The group incurs the interest of the Great Lahsini. A peek into the exaltation of Findler. And a nice evening between Jadefang and Beng.
The Great Lahsini
A whirling dervish of wind and heat washed through the canyon, scattering eagles to the skies. As the feathers carried aloft, a few falling slowly to the earth, a hand curled from the dust and sand to grasp one. Tilting it this way and that, the rest of the woman formed, tall and lithe, eyes of molten gold, flesh the shade of diamond and pearl, clad in leathers of her favored prey.
“Dear Vai, audience please.” The feather burst into flame eyes floating in the waves of heat. Plumage sprung from the heart in wild shades of blue and red, the hottest and coldest shades. A shrill song cascaded within the rocks, as Skar’Vai pressed ruby claws into the living fire of her mistress.
“What…a long and eerie chat that ever was. It seems a darkness has slithered within the heart of the sacred volcano, a smothering of filth we cannot abide. We’ve been tasked to find a method to learn more and aid in it’s destruction or removal. I remain unsure how best to act with the elder connection long past and the Old Dog unwilling to speak.” Moving into the caverns, ruby and onyx glowed with life. Flames scorched walls and ceiling, as symbols burned through the blackening marks.
As they melded into a single creation, one grand inferno, Skar’Vai spoke. “Sini, we had…visitors. Arrivals in the canyons, spying out your glorious jewelwork, looking upon the sculptors, yet did not destroy or steal.” Such resolve in the midst of such wealth earned a risen brow. “Their souls sung. One flicker of gold, two of sapphire. They listened well, heeded your rules and demands, and made offering. I must admit, I soured not to cast them in flame or ruby.”
She peered across to gemstone pillars in progress of carving, gem the depth of passion or blood. Not a sliver cut or chunk taken. “Exalts with offerings? From Chiaroscuro or beyond? Certainly not from Gem.” A flicker of diamond blue glinted in the depths of her eyes. “I would be tempted to consider this great news. Such thorny declarations laid betwixt the Flame and Hound.” Striding before the ashes of Seyjan’s offering, she raised a hand. Motes of ash and smoke from the burning floated up in a spiral, consumed into her mouth. Memories of the young man awoke, fluttering closed those molten eyes.
A glorious face, curiously perfect, wandering through life as she once had. Pleasure such a crux of a fine or terrible day, the balance of flesh and hunger, the expectations to gain from it. And from this moment came the brilliance of light, the unwanted sudden change. Such upheaval of his life, not as embraced or welcomed as once such exaltations were. Never once did Tamaz seek and aid him, explain the truth, or offer reprieve from the eyes of the city. The history floating with her breath as thin smoke.
“Others arrived, tell me of them.” Skar’Vai met the gaze, the memory of others burning bright. The small camp, eagles in flight. A figure hiding in the camp, a giant of a woman with the beautiful man in the depths. Their arrival together, fiercely protecting each other, eager to learn more. The offer to bring others in prayer and offering. Their homes within the great city of glass.
A grim line formed with brows and lips, the heat chilled to a mellowing of cherry. “Regardless of the Old Dog and his favored Garda. We leave at once.”
Nothing Ever Simple
How long he lived in the dark, a creature that loved the sun and simple life in the city. Far too many nights, months, a year or more passed as he bent and suffered the hate-filled eyes, the rough thieves and bullies, unable to fight back. She offered often, her hand reached forth in his mind’s eye, sometimes next to him, her voice a clarion call. When had Findler fought the urge to accept her help, heed the voice?
Certainly not when his luck changed… Such a fine day, pleasant as he finished a successful contract negotiation, appraisals of goods in the fine market. Such an incredible bit of business and luck, he prayed charms to the Lord of Progress, landing a small charm with something extra. A true delight. He met his cousin for lunch, seared meats with rice baked in vegetables, spiced fruits, and chilled drinks. Such glorious wealth he earned to spend so frivolously, yet worth it. He revealed to his brother the true wealth in the charm. They both sat transfixed.
Later in the afternoon, as the final light of sun glinted through a tower of glass, charm rolling about his fingers, Findler found his mind tumbling back…back…back away…
She landed hard upon knees, teeth grinding for the pain certainly meant more bruises and scrapes. The pain passed without a growled word in anger for neither could continue, Analaise knew this. The fear long ended the day before. Light was dying, no another day passed and the third night. “Do they follow?”
“Without end.” Despite the grime and blood, the hollows from sleepless weeks, his eyes held such a piercing green glow, a beauty through pain. He dragged himself closer, taking her hands in his. Nothing clean left to him, so little left untouched as they battled through the ranks of Dragon-Blooded, fear-driven mortals, and their own lines to retreat. Any camps they made were attacked, packs and a number of files and artifacts stolen or left in flight. But the truth laid in their thoughts. She felt a chill as he spoke what she likewise thought.
“Only death safeguards this secret. Yu’shan gave us this task. We must bring it to light.”
Despite her thirst, tears welled and streaked through dust on her cheeks. She shook, the urge to release him and run nearly overwhelming logic. “Please…no… We won’t crack! If they capture us, we can escape and keep the secret. I don’t want to die!”
Her hands jittered further, digits tightening into fists.
“It’s already done.”
Findler wept when he woke from the Sun’s Exaltation, such sorrow and anger churning in his bowels, the poison so strong as to make him ill from the memory. So rich and strong! Only then did he realize the streets were unknown to him. The sky was dark. A thief laid dead twenty paces away, not a mark on him. Findler’s clothing was ripped, a dribble from a split lip. Where was he? What day was it?
Shaking, skulking away to the dark where people like he deserved to live, the simple appraiser lived as a hermit among murderers, hoping the stains of his sin never were revealed. Until a few more lights filled the night… Until he had that dream again. She spoke at times, aiding. She took over often, living his life. But without her, would he have gotten so far? Crafting little magics, signing little papers, making his way until …HE appeared.
A promise of others kept him from the strong opiates to silence her frustrations. The youth proved true, bringing them together. Exalts, not driven underground but living as folk of the city. Then that face…those eyes…different yet the same. Her pleas tore through his mind, shrill at times. His name a mantra.
Memories returned, flickers but blocked still if he tried to perceive further back, as if encased in glass. “Heaven gave us this task…we have to finish it…” He said it aloud, to the beauty called Seyjan. As soon as the words left his mouth, he wanted to toss himself into the waters, and pray for sharks.
One night with Beng
“You know what they say about oysters?” Beng held aloft a briny shell, eyes a’glitter with lamp light warming the depth of green and blue.
“Aren’t we obvious. Oh I won’t storm upon your joy. By all means…” Jade Fang lounged across his chair and the bar, chin resting upon a curled paw. Regardless of being perched on a stool, tail curling around a leg, he seemed boneless and barely upright.
“Quite the aphrodisiac…don’t you think? Or perhaps it’s just…the delivery.” With a cluck of a laugh, he leaned back his head, slurping the raw shellfish, a touch of oil and spice flecking his lips. Despite eating, murmuring in happiness, and balancing on his own stool, the fiend kept eye contact with the tiger. Damia would be snarling in her dark humor of a bird trying to lure the pants off a cat.
Large green eyes watched. Stared. One striped brow rising. Before he finally claimed an oyster from Beng’s platter. Raising it between gold-dipped claws, he tapped it against one the rooster raised. “They do say that. And perhaps this once… I agree. Delivery is everything.” With a roar of a purr, he sluiced the meat between fangs, large tongue lapping at the flavors. Teasing perhaps, Beng was entirely unsure. “So what brings you to my table?”
“Bar. It’s a bar. And a dive at that.” Beng glanced along the length of a short bar with a short man with a shaved head, a wet rag tossed over it, sweat soaking down into a tunic marked up from cooking. He just smiled and nodded, over and over, rarely speaking but tossing fish into a wok or a roiling boil of a pot. Off to the side, he had buckets of fresh shellfish, a shucking knife, and spiced oil. A drink vendor next door in a ramshackle cart sold fruity drinks with splashes of cheap rum. And it seemed, they all catered to this lazy tiger more than anyone else.
A rumbling meow set his whiskers to shiver, a claw stabbing through a crab leg, cracking, and digging out flesh with ease. “Of course. My table. Well, really it belongs to my friends here, but I spend more jade than anyone else. Cezir has the best prices and selections, mainly because all of his children work on fishing ships.”
Beng hooked one high heeled boot on Jade Fang’s stool, turning to face him with a heap more swagger. Thin tall feathers flipped this way and that, imperial emerald, russet reds, black and gold stripes. “So, a moot. I hear there’s bound to be one held? And by…”
His eyes closed slowly then opened, the gentle tiger sipping from a coconut filled with rum, a mix of fruits, and saffron. “And everyone agrees. Tamaz should host. Honestly, I want pluck you bald and wish you fleas. You all realize…I will be stuck with the work. Gathering beasts for feasting. Paying off smugglers, pirates, the Guild to allow passage.”
A finely sculpted hand reached to grasp the larger tiger’s shoulder, a squeeze, too much of a squeeze, lasting quite a bit of time and wandering down the arm, Beng gave a look of mock care. Even Cezir knew what the man wanted while filling orders and Jade Fang’s plate. “Oh no no, I would never wish this enormous amount of work solely on your….mm shoulders. See, I came early to offer my illustrious aid.”
Bright eyes slit, furred tail flicking with enough force to thump Beng’s leg hard. “Oh really. And what exactly are you hoping for out of this little bit of well meaning aid, hmmm?”
He flicked his chin to the side, smile quirked. “Why your charming company. OWW!” The tiger’s claws pressed against his thigh, far sharper than he expected. When he looked back up, he sat nose to large black nose.
Jade Fang breathed in deep, watching the play of emotions, waiting for the prey chicken to run or fall over himself. Claws pressed deeper, raising, to lap and lick the drops of blood. “Well, I won’t deny, I could use help. Tell me, you and your friend Damia willing to take a few trips for me?”
Beng recovered quickly, never shaking or running, just brightening with a quick grasp of his own coconut drink. He banged it against Jade’s. “I was born for travel. But getting rid of me so soon?”