Vhramis sits silently on a stack of furs in the longhouse, fiddling absently with the buckles on one of the boots.
Aiden Zahir is to be found to one side of the hut, arranging his few surviving and dry possessions within his bedroll, tying the bundle together with a dirty length of twine.
"This almost feels unfinished," rises the forester's voice. "Like it shouldn't really be ending this way." With a last tug on the leather strap, he ceases playing about with the footwear.
Aiden Zahir flashes a canny, wry, lop-sided grin at the forrester, retorting with dry flippancy, "It isn't ended yet. We still have the ride home. And the Instrumentalist is a most ... unpredictable creature."
"Unless it decides to roll over midair and send us hurtling to the ground..." Vhramis replies, shrugging. "And if it wanted us dead, it could have always had it's wildling pets finish us."
Aiden Zahir clucks his tongue in bemusedly chiding mien, "I was thinking more the possibility of it opening its fiery gullet to belch brimstone upon Fastheld Keep. Or, rather, one can hope, hrmm?" the Spymaster muses with a chuckle. Corriden drops Tawny Leather Haversack
Corriden emerges from the longhouse sleepily, expression bleary. Without much in the way of pleasure, he regards the camp in dry silence for a few long moments.
Vhramis sits on the longhouse on a pile of furs, speaking with Aiden. "That'd certainly make our homecoming memorable," he murmurs, shifting his attention to tightening his other boot.
His bedroll rolled up and stowed within his bag, as with most of his posessions, Lucius Nepos stands fully dressed, dry and ready for the voyage home. He clicks the hinges of his breastplate together, fastening it onto his body, and makes sure that his belt along with scabbard and sling is secure.
Aiden Zahir hoists his bedroll upon his back, the Spymaster clapping his hands together in unabashed enthusiasm. "Well then, let us hope our chariot arrives soon. I, for one, am pining for a nice, soft bed and a meal that doesn't involve the additive of dirt or insects."
"I'll drink to that." Exclaims Lucius with a hearty chuckle. He lifts his finger to correct himself, "Well, when we get back to Fastheld, that is."
Grinn Harwel wanders out of the house next, gnawing on a strip of jerky. Several more pieces of the toughened meat are clenched tight in hand. "So much for the hero's welcoming," he mutters irritably.
Ashlynn ducks into the longhouse from whatever walk or exploration that had kept her missing for the majority of the day, taking one glance around at the preparations to depart and quickly moving to pick up her own pack, already bundled and ready for travel.
Looking up to the entrance of the house as Ashlynn enters; Vhramis nods a greeting before rising to his feet. "Out of bowstrings, anyway. Couldn't come at a better time," he stares, leaning to lift his quiver from the floor and strap it about his waist.
Aiden Zahir's eyes narrow in scrutiny of the scribe, inquiring with tone dripping in honeyed affability coupled with unquenchable curiosity, "I trust all is well with you, Mistress Ashlynn? Your ... audience with Talus go well, did it?"
Lucius Nepos hefts his pack onto his back and tightens the straps to the degree where it's 'just right'. Nodding in satisfaction, he approaches the group and eyes Ashlynn, as well, nodding as if to accent Aiden's question.
Corriden tries to scrub the mud from his coat, glancing up at Ashylnn with an opaque, unreadable expression for a moment. He looks away, to the skies, scowling. "I still think it's a bad idea to go. Anyone seen his Nibs this morning?"
Ashlynn gives the steward a small, wan smile as she shoulders her pack, brushing straggling strands of her hair - bundled at the nape of her neck in an untidy handful after the recent drenching - away from her forehead before turning a well-practiced mask to the spymaster, gaze direct and inscrutable. "As well as could be expected under these circumstances, M'Lord," she returns evenly.
"And the contents of the letter are confidential, I assume, Mistress Birch?" Asks Lucius with a rather cheerful smile; almost a bit too cheerful for being out in the wilderness like this, although maybe he's really, really, happy to get back to a warm bed and a warm meal. His eyes remain locked on the woman, although his eyebrows do rise ever so slightly.
Aiden Zahir comments to both Ashlynn and Lucius in the same breath, if with skeptical tone, "Undoubtedly." With a faint roll shirk, the Spymaster turns to finish his own preparations for departure, if with an ear remaining turned to other conversation.
The bow is lifted and slipped over his shoulder, and Vhramis gives a last look to the longhouse, before silently making his way past everyone and out.
Ashlynn turns a long look to Lucius at the pointed question, letting the silence stretch for a moment before she states with deceptive mildness, "I am a courier, Sir. It is understood as implicit, unless explicitly instructed otherwise, that anything that passes into my hands remains inviolate until it is received by the one designated. Was this ever assumed otherwise?"
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I - I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.
The heavens hold many secrets, it is said. The Moons play games with those that seek wisdom from their very being, while the Stars - ever silent - offer no answers to the questions asked of them by dreamers. The clouds, however, continue their perpetual journey across the endless sky, paying no heed to the darkness that has rolled over the land, yielding for neither moonbeam nor starlight as they rule the twilight empyrean.
Or so they think.
The celestial sphere that maintains a constant vigil over the lands below is no longer without a monarch, it would seem, for the distant thundering of powerful wings begins to whisper over the landscape without challenge or protest. A divine creature of angelic sapphire sweeps low over ridge on the distant horizon; her azure form at once both beautiful and intimidating as she maintains her course towards the Wildling Camp, a faint glow of cobalt lining her form like fey fire, seeming to emanate from her very body.
Clouds part before her arrival, swirling in a mass of wisp and contrail in her wake, while the starlight dapples her slender draconian body with flecks of radiant light, casting a vast shadow upon the world below as she passes over forest, ravine, and plains, with celestial ease.
The Lady this way comes...
Aiden Zahir's eyes move heavenward, their verdant depths glinting in anticipation almost verging on sadism. "Ah, She comes," he remarks with a broad and bedimpled smile. "Lady and gentlemen, prepare yourselves, if you have not yet had the honor, to meet the Instrumentalist. Such an enchanting creature, she is. Perhaps it stems from the authors of her liberation, but something about the great drake is impeccably ... Zahir."
"If by that you mean evil and shadow-riddled, I'm inclined to agree." Corriden declares, glowering at the spymaster. He begins to pace unhappily, glaring up at the form in the sky occasionally.
Vhramis pauses outside at the announcement, eyes turning expectantly heavenward. The man shifts his weight, nervousness dictating that he does something aside from be still.
"Pick that up when you saw it destroy the temple at Halo, did ye?" Lucius asks in jest to Aiden, chuckling heartily under his breath. He too lifts his green-blue eyes to the sky and watches the Instrumentalist, that gigantic Drake cruise through the sky towards the group. "This should be interesting." He munches on a few sweet berries in the meantime.
Ashlynn emerges from the longhouse after the others, straightening gratefully outside the cramped confines, before the great beast's arrival has her turning a grim and shuttered look skyward, gaze caught and held by the steadily growing figure.
Aiden Zahir effects a secretive, serpentine smile at the noble blacksmith. "Ah, Lord Lomasa ... Flattery will get you everywhere," he jests, laughing softly to himself at the jest. "Do compose yourself. I don't expect Her Ladyship will take kindly to a man scowling so ugly riding upon her back. It's a most unflattering emotion for you, you know. Makes your eyes go piggy and small."
Grinn Harwel peers up at the magnificent beast, eyes shielded beneath a meaty hand. For once he doesn't reach for the comforting iron of his blades. Little use they'd be against something of this magnitude. "Riding? That thing?" The mercenary grits his teeth. "You must be bloomin' mad!"
In the space of a few seconds, the efficacious wings of the Sapphire Drake have carried her over rolling grasslands and thick forests, perhaps spanning the distance that those below have taken a week to trek across in a mere few minutes. The whispering thunder of her wings ceases as abruptly as it began; her wings spreading to their full span as she glides along under the power of her own flight momentum, her long sinuous tail gracefully flowing in her wake.
She soars high over the Wildling Village a few moments later; the detailed features of her proportionally slender body highlighted by the shimmering sapphire of those faux metallic scales and by the very moonlight itself as she passes overhead.
One hundred feet of Dragoness then banks to the right, sweeping low behind a nearby ridge, and - for the moment - vanishing from sight.
One might surmise that she's planning her landing angle.
Vhramis exhales through his nostrils, eyes widening slightly as the drake comes more into view. Lowering himself to the ground, he takes a seat, looking for all purposes, completely overwhelmed.
Lucius Nepos's eyes are now fully occupied by the incredible creature circling above him; his mouth is agape, hands clenched at his side. "It's so fantastic...” He comments, to no one in particular.
Aiden Zahir's gaze remains rapt upon the soaring, aerial majesty of the Instrumentalist, though this captivation does not keep him from answering Grinn's perhaps rhetorical question, "Not mad, Master Harwel. If you know of a better way home, by all means, take it. I can assure you; however, it would be quite a long walk."
As the dragoness slips momentarily out of sight, it is habit that pulls Ashlynn's gaze toward the steward, and habit again that prompts her to slip to his side when he sinks to the ground. Consciousness begins to filter in, however, when she begins to move to crouch beside him, and instead she tentatively presses the bare fingertips of her hand against his shoulder, uncertain of anything beyond the timid gesture.
Grinn Harwel's lips part, presumably to argue, but clamp shut as the drake grows nearer, its full size just now dawning on the poor, mundane man.
From behind the ridge soars the Instrumentalist once more, rising higher with a few thundering beats of her wings, tail snaking behind her, before she finally sweeps back around, lowering herself to an area just beyond the Wildling Village so as not to crush it under her talons and chest, and landing with more grace than a feline deity.
Her wings stretch for a moment, and then fold together upon her back, draping down her sides in turn like a midnight blue cloak of leather, occluding the sapphire that gleams upon the sides of her body, yet doing little to hide the intensity of her vivid violet eyes. That long, sinuous neck sweep around with fluid elegance; cat-like orbs looking upon the Wildling Village, fan-like ears perking to high attention as she watches and waits, her tail swaying with casual amusement.
Yet, for all her size, it would seem that she makes no imprint at all upon the ground below her. She landed without a whisper of sound, true, but that would do little to explain the fact that even the grass under her claws seems to suffer no ill-effect of being trampled on by a leviathan. Grass that is bathed in a dull cobalt light that seems shines from her scales.
Vhramis blinks and glances over to Ashlynn at the touch, smiling distractedly to her, before the event of the Instrumentalist landing draws his attention again. He takes a deep steadying breath before rising to his feet.
Lucius Nepos's eyes remain locked on Kalath'aria for a few moments, before the green-blues shift uncertainly to the rest of the group. "So... we wait for her to give us the okay?" He asks.
Aiden Zahir takes several strides towards the massive, impossibly magnificent drake, dropping to kneel a respectful distance away, not in simply a bow, but a full proskynesis, bending to rest forehead against the cool earth. "Mistress of the Skies, pray show mercy ... May we beg for your protection and favor, for egress and safe purchase within your scales that we might return home this night?" the Spymaster intones with solemn ceremony.
"The Realm of Fastheld has fallen." Her voice is a contralto of femininity; a purr of soft majesty atop a backdrop of harsher draconian cunning and guile. The violet of her eyes burns with a cold intensity atop a backdrop of warm compassion and malice in equal measure; her tone is matter-of-fact, wings twitching as they rise and then fall to drape over her back once more.
With feline grace, she stalks closer to where Aiden has taken up position, looking over him with an expression of mild dispassion.
"That which was will never return. The sun has set upon the Empire that existed for six hundred years; replaced by the waking dawn of a Imperial line without an Emperor. And now, having failed to reclaim the last grains of shards of this broken dream, you wish to return to where it all began, and reforge it anew."
That wasn't a question...
Vhramis glaces to Aiden briefly, but otherwise doesn't seem to have much to say, and even seems to be glad he's not being paid any mind.
Aiden Zahir rises to a seated, kneeling position, looking up at the drake with a sudden, sincere passion. Whether energized by political machinations, fear, awe, or a combination of the three, it is a Spymaster in rhapsody which answers in eloquent form, "We would build upon that which has fallen, Mistress ... that from the bones of those who have passed, we might bring a new and more brilliant order upon this world, one to eclipse the former and tear the fabric of transient reality asunder ... even as you did within the ruins of Halo. Return us to our homes, and you nurse a dragon within Fastheld, one birthed from a new dream, a resolve built upon our forbearers, but looking to the future rather than relying upon the past."
Ashlynn seems at a loss as to what response to give, emotionally drained as she registers the dragoness' words but evinces little more reaction than a shift of her weight and an uncomfortable tightening of her jaw, her gaze distant.
As Blade, more importantly, a commoner Blade, Lucius Nepos isn't in much of a position to say anything to the mighty Drake as she makes her pronouncement. His facial expression twists, for a moment only, into a slight frown before reforming into a line of neutrality. He waits, then, for her response, ears perked.
The Instrumentalist seems to regard Aiden with an expression of contempt for a few moments; her ears perking to attention once again before flattening back against her head in a sleek display of draconian elegance. Her tail twitches from side to side, yet leaves no mark upon the earth it sweeps over, and - if ones attention happens to fall upon the region behind her sapphire body - it might be noted that not a single claw print exists within the soil.
After a few moments of contemplation, The Lady merely huffs a draconian sound of amusement, looking away from Aiden to instead glance upon the stars with those violet eyes.
"Zolor would have just said ‘Yes’. It would have sufficed. Save your misplaced gallantry for one of your foolish playthings, Aiden Zahir; you care little for a glorious rebirth of the realm. You seek merely to build your own tower higher upon the ruins than others dare to try. To stand before the rising dawn and claim the sight as your own, leaving those below you to gaze upon an overcast sky. For you are Zahir, and the shadows that you dwell within temper the light before it blinds too many. You bring harmony to all that live, for you are a virtuoso, much as I am an Instrumentalist."
Without elaborating, she regards the others, looking upon them with a casual disinterest that suggests that all that they strive for interests her little.
The steward turned woodsman mutters some few words to himself, before taking a few short steps towards the massive drake. Eyes lowering to the ground, or more specifically, her claws, he speaks. "We're in a world alien and unfamiliar. And I'm sure we're not wanted here by your followers. Whether we succeeded or failed in our task is inconsequential, and we simply wish to return home."
Where he might beg to differ with others, Aiden would be a fool to do so with anything as powerful as this Lady, this Queen of the Heavens. Besides ... the Spymaster has to get home, somehow. Thus, he merely rises, taking several measured steps back and dipping into a respectful bow, allowing silence to suffice, as the Instrumentalist would wish.
Awed by Kalath'aria's booming draconian voice and her authoritative response, Lucius almost takes a step back. Reconsidering this, he stands his ground, black leather boots pressed firmly into the grass. Again, he remains silent.
Ashlynn's mouth twitches with a distant, unfocused amusement at the dragoness' response to Aiden, before the remainder of her speech brings the courier's attention back into focus - into a weary, helpless look as she dares to meet those jewel-bright eyes and is caught by their depths. "Please...help bring us home again," she murmurs, barely above a whisper.
Dradin remains silent, not sure whether to look the dragon in the face or not.
"That's a self-fulfilling prophecy if I've ever heard one." Corriden growls under his breath, looking angrily at the group. He glances up at the drake, mouth twitching with the sheer volume of his hatred.
"I made a promise to Talus Kahar that I would return you to your domain. The Wildlings wish it also, as does the Virtuoso. Thus, it shall be done."
Without speaking another word, the seraphic Dragoness unfurls her midnight blue wings, spanning those outwards to their full span in following, and then beating them lightly once or twice to ensure that their maximum spread has been accomplished. That done, she lowers wings, neck, and head to the ground, sweeping into a regal Draconian bow; yet this is not to pay homage to someone, but to merely allow those who wish to climb upon her slender sapphire frame a softer incline while doing so.
One might imagine that very few people want to climb via the teeth end of things, and so she holds her tail still, keeping it as low as possible. Regardless of all the assistance she presents, at one hundred feet in length, it's still somewhat of a walk to get behind her, and then to climb up between her wings.
Aiden Zahir strides forward as the Drake lowers herself to allow for the much-desired travel, the Spymaster's robes furling behind him as he calls tersely to the others over his shoulder, "Coming?"
But without that walk, the one home to Fastheld is undoubtedly much longer and more perilous. Therefore, Lucius Nepos decides to undertake it, his powerful legs pushing themselves towards the Drake's massive tail. After taking a moment to observe the full length of her once more, he nods, as if to reassure himself, and begins to carefully make his way towards her back.
Dradin follows Lucius, looking uneasily at the dragon's form as if formulating a climbing path that would be the least awkward.
And Vhramis' green eyes switch away from the Drake, flitting from one wildling dwelling to another, perhaps searching for something. He continues searching as he follows Lucius towards the tail to mount.
Corriden doesn't move at all. He stands there, jaw working angrily, shifting his weight from foot to foot.
Soaring through the air on the back of a dragon? The very thought alone is enough to turn Harwel's face green. The long trek home isn't very appealing, either. Particularly when Wildlings, gibberers, and specters are factored into the equation. "Jus' think of them Imperials, Grinn. Warm fires and ale. And let's not forget them wenches. All waiting back home." He finds some measure of resolve within his outspoken thoughts, and steps forward.
Ashlynn barely looks back to the settlement as she begins to follow the others toward the dragoness' tail, though a last reflex as erstwhile leader prompts her to count heads - and she frowns at Corriden's stubborn stance. "Lord Lomasa," she prompts. "Come."
Aiden Zahir begins the ascent of the dragon's massive frame, traipsing across her tail and up her hinder parts with all due haste, but as gently as possible. There can't possibly be anything worse than a pissed Drake. Unless, mind you, under these circumstances she were a -pissing- drake.
Looking to Ashlynn, the tension eases into resignation. "All right, Birch, don't getcher trousers in a bunch... His royal idiocy doesn't want me around anyways, so I'll go." Corriden murmurs, walking after the tail-end of the group.. And making no real attempt to walk or step gently.
"You can stand there, if you desire." Kalath'aria states with a measure of amusement in her silky voice towards Corriden, the wherkers on her snout twitching with curiosity much like whiskers upon a cat. She herself remains deathly still in order to aid the climb of those who are attempting to embark upon her back.
"It makes little difference to me. However, the Wildlings do charge for accommodation, and I don't believe that your body can offer the kind of payment they request."
"C'mon, Corriden. There's nothing out here for you. Come back home." Says Lucius, mustering his first words in probably a half hour. He inhales and then exhales deeply with his mouth, motioning for the man to come towards the group as he continues to walk along Kalath'aria's back.
Dradin awkwardly ascends onto the dragon's back, trying not to do anything to annoy or hurt the dragon, although the chances of Dradin doing anything harmful are probably slim to none.
"Yeah, yeah...” Corriden growls, taking his position nice and near Aiden... After all, if he manages to piss off the drake, he wants to at least have a chance of the Zahir being hit in the crossfire. Or by a hand-shaped cross-wind. "Guess I miss the beer, at least."
And Vhramis looks at the tail and shakes his head while waiting his turn, before climbing up on it and following up the length of the drake to find a stable seat.
Ashlynn nods to Corriden, her expression growing all the more somber at his words before she begins to step delicately across the dragoness' tail and back, fascination beginning to leak into her gaze as she examines the stuff she is treading across in more detail.
Aiden Zahir looks askance at Corriden, and pats the hilt of the Kris at his side with silent punctuation, its violet blade, curved and menacing, glinting in the moonlight. Reckoning nothing further needs to be said, the lord of Hedgehem busies himself with making himself comfortable upon the scaly hide.
Satisfied that all that wish to become the first humans to ever fly have embarked upon her, Kalath'aria cautiously raises her sinuous neck once more, tilting her wedge-shaped head to the left to better regard those who ascend her back, the almond-shaped eye of violet taking note of the overall progress with a mild interest.
There's an alien intelligence within those purple depths that speak both of overwhelming virtue and equally fierce pragmatism, suggesting much about the Sapphire Drake herself. What must this world look like from the perspective of a creature such as her? Her ears fan outwards, as if at the very moment she too was considering a similar thing about the small bipeds that need her assistance.
"Guard well the Dagger of the Lady of the Stars, Aiden Zahir." she comments while waiting.
Aiden Zahir inclines his head in solemn reverence for both the weapon he carries and the bidding of the Instrumentalist, "I intend to, m'lady," he assures with a faint, conspiratorial smile.
Ashlynn sucks in a sharp breath as the dragoness finally moves, her weariness abruptly falling away to the wonder that had been ignored for so long, legs and hands automatically trying to catch at anything upon the broad back and smooth scales to help maintain her seat, no matter that there had only been the slight shift of muscles beneath them rather than an actual shift in their perspective. Her riding experience no doubt helps to settle her fears, but her eyes remain wide and anticipation shortening her breaths as she waits for the moment when they actually launch into the sky.
Corriden closes his eyes unhappily, lifting the hand he wears at his neck to kiss at it-- A talisman, of some sort? Releasing it to dangle once again, he glances over his shoulder at Ashlynn and offering her a sad, but reassuring smile.
Lucius Nepos performs no such sort of 'good-luck' movement. Firmly on the Drake's back now, he exhales deeply once more and gazes at the surroundings for the last time. Party time outside the Aegis is over. His eyes lower, examining each of Kalath'aria's sapphire scales inquisitively, as if they hold some sort of secret which he hopes to unlock.
Vhramis sits still on the dragon...perfectly still, as he stares forward. The man seems to focus on the back of the Drake's head, clutching tightly to its back as he can.
Ashlynn blinks when she notices Corriden's regard, and blinks again as if surprised at finding such a gaze turned upon her. But then she manages a small, wan smile in return, before it fades as she turns to search out the steward's position somewhere behind her.
"If you fall," The Instrumentalist warns, casting her gaze forward now as she considers the fog that has managed to roll across the land, "Then I will try to catch you, but I make no promises."
Fog that has apparently died and fell to earth after Kalath'aria tore through it merely an hour before now rolls across the landscape, presenting a hauntingly bleak image that it countered only by the subdued radiance of cobalt that seems to emanate from the sapphire Drake. Slowly, carefully, hinting at a concern for those she owes nothing towards, the Dragoness rises back into a standing position. Her midnight blue wins silently fan outwards only moments later, again stretching to their full span as she considers her next moves.
Abruptly, yet on claws lighter than feathers, considering the lack of marks in the ground below her, she starts to turn on the spot, moving her body so that she is no longer facing the Wildling Village which - one might notice - she looks towards at least twice before apparently convincing herself that all that dwell there will be just fine in her absence.
Her ears fold back against her head, tail swaying lightly behind her form, and then she waits for just a few moments longer before leaping into the air without so much as a running start, her wings starting to flap almost a heartbeat afterwards, and thus, with all the grace and majesty befitting of that which she exists as, Kalath'aria fluidly sweeps into the night sky below a clear starfield of glittering lights and pale moons, leaving the world below far behind in her wake.
Aiden Zahir inhales a sharp breath, and holds it as the ascent begins, a loud hiss sounding as he lets it go only once lungs are burning, inhaling deep of air at heights which precious few have known before. Green eyes wide in wonderment survey the blurring landscape below, an appreciative smile spreading for this moment the likes of which will probably never be known in his life again. Perhaps this is what it feels like to be a god?
Now sitting, Lucius's stomach rises a few feet in his chest, his eyes opening wide as the air begins to rush. With his hands, he grips on the Drake's scales, a balance between gentle and firm so that he does not fall off into the depths below. To weigh himself down, perhaps, the Blade slips a few berries into his mouth.
Vhramis squeezes his eyes closed as his unusual manner of transportation lifts off the ground, feeling his stomach drop at the sudden gain of altitude. Sure, he's looked down from the top of the Aegis, and that was pretty high, but this trumps that, for sure.
Corriden leans forward, the wind whipping at his hair and tattered clothing. Unlike some of the others, he doesn't look down, but instead up at the night sky with a morose expression.
Dradin bows forward so that he is more in a ducking position, trying to get a hold on something as the wind pushes forcefully past him.
There is a shocked moment of silence from Ashlynn, as conscious thought steps aside for pure instinct while she clings to this most unusual of mounts...before a delighted and disbelieving laugh abruptly escapes her, quickly swallowed as she regains control of herself, but not soon enough to fully keep it from spilling past her lips.
The heavily scarred eye opens a crack, Vhramis unable to help but take a brief look around. When will he ever have this opportunity again? Likely never.
The Sapphire Dragoness continues to gain altitude for a few moments more before finally leveling off, her body tilting slightly to balance out its own equilibrium as she maintains her desired altitude; a height high enough to make the Wildling Village a mere dot upon the landscape, but not so high as to suffocate and kill everyone from lack of oxygen. In fact, even the wind that tears over her wings seems to fade away to nothing, while as it dies the air itself seems to come alive with a tingle of energy, and before long the wind is nothing more than a whisper; the chill lessened to merely a refreshing breeze.
There is, it would seem, more than just a little magic going into this flight. A mere cantrip for the Dragoness, perhaps, aiding her own flight as much as the comfort of those who ride shotgun.
Her path is taking her on an unusual course, however, for she seems to be flying further north, soaring over lands that are unknown. Yet, up ahead on the horizon, a shimmering mass of water can clearly be picked out as the pale light of the moons refract upon its surface. The Fastheld River, it would seem, but at a location much, much, nearer to the source.
Aiden Zahir can but watch in bewildered amazement, murmuring a soft, "Magnificent," before falling silent again, eyes narrowing in curiosity at the argent glint of the swiftly-closing body of water.
"Woow," Dradin whispers. "It's all so... big."
Corriden blinks in surprise at the lack of wind now, looking around this time. He might be angry, but it can certainly be said that he'll never do this sort of thing again. The river seems to fascinate him for a while.
"The Light truly does shine outside the Aegis...” Lucius mumbles to himself, eyes fixed upon the large, strong river which the group is passing over. He glances up at the moons, smiling inwardly, before his eyes once more drop down.
Vhramis coaxes his other eye open, his initial fear being washed away with the amazing sight before him. The sight of the wild lands. "Ash," he calls to the courier sitting in front of him, though whether she hears him or not is iffy.
Ashlynn is silent now, though she continues to stare with the wide gaze of someone perpetually dazed by their experiences, eyes darting busily about until they fix upon that source of the famous river, and she murmurs beneath her breath, "So much water..." The steward's call might have been lost, had it occurred during their takeoff, but with the miraculously stilled air now around them in level flight, she turns stiffly in her seat - still uncertain enough in mind even if they are steady enough in body to allow herself completely free movement - to grant the steward a brilliant smile, troubles momentarily forgotten in the thrill of the journey.
As she draws closer to the Fastheld River the Sapphire Dragoness begins to bank to the left, the tilt of her body and wings being just enough for her to change her flight angle without throwing her passengers off in the process. Dropping in altitude a little, her flight path soon becomes clear as she soars with silent majesty far above the surface of the river below.
Evidently, she intends to follow the Fastheld back to the Citystate for which it is named. Dropping lower still, so that the trees that line the river are quite distinctive beside the ripples that shimmer across the surface of the water, the Dragoness brings her legs in closer to her body, shearing what little wind resistance she may be facing down to even less.
To her left, the mass of nightmarish vines and stagnant water that forms the expanse of the swamp of Snake Tangle can clearly be seen. Dradin cautiously looks up and around, an awestruck expression still present on his face.
With a knuckle, Lucius knocks his lonely breastplate on one of the segments, in tribute to the rest of his amour which probably lies underneath the swamp. "And so we come in full circle...”
Aiden Zahir diverts his attention momentarily as that Light-forsaken morass comes into view, head shaking in scorn and contempt. "I don't care if I never see another vine again," he opines with a dry chuckle before looking back to the river's course. "Ah, yes, the river... the surest pathway to and from Fastheld. Perhaps the landscape is worth remembering, if only for the remote possibility of exploiting that knowledge in the future.
Vhramis returns Ashlynn's smile with a wide one of his own, seeming to forget the present troubles as well. He gestures to the landscape, indicating she should look.
The flight continues without comment or opinion from the ominously graceful Dragoness; she merely follows the path of the river below, flawlessly mirroring the meanders and twists that it makes. Wings flapping with thunderous power that makes only the faintest of leathery whispers amidst the cool night air, the rolling prairies that rest between Snake Tangle and the Sanguine Forest roll by to the east.
This time, a laugh is produced consciously as Ashlynn retorts over her shoulder, "How can I avoid such a sight?" before her gaze is drawn down once more, her stance grown more sure as she becomes accustomed to the dragoness' movements.
Lucius Nepos relaxes himself as well, legs crossed Indian-style. His eyes drink up the vistas from down below - like everyone else, this will most likely be the last time he rides on top of a drake, and he intends to savor the experience.
Aiden Zahir grows pensive a moment, studious of the landscape reeling beneath the Drake's mighty span. A landscape so foreign, yet having grown over the past few days so familiar to the adventurers. "We must begin to prepare for the day when we may have to travel these hazardous wastes again," he speaks to no one in particular. "That day will come, eventually. If we do not take the war to the Wildlings, armed with their new toys, they will most certainly bring it to us."
"Unfortunately, m'Lord Zahir, the enormous wall which we call the Aegis precludes us from striking out of Fastheld, much. Unless you are able to convince the Imperial Council and the Church otherwise, I doubt that a change in policy will happen." Lucius shrugs. "But, perhaps it is not my place to speak of such matters, being a commoner."
Vhramis seems to take note of Aiden's words, though he pushes them aside to revel in the landscape more, trying to enjoy it for all it's worth.
The Sanguine Forest itself - a sprawling ancient mass of dark trees and blood-soaked undergrowth - begins to reveal itself upon the horizon. Though Daggerford is still a long way away, at this altitude the forest itself seems to creep upon the landscape like a virus; the dull green hue of the undead canopy stretching its leafy tendrils into the very heart of nature, threatening to swallow and consume the innocence of the grasslands and prairies around it.
The violet eyes of the Sapphire Dragoness narrow sharply.
Aiden Zahir looks over his shoulder, gifting Lucius' commentary with a curt nod. "It may not be necessary within our lifetimes, and let us hope that is the case. But the Wildlings will come, eventually. And I fear they will do so with projectiles and armor bastardized of our own ingenuity, stolen from the storehouse of our collective knowledge. The Aegis is certainly an impediment, but how long it will prove so, remains to be seen. As for our own pro-activeness, rest assured, my good man ... Where there is a Zahir, there is a way."
Lucius Nepos takes note of the stain that the forest presses upon the otherwise beautiful landscape, shaking his head lightly in defiance at it. He does not look at Aiden as he speaks. "I hope so, m'lord. I do hope so."
Ashlynn's joy dims beneath these ominous discussions, and though her gaze remains busily mapping the terrain beneath them - catching upon that dark stain in the distance - she asks quietly of the others, "And do you not see how vast the land is beyond Fastheld? How do you propose we invade a wilderness such as this...and ensure that we destroy all our enemies without leaving even a single one behind to foster revenge?"
Vhramis still doesn't manage any words, overwhelmed by the sights before him.
The angle of the flight of the Instrumentalist shifts; no longer does she follow the Fastheld River, forsaking that path to point her snout in the direction of the very heart of the Sanguine Forest, regarding it as a Shadowscourge might regard a Shadowtouched Mage.
The thunder of her wings picks up pace. Her angle shifts lower. Her altitude begins to decline. Vengeance burns within the crystal of her violet eyes. A low snarl rolls from the very depths of her throat. Her vicious obsidian talons clench tightly beneath her frame...
Dradin looks confused and afraid as he turns to the other passengers. "Ummm, this ain' the way home..."
Aiden Zahir directs opened mouth over his shoulder, intent upon responding to Ashlynn ... but then that divergence comes, and it demands all of his attention, mouth snapping shut and brows rising in keen curiosity at this odd change of course. "One wonders what lies at the heart of darkness," he morbidly suggests, a lilt of actual humor in his voice, despite the dour and confusing circumstances. "It would seem that we are to find out. Buckle up ... it's going to be a bumpy ride."
"Light," Vhramis breathes, leaning forward into the dive and holding his breath.
"Buckle.. with what?" Asks Lucius, rhetorically at that. He grips the drake's scales below him ever tighter, and eyes glued to the forest, formulates an idea of what Kalath'aria is going to do. Several things fill his mind; him falling off the back of the drake and landing in a pool of Wildlings and other such nasties behind one, and the other being the forest turning to cinders. More likely the latter, hopefully.
Ashlynn sucks in a breath as she is once again left hunched and tense upon the dragoness' back, all her newfound confidence forgotten at this strange and terrifying development, though still her face never loses its wild revel in the unforgettable sensations.
Dradin utters a string of profanities that are muffled by the rushing wind as he grits his teeth and shuts his eyes tight.
Grinn Harwel grips Kalath's scaly back as though it were the only thing between him and oblivion, probably because it is. It's all he can do not to wretch, much less worry over such trivial matters as where exactly the gigantic beast of myth and legend carries them.
"Um...” The Lomasa speaks up for the first time in a while, beginning to look rather alarmed. "Maybe we ought to ask to be, err, dropped off near here before she does whatever she's thinking of doing?"
Come not between the dragon and her wrath...
As if almost on cue, something seems to just miss the low-flying Dragoness; a crude black shaft of wood, fletched with haggard blackbird feathers. A second missile follows the first, launched from the depths of the edges of the forest that screams by below the vengeful Dragoness. This one manages a lucky strike, and quite harmlessly bounces off the Drake as a pebble might bounce off, say, a mountain.
Kalath'aria's retaliation does not merely bounce off.
With a furious roar that would smote the hearts of even the most fearless of warriors, the Instrumentalist opens her maw, teeth glistening in the moonlight as she sweeps down low just inches above the canopy of the ominous woodland below.
A forest that, a few seconds later, turns into a blazing inferno as the Sapphire Dragoness carves a deep scar of searing flame into the very heart of the forest, instantly reducing that heart to scorched land and ash, while spreading wildfire in all directions that quickly takes up root amidst the ancient dry trunks of the oaks, incinerating all that just happens to be unlucky enough to be in the general vicinity at the time.
Drake Flame; it is, perhaps, the most devastating attack that any of the three Drakes have unleashed upon the world to date. As she continues to soar over the canopy, Kalath'aria leaves nothing in her wake but the crimson glow of embers and the charcoal landscape of a forest turned to ash in mere seconds.
Her vengeance sated, the Dragoness huffs, and gains altitude once more...
Aiden Zahir's mouth curls into a cruel, sadistic smile at the unleashing of Kalath'aria's wrath, glorying in the sheer destructive force which she unleashes upon the forest. How fascinating. How deadly. How potentially useful. "The Sanguine Forest ... how remarkably appropriate," the Spymaster notes to himself, if aloud. "May they perish in the most excruciating agony possible.”
As the Drake dips down, Lucius wishes so dearly that he could lift his hands up and cover his ears. Circumstances being what they are, this is impossible. His eyes, held wide open by shock glimmer in the intense light which the Drake's flames give off; he watches in absolute horror and astonishment as the woods go up in a fireball. Nothing can be said which describes what he has just seen, besides, "Absolute apocalypse."
Dradin appears a bit shaken at the dragon's display of power, fear yet again mixed with confusion. "What 'xactly was 'at about?"
Vhramis' eyes widen at the devastation beneath him. "Light," he murmurs, unable to look away, and turning his head to try to watch it as long as possible.
"The enemy tribe." Corriden murmurs over his shoulder to Dradin, looking pale and shaken. "Well, at least the prince is avenged, at that. Still, I wonder how long it'll be before th' same thing gets turned on /us/."
Ashlynn winces with a reflexive gasp at the roar that reverberates through the mighty chest of that which they are perched upon, ducking her head aside with tight-closed eyes as if fearful for a moment that the attack might be directed upon them as instinctual fear overcomes logic for a moment. But morbid fascination and curiosity wins out in time for her to see the flames leap out to touch the dead forest...and she stares at the new landmark of scorched and ruined vegetation, of flames and dying embers, long after they have turned around to their previous path.
"Not all of the Black Tribe." Though her tone is now as dark and vengeful as the forest she just reduced to embers was, the contralto of silk and compassion seems to be trying its best to creep back into Kalath'aria's voice, just in time for the first glimpse of the great Aegis wall to come into view, which she promptly changes course towards. "Far greater evils."
Lucius Nepos's smile is weak upon spotting the Aegis, tenuous at best. He shifts his gaze backwards, towards the lands on the outside for a minute or two, a look which could possibly be described as longing gracing his face. Then, with a sigh, he accepts his fate and observes the walled city-state from far, far above.
Aiden Zahir's smile turns all the fonder at the familiar sight of Fastheld. Home at last. One never thought that imposing wall could seem so inviting, but compared to some of the sights the adventurers have witnessed over the past week, it's positively cheerful.
Vhramis settles back on the drake as they wing towards home, taking a deep breath at the Aegis. A hand reaches from his grip on the back of the Drake to touch the scimitar strapped at his hip. The one dropped by Serath before he fell. "Homeward and still difficult tasks await," he mutters.
Amidst the burning embers and charcoal ashes of what was once a very ancient and very evil forest, something very large, very demonic, and very, very, burned, cries out in a guttural agony as it writhes and twists in the last moments of an agonizing death. Something that apparently had enough strength to withstand being instantly incinerated in the blast, but not quite enough power to match the sheer fury of the Instrumentalist herself.
The blackened thing finally falls silent as the looming Aegis glows closer and closer, seeming small at first, but then reaching up towards the heavens themselves as Kalath'aria draws ever closer.
Those gifted with skills of high perception might be able to pick out a few hapless Bladesmen pretty much falling over themselves to run away from the sight of a hundred foot Dragoness bearing down upon them, but Kalath'aria pays them little heed as she soars over the Aegis wall and begins to spiral as she picks out her landing spot.
The glow of the burning forest can be made out upon the horizon, even from this range.
Ashlynn's eyes narrow uneasily as she spies that last stirring within the ruined forest, finally wincing and turning sharply away from the sight, looking almost physically ill at what she had witnessed. All delight lost now, she sits hunched upon the dragoness' back with the miserable look of someone just looking desperately to return to home and some measure of familiarity, if not exactly normalcy.
"I'd be scared of her, too." Muses idly Lucius Nepos, lifting a hand for a moment to wave at the Bladesmen - if they'd care to notice a tiny little human on top of a huge, sapphire drake which glides through the air. Probably not. His hand drops a few moments later, returning its grip to the Instrumentalist's scales.
The emerald eyes of Aiden alight at the strange and yet unknown, but apparently dead, presence within the burninated forest. A strange and alien shape, but fascinating for the same reasons. Nonetheless, there's nowhere the Duke would rather be than high above such dangers, his expression turning a mite crestfallen as the familiar sights of Fastheld coalesce and distance is dropped between the Drake and the ground.
Her landing zone sighted, Kalath'aria makes her final descent. She sweeps down towards the ground as a feather might fall to the earth, her claws making landfall without even the slightest of whispers, talons pressing lightly upon the grassland beneath, making neither mark nor print upon the soil itself.
Taking a few paces forward to counter the momentum caused by any landing, the Instrumentalist finally draws to a graceful stop and, after regarding the terrain around her with a curious violet gaze, refolds her wings once more and allows them to drape by her side, lowering her tail in such a way to provide a much easier descent...
Return to Season 3 (2005)