× The Sundered Lands are the lands of the Surface. Forever cast in shadow by the Sky Lands, and forever transformed by the merge of the physical lands of Xodod, these are the lands of darkness, keeping with the great balance balancing out the good of the sky lands to maintain perfect harmony. Or so was the agreement derived between Taal Zodo and Tyrius Zodo.

There are no kingdoms in the Sundered Lands. Instead, they are ruled directly by the dark god, Tyrius Zodo, who is Taal Zodo's dark counterpart. Instead of kingdoms, Tyrius Zodo as divided the lands of the Sundered into principalities governed by the great demon princes of Xodod who now call the Surface home.

Life in the Sundered Lands is a struggle. Only the strong and the clever survive, which often times is only those with the capability for cruelty. Often times those found to be good of heart born in the Sundered Lands will be taken to the Sky Lands and those found to be dark in purpose in the Sky Lands will be cast down to the Sundered Lands. Still, the Sundered Lands often find favor for those who want a life without rules and moral constraints, and often seen as a great adventure for treasure seekers and historians.

Academic Pursuit

7 months 2 days ago - 2 months 3 weeks ago #76 by Raukibo
Academic Pursuit was created by Raukibo
The Dawnscryst Ascent burned brightly even in the depth of the night, a shining amber pillar rising from the heart of the city. Rings of ancient ylem hovered around its middle like a maiden's belt, still and silent. At one time the eldritch machine used to hum as it turned in a lazy orbit, like a scholar's armillary. Without the understanding of how to maintain it, it had fallen into disrepair and eventually silence.
Rauki'bo sighed and took pull from his flask.
So much had been lost in the Scorching, burned away by the Infernal. Even more had been lost during the War of the Clans, and not all of it historical. Then the Reshaping happened and, well, it was a wonder anything had survived that. From his vantage point, he could not see the scars of strife left on the beautiful city of stone. To him, Yvintha'anati was a place of wonders nestled in a near-perfect sphere beneath a great mountain. Here, it was easy enough to convince himself that this was all there is.
But Rauki'bo was a learned gina, and therefore knew better. Another swig from his flask couldn't wash that away, much to his chagrin.
In the World Above it would have been dark, but here in Yvintha'anati it was comfortably lit. As a kipa, he'd stolen away from his studies whenever he had the chance and flee to the markets. There, he'd hoped to catch a glimpse of the latest merchant caravan, listen to the trader's tell stories and peddle exotic wares from distant lands. Once and again, he'd catch sight of his tita—a tinker by trade—come home from abroad with still more stories and gifts. Rauki'bo would curl up with his serus and derus at night and dream of ancient ruins and lost marvels.
"Then you didn't come home," Rauki'bo murmured to the bitter memories that crept up on him. "The stories stopped, and we moved on."
Asa younger gina, he had thrown himself into his tita's old tomes and devoured whole libraries, all in the hope that he could have discovered where his tita had gone. The World Above was dangerous, after all. Surely his tita would have come back otherwise. And so he soaked up every bit of knowledge he could get his paws on, listened to every rumor and cataloged every peddler's tale.
Rauki'bo's mind was vast and eager, and no scrap of information was ever lost. His tutors named it eidetic. Rauki'bo named it useful. Before he had completed his apprenticeship with the Hall of Knowing, he found himself requested by several circles of advanced learning. Rauki'bo, however, was only concerned with bringing his tita home.
"And nary a thought to the price," he spat.
Rauki'bo grunted to his feet and turned. With his paws he gently brushed the grit from the gravestone he had been leaning against and pulled the few weeds that had managed to grow here. A prickle of guilt gnawed in his gut for drinking in this place, and he shoved his flask into a pocket quickly before wiping his paws clean.
"I'm sorry, momo." He wasn't sure what he was apologizing for. There were plenty of reasons, to be sure. Tugging the worn longcoat into a more comfortable position across his shoulders and scrubbing a paw through his dark crown fur, Rauki'bo tried to smile. "Happy namingday. We miss you."
Rauki'bo pulled the gate to the lichyard shut with a soft sigh. The metal always felt warm to him, as if the spirits of the deceased still tried to comfort the living that visited. He cursed beneath his breath as he realized he'd forgotten flowers this year. Candorlilies, his momo's favorite. His younger self had asked why she was so fond of weeds one day, presenting her with a page from a botanical journal. Rauki'bo had been almost ashamed in his confusion. As a kipa, he had held his momo in the highest esteem, a matron among commoners. He remembered the sweet expression on her face as she knelt. She had always had such limitless patience.
"I love them because the Mother made them," she told him plainly, brushing a paw over his crown fur. "She made them beautiful to remind us that even the unwanted things of this world are loved by Her."
She was so kind and loving, his momo. She smiled when his tita did not come home. She smiled when Rauki'bo rushed away from the table to study his books. She even smiled as she lay dying, frail beneath his touch. The chirurgeons had said that she died of a broken heart, but Rauki'bo did not understand. Not until recently, when the stories and rumors dried up and all the knowledge in
Yvintha'anati was secured in the vaults of his mind. Then, he understood.
In searching for one parent, Rauki'bo had lost them both.
He heard the scuffling of feet behind him just before a foul odor wafted over him, and Rauki'bo turned. Three kaba'ni—Ro'tado, by the looks of their markings—leered at him from a short distance away. He didn't need to see the nearly-empty bottles in their paws to know they were all piss-drunk. How they managed to stand was beyond his ken.
"Oi," one grunted, gesturing with the butt end of his bottle. "Are you 'im?"
Rauki'bo gave a disparaging smile. "Yes, I am indeed a desa of our species. Congratulations
on your discovery. Now if you'll kindly stand aside..."
Another kaba'ni chuckled and nodded. "Aye, that's 'im. Mouth full o' words, that one."
"But is 'e 'im?" The third one muttered curiously, squinting at Rauki'bo so hard his face nearly turned in on itself. "I ain't so sure."
The first shuffled around Rauki'bo in a lazy orbit, almost losing his balance several times as he looked the scholar up and down. "Patchwork coat. Belt with lots o' little pouches. Even see a book tucked in 'ere. Brown fur, tan crown. Pale eyes. Oh, I'd say 'e's 'im."
"I smell demon in 'im, sure as I live and breathe," the second nodded, leaning painfully close. "That one's get, 'e is."
Rauki'bo waved a paw in front of his face, folding his ears back. He struggled to keep the revulsion out of his rich accent. "What you smell, ser, is more dandlewine than demon. Now if you'll kindly stand aside, I'd like to be on my way."
"Oho, lookie 'ere, boys, 'e's too good fer us!" The first wheezed a laugh. "A gina from a line of traitors and 'eretics, and 'e's too good for us."
Rauki'bo's fur bristled at the barb. His ire melted into alarm, however, when the other two kaba'ni moved to block his departure. His whiskers twitched as he met their liquor-crazed eyes, and his paws balled into fists at his side. Perhaps they were not half as drunk as they had let on.
His mind whirled to life as adrenaline sang in his veins, the situation painted crystal-clear in his mind. Their clothes were grubby and patchwork, but the stains on their shoulders and cuffs were too fresh. Boots were worn but well-cared for. A few scars here and there but no missing teeth or broken noses, as would ones given to brawling. The subtle bulge of a sleeve denoted something concealed, perhaps a stiletto or short club. Their movements were loose but not haphazard, and their eyes were too focused.
"Pick another night for this, gentlegina," he beseeched through grit teeth. "Any other night but this one."
The first sneered and dropped his bottle to the flagstones with a soft pop of glass. A long knife flashed into his fist before the liquid kissed his boot. "What better place than a lichyard for a dead gina."
"Careful, ser," Rauki'bo murmured, shifting his footing slightly, "your slur is slipping. What affront have you with me?"
"You've got his blood in your veins, the blood of a demon worshiper and a traitor. You can't be here."
Rauki'bo held his fists loosely at his sides, a cold knot forming in the pit of his stomach. "Be careful, friend, and think this through. That line ended in the War of Clans. I am of Clan Bo'samat, as you can clearly see on my brow."
There was a flicker of some dark emotion behind the first gina's eyes, and the knot inside Rauki'bo tightened further. He knew zealous conviction when he saw it, and it was glaring at him now.
Taking in a slow breath through his nose, Rauki'bo readied himself. His kua whispered through his bones and into the stone beneath his feet. He could feel his muscles tighten and his skin tingle as it sang along his veins and filled him. He could feel every grain of dirt beneath his feet, every fracture in the stone. His fur smelled faintly of chalk as he raised his fists before his face and lifted a knee just so.
"Names can lie," the first hissed as his partners drew their blades. "It's in your blood. But the Eye sees all. Now draw your weapon make ready to be delivered before the Root of Judgment."
Rauki'bo frowned. "I have no love of arms, ser. I am but a scholar."
"I do so enjoy easy work," the other kaba'ni snorted, then lunged.
Rauki'bo patted himself down briefly, lamenting at the new hole in the sleeve of his longcoat. Bending, he placed his fingers to the throats of the three crumpled bodies at his feet. Alive, that was good. While he was certain he could easily prove self-defense before any lawman, his conscience would likely not bear the stain of murder upon it. After a thought, he rummaged through their pockets and sighed in lament.
"You could have at least paid well my tailor, ser," he grunted to one of the prostrate kaba'ni. "This raiment is an antique, I'll have you know. The coat of a Sentinel, it was, before it became a scholar's frock. Ah, but forgive me for prattling on while you rest."
Rauki'bo carefully slid each of their knives behind his belt. While not of superior craftsmanship, perhaps a blacksmith could part with a few coins for them. The faded blue longcoat was among his most prized possessions, though the silver piping at the cuffs was frayed and the shoulders and elbows patched with leather. He would not cut a striking figure to a nobler eye, but Rauki'bo was proud of how well it had held up. After all, it was better worn and cared for than locked away in some dark archive for the moths to feast upon.
"Ho, there," a gruff voice called, and Rauki'bo sighed. "Are ye...?"
He straightened quickly and sketched a bow as he realized a pair of city guardsgina were approaching. He considered it a good omen that neither had a paw on their sword hilts and their ears were perked.
"Archivist Rauki'bo of Clan Bo'samat, at your service, ser."
The elder of the two guardsgina nodded beneath his conical helm. "Excellent. The Vinaghi request your presence at the Hall of Rule immediately. If you'll come with us."
His tone did not suggest it as a request. Rauki'bo's lip twisted, but he nodded his agreement and made to join the pair. The other sentry held up a paw to stop him, however, and gestured at the loose pile of rogues.
"And what is this, then?"
"This?"Rauki'bo repeated, tapping the tips of his paws together in front of him and eying his assailants over his shoulder. "I, er, found them like this. Terrible thing, vagrancy. Quite fortunate that they haven't been arrested, kah?"
The guards both frowned at him for a hard moment. Rauki'bo tucked his thumbs behind his belt and put on what he hoped was a convincing and innocent smile. After nearly burning a hole through his head with a stare, the elder guard turned and motioned for the other two to follow. Rauki'bo breathed an inward sigh of relief and hurried to catch up. When he was certain they would not double back, Rauki'bo cast one last glance over his shoulder at the slumbering trio. It was not concern that lingered in the back of his mind, but curiosity.
Rauki'bo had always found the Hall of Rule imposing, with the stone gazes of carved matrons staring judgmentally down at him from their places along the wall. Perhaps that was the point of it, he mused. With scribes and aides bustling about or tucked away in muted conversation, it all felt very official as well. As it should, he noted. The Hall of Rule was the seat of power for the Vinaghi in Yvintha'anati, where the Matrons of the Clans dictated policy and governed with a just paw.
At least, he supposed, that was the idea.
When his name was called Rauki'bo made polite haste beyond the carved stone arch and into the yawning bowl that was the Chamber of Matrons. He stood patiently on the speaking floor and tried very hard to ignore the guard staring at him from the doorways. Rather than stare back, he decided to take in the sight of it all. It wasn't often one found themselves in this place. Unless, of course, one was a criminal. While Rauki'bo had been a precocious youth he had never been any more raucous than the next kipa. The years as a young gina even less so. In point of fact, the last decade he had been so lost in his studies as to have been nondescript. A perfect and model citizen by all accounts.
What, then, could the Vinaghi want with him?
As if the thought had summoned them, three matrons bustled in from the anteroom above. The very image of authority in their gold-trimmed crimson robes and stern faces, they found their seats and held a brief counsel amongst themselves. Rauki'bo's ears perked in curiosity, but he dared not interrupt. Instead, he noted the sigil etched into the stone chairs above their heads. He tried very hard to ignore the single chair with a tattered black shroud laid over it and the jagged peak. It loomed large in his thoughts, however.
While Yvintha'anati claimed itself a unified nation beneath the Twelve Clans, there were only eleven in truth. Not since the bloody civil conflict known to history as the War of Clans had there been a twelfth, purged for heresy and worse. Here and there one could find scattered evidence of their existence—shattered domis and written accounts—but they were largely forgotten, an unsightly stain hidden behind a more acceptable tapestry of ignorance. Rauki'bo knew more than most by virtue of his studies, even things he hadn't wanted to know.
The sharp word jarred him from his thoughts, and he came back to himself. Three very unhappy matrons were staring down at him, the chamber more silent than a tomb. Folding his paws behind his back and trying not to wilt beneath the glare, Rauki'bo coughed softly in consternation. Even that was thunder in his ears. Why were they staring at him? Had they said something? How long had he been lost in thought? Blessed Mother, he was too easily distracted sometimes. His momo had warned...
"We will not ask you again, ser," one of the matrons barked down at him, fingers gripping the arm of her chair hard enough that they shook. "State your name and clan affiliation for the record!"
"A-Apologies, my lady," Rauki'bo stammered, offering a low bow. That only earned him deeper frowns, if such a thing was possible. "I am Rauki'bo of the Clan Bo'samat, a chief archivist. How might I serve?"
Nodding, the matrons spoke amongst themselves before one leaned forward to peer at him again. He felt very much like an emberfly being eyed by a rock adder. "And do you know who we are and why you are here?"
"Know? Sadly not." Rauki'bo's paws balled at his back. "I can, however, hazard a guess."
Rauki'bo began to pace, as he was wont when he thought. "You are Matron Anis'ki, a beloved archcleric of the Mother Tree. To your left sits Matron Banbe'si, distinguished diplomat and leader. To your right, Matron Sisei'ha, whose tales of arcane skill are whispered reverently from Eastingdeep to Westrift and beyond. As no member of Clan Du'wyra is present, the matter you wish to address does not pertain to the Laws and Traditions of Yvintha'anati. I do not see a representative of the Sidheum, either, so I can only assume the matter I have been summoned for does not relate to a political matter. Or, if it does, it is a potentially-inflammatory issue that the Vinaghi wish to avoid."
Matron Anis'ki pursed her lips and nodded. "Very good. Continue."
"Matron Sisei'ha's presence would only be required for a mystical event of great proportion." Rauki'bo stopped, frowning. "And since all of the knowledge I could offer can easily be found within the Hall of Knowing or any of the great libraries in our fair city, I can only deduce that my singular arcane talents are required. Either that or..."
"Yes?"Matron Anis'ki seemed almost darkly amused by the thought teetering on the tip of his tongue. "Or?"
Rauki'bo's whiskers drooped and his ears quavered as he sighed. "Or the Vinaghi assume that my questionable lineage is of import somehow, though I strongly believe them in grave error."
Matron Sesei'ha clapped slowly, nodding. "He is every bit as intelligent as you said, Sister Banbe'si. Yes, young Rauki'bo, you are correct. On both counts. On all counts, I would say. Guards, if you please."
Two officers in tabards bearing the crest of the Mother Tree stepped from the shadows of the opposite archway bearing a stout chest. Without preamble, they marched up to Rauki'bo and deposited the chest with a thump at his feet before turning on their heels and withdrawing. The scholar's fingers tapped together at his chest warily. He had thought a noise came from the box as it came to rest at his feet, a soft sound. A hiss. A trick of the acoustics, to be sure, but suddenly  Rauki'bo felt very cold.
"Open it."
Clearing his throat to object, Rauki'bo let his protestations die on his lips at the sight of the stone-faced matrons. He knelt carefully, paws poised on each side of the iron-bound chest. It looked old, though the wood was in good repair and the metal freshly oiled. His curiosity piqued as the latch opened freely. No lock, how odd. The chest opened soundlessly, but the noise came again as Rauki'bo leaned forward to peek inside. Gasping in alarm, he threw himself back and shuffled away from it. His heart thundering in his chest, Rauki'bo gawked up at the Vinaghi.
"Wh-What is that doing here?!"
Matron Sesei'ha held her paws up almost apologetically. "Saa saa, Rauki'bo. You have my word that it is inert. In fact, you will find it almost oddly so. Please, we must know what you can glean from it. We consulted every gina versed in the field of geomancy before we reached out to you, and none could tell us more than whispers and hints. Please, you must try."
"I cannot." Rauki'bo shuddered, not even daring to look at the box. Sweet Mother, what were they thinking?!
"You must." Matron Anis'ki leaned forward and unfurled a document where he could see it. While he could not read the carefully-penned script, he could see the seal of Clan Bo'samat affixed to the bottom. "It is the will of the Vinaghi—and of your matron—that you comply. Attend us and speak of your findings. As a member of Clan Bo'samat, you have nothing to fear."
Rauki'bo struggled to get his breathing back under control. The room swam with crashing thoughts threatening to pull him under and drown him. Glancing at the box again, he wanted to sick up. The hissing came again, and his skin crawled with the sound of it. It slithered in his ears and curled down his spine, swam frenzied laps in his stomach before curling gelid about his throat. He grit his teeth and pressed through his doubt, pushing himself across the floor towards the chest. He did not care how helpless he appeared—how helpless he felt—or the looks from the Vinaghi.
To him, there was only the box and its wrenched contents.
Clenching his teeth so hard that they ached, Rauki'bo reached a paw into the box. As his paw slid across the coarse cloth lining, the hissing grew louder in his ears. It vibrated all around him, pulsed through him as if his spine were a plucked lute string. Fingertips touched something smooth and hard, and Rauki'bo flinched away from it. No, this was his duty. He was no traitor, no heretic. He was a dutiful gina beneath the Mother Tree! Squeezing his eyes shut, he plunged his paw into the chest and wrapped it about the object in the box.
With a silent pop, the hissing fell away and the Chamber of Matrons was silent once more. Only the sound of blood rushing in his ears was left to him, and that faded as his breathing slowed. He shook himself, and embarrassment gnawed at him. What a way for a learned gina to behave, and before the Vinaghi. If his momo could see him now, she would have been mortified! No, he reminded himself, she had always been proud of him, even at his lowest points. Standing slowly and trying to pretend his little display never happened, Rauki'bo opened his paw.
In his hand was a stone no larger than a kipa's fist. To the layman, it would have appeared as a bloodstone with its dark crimson hue and paler splotches at its core. It was uncut but polished in a striking way, and his thumb played across one of the faint hollows of its surface. Rauki'bo noted that it was too light for a stone its size, almost weightless. Before he could stop himself, the scholar gave it an experimental squeeze. He expected it to shatter like spun glass in his paw, but it held. Flicking an ear, Rauki'bo tossed it aloft a few times before letting it rest in his paw again, noting how it reacted no differently than any other gem of its size. As curiosity took hold, he pushed a thread of his kua through the stone and let his eyes flutter closed.
It didn't take him long to understand why the matrons had called him, though he was baffled why any other geomancer would have missed something so obvious.
"It's empty," Rauki'bo whispered in awe. "No, less than empty. It's hollow, like a piece of redfruit that's been cored. It feels as thin as eggshell, but it's obviously solid. I certainly apologize before the matrons for my outburst. I had thought this was the—"
"It is," Matron Sesei'ha said gravely.
Rauki'bo blinked. So this was the mythical Orb of Kaer Zodo, the Infernal's Stone. Entire treatise had been written regarding its power and creation, and none of it conclusive. History had marked well how this seemingly-meaningless bauble had nearly destroyed Yvintha'anati and the entire kaba'ni nation. If it had not been for the actions of a valiant few, none of them would have been alive today. Rauki'bo found himself whistling in appreciation, though his skin crawled at the thought of what he held and it's past. Few knew more than he the seductive nature of the artifact, and here it was glittering at him from the palm of his paw.
And yet it was dead.
There was no other term that applied for what he felt. Any stone, even aethycite, held some semblance of energy as part of the Great Skein, held together by the Will of the Mother Tree. As a geomancer, Rauki'bo could feel kua in the stone beneath his feet and over his head, firm and still. Yet as with all things, even the densest granite vibrated with the potential to be something else, and thus held an energy. The stone in his hand might as well have been a hole in that vast span of energy, a stillness which all life sang around but did not touch. It made him shutter.
When he was young, he had chanced upon an undervole tussling with a rock adder. They thrashed in the ageless dance of predator and prey. Rauki'bo was entranced, motionless, until the rock adder struck a deadly blow. A flick of the wrist and the clatter of flint, and the rock adder slipped away from its intended meal. The young gina knelt near the undervole, still struggling against the venom coursing through its veins. Death was inevitable, yet it wanted desperately to live. It had seemed so vital, so pure to Rauki'bo. When poison and nature took full hold, however, the undervole was simply gone.
That was how the stone felt to him.
"How...?" he stammered, unsure of where to even begin.
"Not quite a season ago," Matron Sesei'ha murmured, "there was an incident at the High Temple. A gina breached the sanctity of the Tabernacle and attempted to steal the Orb of Kaer Zodo. In his attempt to flee with it, he managed to severely wound two clerics and kill a third. As you can see, he did not succeed in his mission—whatever it might have been. The artifact, however, was found as you see it now."
Matron Anis'ki motioned and one of the guards in holy livery stepped forward. A small leatherbound tome was placed in Rauki'bo's free paw.
"This was dropped in the scuffle. It contained information that we have been unable to decipher. It also contains diagrams and drawings of the Orb and several other unknown artifacts. All attempts to locate and apprehend the interloper have failed. We believe the blackguard has fled Yvintha'anati for the World Above."
"Could the desa's objective have been to simply render the Orb hollow?" Rauki'bo asked, happily handing the artifact back to the guard. He made sure it was properly secured in its chest and removed from the room before he continued. "Is the Vinaghi certain he was attempting to steal it?"
Matron Banbe'si frowned. "Quite. Otherwise, there would have been no need to remove the artifact from its cradle."
Rauki'bo rolled the book in his hand, noting the curious metal clasp holding it shut. Banking back his curiosity, the scholar returned his gaze to the matrons. "I still fail to see why I have been summoned. I am no lawgina, no official. I am an archivist. My interests and expertise solely lay in the realms of—"
"—history and antiquities," Matron Anis'ki sighed heavily. "Yes, ser, we know. But, as a geomancer, you should also be interested to know that the artifact is not the only manner of stone affected by this... phenomenon. Ah, I see by your expression you are interested. What do you know about that which the overlanders call ‘power stones’?”
Rauki’bo hesitated, stunned. Were the matrons suggesting that empyricite—a rare and incredibly dense form of aethycite—was somehow being affected in a similar fashion? Baffled, the scholar summarized his knowledge of the stones and their power, chiefly keeping the overlands aloft. He had to keep a tight rein on his thoughts, lest he divert the conversation into his own theories, but it was difficult. The Reshaping had changed the face of their world so drastically, and the thought of all that stone and earth crashing down...
No, he told himself, the sky will not fall, as in the fables.
The matrons nodded along with his explanation. He could see by their expressions that everything he had said was known to them. That was well. It would not have sat well with him had the leaders of his nation known less than he. The Vinaghi, to him, should always be the most learned. Oddly enough, that helped to anchor his mind.
Matron Anis'ki folded her paws before her formidable bosom and stared down at him. "While the phenomenon affecting the Orb of Kaer Zodo is thusfar an isolated incident, there is evidence to suggest that all empyricite could be affected. There is one such instance already under investigation by the High Temple. As you are well-versed and respected in the fields of science and the arcane, the Vinaghi believes you are suited to the task we would put to you: an independent investigation into the matter."
"Y-you want me to go to the World Above and research the validity of these speculations, my lady?" Rauki'bo clutched his paws behind his back to keep them from fidgeting.
Matron Banbe'si nodded. "We were given to understand you possessed a great wanderlust and a curious mind. Was that not why you joined the Hall of Knowing?"
"Well," the scholar sighed, making a helpless gesture, "one of them. But certainly—"
Matron Sesei'ha clapped her paws together sharply. "The matter is settled, then. However, there is more to this than a simple examination of various empyricite formations. Your chief objective will be to find and apprehend the fugitive that breached the Tabernacle. While the Vinaghi would prefer he stand trial for his heresy, it is of paramount importance for us to learn by what method he was able to affect the artifact so completely. This knowledge could help us prevent any future empyricite degradation."
Rauki'bo nodded. While he doubted someone so brazen as to breach the most sacred of places would be willing to sit down for a tête-à-tête with him over high tea, he did agree that such information would be invaluable.
"You will endeavor to fulfill both objectives in equal measure," Matron Anis'ki cautioned. "It is true that we would like to see this gina brought to justice, but you cannot ignore any opportunities to conduct your own research."
Matron Banbe'si hissed. "The Vinaghi has full confidence in your discretion, Archivist Rauki'bo. We are certain of your full cooperation."
Rauki'bo blinked and quirked a brow. He wouldn't dare question the will of the Vinaghi, but part of him was amused by their confidence. While he had an academic love for all things beyond the walls of Yvintha'anati, he had long since lost the motivation to venture beyond the Great Arch. As if Matron Banbe'si could read his thoughts, she gestured to the tome he still held, forgotten, in his paw. Once again curious, Rauki'bo examined it more carefully.
The tome was so simple as to be nondescript. The small latch holding it closed, however, was rather intricate. A puzzle, after a fashion. It wasn't an incredibly complex one, he noted, likely constructed to dissuade cursory curiosity. Rauki'bo was able to defeat it rather soundly, and the book folded open in his paw. He flipped through a few pages, noting the precise pawwriting and clever diagrams. Yet as he settled on a page and began to read, a chill dripped down his spine. He snapped the tome shut and tucked it carefully into the inner pocket of his longcoat. His spine turned to ice as the Vinaghi did not object, did not even raise a brow.
"When do I depart?"
Last edit: 2 months 3 weeks ago by Raukibo. Reason: Formatting and grammar

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7 months 1 day ago - 2 months 3 weeks ago #81 by Raukibo
Replied by Raukibo on topic Academic Pursuit
The courtyard was just wakening to life when Rauki'bo stepped beneath the stone arch dividing street from stronghold. Retainers in livery were going about their tasks with dutiful expressions, offering silent deference as they passed.  A few armsgina were carting supplies to the adjacent training yard where inexperienced soldiers would toil under the lash of an instructor's tongue. Bo'samat's stronghold loomed ahead, a massive monolith of stone carved from the heart of the mountain. It's lines were pleasing without being proud, functional without being stoic. It was
ancient and expansive, but it did not make him feel small or insignificant.
It was his home.
Rauki'bo had spent much of the night pouring over the leatherbound journal and the scrolls of meticulous notes granted him by the Vinaghi. His body was tired,
uncoordinated, but his mind seethed with questions and courses of action. Sleep
was what he needed most, but he knew well that there would be no time for that.
A day's duty stretched out before him, marching on like the passage of time regardless of his personal feelings.
There were so many preparations to set right before his departure to the World Above. Oh, there were aides that could see to the daily affairs, but it would have to
be a careful balance of skill and experience. His position as chief archivist had never been a taxing job, nor was it glamorous, but it was important. Knowledge needed to be maintained, cataloged, and never forgotten. The Infernal had stripped his kin of their history before the Scorching, left only charred fragments. He had been called by the Mother Tree to hold onto what could be maintained, and rediscover what had been lost.
That is what he believed, at least.
Rauki'bo paused just outside the main keep, one paw hovering over the latch. His ears pricked, shifted. His whiskers twitched, tested the air. An energy sang in his
veins, roused his mind to sharpness. In a flash he was awake and alert, every sense strained so keenly that he thought he might fly apart. A breath he had not realized he had been holding left him, and the energy fled with it leaving him wrung out once more. Cautiously, Rauki'bo pushed the door open.

A pair of attendants bearing fresh linen murmured their greetings as he eased
into the entry hall. Rauki'bo tried to smile and offer a polite nod, but he was
too anxious. Where he had been almost at peace outside in the courtyard, inside
filled him with a sense of dread. It had been there ever since his momo had
died, stalking the halls and waiting for him around the next corner. He dreaded
it, avoided it at almost any cost when he could. Only his greater need for his
tita's books even brought him to these ancient halls. If he could just—
Rauki'bo nearly jumped out of his fur at the single word spoken just behind his
shoulder. Instinctively he froze, like an animal in the presence of a predator hoping that it would choose to pass him by. He could feel the palpable presence
behind him, a singular energy of such seething hatred that it blazed like a molten inferno in his mind's eye. It tightened, that presence, focusing on him so hard that it felt like a knife tip sliding along his spine. Gritting his teeth against the inevitable, Rauki'bo turned slowly and forced a polite smile onto his face.
"H-Hello,granmomo," he wheezed, and hated himself for it.
A severe and diminutive sadi stared up at him with eyes like sharpened flint. Time had shown Nausi'bo greater kindness than she ever had him, for it had only softened the lines of what must have once been a ravishing beauty. She held herself ramrod straight, head held high with the air of a gina who was used to being obeyed and respected. A black dress trimmed with lace held her posture even more tightly, every hair in her faded brown bun placed just so. Somehow she managed to look down her nose at him, made him seem small even though Rauki'bo was easily a head taller. It was the look one might give a mote of dust on an otherwise clean floor, that detached disapproval. It was the only look she had ever given him since his momo left this world.
"Bastard,"she said again slowly, assuring that she had his attention. It was not spat
like a curse, but simply said as if it were his name. To her, it was. "You are late. Mairi'bo is already awake and dressed. You have excuses, yes?"
Rauki'bo tried not to grimace. He had reasons for his delay, but he knew full well they would fall on deaf ears. Nausi'bo would have known about his appointment with the Vinaghi, what it would have entailed. As former matron of his clan, she would have retained many of the connections she had enjoyed while in office. Knowing her shrewd mind and cunning nature, Rauki'bo guessed her reach quite long still.
He took a half step back and offered her a deep bow. Rauki'bo did not want to
tarry with his granmomo longer than he had to, lest his plans unravel. The Vinaghi had placed him in charge of a pursuit, and his quarry was slipping further and further away. He had learned early on that Nausi'bo coveted respect above all else, and that a little subservience—however feigned—would go a long way. If he did not struggle against her will, she would grow bored and move on. In that way, she was much like a fissure cat and he could play the defenseless cavern mouse.
"No, granmomo," he replied. He almost smiled as her lips pursed slightly. He should not feel pleasure at her disappointment, but there it was. Perhaps he would repent of it later. "May I be excused to see Mairi'bo to her morning meal?"
Her paw gripped his ear and pulled him sharply forward before he could blink. Had his balance not been better, Rauki'bo would have toppled onto his face. His body began to move on instinct to disengage, but the scholar forced himself still. It was a necessary pain. Sometimes one must lose a battle to win a war, he reminded himself.
Nausi'bo hissed in his ear like a viper. "You have a duty to my family and this clan, Bastard. This clan, and no other. It was your blood that killed her, the blood of traitors and fiends. Had your forebearers not sold themselves to the Infernal, she would still be alive. Had that seed not taken root in her womb, she would still be alive. Now, admit it before the Mother Tree."
A coldness whispered in the depths of his being then. Rauki'bo knew what she demanded, and it was not for him to admit to the guilt they both knew was not his.
They had played this game whenever she caught him alone and unaware, and they
would go on playing it had she her way. His paws balled into fists at his side at the urge to strike out. His kua called to him from just beyond his reach, teased his senses like a forbidden lover. It felt his dark desire, responded to it eagerly. As soon as he felt it something fractured inside him and it drained away, taking his anger with it.
"I cannot," he said calmly, sadly. "I will not commit blasphemy by lying before the Mother Tree. I cannot do as you ask, granmomo. Please forgive me."
Rauki'bo collapsed to the cool floor as her paw disappeared. Nausi'bo stared hard at him as he stood. Somehow her glare was softer, her hatred for him a touch less
palpable. She seemed... oddly satisfied.
"At least you have her sense, Bastard. Thank the Goddess for that. Now, leave me.
You have a duty to your seru."
Rauki'bo waited for Nausi'bo to bustle down the corridor and vanish around the corner before he nursed his ear. Sweet Mother, that sadi had a grip! With their
confrontation over, the vaulted entry hall felt warm and inviting once more—as
he remembered it to be. Patting the breast of his longcoat to make sure the journal was still where he had tucked it, Rauki'bo sighed.
"And in the light of the Eighth Dawn," he groused to himself as he mounted a
nearby stair, "the Mother Tree gathered unto Her piss and vinegar and shaped Nausi'bo."
"You should not speak so of her, Rauki."
For the second time in a bell, he nearly died of fright. Standing at the top of the
stair with one paw on the rail was Mairi'bo, staring down at him with an expression of feigned disapproval. Or, to be more precise, she stared beyond him with eyes of polished glass. Rauki'bo sighed and pulled off his longcoat as he mounted the last few stairs, tossing it over his seru's shoulders. She startled briefly, then scented the air with a twitch of her whiskers. She smiled in his direction before leaning against his chest. He returned the grin though he knew full well Mairi'bo would not see.
She could not, for Mairi'bo was blind.
While many in their clan saw her affliction as a lamentable event, they had known no other way. Mairi'bo had simply been born without the ability to perceive the
mortal world around her. While the Laws and Traditions had granted their parents the right to see her ended for a mercy, they had embraced her more fully. And while the Laws and Traditions forbade her from taking a mate or having whelps of her own, Mairi'bo had chosen to devote her life to serving her clan and loving her kin as deeply as she had been loved.
It made Rauki'bo's heart ache at times to see her smile at him. It was an echo of
their momo, just as he was a shadow of his tita. Whatever gina like Nausi'bo and others like her tried to take away from him, Mairi'bo gave it back in greater measure. Very few knew the truth about the pair—that they were not true whelpbrother and whelpsister—but they were a family in every respect that mattered. Rauki'bo felt a twinge of guilt at the knowledge that he would have to leave her behind, but she would understand.
"You should not be out and about in your nightgown, Seru."
Mairi'bo frowned up at him, a few locks of her crown fur tumbling across her face.
"I was comfortable, Rauki, and I'm not strolling the Amber Market during full midday. I am home, safe."
Rauki'bosighed and shook his head. "It is improper. If some churlish knave were to behold your unfettered beauty and take into his head to sin—"
"—then he would be in for the soundest thrashing by a very protective deru," she laughed, slapping playfully at his chest. "I cannot see their leers or looks of disapproval, Rauki. Let them look. Let them be ashamed. I am as the Mother made
me. Your approval is all that matters to me in this world."
The scholar smiled wistfully and squeezed Mairi'bo. "None save the Mother Tree
love you more than I, little flower."
Mairi'bo's face fell and she pulled his longcoat tightly about her shoulders. Her face pushed into his tunic until he could not see her expression. "You're leaving, aren't you? To the World Above? Tita used to call me that before he left, too."
"I am." Rauki'bo ignored the catch in his voice and stroked her crown fur. "The Vinaghi require aid with an important task, and I believe there is none more qualified than I. But I am not our tita, and I will return. On that, I swear before the Mother Tree."
Mairi'bo stayed hidden in his tunic, but she punched him in the chest. "You best
not break your word, then, or you'll find yourself before the Burning Throne."
"Is that not the lot of traitors and heretics?" He wanted to take it back as soon as it passed from his lips. "Apologies, Seru. Granmomo has soured my disposition unduly, but it is not your place to bear my ire."
He felt her shake her head. "Just as you are not our tita, you are neither him. You are you, and you alone."
She looked up at him then—looked directly at him—and smiled brightly. He could feel something soften within him, like a part of him thawing beneath the warmth of her adoration, and Rauki'bo could not help but smile. Any trepidation he had felt before was simply gone, erased by a few simple words. With her resolute faith in him, as well. Rauki'bo knew the moment would not last, but he clutched Mairi'bo to him and laughed until he was hoarse.
Last edit: 2 months 3 weeks ago by Raukibo.

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5 months 2 weeks ago - 2 months 3 weeks ago #145 by Raukibo
Replied by Raukibo on topic Academic Pursuit
The Dawnscryst Ascent was a dim shade at his shoulder, its ember heart beating with a yearning for the coming morn. Whenever his mind prodded him awake before his body was ready, Rauki'bo would watch the Dawnscryst and let his thoughts roam free. As the light within the aethycite column would build and spread across its thousands of rough facets, so too would a calm fill him and illuminate a solution to whatever vexed him. It had been, at times, a very inelegant and inefficient tool, but it had served him well in the past with many a sleepless conundrum.
It was the Bo'samat stronghold that held his full attention this morning, and only one question was gnawing at his mind: was this the proper path? Rauki'bo had gathered his things and slipped from his home like a thief in the night as soon as Mairi'bo had fallen asleep. No one had seen him leave, he was certain. All the necessary documentation and arrangements for his absence had been filled out and left on his desk, with explicit instructions to his aides on how he wanted his affairs handled and by whom. Rauki'bo was doing the will of the Vinaghi, and thus that of the Mother Tree. There should have been a sense of purpose and righteousness in that thought.
Why, then, was trepidation curled in his stomach like a restless rock viper?
A prick of instinct told him that he was no longer alone. A whisper of kua told him the exact weight and distance of his visitor, and Rauki'bo smiled a bit to himself. The earth did not lie, not to him.
"Thank you for coming, Master," he sighed, not turning.
A stocky gina in an officer's uniform stepping into view on his left and offered him an approving smile. "I see your training has not gone to waste. May I?"
"You needn't ask, Master," Rauki'bo chuckled, motioning to the empty space on the bench next to him. "And you taught me well."
The officer sat without taking his single silver eye off Rauki'bo. Though barely thirty harvests older than he, Delde'ki had been shaped and worn down by a life of hard training and rigorous service to Yvintha'anati. Few could boast as much experience in the harsh Underwilds as Delde'ki, though he somehow managed to hold firm to his humility. Numerous scars decorated his slate grey fur, the largest knot of which was hidden beneath an eyepatch.
"You requested that I come alone."
There was a disapproving catch in Delde'ki's tone, but not of the clandestine meeting. Rauki'bo blinked, then glanced over his shoulder at the cluster of merchants and caravanners loading crates into various wagons. The scholar squinted, looking for an unfamiliar face in the crowd, then finally shrugged.

"They were here first."
"That's not what I meant, and you know it." Delde'ki scrubbed his chin with a paw, then stared off into the city stretched out below them. "What's got you rattled, Rauki?"
Rauki'bo shook his head, and not for the breach in etiquette. None outside his clan would dare use his familial name without the honorific. It was tradition, expected and respected. But they had served Yvintha'anati together, fought and bled together in the Underwilds. Even though Rauki'bo had only remained for the required twelve seasons, it had been enough to mark him. It had been enough for him to discover his calling and his limits. To him, Delde'ki was as close as a whelpmate, and that gave him the right.
Carefully Rauki'bo recounted the previous day, from the scuffle outside the lichyard to his dealings with the Vinaghi. He omitted the encounter with his granmomo to his shame, simply saying that he had returned home to prepare. There was something in that singular eye staring back at him that told Rauki'bo that his mentor saw the evasion and decided against pursuit. It was another reason Delde'ki held the highest level of trust in his life—he understood discretion.
"That you drew the Eye concerns me, Rauki," the officer grumbled, lowering his head and his voice to avoid being overheard. "That the frumentarii acted within the walls of Yvintha'anati is even more troubling. The Sidheum have no authority here, not outside the legate's compound."
Delde'ki flicked an ear and discretely gestured down the hill to a small cluster of stone buildings surrounded by high walls and even higher towers. Banners emblazoned with the winged yerrowood—the symbol of the Sidheum and the surface kaba'ni—hung from every battlement. It was an embassy, sovereign soil and inviolate to the public and even the city's military. Only the Vinaghi were allowed within those walls, and only by request and under watch. The Vinaghi had similar footholds in the World Above, places Rauki'bo had intended to make contact to begin his pursuit.
"No warrant for your assailants has crossed my desk, no word of arrest pricked my ears. Either your gina evaded capture, or this is being handled in places I'd not like to know about. And yet I will get to the bottom of it."
Trying not to let his ears droop, Rauki'bo sighed inwardly. "I've yet to think of why they would come after me, Master. I am merely an archivist."
"Chief Archivist, Rauki. You must think deeper on this. It is as I have always taught you: you must—"
"—look for the feint behind the feint," Rauki'bo finished with a wry smile. "Yes, I remember. I just wish I knew what I was missing."
It was Delde'ki's turn to bark a soft laugh. "If you knew the answer, I would not be here. You must ask yourself why they chose to reveal themselves to you at the moment they chose, or at all. Only a fool brags to a dead gina. What were their motives? Discern that, and you will put yourself on the trail to the truth."
"Bah, I've no time for that." Rauki'bo scrubbed a paw through his crown fur and groaned. "The Vinaghi have put me on the path of both mystery and murder. I haven't a moment to myself, much less sand to spare on the Sidheum. They seemed more interested in my false lineage than me, regardless."
Delde'ki gave him a long, hard stare. The scholar tried to return the pointed glare but withered in the end. Of their many friendly contests over the harvests, Rauki'bo had never won a battle of wills with his mentor.
"That is not my name," he murmured petulantly. "I am of Clan Bo'samat, not—"
A shrill whistle split the calm morning, and both gina turned. The caravan leader was waving pointedly for them to join him. Nodding his acquiescence, Rauki'bo stood and brushed the dust from his tail. Delde'ki clapped his paws on the scholar's shoulder and gripped them so tightly that he winced. There was a cold panic in that piercing silver orb.
"You are, and will always be, Rauki'bo of Clan Bo'samat to me and all who matter in this world." The officer's grip tightened until his knees wanted to buckle. "But there is a stain on your line, and it corrupts all it touches. To some, that stain still has power. A terrible power, my kin, and that kind of power brings gina to the brink of fear. And the fearful can do even more terrible and foolish things in the name of righteousness."
Delde'ki took a deep breath, his paws relaxing on Rauki'bo's shoulders. The look in his eye held him just as firmly as before, however. "Now, for the sake of truth, I would ask you to name that fear. Now, and in this place. Name it between us, that I can release you unto the World Above with open eyes. Name it now, and I swear before the Eternal Mother it will never be whispered between us again."
"I-I cannot." It sounded like a whimper in his own ears, a desperate plea rasped between clenched teeth.
Delde'ki's gaze did not break, even though his voice did. "You must, my pupil. You must, because they already hunt you for it. I cannot let you go without knowing you see it, too."
Rauki'bo could not breath, and his chest hurt as if he were breathing around a knife in his ribs. He almost had to look to assure himself there was not a foot of steel in his chest with Delde'ki's paw on the grip. HIs mentor knew the pain he had endured for the stigma bestowed on him unjustly, and simply by the manner of his birth. He had lived his life away from it and all it portended, comforted himself in the security of the markings on his brow. And yet, for all of his prayers and beliefs, the reality had been brought back to him on the eve of his momo's death. All he had worked and fought to become was shattered, never to be made whole.
With ice chilling his veins and a stone in his core, Rauki'bo's shoulders slumped. His mentor was right: there would always be those who would see him in the shadow of his lineage, no matter how great a gina he became. And yet, he realized, he had gina like Delde'ki and Mairi'bo, who loved him and believed in him regardless. He knew then that he would need to make peace with the legacy given to him, the legacy that beat in his breast. All knew—from his granmomo to the Vinaghi to the Sidheum—and lying to himself was merely a means to salve his own conscience. Gritting his teeth, the scholar resolved to change that view... even if not today. Today came with its own challenges.
"I was born Rauki'ma," he declared in a firm, detached tone, "last tana of Clan Ma'baadi, a line that will be forever remembered for its service to the Infernal."
Delde'ki released him and nodded. "And that is what they fear. That is whom they see you as. Ask your questions with that voice, and you will learn their motives. Then, and only then, will you understand them."
Rauki'bo turned and marched toward the waiting line of wagons, ears limp and limbs heavy. That such an admission should take so much out of him was a surprise. He wanted to be sick, wanted to spit. Anything to show the measure of contempt he had for himself in that very moment. It must have shown in his bearing because his fellow travelers gave him a wide berth as he climbed into his seat.
He did not see Delde'ki wave as the team pulled away, did not hear his mentor's parting words. No, Rauki'bo's mind was whirring with the energy of enlightened thought, probing theories from new angles. Delde'ki had been right about one thing: he had never considered things from the angle of a heretic. But it also gave him a fresh perspective on his own pursuit, a means to catch his quarry.
That made him smile.
Last edit: 2 months 3 weeks ago by Raukibo.

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5 months 2 weeks ago #147 by mythus
Replied by mythus on topic Academic Pursuit
Saying their final farewells to distant families they might meet once every handful of seasons, or saying farewell to families that they were leaving to undertake some unknown task above, the kaba'ni finally fell inline with the rest of the caravan. The others, as they were often called - merchants mainly, watched with little empathy for their furry, smaller companions to enter the wagon train. These outsiders were ready to return to the surface, while the kaba'ni as a whole seemed less enthusiastic to do so.

Of the kaba'ni, most were that of the World Above. However even they were divided in a way most kaba'ni of Yvintha'anati knew not of. A strange divide existed between the two - those who stayed with the Mother and those who deserted her. Had this divide not existed, then perhaps the common kaba'ni would have known that even the World Above was a world divided. There was a world of the Sundered Lands, and the kaba'ni who made homes there were hardened to living life in a world dominated by Tyrius Zodo - a  fitting persona of the Infernal if ever  there was one. There however was also the Sky Lands, a world dominated by what the Others called Taal Zodo. The kaba'ni there, they had grown soft with conflict but a distant memory.

Both sorts were present within this caravan, with each seeming to avoid the other. The sundered kaba'ni were regarded with suspicion by those in the know, while the sky kaba'ni would be regarded as whelplings, barely separated from their momo's tit. To the kaba'ni from Above though, the traditional kaba'ni were seen as locked in tradition and blind to the realities of the world.

The caravan begins its ascent beyond the Great Arch. It would be a path leading out where an airship station awaited to carry the sky kaba'ni home while the caravan itself would head to Tyr. Those of the caravan can ride, but it was often advised to walk as much as one can, to prepare oneself for what lies beyond. The Sundered Lands was not a place for the weak, after all.

Few would likely great a stranger such as Rauki'bo, except for perhaps the polite nod. Few in this caravan would know of him even. But one seemed to watch him carefully. He appeared every bit as a kaba'ni from the Sundered Lands, bearing more scars and burnt fur than that of the most experienced  warrior. His crownfur was black as night, while patches of gray intermingled with his black fur. An ear was clipped, and an eye bore the look of glass while the other stared with dark intent as he spied the archivist...

Characters: Ian Mercleis Poppy

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5 months 2 weeks ago #152 by Raukibo
Replied by Raukibo on topic Academic Pursuit
The journey from the Great Arch to Pilgrim's Reach took the better part of a day. For Rauki'bo, however, it seemed to last far longer.  Prophet's Path was a slow and winding tunnel that stretched from the heart of the mountain to a deep cleft in its southern face, nearly a league of  steep incline. Though a scholar by trade, Rauki'bo was no stranger to marching and chose to remain at the trailing end of the caravan once it got moving. The stark trail and lack of conversation gave him plenty of time to think.

Before the War of Clans, history waxed eloquently about how difficult and dangerous Prophet's Path once was. Rauki'bo had become convinced that it was an embellishment meant to display the struggle of the Prophet as he returned to the World Above a thousand years ago. Certainly, the trail was daunting to the young and infirm, but Rauki'bo could not see it for anything more than a well-designed tunnel. He silently hoped that his experience with the World Above would not be so devoid of wonder and excitement.

It was not long after the caravan's first rest that Rauki'bo noticed a patrol coming their direction. Waiting for them to close to a polite distance, the scholar broke away from the train to engage them in a brief conversation. It took him showing them his mandate from the Vinaghi before they would give more than greeting, but unfortunately they were of no help to his investigation into the fugitive. Rauki'bo took the disappointment in stride, having full well prepared himself for an arduous search.

As he returned to the caravan train, the scholar felt a prick of unease. Frowning to himself, he glanced along the line of carts as he stepped back into his marching position.  Nothing had changed to his ken. Underwilds travelers still huddled amongst themselves, pointedly ignoring their Overlands brethren. They, in turn, were paid no notice for their trouble. It was a sad thing to see, all children of the Mother Tree and yet perfect strangers by right of birth.

That was a sentiment he knew far too well.

And yet the niggling thought—the instinct of wariness—would not leave him. So he decided to make a game of discovering its meaning. Instead of letting his gaze wander aimlessly he stared straight ahead, letting his unconscious mind drink in as much detail as it could. At times, he would pick up the pace to march at the van, and other times he dragged his heels until he was the last kaba'ni. Some moments he would be on the right, others on the left, and never rushing to be anywhere. To the casual onlooker, he was simply gaining his bearings and taking in the sights.

Come out, come out, whomever you are...

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2 months 3 weeks ago #173 by mythus
Replied by mythus on topic Academic Pursuit
Throughout the painfully boring trip, very little of import happened. Oh sure, there was the occasional comedic relief of some fresh, young welp taking a stumble, or the  annoying though to some funny whining of those yet seasoned for long walks. The occasional gasp of seeing the long petrified husk of an ancient cave wyrm, or the gasps of awe when the stone began to change to the crimson red for which the sacred mount had become famous for. But true excitement, these things never came.

The scorched kaba'ni though, ever did he keep his eye upon the archivist. On occasion, he would seem to mirror the other, falling back when the other picked up the pace or wondering to the opposite side of the other. At other times, he would just be within arm's reach. It wasn't until the caravan was but a few stones from the great maw of the cavern that he finally decided to make his move.

Slowly and cautiously, the dark kaba'ni had closed in upon his target. And just when the opportunity seemed right, when the two would have ironically or perhaps intentionally stationed themselves at the back of the caravan, he finally made his move. Whispering  to the other, just out of quick reach from the other's paw, the dark kaba'ni slurred, "The shadow grows weaker, the darkness darker. The fire grows and the Mother sends a soul torn between betrayal and destiny." The dark kaba'ni laughs, his hand ever ready upon the hilt of his well-seasoned blade, "Tell me, wilted and tarnished leaf, why are you here."

Characters: Ian Mercleis Poppy

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2 months 3 weeks ago - 2 months 3 weeks ago #174 by Raukibo
Replied by Raukibo on topic Academic Pursuit
The game of snake-and-vole proved rather fruitless in the end. There were too many fresh faces, too many random interchanges. No, he was simply distracted. The implications of his mission were simply too great to ignore, the methods of his duty's scope too vast to comprehend. Eventually, he drifted away on his own thoughts, his ears twitching with every footfall and burst of conversation. Kua whispered through the pads of his feet, comforting and solid.

The earth had ever been his comfort, his stalwart companion. As a geomancer, it was a salve to his soul as a book was a panacea to his mind.

Rauki'bo sighed inwardly as he considered the tome looming largest in his mind: the fugitive's journal tucked safely in his coat pocket. The archivist hadn't the occasion to review its contents since leaving Yvintha'anati, but he could almost effortlessly project its contents across the vault of his mind. For all his ruminations, however, he could not make tips or tails out of it. While the lock to its pages had been easy to thwart, the cypher within was presenting a taxing challenge.

That, of course, being the very point of a cypher.

A glimmer of light bloomed in the distance, a thread of soft brilliance pressing through his subsight. Squinting until his eyes adjusted, Rauki'bo found himself shaking with excitement. From the whispers of kua through the nearby strata, Rauki'bo knew they were breaching the cleft that led to the World Above. It was exhilirating—almost intoxicating—to feel the ebb and flow of geoaetherial energy in the region.

A cold shiver slithered down his spine, and Rauki'bo snapped back to himself. That splinter of unease had returned, more a stiletto in the dark than a thorn against his fur now. Focused. Intense. Close. The archivist pulled air into his lungs as his spirit drank of the kua beneath his feet by instinct. A faint scent of chalk hung in the air about him. Grit teased the pads of his paws as he balled fingers into fists. The calmness of a solemn mountain wrapped about him and Rauki'bo breathed out.

"The shadow grows weaker," a gruff voice rasped at his shoulder, and Rauki'bo nearly leapt out of his fur. "The darkness darker."

Turning sharply, he came nearly nose-to-nose with a hard-bitten Overlander. A brief surge of satisfaction shouted triumph from the back of his mind as he recognized the other as the few kaba'ni of interest. Not much good it had done him, he realized, but there was a dark pride in the moment. Tension hung in the air between the two, kua singing in his veins and blood pounding in his ears.

"The fire grows and the Mother sends a soul torn between betrayal and destiny." A dark sneer slid on the strange kaba'ni's face for the briefest instant before dying away again. "Tell me, withered and tarnished leaf: why are you here?"

Rauki'bo could only blink. Had this gina come on behalf of the Sidheum? No, the Vinaghi had not involved them to his ken. Another cutpurse from the so-called Eye, come to slit his throat for the taint in his line? Again, no. There would have been no need to reveal himself. He could have put a blade between his ribs, yet chose to reveal himself.

A whisper of warmth teased along the tips of his ears, sighed through his crown fur, and Rauki'bo's apprehension banked back. It reminded of the way his momo would brush away his nightmares as a kipa with her soft words and honeyed scent. It twined with his kua and hushed within the expanse of his mind. Curiously, it danced along his skull and fell from his lips, taking with it words not of his design.

"The light of the divine has been stolen, unmade," he replied softly. "The answer has fled, and it must be hunted. Balance must be restored."

The odd sensation left him shivering, and Rauki'bo flicked an ear in consternation. Giving his best attempt at a stern stare, he added, "And I, ser, am far from withered, leaf or otherwise."
Last edit: 2 months 3 weeks ago by Raukibo. Reason: Grammar

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2 months 3 weeks ago #175 by mythus
Replied by mythus on topic Academic Pursuit
The dark sundered kaba'ni grinned, bearing a mismatch of broken and crooked teeth. It was the kind of smile that wouldn't exist in polite and true kaba'ni societies, except perhaps from those exiled to the darkness. It was an unnerving smile, whether it was meant to be one or not, a smile that could both spell danger as well as acceptance. "Hah!" the sundered one laughed, "I knew it!"

The other relaxed his hand from the pommel of his weapon, "I could tell right off that you, ser," he said with a bit of sarcasm, "were no ordinary root huger. You have it, the look, the thirst. It was plain as day, and I just knew you had to be the one I was bid to assist." He grins, yet another unnerving smile, "If'in you hae me of course. I may be sundered, but I know a kaba'ni's pride. I canna help with lookin' for this light, if you want. I can do the knife work so you can keep your paws clean and your momo proud. But I can only do this, if you, a true ser and one of the Mother, would welcome me too."

The caravan breaks through the great cavern bearing the world beyond. Brilliant sunlight bathes the flamming red mountain, itself adorned on a small desert island. Beyond could be seen the churning waves of a great ocean and to the south an even larger sea of sand. And shadow, a deep and terrible shadow that if one were to trace their eyes to its source they'd find great floating islands high in the sky. Their shadow fell impenetrable to the ground below, seemingly growing darker despite the sun barely cresting high noon.

"Me thinks though, you would be a fool to say no, and you ser seem like no fool." He chuckles a bit, "Though perhaps you are foolish enough to not see your own warts?" He looks forward, "Before you is the Sundered Lands.  The soft of our kind, they soon take to the sky lands above, foolishly believing the lying light. True light though, to find it you must first embrace the impending darkness and the dying shadow." He turns back to the archivist, "So ser, you wanna brave the lands before you alone? You ready for that? Or are you gonna accept the one before you, as repulsive to you as I might be?"

Characters: Ian Mercleis Poppy

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