light sprung into the darkened antechamber. The shadowy figure stepped over the threshold and beheld the imperial court.

The throne room was bigger still than its antechamber, long and broad, it's vaulted ceiling so tall it faded into darkness above. Great, tall, narrow stained-glass windows let in the cold noonday light in great, multi-hued shafts that slatted across the dark obsidian paving beneath the figure's soft leather boots.

"Come, my son. Kneel before your emperor and present yourself." A wizened voice rasped, like dead leaves on a gentle wind as the figure moved before the golden throne before him and prostrated himself. The figure lifted his cloak, casting back his shadowy raiment. He peered up at the old man stood by the golden throne, and the opulently-robed figure who sat on the throne itself.

He was young, in the primacy of his manhood, his skin was pale, his hair was dark and ruddy, swept back from his porcelain skin and came to an end in waves by his nape. The man's eyes were cool green, like emeralds set in fine china, his face was impassive, cold, his expression did not waver one way or the other, not at all. He knelt before the old man; the Emperor's Vizier, an ancient, gnarled old man, wreathed in jet black robes, a circlet of silver crowned his thinning grey hair, and another lay about his chest, festooned with heavy golden symbols of the city's chief deities. The imperial vizier extended a hand, and the young man kissed the heavy golden sigil set upon the old man's knuckle.

"Welcome to the imperial court, young Davion." The old man gestured for Davion to rise to his feet. Davion unfolded himself smoothly and stood before them, cowl bunched over his shoulders, she stood straight now, strong and his attention shifted from the vizier to the emperor himself.

The emperor had remained silent throughout the ceremony. He sat atop his ornate, golden throne, impassive. He was a man of middle years, his short, black hair was greying at the temples, his brow was furrowed only slightly, his ice-blue eyes were cold, unmoving, similar to Davion's, but age had clearly embittered this man, and they burned like cold, merciless blue coals.

"Your emperor has a task for you, think of it as ah..a chance to prove yourself worthy of that emblem you wear upon your breast, youngling." The old man licked his lips, his eyes darted about nervously for a moment, from Davion to the emperor and back again.

"You are going to recover my daughter, guardsman." The emperor Uthar interjected, his tone was hard, unforgiving, much like the man, so Davion surmised, if even a quarter of the rumours about the man were true. For his part, Davion's expression changed not a jot, he was careful not to show any outward emotion, all Utharians were, it did not bode well for anyone to show fear or weakness in Utharian society, not since the founding of the empire had weakness been tolerated in any form.

"I am at your service, Emperor." Davion's tone was confident, unrelenting and unforgiving. He would prove himself worthy of the emblem he now wore. He was one of the imperial guardsmen now; it was a title born of tradition that stretched back to the founding of the empire. In reality the Imperial Guard were not the guards of the Sightless Tower, nor were they even the Emperor's personal bodyguards. The Imperial Guard was an elite branch of the Empire's military, a clandestine group of hunters, loremasters and rangers, who operated abroad, far from the Empire's borders to further the interests of the Empire. They were assassins, diplomats and skilled warriors, often they were all three of these things. Davion was one such agent, and newly raised to the Imperial Guard at that.

"This will serve as adequate proving for your new position in the Imperial Guard. The Emperor's daughter, the princess, has been taken from us, kidnapped by merciless terrorists, enemies of the state. You will retrieve her." So the vizier spoke, his tone full of disdain. Davion's eyes widened a little, whoever had taken the Emperor's daughter had been bold to the point of madness; the Empire's arm was long-reaching and only the most foolhardy would attempt such a theft.

"So the Emperor commands, so will I obey, Vizier." Davion bowed low and clasped his fist to his breast in salute. "i will depart at once, my Emperor." Always Davion address the emperor himself, though the vizier was the one who replied.

"We have a horse waiting for you at the gates, we have very little information to aid you in your task. Speak to Marius, master of the guard on your way to the city's gates. Our scouts last reported the Emperor's daughter leaving in the company of two cloaked figures, they were heading towards the Karach pass in the Emerald Mountains. We surmise they are heading into the lawless lands beyond the empire's eastern borders.

"I will make for the Karach pass, my Emperor. They will not elude me, I will bring your daughter back safely." DAvion bowed low once more, the Vizier gestured for him to leave. "See that you do, guardsman." The emperor replied as Davion left, he paused for a moment at the doorwar, a long stretch down the throne room, before the heavy doorways opened before him. He set off after his quarry.
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Old 03-03-2012, 05:05 PM   #2
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Kiala d'Valien

Davion’s departure did not go unmarked. A curtained doorway fell closed to a small, richly appointed parlor just off the vast throne room, a waiting room of sorts for visiting dignitaries. Today it hosted two of Uthar’s four children.

“I don’t know why father troubles himself with her.” Kaxim, the eldest, and the prince who considered himself next in line for his father’s throne, spoke.

“Don’t you?” Viala, the second oldest, was cleverer by far than her brother. “Someone dared to take what is Uthar’s. Such an affront cannot stand.”

The youngest of them, Colson, was absent from the parlor. Viala noted this, but did not think much of it. Colson was a small boy, barely more than a toddler. He had retreated to the sanctuary of his rooms when he had been told Kiala had disappeared. The two were abnormally close, to Viala’s thinking, often seen together.

“What could she have been thinking?” Kaxim mused.

“She was taken, obviously.” Viala responded, though she wasn’t convinced of that herself. Her younger sister had always been strange. She had never quite belonged. Viala’s thoughts drifted again to Colson. The child was very similar in temperament to her older sister. It was rumored that they shared the same mother. The Empire of Uthar did not boast an empress. Uthar chose his women as he would, and of the many he had sired, only four had been acknowledge by him. Now one of those four were missing. Viala was clever enough to realize that loss could be turned into her gain.

Uthar had been showing Kiala, the missing princess, considerable attention of late. She alone of the four had been allowed to enter the emperor’s inner sanctum, and had been privy to whatever secrets that forbidden place held.

Kiala d’Valien, once-princess of the Uthian Empire settled back against the cushioned bench of the coach. She was a tiny thing, fragile seeming, with long, sable tresses framing delicate features. Her eyes were closed at the moment, her form so still she might have been sleeping. She was not.

Sweat beaded on Kiala’s smooth forehead, her eyes closing more tightly.

There were two others in the coach with her, only one was aware of the battle the young woman was waging, and neither could offer help.

They were still very much in danger. The coach, as unassuming and average as could be found, was only a few hours outside of the capitol, still well within reach of the empire…and Uthar.

The rumors were true. Kiala and Colson did share the same mother, a slave girl named Neira, who had been gifted to Uthar from a far off continent. Neira had acclimated quickly to her new home. Over time, she had grown to be Uthar’s favorite. When she had given birth to her daughter, the emperor had accepted the child as an heir.

Neira’s daughter, like their mother, was naturally charismatic. Even the stoic, usually cold Utharians were drawn to them, like moths to a flame. Uthar, whose eyes were everywhere, and who was aware of everything, was the first to realize this ‘charisma’ might be something more.

It was Neira who gave him his first clue. When Kiaja was four, she was gifted with a prize pony, one of Kaxim’s most cherished. Such generosity was out of character for his eldest son, and Uthar mentioned that to Neira in bed. The exotic woman had smiled, wriggling closer to the emperor. “She is half Meranian.”

The Meranian race was renowned for beauty. In song and tale, Meranians were spoken of as irresistible. Certainly their beauty was undeniable. Uthar had Neira as an example, and his daughter promised to grow into a stunning creature in her own right. But beauty did not explain the charm that spurred others to behave so differently. Beauty did not explain Kaxim’s pony. A sea of possibilities began to take shape in Uthar’s mind. What might he be able to accomplish, combining his already considerable powers with the power he suspected dwelled within his youngest child?

When Kiala was twelve, Uthar summoned her to his private sanctum. She was the first living being beside the emperor to ever set foot inside that chamber, and she did not emerge unscathed.

Uthar had tormented the girl, using dark magics to probe her mind, seeking some way to harness her natural abilities. Kiala’s defenses, untrained and untried, were no match for her father’s power. She was stripped of everything, laid bare before him, helpless as he manipulated her budding abilities. At last, when he had exhausted his efforts, he sent her back to her mother.

Neira had been pregnant at the time. She had been horrified by what Uthar had done. It was her first true glimpse of the monster that the emperor could be. She nursed her daughter back to health, assuming that Uthar had taken whatever it was he needed, and that he would leave them both alone.

Then Colson had been born. Colson, her beautiful son, whose powers, Neira quickly realized, would far outshadow Kiala’s, perhaps even Uthar’s. Neira and Kiala had begun planning their escape when Colson had still been an infant. The pair had worked in secret, training Kiala to control her power, testing its limits. They were careful to keep their efforts from Uthar. Over the next six years, whenever he tried to test Kiala as he had before, she would put up no resistance, always seeming as helpless as she had that first time.

Now, six years later, their careful planning was set in motion. There could be no second thoughts, no looking back. They had committed to their course, and they could not falter.

In the coach, a tear slipped down Kiala’s cheek. The coach was bound for Halim, a small village in the mountains. There, another coach would be waiting to take them further on. No one save Kiala knew the full route, or the final destination of their journey.

Neira had known….

The coach bumped along, and the largest of the three travelers touched Kiala’s hand lightly. “We are beyond the barrier princess.”

Kiala opened her eyes, brushing away the tears. “Not Princess. We must leave that title behind.” She looked down at the slight figure curled up on the seat beside her. Colson slept deeply, kept that way by her power. His little fist lay curled beneath his cheek. “Time to wake little one.” She released him from the spell, and his eyes, the color of violets and the same shade as her own, fluttered open.

“Kiala?” He climbed into her lap and she held him. “Where are we?”

“On a journey, a long one.” She stroked her brother’s soft sable locks. With Colson’s awakening, it would not be long before their deception was discovered. They would find Neira’s body in Colson’s room, the vial of poison nearby, and the emperor would realize all that he had lost. Kiala inhaled deeply, wishing that her mother could have been with them. But she could not have shielded all of them for so long.

“Where’s mama?” Colson sensed her thoughts, of course he did.

“She is gone Colson. I’m sorry. She had to stay behind.”

“Oh…” the child could feel emotions behind words. He shifted a little in her arms, considering what he felt and heard. “That’s sad. But she wanted us safe.”

“Yes.”

“Are we?”

“I don’t know.”

“I’ll make us safe Kiala. I promise.”

Kiala thought of the two vials of poison she carried, and Colson took her face between his small hands. “No. Kiala. I said I promise.”

She smiled, shaking her head. “I know you will.”

“I couldn’t save mama. But no one will hurt you.” He was undeterred by her smile, his little face solemn, dark brows furrowed.

Kiala sighed, “I don’t matter Colson. You must not forget that. You are the one who must not be taken. You are the key. If you have to let me go to save yourself, that is what you must do.”

His frown deepened, but he did not argue.

“Do you understand?”

He nodded reluctantly, slipping from her lap to sit beside her, resting his small head on her shoulder.
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Old 03-15-2012, 06:49 PM   #3
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Davion reached the outer walls of the city as the sun began its long, slow descent towards the horizon. Wreathed in his dark, matte robes, he sat atop a strong, proud stallion as shadowy as his robes. The horse was long-limbed and strong, but it was not a stout warhorse, it was lean and sleek, build for the speed and endurance his quest would undoubtedly require.

The imperial agent moved beyond the dark, imposing black granite walls of the outer city and into the wilderness beyond, ever in the shadow of the city, black and squat, looming over the surrounding countryside. People poured into the city from the countryside, minute specks in the shadow of Mors Utharin, running along the many paved roads that spread through the land like black arteries. Davion did not stay long on the main roads, and slipped into the scrubland that was left barren which surrounded the city.

The land about the city had once been green and fertile, and it had not always been known simply by the name of the imperial city. It had been known as Aneria in the elder days, in the days before the empire. Decades of imperial expansion had left Aneria stripped of its forest, it's wilds were barren, the soil parched and lifeless, the trees had long since been cut down to feed the fires of Mors Utharin. Only the greying stumps of once-trees remained amidst the bushland, lifeless headstones blanketing the immediate area around the city.

Davion coursed over the barren, dusty land, his dark steed Motharion galloped across the scrubland, kicking up a great plume of dust behind him, dipping and darting about the harsh briars and dry bushes that populated the land. The agent moved heedless to stealth now, speeding over the land with frightening pace. Always Davion's veiled eyes were fixed upon the looming mountains in the distance, great caps of grey stone dusted in green trees and crystal pools. The emerald mountains were tall and proud, they were green with teeming life and trees, and dwarfed even the dark industry of Mors Utharin in their splendour. The mountains and the forests upon them and in the valleys beyond were notorious for harbouring outlaws, bandits and enemies of the Utharin state.

Davion hoped to intercept the emperor's daughter before however had taken her vanished into the mountains for good.

By nightfall Davion had reached the Karach pass, a parting of the mountains that led into the lush woodland nestled within them. At the foot of the opening lay the village of Halim, a modest settlement of woodsmen's lodges and thatched-roof houses, it was quiet, dark, the village lay snug at the foot of the low mountain pass, wreathed in golden torchlight. Davion slipped into the village, the torchlight seemed to avoid his form as he moved into the centre of the village. Following the raucous clamour of the village's only public house, he moved into the place, pulling his robe back from his breast, the golden sigil of the Utharian Imperial Guard glittered brazenly in the firelight of the common room.

The wall of sound Davion had stepped into died almost instantly as the occupants of the tavern saw that golden emblem. The air grew thick with tension, this close to the notorious Emerald Mountains the village of Halim served as a stop-over point for bandits, outlaws and those merely wishing to avoid the attentions of the Empire. All eyes regarded Davion warily, and more than a few glowered with malice. There was a rattle of knives being loosened in sheaths, and cudgels being loosed in belt loops. Davion stared around the tense common room, his cold eyes piercing, his skin pale in the firelight that bathed the darkly furnished room in a warm glow. He moved as though unaware of the tension in the room, his shoulders were broad and his stature cool, confident as she flowed like black oil over to the barkeep.

"I am looking for a party of travellers, enemies of the Utharin state. They would have reached Halim before noon. You will supply me with the information I need, those who do not wish to earn the attention of the Empire's agents would do well to assist me." There was a shift of movement as the tension drew tighter still, and there was the gentle hiss of metal sliding on scabbard as several figures moved through the crowded common room towards Davion.

"Your threats are of no use here, imperial bootlick. I suggest yer wantin' to head on back to that black city o' yours before we give yer somethin to smile about." Figures closed in around Davion, those too punch-drunk to recognise that the emblem he carried on his left breast was sign enough to the wary that Davion was not one to be trifled with. He stood perfectly still, his eyes were cold, empty of emotion, there was a rush of movement as one of the tavern toughs lunged in with knife in hand, there was a hiss and ripple of cloak as Davion twisted in a blur. Steel flashed in a flurry of movement and there was a sharp, piercing cry as the tough dropped his blade and fell to the side, clutching his stomach. Within a moment Davion was stood calm again, hands beneath his cloak, whatever bladed weapon he had used was nowhere to be seen.

"I am Davion te Valari, agent of the Imperial Guard. I will ask you only once more for the information I seek, unless you wish the guard to torch the entire village and drive you into the mountains I suggest you assist me." The tavern was already emptying, already the culprits who had rushed him had melted into the night beyond the tavern walls, and even now many more were leaving by any exit possible.

The barkeep had remained, and he gazed thoughtfully at Davion, he was doubtlessly calculating whether earning the ire of the imperial agent before him was worth having his tavern torched to the ground in one of the Empire's infamous reprisals. "Begging your pardon lord but angering you further is more than my tavern's worth, so I'll level with ye. We get lots of travellers through Halim, but I have a notion I know which you seek. A horse-drawn couch passed through her this noontime, it looked uncommon good, a little too good for the likes of Halim and the mountains if you take my meaning, sir." Davion quirked his brow and frowned at the man. "Tell me where they headed."

"They only stopped for supplies, tall folk wreathed in mud-coloured cloaks, they had an ill-favoured look, dark, not wanting to give much away...but I did catch a glimpse of one of the ladies in the carriage, uncommonly beautiful sir...dark hair, bright blue eyes..as I say sir...uncommonly pretty. Anyway sir...they headed towards the Dimlight path into the east forest...i can't imagine anyone that has business in that dark place is up to anything wholesome..."

Davion's eyes sharpened as he mulled this over, his features smoothed out and the concern faded from his youthful face. "Very good, a pity your kinsmen were not such a credit to your people, barkeep." He left, his cloak billowing about him as he stepped into the night beyond and vanished from Halim, into the darkness of the Dimlight path, into the forest.
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Old 03-24-2012, 08:19 PM   #4
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The coach felt empty without Colson, and his tearful pleas still echoed in her ears. But it had been necessary. Uthar would be looking for her. His best men would have been dispatched. If the gods were good, they would not have gotten word yet, that she was not the only quarry. If however, she was found with Colson, they would know right away who he was.

And so, in Halim, Colson had been bundled into another coach with the most trusted of their co conspirators and a handful of letters from both Kiala and their mother. One of the vials she carried had gone with him as well. She had promised him she would try to get to him. But he had not been comforted. In the end, she had had to send him to sleep again, to quiet his mind. Colson had resisted her, but Kiala had won out, barely. After the coach carrying the sleeping prince had departed, Kiala had to be helped back to her own.

She wiped the sweat from her brow with a lacy sleeve. All about her, she could feel the jangled nerves of her escort, the effect gnawing at her steadily. She knew she was reflecting it back, and thus increasing its strength. But she could not stop herself. What little power she had was exhausted. She was left feeling scooped out and hollow, her muscles rubbery and unresponsive.

Closing her eyes, she willed herself to sleep. She could do that much at least, for the brave men who had joined her on this awful quest.

A chill settled over her heart, and she knew that they had come to the trailhead the folk called Dimlight path. It should not be much longer now, before they were found. Kiala had the sense to wonder at her lack of fear before she finally succumbed to sleep.

Dark hooves pounded along the cobblestoned streets of Mors Utharin at breakneck speed. It was full dark, the subdued crowds who had milled about on the Day of Repentance had thinned, else many surely would have been run down. The rider wore the black of the Imperial Guard, his horse the trappings of the same. Any mutterings about his reckless ride were quickly hushed, fearful faces turning towards the black tower nervously. A storm had sprung up, dark clouds swirling over the city, the wind setting the corpses that lined the streets to dancing. Soon the sound of driving rain and hail drowned all others sounds in the bustling city. The streets filled with water that fell too quickly for the sewers to contain, rising almost to the feet of the dead. The citizens of Mors Utharin had seen such storms before. There were rumors that such storms were borne of the emperor’s rage. But there had never been one like this…

The rider passed through the storm, the sounds of his steed’s hooves silenced by the storm’s fury. Beyond the city’s walls, the skies cleared and the rider picked up speed.
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Old 05-19-2012, 09:03 AM   #5
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The forest seemed to lurch in around him, the dirt path he was on meandered into the darkness, curling vapour swirled around his footfalls, clutching at his boots, unwilling to let the intruder pass into the darkness unimpeded, he headed back to his horse. Hopping up into the saddle smoothly, Davion paused for a moment and peered up into the forest canopy. Broad trees loomed above him, their barks gnarled, moss swelled about them in great blotches, they were old, old and bitter trees that had escaped the ceaseless appetite of Uthar's city for fuel.

Moisture wetted Davion's brow, a combination of sweat and damp condensation, the sweet ferns of the forest were sickly on his nose, his eyes glinted in the dim moonlight that barely penetrated the leaf cover above him, his gaze took him back down to the dirt path beneath, the runnels the carriage had left in the seldom-travelled path were not especially difficult to follow, and by his guess the track was fresher; he was getting closer.

Despite this, concern furrowed Davion's brown; concern not for himself, but for his quarry. He was heading into the east forest; a place notorious for its bandits, ne'er-do-wells and..things, things better left to the imagination. If Kiala were taken by bandits it could well be finished for Davion; he might never track her in the true heart of the forest' deep beyond the Dimlight path it would be an impossible task to find them.

Davion urged his horse into a gallop as he followed the curving path, trees and leaves rustling and shaking in his wake, their thin branches whipping at his horse's flanks and his face, clawing at him as he went, as if trying to pull him into the dank forest's embrace. Davion moved deeper into the forest.

Further up the Dimlight path they waited, their trap set, waiting for the carriage their scouts had reported was moving up the path. Dark figures, cloaked in moss and lichen, hidden in the fabric of the forest that closed in around the pathway, bows at the ready, cudgels hefted in dirt hands.

Bandits this deep into the forest were more savage than civilised, they had existed for more than a generation in the forest, their fathers having surrendered the pleasures and comforts a civilised existence for the freedom of the forests. Mad eyes burned into the darkness, cutting through it easily as the carriage approached. The leader clicked and grunted to his second, and bows were strung tightly.

Once the carriage was within range they struck. There was little commotion, only the sharp twang of arrows released and the hiss of flighted arrows. Suddenly there was a cry from the carriage, and a commotion as swords were drawn. Panic gripped the carriage and its guards, howls from the forest grew louder as the savage bandits emerged from the shadows, arrows knocked and clubs hefted. Swords were drawn with loud cries as the guards prepared to defend their charge.

"Fly my lady! fly!" One of the guards cried as the driver of the carriage yelled and lashed the horses roughly, which gave a frightened whinny and bolted madly into the darkness. The carriage lurched, but before they could pick up speed there was a dull thud as an arrow flew through the carriage window, shattering glass. The arrow exploded in a dull puff of thick, cloying smoke as it struck the panelling not six inches from Kiala's head. Sweet sleep overcame her.

***

The first light of drawn was creeping reluctantly through the depths of the forests by the time Davion reached the encampment. He had been strangely fortunate, Davion had come upon the sight of the ambush not an hour after it had finished.

He was no stranger to death, but it had not been a scene he wished to dwell on; the carriage's guards had been slain, left stripped of their possessions and clothes on the pathway, of bandit dead there was no sign, whether they had taken their own dead into the forest Davion could not tell. For a moment he had despaired, sickness took him, and a glimmer of hope fluttered in his stomach when he realised Kiala was not amongst the dead. Leaving his steed in a copse by the pathway he had moved off on foot, gathering his bow from the saddlebags and his sword.

The campsite Davion now regarded from a distance was a temporary affair; doubtless the bandits had stopped for the night only to recover their strength; had Davion been an hour later they might have moved on and he would never find them in the forest's heart. There were six bandits, rough, unkempt men, shrouded in moss and lichen and leaf-work, they moved with an uncouth gait, grunting and growling a twisted version of the common tongue, undecipherable to Davion beyond snippets of a few words. From what Davion could understand, they had captured Kiala and were under orders to take her to their group's chieftain deep in the forest; for what purpose Davion could not say; but it was well known that those captured by the east forest bandits never ransomed and seldom released from their captivity.

He did not have much time, he had to act. With his bow strung and his sword loosened in its scabbard Davion moved through the undergrowth slowly, on his stomach, he slithered, his limbs moving slowly over the soft, moist foliage beneath them, crouching low he moved soundlessly. The forest's thick leaf cover provided Davion with ample cover as he moved through the dense thickets of trees and bushes.

The first two bandits fell before the others realised what was happening, the lightest of twangs and two faint whispers as finely crafted silent arrows shot through the air and picked out the heads of the pair of targets. The third was caught truly by the arrows' flight, a sharp, guttural grunt as the arrow thudded into his chest and he was bowled over, arms flailing as he crashed into the cook pot behind him. With that clamour the three other bandits gathered, shouting and growling at each other, waving arms frantically as they bickered over the location of their attacker. Davion wasted no time, with a fourth arrow loosed he threw his bow to the cushioned forest floor and leapt from the low tree he was perched in. His sword was out before he landed, black cape billowing and slender, powerful limbs moving with snake-like grace as he brought his sword up to face his attackers.

There were now only two bandits left, the fourth had also been removed from the fight, he lay slumped against a large wooden crate, pinned by his bloody neck to it by Davion's arrow, he gurgled and squirm his last moments of life away as his blood flowed from him.

The bandits cried out and hurled themselves at him, Davion moved like water, his feet danced nimbly as he darted to the side and avoided the first bandit's charge, only to whip his sword back powerfully against the back of the bandit's head, splintering skull and neck crudely but effectively, the bandit careened into the ground with a wordless grunt. The second struck at the recovering Davion with his club with bone-shattering strength, but only caught the hilt guard of Davion's sword, who grimaced painfully as the shock travelled through his numbing wrist. Grunting he disengaged, his dark, shrouded form rippling about the bandit like an angel of death, he struck with lightning speed, the sword little more than a flash of silver in his hands as he struck the bandit on the arm, who howled as his club fell from his useless hand, and grunted as Davion ran him through.

The whole thing had lasted only moments, but it felt like an eternity as Davion cleaned off his blade and recovered his strength, wiping the sweat from his brow, he pulled his hood back and peered around the camp. Of Kiala there was no sign, the camp was ramshackle, save for a single, leaf-covered tent pitched close to the campfire. Stepping neatly around the bodies, Davion tore open the front of the tent and peered in. Kiala lay there, asleep, pale skin shining, dark hair glossy, arrayed elegantly around her serene features, her beauty marred only slightly by the ugly bruises that covered half her face and one eye. The only other sign of her captivity were the rough ropes that tied her wrists and ankles together.

Davion's throat felt dry, he tried to call the princess's name, address her, but his voice was stuck in his throat. He licked his lips nervously, and suddenly looked more boy than man for a moment as his pale cheeks flushed and he dithered over her, overcome with worry and perhaps taken more than a little aback by Kiala's well-rumoured beauty; for he had never seen her in the flesh before, only heard the feverish and tall tales told by his comrades at the barracks.

Finally Davion stirred himself from his anxious paralysis and moved into the tent. "Your highness..." He spoke softly, but the woman would not stir. "Light forgive me." He muttered before moving into the tend, he gently, and with great care, cut her bonds free, flinching as his fingers came into contact with her flesh. No commoner was supposed to lay hands on those of royal blood in Mors Utharin, but the need to move her from the camp before more bandits came won out.

Kiala was light in his arms as he lifted her into them, surprisingly so. Her clothes were dirty but in tact, and it was of no small relief to Davion that that had at least promised hope that Kiala had not been taken by the bandits; more than likely he had saved her from that particular torture by rescuing her before she had been delivered to the bandit chieftain. It was not long before Davion was back at the original ambush sight. He lay Kiala out on his horse, the black steed snorted softly and softened its aggressive manner as Davion tied her unconscious form onto the horse as firmly and comfortable as possible.

He frowned and brushed his lanky, sweaty dark hair from his brow as he glanced back at the dead men in the clearing; there was no time to bury them, no matter their crimes they deserved that much. He moved them from the clearing, and arrayed their bodies neatly, covering them with foliage from the forest as best he could. They did not have the look of bandits, or kidnappers, and Davion wondered how they were involved with the princess.
He took them back up the path they had come through, but shortly veered off into the forest; there would be more bandits searching for them once they realised their ambush had gone awry, and so Davion moved into the forest , tracking his way through the dense undergrowth.

The morning went by quickly, but progress was slow as Davion led his steed trickily through the dense forest, Kiala secured to the saddle. The forest was as oppressive as ever, trees lurched, branches snagged painfully at Davion wherever they could, and he had long since discarded his tattered cloak. By night fall he was exhausted, and reluctantly found a clearing they could rest in for the night. Kiala had not stirred once, Davion frowned and checked the woman's brow, she was warm, almost feverish. With concern Davion let her down from his horse's saddle and laid her out on the bedroll he had retrieved from his saddlebags.

With a modest campfire lit and stew boiling in the pot hanging over it Davion made Kiala as comfortable as possible and sat in front of the fire, poking at it with a stick, stirring the stew and anxiously watching Kiala, when her eyes slowly opened.
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Old 06-16-2012, 03:12 AM   #6
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And so, in Halim, Colson had been bundled into another coach with the most trusted of their co conspirators and a handful of letters from both Kiala and their mother. One of the vials she carried had gone with him as well. She had promised him she would try to get to him. But he had not been comforted. In the end, she had had to send him to sleep again, to quiet his mind. Colson had resisted her, but Kiala had won out, barely. After the coach carrying the sleeping prince had departed, Kiala had to be helped back to her own.
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Old 07-30-2012, 09:59 PM   #7
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“Fly my lady, fly!” She was startled from her sleep by the sudden jolt of fear and adrenaline that took the men around her. The carriage lurched and she struggled to rise, reaching for the door, already gathering her power, struggling to diffuse a sense of calm into the chaos. This encounter had not been unforeseen…but Kiala and her mother had been confident that she would be able to negotiate safe passage. She was not without funds.

Everything went wrong when the arrow, filled with a powerful drug, crashed through the window of the coach. She breathed once, coughing, and knew no more.

Lost in the strange, foggy landscape of the drug, Kiala dreamt of her mother; and a time before she had learned how much there was to fear. They were in Neira’s private garden, sitting in the cool green shade surrounded by a riot of blooms in all colors. Neira sang softly to her, and Kiala smiled.

Then Colson ran into the garden. Neira’s song did not falter, but suddenly Kiala could not hear her. Colson leaned closer to her and shouted, “Wake up!”

Kiala flinched, but Colson was not satisfied. He touched her cheek and pain exploded in her mind. “You must wake Kiala, you’re in danger. Can you hear me?” She lifted her hand to her wounded cheek, staring at Colson. His face melted as she watched, the shape of it swirling and reforming, becoming a man she did not know. A man who leered at her, and groped at her before striking her again on the same cheek.

Her thoughts touched on the vial that was her last hope, and Colson’s voice howled in her mind. “NO! I’m coming Kiala! Don’t!”

The man was gone now, and she was alone in the garden. But the garden was dead. Kiala turned a slow circle, knowing instinctively that she had to flee. There was no escape though. Every remembered door was sealed with an overgrowth of thorny vines.

“I’m coming Kiala!” She heard the words again, but it was not Colson who spoke them. It was her father. The emperor appeared in the garden, his mocking laughter ringing in her ears. “Foolish girl. I come for you. Your suffering will be the stuff of nightmare.”

She trembled like a rabbit before a snake, unable to meet her father’s hate-filled eyes. She almost reached for Colson with her mind, seeking that comfort. Her father loomed nearer, Kiala could hear him inhaling great draughts of air, almost trying to catch a scent….almost. She stopped herself before she let her mind seek Colson’s, and she screamed when her father roared. He lunged at her, knocking her off of her feet and then dragging her back up by her hair. She felt his hands close around her throat, choking off her scream. Her hands clawed at his where he held her, her violet eyes panicked as she beheld his madness.

“Kiala!” Colson was there suddenly. Her father’s powerful frame vanished in a wisp of smoke, leaving Kiala reeling, but alive. “Fight it Kiala. You have to wake up.” Her brother’s words were full of entreaty, and helpless, desperate fear. Kiala could not turn away from such heartfelt pleas. Colson needed her to wake…but..wake from what? She concentrated, keeping her link with Colson to anchor her, and beginning first with a simple breath.

Inhale…exhale…for a long time she did nothing more. And no more nightmares plagued her. Colson, so far away from her, but still so closely tied to her, calmed. Slowly, the pull of the drug faded and Kiala grew more and more aware.

~Stay where you are.” Colson sensed her burgeoning awareness. “I’m coming.~

~No, I’m all right.~ It was imperative that her brother not return. ~I’ll come to you. Remember Colson…you are the key.~

She felt his anger, and slowly, she withdrew from the link he had somehow forged with her. ~Stay safe little brother…I will come.~ She did not allow him to reply. As soon as the link was broken, she felt a stab of loneliness. She had never been without her mother or Colson nearby. She could not feel any of her companions nearby either. There was only one awareness that she could sense…

Kiala sat up slowly, her violet eyes taking in the form of the man who sat across the small fire. He was young, barely older than she was, and he watched her intently. She noted the gleaming gold sigil on his chest, she had seen it often enough, though at a distance. It was a single golden eye surrounded by a halo of starpoints, pierced by a thunderbolt; and it signified her father’s Imperial Guard…Kiala shuddered as jagged recollections of her nightmare flashed in her memory. Her hand lifted to her cheek and she sucked in air, pain washing over her as her fingers explored the bruised flesh. Her body ached all over, her head was pounding. Even the flickering light of the fire sent sharp tendrils of pain through her skull. The sheltered, luxurious life that she had known had not prepared her at all for this. She had never felt so defeated.

This man though, seemed to offer her no harm. He only stared at her unspeaking, the firelight reflected in his eyes, whose color she could not see in the dimness. Slowly, Kiala took in her surroundings…the small camp, the small fire. Was it just the two of them then? A cool breeze ruffled her bedraggled sable hair, carrying with it the smell of the stew the man had made, and Kiala’s stomach rumbled in answer.
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Old 10-28-2012, 10:08 PM   #8
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Davion's eyes were intent on Kiala as she stirred, he forgot the spoon he was stirring in the pot above the fire as the princess came to and Davion leaned forward, his pale features warmed and glowing in the guttering firelight.

"We are safe for now, your highness." He spoke gently as he watched her, and slowly he began to stir the spoon once more in his hand, though his attention was entirely fixed on Kiala. For moments he watched, just watched, his green eyes glinting in the amber light, studying her, looking into her, for a moment his eyes seemed to glaze before he gave a start and hastily felt for a bowl to place some of the steaming stew into.

"You were out cold when I retrieved you from the bandits, you've been out for the best part of the day at least...please take some stew, highness.." His mouth seemed to chew itself up around the honorific, the empire trained its agents well, but they were seldom well-versed or trained in the etiquette of imperial high society.

With a rustle of fallen leaves Davion skirted the fire, moving closer to Kiala to hand the stew to her. "There's water, too, you must take your fill. I tracked you as quick as I could, light willing I would have come sooner but whoever kidnapped you hid their tracks well..." With the bowl handed over his hands had nothing to occupy themselves with, and he began to rub them nervously, fidgeting with them, the shadows obscuring them.

"Please forgive me." He looked to her, brow lowered pentitently, yet his eyes were peering up at her curiously. He knew little of the princess, and had obviously defaulted to assuming she would be as haughty and stern as all imperial blood was, especially evident in her father, whom he had at least met in the flesh before.

"Do not be afraid, highness. Tomorrow I will take us out of the woodlands and we will soon be back on the imperial road, I will see you safely back to your father." He smiled in what he thought was a reassuring manner and tried to look at ease as the sounds of the forest and the crackling fire filled the silence.
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