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Chapter 22 - Dreams

Parting from Tithion's home, the inspectors separated into the damp night. The rain had slowed to a wet drizzle when the group staggered up from the catacombs. Jax's position had been replaced by a much younger man who's young face was masked by a bushy beard. He smiled and collected the inspector's numbers for their belongings and issued them in a respectable fashion. True to Jax's word, the weapons had been dried, oiled, and even polished. Jax was certainly one who appreciated a clean and well kept blade.

Stepping out under the entryway's awning the moisture clung to the group, but the air smelled fresh and rich, like a spice that tickled the senses.

And there they parted, going their respective ways. Heads hung low and hands to the brow they hurriedly walked down the paths, hungry and ready for rest.
 

After parting ways, Shadow began heading to the small and humble house where he knew Kina and Dallar would be waiting for him eager to hear of his first day as an inspector. He would not tell them much; partially because it would be against the regulations to expose details of an open case, and partially because he was embarrassed at the lack of information they found.

“Kanth,” Shadow called after the Phylinx lady as she began off to the barracks. “Would you like to come meet some frriends of mine? Kina can cook trraditional Phylinx meals to make you feel as you never-r-r left our-r-r homelands. Dallar-r-r… well, he’s quite a young charmer-r-r. It’s better-r-r than spending your-r-r night drrowning in testosterrone, yes?”

"Verrry trrue," she replied. "I will accompany you," she stated with a smile, taking the offered arm of the large Phylinx male. "Home, a place that seems so far-r-r away at this point. And not in fathoms rrather-r-r than in mind."


By the time they reached Kina's small home Dallar was fast asleep and Kina seemed agitated. The young widow welcomed the inspectors in and gave them cloths to dry off, but she was short on words. Despite Shadow's attempts, Kina refused to say what she was upset over. But she congratulated Shadow on getting hired and having an assignment so soon.

 

It was an awkward evening and sleeping arrangements were spread about the floor.

 

 

 

A morning thunder rolled across the mountains and Hasumatsu-Nimatori stood, still watching for his pursuers. They had been tracking him ever since he left his father's home and fled south. The three men, garbed in silk and lacquered bone armor staggered over the rocks and under the low hanging branches. Despite the tight trees and jagged trail, the men had not discarded their long staffed yari. Those long spears meant one thing; they intended to kill him.

Behind a large boulder, easily twice his size, Nimatori checked his own weapon; his father's sword. He was not supposed to have the sword so soon. His father should have lived on for many years. After all, he was honored and loved. But greed seemed to have thrown its dark shadow over him. And now he was dead, and Nimatori, his father's sole heir, was next. The decree was clear, his family would be wiped out one by one and even the Emperor, whom his father had spoken to several times, would do nothing to prevent it. It was a matter of honor. The kind of feud that can only be faced by the heir of the family name.

At first, Nimatori refused to leave, he needed to face his father's accusers and slay them. But at only fifteen years, he had not the skill with the sword nor the power of gold. His mother  hatched the plan that led him here. He could still remember her face as she trembled and fought off the tears. "You must leave. Take your father's sword and go south through the mountains. When you are ready you can come back and face this."

"No mother, I can do this now. Let me fight Hi-karo. I can do it. He is an old fat man."

"Now listen to me my child. Hi-karo will not fight you. He has much money and his champion is the best swordsman around. I know you will come back, but now is not the time. If you are slain, no one will be able to stop him. At least now, if I send you away, they must catch you and bring you back. That may give me the time to buy off the debts. And then you can come home to me."

"No, I won't go."

But the decision was already made. His friend, Rokinju traveled north in disguise with Nimatori's own mother while he snuck out toward the mountains in the South. But it did not take long for Hi-karo's men to get wise to the ruse. And here were three and untold numbers following.

The thunder rolled again. Closer this time.


In the last year, Nimatori had learned quite a bit. He was stronger and practiced daily with the curved blade. His constant hiking in the hills and hunting with his steel knives kept his senses and body keen. But he had not killed another man yet. And despite his bravado, his hands shook at the possibility of the coming battle.

Breathing as quietly as he could, Nimatori listened from behind the boulder. The three men did not make an effort to be quiet and one even hacked a tree limb loudly. "There, a foot print," said one. By the sound of it, they were directly beneath him on the path. Cautiously Nimatori peaked around the rock. Stooped down and inspecting the print, the tracker began looking in all directions. "Up there. He went up there."

Nimatori's heart lurched and his scalp tingled with fear. Stand and fight or run? Then it happened and the decision was made for him again. 


The boulder slipped from its resting place and toppled down with Nimatori slipping immediately after. The two standing men stepped out of the way, but the kneeling tracker was caught unaware as the boulder rolled over his legs. His screams of pain echoed off bare stone and the rock tumbled down the hillside with a mighty rumble.

Sliding down to a solid stance, Nimatori grabbed his throwing dagger and landed an expert shot against the assassin on his right. The knife dug deep into his shoulder and blood sprayed. Almost instantly, the man on the left began climbing the rocks to meet Nimatori. The yari's long blade glistened in the light and Nimatori greeted it with his own katana's blade. At this distance, he could do nothing but defend himself as the warrior jabbed and slashed. Nimatori grabbed another of his small throwing blades but he slipped on the stony slope. Seizing the advantage, the spear yielding soldier lunged but Nimatori deflected the blow with only a hair's distance from his throat.

Shoving off the rocky slope, Nimatori slid down to the path below. By then, the warrior on the right had recovered and was ready with his spear in hand. Nimatori ducked into the trees and used the branches as cover to prevent the spearmen from flanking him. Each movement was geared to keep only one foe facing him at a time. The man with the crushed legs cried out again. "Come back here and help me!" And the two seemed to hesitate. Nimatori ducked under a low branch and lunged in catching the closest assassin off guard. The blade slid effortlessly between the bone plates until Nimatori could feel it pierce the second layer of armor on the other side.

With a bit of effort, Nimatori kicked the man's stiffening body free from his sword. But just as the man crumpled to the ground, his companion's spear struck full force. Nimatori looked down and watched the blade slide into his gut. It should have hurt, but he already felt detached; numb. His legs buckled with an instant weakness and his eyes grew wide but his vision was already beginning to fade. He could feel the blade as it slid from his flesh.

"Now you know, Vorn." Said the man who lay slain before him. "This is how it felt."

And as the darkness began to take hold, he heard the second spearman speak. But it was in a language that was not familiar.

"Enuch-t, tish velenium. Garebesh. Garebesh!" The voice yelled.

 

 

"Get up you bastards!" Captain Thurl yelled as he pounded on a drum. It was the same routine every morning. The guards began to stir as he walked slowly down the hall. It usually took three passes before everyone was roused, but this morning seemed different. The new inspector, the foreigner Vorn still slept, though by the look of his face it was far from peaceful.

"Jemach, come back here and help me." Thurl and the soldier stood over Vorn's cot and Thrul pounded on the drum again. "You, Vorn, wake up!" Thurl yelled. "Get up. Get up!" He shook Vorn's shoulders and the swordsman sat upright, eyes wide.

Out of reflex, Vorn glanced down at his stomach.

"What's wrong lad? You look like you've seen a ghost."

Vorn shook his head and rubbed his eyes. "Nothing's wrong. It was just a nightmare. A bit of food will do wonders," he said as he rolled out of bed and rubbed his stomach.
 

 

 

Morning came and Kina, with a much refreshed mood about her, set forth placing the mats on the table. Dallar was enthralled, staring relentlessly at Kanth and he seemed mesmerized by her simple existence. He knew who she was from the barracks, and Kanth likewise knew Dallar, but the two had never spoken; that is until this morning. The young Phylinx could not seem to contain himself chattering on about what nasty things he had to clean. All the while, Kina cooked and smiled to herself. It seemed her young boy had a bit of a crush. Despite his youth and lowly status, he tried to boast about how important his job was and how he was going to be an inspector one day too.

He did not seem to have any complaints of his jobs this morning, and for that, Kina was glad. Most mornings it was just the opposite with the lad bemoaning how the cooks pans were soooo heavy and how he hated this or that. It was nice to see her boy forgetting his so called troubles.

But then there was Shadow. He too seemed to crave this woman's attention. It might have been fate, or maybe she just was not ready to admit it to herself, but she began to feel something for the black Siveran (citizen of Siverandora). Perhaps they were too different, Kina and Shadow. After all, Kina had grown up in T'Aarn and was accustomed to the human culture. Shadow no doubt had some distaste for that.

 

Many seasons in the past, she had an opportunity to speak with a traveling Phylinx elder and the old cat-man had nothing good to say of humans.

"I can't imagine why a Phylinx would live among them," the old man balked. "They enslaved us for centur-r-ries. And now look at them! They are sick and twisted. They mock the gods with every breath. I tell you child, the gods should have destrroyed them all; not just Endr-rak."

His wicked words seemed to haunt her how her own kind could harbor such a deep hate. By all rights, even that old man had never been enslaved himself, yet he held to the anger as if it was his right, his burden.

'Could Shadow think the same thoughts?' she asked herself. 'Does he despise me for living this human life?' Thoughtlessly, she stirred the porridge over the fire pit. With a bit of effort she shook the thoughts from her mind and scooped the rice mush into bowls and handed them out at the table. 

It was not much, but the porridge would last them through the morning. With a bit of trepidation in her heart, she placed a tentative hand on Shadow's shoulder as she stood behind him. If he could not accept her, then she would simply have to live with that. Then she felt her eyes begin to sting. Hurriedly she moved to tend the fire and finish emptying the pot.
 

 


Shadow listened to Dallar like an uncle to a nephew, nodding his head and probing with questions to stretch the young Phylinx’ story out even longer. Shadow was fascinated with Dallar. He had such a promising life ahead of him, if only they could get past all the prejudices.

Frequently during the conversation, the black Phylinx would sneak a peak at Kina. Something was bothering her, and she just wasn’t in the mood to discuss it. He arched an eyebrow and shrugged his shoulders towards Kanth. Perhaps he would never understand the mind of a female. At times they seemed so alien and their logic so confounding.

When Kina placed her hand on his shoulder, he straightened noticeably, somewhat uncomfortably. His heart raced like a boy with a schoolyard crush. Were he not covered with black fur from head to toe, he would certainly be blushing. He did have feelings for this widow, it was no doubt obvious to Kanth as she sat back and watched his reactions, but he was too inexperienced with the fairer sex to know how to advance their relationship.
 

 

 

Kanth, feeling quite out of place and uncomfortable with the interaction between her new companion and this stranger, sat still and quiet, listening to the speedy words of the young lad. She laughed once in a while at one of Dallar's words, but spoke very little herself.

Having only recently come from Siverandora, seeing this Phylinx woman being so very modern and human-like was confusing and slightly offensive to her. Having hot food, even as meager as Kina was able to provide, was within itself, a gift from the woman.

Kanth lounged still and silent after the meal, taking in Dallar's enthusiasm and energy, silently wishing to have that type of energy herself. But, living the life of a rogue warrior took a lot out of a woman, even at her young age.



"Where the devil is Blackblade?" Phineous eyed the courtyard from the doorway of his office. "I want you to..." he paused to take a bite of the turkey leg he held in his greasy fingers. "I want you to have the guards alert me when he shows up."

"Do you want him arrested?" Thomas asked as he prepared to leave.

"No. I don't want anyone growing suspicious. Just tell them that I have an assignment for him."

"Yes sir."

As Phineous watched his aid leave, he scowled. Some of his new inspectors were doing just fine, but others... his gaze fell on the foreign swordsman, Vorn Volken. Others seemed too eager to solve the crimes. 'That boy was so ecstatic about catching those followers of the Old Empire. I wonder what he would think if he knew I set them free.' The master inspector tossed the now bare bone out onto the field. "That's the problem with amateurs," he said aloud as he reentered his office, "they take this too seriously."
 

 

 

As the rooster started to crow, Cydric once again grabbed his bow and tried to shoot the damn bird, but as usual missed. He realized that one day he might actually get the damn bird, but he'd have to open his eyes first and with that he dropped his bow onto his bed and rubbed the sleep from his eyes.

He quickly dressed and scrounged around his kitchen for something to eat. Sadly all he had was either a small loaf of moldy bread, or a few pieces of rotted fruit. Not being too picky, he grabbed the bread and decided to try and eat around the mold as he tried to keep from gagging. Frustrated he threw the loaf out the window along with the fruit. He'd just have to get something later.

Stepping out his front door while puffing on his pipe a scowl crossed his face as he realized the weather wasn't any better today than it had been yesterday. A dark feeling came over him suddenly and he realized immediately that today was not going to be a good day. Something dark was on the horizon.

Cydric touched his sword in reassurance and headed to the barracks. As he passed an unwatched bakery stand he quickly snatched a loaf of fresh sweetbread and scampered on. Maybe the day wouldn't be as bad as he had thought, maybe it was just the mind set of a tired old man. Although he was far from old, the life Cydric had lived was quite hard, and time wasn't being very kind to him.

It occurred to him that around noon today he needed to find Sergei and see about the tests of the poison. Cydric had a feeling he knew the poison, and when Sergei told him he'd feel like a fool for not knowing it sooner, but such was life. As he got to the barracks he was finishing up his meager meal and that gloomy sense of dread began nagging at his chest again.

 

 

"I had a dreadful dream," Tithion said as he sipped his tea while hunched over the modest cook's table.

"And what was that sir?" Said the old maid, Jenev. She was plump and short, and a good natured sort that the noble always felt comfortable talking to. She had a sisterly quality to her despite the fact that she was a paid servant.

"I had laid down with a woman, someone familiar, though I do not recall her name or face."

"Well that sounds like a fine dream. Especially for a man of your age," she smiled as she poked his shoulder.

"Right enough," he managed a smile then looked back at the mug in his hands. "That is just how it started. I suppose we had finished and I was on the road in a wagon. I remember looking up at how tall the clouds were and how blue was the sky. But then we ventured into woods, and my cart was now a war chariot and I was in a race. The clouds turned dark and smoky grey and the sun was blotted out by these enormous trees. Strange trees too. Only parts of their limbs were full of life, the rest looked like sickly fingers stretching out to the sky to tear down the heavens."

"I suppose this is the part that troubles you?"

"Not yet."

"Not yet you say? It sounds awfully suspenseful then. Go on."

"There was a ribbon of smoke that floated like a flag when held on its side. I watched it with terrible focus and my chariot slowed. Then the grey smoke split into pieces and spread out and devoured my companions. I could not hear them scream, but I knew the meaning. When I turned to flee, there before me stood an apparition. I tell you it was a servant of Mortarius. I woke just as it reached for me."

"Good heavens, sir. I think you've been thinking about death and destruction your entire life. I'm sure its nothing more than the stress of the moment." Jenev smiled with a reassuring glow to her and she squeezed his shoulders lightly.

"But what of its meaning? You do believe in reading dreams, I know."

"Oh, well if you want my 'professional' opinion, well you ain't paying me enough for all that." Tithion broke a grin. "But it does sound ominous. May haps you've channeled something, or something is trying to warn you," she sighed with a bit of an exaggeration to it. "Or it could just be your nerves. Either way, until you know more about why you had the dream, you'll never know the meaning of it."

"I know, but its the players in the dream that concerns me. I've dabbled with the dream weaving before and have had limited success, but this was as if I could feel the cold. I even smelled the ash on bones of the one who reached for me."

"Well, forgive me sir, but I'm no dream weaver, and I think you're taking this all too much to heart."
 

With a tired smile, Tithion replied simply, "perhaps you are right."

 

Chapter 23

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