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      Cyber Nations Forum Rules   07/03/2016

      Cyber Nations Forum Rules  
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Sarah Tintagyl

A Journey to the Sea

57 posts in this topic

The dried ground cracked under the heavy boots and greaves of a young woman as she scooped her hand into the dirt, bringing up stone and sand as it sieved through her fingers. She looked up in front of her and saw an old man shaking his head. "Since you people from the east came this way, we have suffered and we will continue suffering. Our crops are dying and what have you done? Nothing." He yelled at the girl in some thick Tartar accent that she could barely understand. The qualifications of being an Imperial Knight was to know how to converse with all peoples of the empire, however, as Jaya Ravipati still had years to her training, she only shook her head and walked away from the old man.

It seemed that any time the Empire began to flex its strength, misfortune happened on some far corner of the Imperial Family's domain. As war raged across the African continent, a severe drought plagued the western steppe causing riots in small villages where the people were beginning to starve. Fort Myrina, standing on the Dzungarian Gate oversaw much of the administration to its north, sending riders and merchants carrying aid to the villages, but it was never enough. Jaya reached into her pocket as she turned and found a small piece of bread she had horded since breakfast, hungry herself, the old man deserved it more and she yelled out in Hindi to get his attention. "Food?" She knew he didn't understand her, but he understood the motion and ran across the barren field to grab the bread out of her hand, eat it ravenously and then scamper back across the rocky hills. Sighing, the Indian woman turned back and pushed her black hair over her ears and began trudging to the fort.

Life was difficult outside the walls of the fort, though Jaya felt it was just as bad within the enclosed stone walls. Amazon fortresses formed the backbone of the west's defense, but as women will be, it was a complete nightmare to live in an ethnically diverse society with both men and women vying for influence. The Austrians and Chinese always received special treatment and made up the majority of the officer's corps. Tartars, Mongolians, Indochinese, Koreans, Japanese, and the Slavs formed the next tier of influence and then at the bottom were those of the far reaches of the Empire, Arabs and Hindus. Jaya reasoned herself that if she was given full knighthood by the time she was thirty five, it would be a miracle.

Walking into the bustling fort, the Hindu Squire dropped her head and thought about dinner before a hand grabbed her by the shoulder. She jumped and yelped for a moment as a tall Austrian woman chuckled. "Captain Schroeder, sorry Ma'am, I didn't see you there."

"It's no problem Jaya, I was looking for you actually, did you just come back from the north?"

She shook her head, "I walked, only about five miles to the hills, there was a man begging for food."

Schroeder nodded and pushed Jaya along with her as she walked deeper into the fort. "I need you to do something for me, Jaya, the Chief of Leopard Village came here today. The village needs all their hands for crop production right now, but there is an Apprentice Shaman who needs to get to the east coast to continue his studies. I cannot spare any of my guards right now do something, especially because the Chief cannot offer any repentance. However, we have to maintain good faith with the villagers and I figure since you are still an apprentice yourself, this might be a learning experience."

"Going off into the wilderness with just two people?"

The captain laughed, "Stick to the roads, Jaya, its not the wilderness. This is less dangerous than a road trip. I'll have horses given to you both, supplies to last two weeks, and a bit of coin in case something happens. But something, should not happen that makes this journey anymore difficult. Understood Ravipati?"

But the Indian had heard stories about the Tianxian countryside, especially the western edges where the traditions of the Steppe were kept very much alive. However, she didn't have a choice, she was a squire and a squire could never disobey a command by a superior, let alone an Amazon who had served for over ten years. "Of course, Captain, it won't be a problem."

Schroeder led her into the hall of the fortress where two Chinese men were tending the fire and another younger man sat alone at a table. "This is the Apprentice who will be in your charge," she said gesturing to the young man, "This is Jaya Ravipati, a Hindi Squire, she will be leading you across the Steppe." Said the Austrian as Jaya stared into the Nomad's eyes.

"Greetings," said the Indian, "And you are?" Edited by Sarah Tintagyl

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[img]http://img42.imageshack.us/img42/115/journeybegins1.png[/img]

[b]Part I: Journey to the Ancestors Totem[/b]

Bayari stood at the gates of the large stone fort which spanned the mouth of the Dzungarian Pass. The stone used to build it was rumored to have taken a hundred villages five years to dig and forge. There was nothing like it or even anything approaching a fifth its size in Leopard Village. It was manned by women clad in magnificent armor, made from master craftsman. Financed with the splendor of the Richer Parts of the Empire that law to the East and South.

The young man had always been told stories of great riches and cities which law to the East in the lands of China, the center of all civilization. He was only a boy when the Emperor last lead his armies across the steppe, and ran the old rulers out of Kazakhstan, bringing them into the orbit of the Celestial Empire. He had lived through the trials and tribulations of the Great Western Plague, and he had seen his brothers conscripted for service in War. But for all of this he knew little of what lay beyond.

Now as he entered into the gate, he was confronted by an exotic world. Rich smells of foods cooking by many different nationalities overwhelmed him. Though this simple street food was not much to Easterners, and less plentiful than usual, his stomach growled, as he thought of the famine back home. What he would not give for a small helping of goat stew he thought to himself.

Suddenly he heard a voice yell at him, it was a Chinese woman, "Hey you buy or leave." She shouted, in broken turkic, the lingua franca of the region.

Bayari looked down at his light coin purse saddened. He had just enough to make the journey east and buy books for his studies in the Imperial City. He could not spare it on frivolities. Instead he made his way to the Guard Tower in the Fort. Presenting his letter and seal, to one of the Amazons he smiled at her. "I am..." he began eager to start a conversation, in awe of the golden haired woman, physically built, and in shining bronze armor.

"One moment." she interrupted him. Looking over it, said simply, "Looks good. Stand over there. The Captain will be with you." and with that she left.

He felt a pang of home sickness as the formality of the whole thing. This was not the Village, where everyone knew and looked after everyone. It was something else entirely.

Waiting for almost an hour finally, an Austrian and a brown skinned girl looked to be coming over to him.

[i][color=#282828][font=helvetica, arial, sans-serif]This is the Apprentice who will be in your charge," she said gesturing to the young man, "This is Jaya Ravipati, a Hindi Squire, she will be leading you across the Steppe." Said the Austrian as Jaya stared into the Nomad's eyes.[/i][/font][/color]

[color=#282828][font=helvetica, arial, sans-serif]Bayari cleared his throat. "Yes maam." he said to the Amazonian Captain. He turned to the girl, she was dark skinned, probably from the lands of India to the South. His master spoke to him, calling it the land of a Thousand Foreign Gods. It had fought with the Nords over these lands for years, before the Empire came. Now it was one of the Empire's dependencies. [/font][/color]

[color=#282828][font=helvetica, arial, sans-serif]He bowed formally, "I am Bayari Konah, pleasure to meet you." he said to her. As the captain left, he looked at his companion, the pain of home sickness tinged him a little, "I was wondering... I know you must be busy." he began, "But could we stop off at my ancestors Totems. They are a short ways through the desert South West of here off the main road, but I would like to pay my respects and ask for good fortune on the journey East." he asked clearly intimidated by the experience so far."[/font][/color]

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"Southwest?" said Jaya looking at him, then over her shoulder as the Captain left the room, and then at the two Chinamen who chuckled for a moment as they resumed their conversation at the fire. "That's already leading us away from our travels to the east." She sighed and turned away from him, going over the thoughts pulsing through her head. They hadn't even begun to move and he was steering them off course. She looked back over her shoulder at Bayari and thought of telling him no, that it would be too much of a diversion, but he looked nearly as troubled as she was at the prospect of the journey. "Alright, but only a short ways, there are garrisons on the road and if possible I'd rather not sleep out in the wilderness."

She took him out of the hall to the commissary and stables. Their horses were packed with various canteens, dried meat, fermented milk, dried fruit, and one skin of wine. Then, without any farewell by the Amazons or the other soldiers of the fortress, the two companions rode out from the eastern gate of Fort Myrina and down the pass into the valleys below.

The world seemed to stretch for an eternity in front of the riders as they navigated slowly down the rocky path towards the main highway that stretched across the northern reaches of the Empire. "If you want to go to your totems," said Jaya as she halted her horse, "You'll have to lead the way Bayari. I don't know this region." She let him ride in front of her and lead them down the path as she took a deep breath of the dry and cracked air of the mountains. "So have you traveled before or is this your first time out of the West?"

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[img]http://img4.imageshack.us/img4/8734/journeybegins2.png[/img]

The dry winds blew sand into the eyes of the two intrepid adventurers as they made they way through the mountains towards the totems where the ancestors laid buried. The Shaman of the village had always made their way to these mountains when they began their paths of Shamanhood... and when they ended them. Some day too, when his hair had turned white and his teeth had fallen out he would make the journey for himself.

He raised a cloth over his face a gust of sand blew towards them. The weather was becoming harsher, the Sun was a cruel master, both a bringer of life and taking it away. At last though they reached several poles, driven into the mountain side. They were long and tall with sharp moon symbols of jutting up from them. On their sides flags fluttered in the wind, marked with ancient writings of the nomadic steppe tribes.

As they approached, Bayari dismounted. His horse. He bowed muttering something in the particular dialect of his village, pausing before walking forward towards them. He could see the totems where his grandfather and great grandfather lay buried.

"This is the most sacred place for my people." he began. It is here that my ancestors go to be with Tengri and join the Court in the Sky." he explained. But no sooner had he started to explain, that his face scrunched up, looking beyond. He saw the door to a tomb dug into the mountain had been forced open, with tracks leading in.

"Something is wrong." he began. He walked forward without permission to the cave that his people had turned into a tomb. Without thinking he yelled in, "Whose there?!"

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Leaning on her horse, Jaya watched as Bayari dismounted and walked towards the totems scattered over the hills. As he spoke, she reached down her vest and clasped around two small silver images of Durga and Ganesh. Every person in the Empire followed their own traditions and where the totems would give Bayari peace, the goddess of war would give Jaya strength while the god of journeys would clear the path to safe travels. However, when Bayari's voice rose and he stepped towards the open tomb, the Indian opened her eyes and cursed; Ganesh decided this time, not to answer her prayers.

"I'm sure it's nothing Bayari, we should get moving again." She said and watched him call down into the tomb. "Dammit." Jaya cursed and jumped down to the ground as she walked next to the Apprentice Shaman and clutched the scimitar at her side. "Bayari, stand back for a moment, I can handle this. Friend!" she shouted down into the tomb, "Come out so we can identify you, you are trespassing on sacred ground." Jaya stepped closer into the cave and shouted again, hearing her own voice come barreling out of the stones.

"Hello?"

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There was a rustle deep in the tomb, and echoes of almost a whisper but nothing beyond it. No friendly voice came back. The Shaman felt the air unnaturally cold. Even in the sweltering heat it sent a chill down his spine. The tomb did not smell of the sweet spices which were made as offerings to the ancestors but rather of something foul. [i]Could it be an evil spirit?[/i] he thought to himself.

No they had placed wards against such things. Never the less he could not allow his ancestors to be left alone with such a thing. Trudging forward in front of the squire, the Shaman grabbed a torch from the side lighting it.

As the torch lit, the orange flame illuminated the dark cavern. A small altar was there in the front. On it were several porcelain jars carefully place. However now also on the floor were several, along with the charms which the village had so carefully placed. They were torn down and smeared.

The Shaman approached one looking down. His face was visibly shaken, a cultural faux pas such as this one was unthinkable to his people. "A being without honor did this." he said to Jaya. His mind was transfixed now not with the danger possibly present, but going to find whatever animal did this and give it a good scolding.

He turned the torch down further, a dark red substance lined its way back. He bent down rubbing his front two fingers against it and then putting them to his nose. "Deer blood. Its probably a bear, we need to stop it from desecrating this sacred place." he explained.

As he did he continued to walk back into the cave, as they went back. Suddenly two pale out stretched arms came forward into the light. An unnatural hiss came as they lumbered forward. Attached to them was a pale green body of a man, appearing to be one of the local Chinese nobles. His flesh had moved away from his teeth and finger nails making them appear abnormally large.

His stench was overwhelming, as he walked forward in a stiff manner. "Ancestors help us." the Shaman said. "A Jiangshi." he added, suddenly it hopped forward to maul the Shaman.

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Sitting back in her saddle, Adila al-Sajid gently nudged her Arabian with her right foot, turning to get a better look at the vistas of the Tian Shan range to her north, the horse let out a grunt seemingly in question as to why they had stopped. The black-cloaked rider patted the stallions' neck gently, as she adjusted herself in the saddle, she had galloped East from Lake Issyk Kul for close to hour before letting her mount, Mikail, rest while they trotted along. It had been a long journey from Herat to the Tian Shan range, but Mikail had handled the journey well.

As part of the final bid to become an Imperial [i]Kheshig[/i] of the Royal House of the Timurids, each had to make a journey into the Eastern Empire, a journey that would take much time to complete, and require the [i]Kheshig[/i] to cover long distances. As part of her bid to make it into the ranks of the legendary guards of the royal house, she had already been to Lake Balkash, to collect a feather of a rare teal, and then to Issyk Kul, to kill, eat, and collect the bones of the Issyk Kul Dace, a carp that was endemic to the lake of its namesake. She also had to prove her worth taking a small branch from one of the cherry blossom trees at the Imperial Palace in Chang'an, and collect earth from Songshan, her return journey would be much more direct back to Herat, but hardly any less formidable.

Adila was one of the few women chosen for the [i]Kheshigs[/i], having been handpicked by the Shah's consort, Caroline, herself, for her intellect and energetic nature, she was destined, if she survived this journey, to guard the Shah's consort herself. Adila herself was a woman of many faces, she had been loyal to her family, up until the point where she had protested an arranged marriage, and her father's brother had taken her in when she left her father's house. Eccentric and aloof from her father, he had been willing to take her in, he was a man of secularism and weird beliefs, dabbling in the occult and fantasy, he had nonetheless introduced her to riding and had paid for private schooling. It was in her eighteenth year that the Queen Consort had chosen her, after meeting her personally at the school her uncle had sent her to, the older woman had taken a liking to the Turkic girl, and she sponsored her entry into the [i]Kheshigs[/i].

The [i]Kheshigs[/i] were a primarily male military organization, with the stated purpose of guarding the Western Empire's Court and its royals, and the men of the ranks of the guards were despondant of their female counterparts. Adila herself had earned some respect amongst the male members of the [i]Kheshigs[/i] for her athletic abilities in the training yards, as well as out on patrol on the steps as a squiress. Christened as an Imperial [i]Kheshig[/i] before the journey, she was eager to prove her mettle, to prove that she and her gender had a place within the ranks of the guards. But being in the guards was not just about athletic abilities, it was a sense of duty, honor, personal courage, the list of chivalrous traits could go on, that made the [i]Kheshigs[/i] who they were.

They were the guardians of not only the court and the royals, but also of the weak, the helpless, the distressed, those that were in need. As Adila looked to see a series of totems to the north of her, she felt a sense of curiosity, and almost anxiety at the stories of her uncle about the occult, and Mikail sensed this anxiety as well and a sharp grunt and the shaking of his head gave these reservations away. He was a good mount though, and he wouldn't spook easily if she was with him, but she gripped the reins tighter to reassure the beautiful, grey-speckled stallion, that there was nothing to be afraid of. The horse responded by letting out a whinny, and looking one last time at the faint view of the large structures, she would decide against romping on the hallowed ground, and urged Mikail into a gallop, heading for the next well along the road... Edited by TheShammySocialist

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"Get out of the way!" yelled Jaya as she sprang across the cave and tackled Bayari out of the path of the Jhangshi and found herself staring up at its gaping jaw. The monster's breath was terrible as it hissed at her and the Indian's eyes widened as she held the creature by its neck, keeping it from biting. She groaned, sweat and fear pouring off her body as the creature's strength pressed hard against Jaya's grip. Barring her teeth, she pushed everything she had into her hand and tried to flip their bodies over, it was successful to a point as she pushed the monster to the ground and then he threw her to the side.

She rolled across the rocks and dirt, dust rising through the air and let out a groan. But the monster wasn't close to death as it sprang to its feet with another hiss and ran towards Jaya. Leaping to her feet, the Indian unsheathed her scimitar and held her breath as she saw the vampire striding towards her and swung at his center. She hit nothing but air as it hopped into the air and came down from behind. Jaya had little time to react as its claws swiped across her center and she let out a terrible moan and staggered back, panting heavily.

"Uuuhhhhhh..." Jaya groaned as she gripped her scimitar with one hand and kept focusing on the Jhangshi. It hissed again and began to hop towards her throwing any logical pattern attack to the wind, one could not use logic to beat the non-living. Falling back through the cave and parrying the creature's claws with the scimitar, decayed flesh and bone pinging of steel like a clash of swords.

Finally, the Indian felt her back hit the wall as her scimitar was caught between the Jhangshi and her neck and a game of endurance began as the blade sat between Jaya, pushing back and forth between life and death.

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[b]Somewhere on the road[/b]

Besud Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj is patiently hitching his horses to his wagon. His grandfather had worked the grasslands of North America as a cook during the heyday of the great Auroch drives. During that time he had been brought into the western style of transport and upon returning to his home he promptly built a chuckwagon and began plying his trade as a cook on the trade caravans. His father had gotten old, gotten tired of the migratory life, and had handed the wagon down to Besud who had voiced his interest in taking up the family trade.

After he finished hitching the horses to the wagon, Besud climbs into the driver's seat and makes himself comfortable. Next to him is a small mongol bow, the type carried by his ancestors as they rolled through the very heart of the world leaving a path of fire and death. He has a few other small weapons hanging about him, a saber on his belt, a knife in his boot, and a hasp knife or two in his pockets. He snaps the reins and feels the wagon lurch forward as the horses start moving. Behind him he hears the complaining of his milk cow that is tied to the back of the wagon as it is forced to walk and keep up.



[img]http://www.prairieroseok.com/images/Chuck%20Wagon%2001.jpg[/img]

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Bayari's head hit the cold stone floor with a thud as Jaya moved him out of the path of the oncoming creature. He saw a flash of white light as he slipped out of consciousness for a moment. He was suddenly brought back into it with the sound of Jaya's groans. He saw the jiangshi coming back at her through what light they had. [i]What light did they have?[/i] he thought to himself.

He noticed that the torch on the ground was laying there fading fast. He raced over to it, suddenly given a spark of inspiration. Running off as the squire continued to fight the creature. Grabbing the torch and throwing a stone at the jiangshi's head to get its attention. He then yelled out, "I'll be right back." He gave no further explanation and seemed to be scurrying away quite quickly. He heard a hiss behind him, and then thud after thud of the jiangshi angrily hopping towards him.

He looked at the offerings, "Where is it?" he said to himself. Bringing the flame over vessels of ancestor worship where offerings were made. "AHAHA!"

[i]There[/i] he thought, finding what he was looking for, a vat wear offerings of scented oils were. "They are vulnerable to fire!" he yelled to Jaya quite proud of himself.

But the jiangshi was now right behind him. Spinning around he flung the vat straight onto it. He was about the bring the torch to it, to light it ablaze before it tackled him and the flaming torch rolled off, dying it. Its hand moved towards he neck, he felt his Qi was about to begin draining.

"Heellp." he cried meekly.

The creature let out a terrible echoing laugh, as it began to harvest its meal, one that could be heard for some ways....

--------------------------------------------------------------

Fort Jochid on the North West Fork of the Imperial Silk Road was one of the more backwater assignments. It was staffed mostly with local militia forces, rather than Imperial Regulars, not close to any border or threat. Around it a sleepy town had arisen. Few things there had changed in some time. Occasional nomads moved through it along with some caravans.

Kai Wu stood in his office, the Imperial Magistrate for the region, he was from a very well connected family with some, questionable business activities of their own in the East. His family was powerful enough in the political machine world of Shanghai Politics to force him and his brothers into positions of some importance throughout the Empire.

He was very unhappy with where he had been assigned. Further the Empress's reforms by the sword had made his family sending him money from the East much more difficult. He would not live in this place, with this squalor though.

He summoned his militia commanders, when they were all in front of him, he smiled. He had promoted them through the ranks based on their love of coin and he would now see that he got more. "I want to begin raising taxes here, lets get us some protection fees." he suggested, "Keeping up the road isn't free after all." Edited by Triyun

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Just when Jaya thought the Jhangshi would devour her, the creature's head rocked to the side as a stone hit its face. It dropped her on the ground, her scimitar at her feet as it turned and ran towards Bayari who fled towards the back of the cavern. She wheezed and looked as the vampire was covered with spices and leaves, but Bayari was too slow to light the leaves with his torch and when the flame died it seemed that the creature was unbeatable.

"Shiva help me," Jaya groaned, Bayari spoke too much, if he hadn't been looking in her direction and would have concentrated on the creature maybe they'd be looking at roasted demon instead of being flung to the far sides of the cave. Watching the Shaman squirming under the grip of the monster, Jaya rose slowly to her feet and ran quick thoughts through her head. They didn't have a torch, but they still had potential fuel for the fire. Other urns and vats were spread across the room and one, that smelt of age old oil was solidifying in one of the jars. Picking it up with one hand, she yelled at the creature before throwing the contents of the vat over the Jhangshi and Bayari.

"Get away!" she yelled at Bayari and ran towards the vampire, her scimitar raised over her head and then brought it down like a golf club against the ground. The steel scrapped against the stone sending sparks into the air and over the Jhangshi's robes. A loud hiss ran through the cavern followed by a bright light as Jaya fell to the ground, watching as the vampire roared, flames engulfing its figure. She didn't wait around to see if the vampire would be vanquished. Jumping up with pure adrenaline moving her forward, Jaya grabbed Bayari's body in her arms and began sprinting from the cavern and back out into the evening light. "Damn..." she coughed, "It's already getting dark.

Her legs swayed with fatigue as she carried the Shaman over to the horses and set him down on the ground. "Can you ride? We need to get out of here."

---

The Silk Road was a strange place. A great highway that stretched across the heart of the Empire from West to East. Since ancient times these mountain and valley paths became the great highways that kept China and Europe connected to each other and the various tribes that called this wilderness home. Of the regions of the Empire, it was the northwest however, that even in the golden age, remained un-tamable.Militias were corrupt, local governors and mayors stole from the poor and tribal villages, which then caused uprisings and revolts. Highwaymen roamed the roads praying on helpless travelers and local lore spoke of holy men and sorceresses who did battle across the mountains and dunes.

A rider covered in black robes looked down at Fort Jochid and shook its head before turning its horse and heading back down the mountain path into the dry, cracked valleys.

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Bayari felt himself getting weaker as the the jiang shi continued to take hold of him. [i]This is it[/i] he thought to himself. Then he heard a terrible noise as the room echoed from the loud creeking noise of the blade against the stone. Then came a spark, and instantly the entire room was illuminated as the creature was lit ablaze. He saw the creature hope back away, and then he himself was swiftly carried out of the cavern.

He felt a pang of guilt leaving his ancestral tomb, but he was too exhausted to argue. His body felt like it had been drained significantly. "I'm... I'm..." he said as she sat him down in the open evening sky.

"I'm ok I guess." he said. He frowned, they had not even really left his home area and already were wondering into trouble. He sighed as he pushed himself to his feet, looking back at the tomb sadly. "Thank you for helping me." he said flashing her an appreciative smile. "But yeah I can ride."

Soon the two were journey once more towards the Northern Silk Road.

[img]http://img191.imageshack.us/img191/8734/journeybegins2.png[/img]

The Northern Silk Road was at one time one of the wildest roads in the Empire. The Great Rebellion changed that, as it was built up to ferry supplies for the war efforts. However, with that came a significant amount of opportunity to make money. Toll booths had been setup, and often times pilgrims and merchants were exploited by local militias for profit. The further one got from Beijing, Cochin City, and Samarkand, the worse things became.

Fort Jochid was acquiring a reputation as one of the shake down points. Magistrate Kai sent out new letters informing merchants and travelers that only official companies approved by him would be allowed to travel the route. There were rumors of a black cloaked rider who was harassing his militia in their shake downs, but the Magistrate portrayed him a blood thirsty bandit.

Bounties were placed for this man's head for anyone brave enough to dare attempt to find and capture him.

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It was dark when Adila arrived at the wells east of the series of totems she had seen framed against the Tian Shan, and Mikail seemed to be grateful for reaching the wells, he seemed to be rather aggravated, but when she drew water from the well, he seemed content. As she watered her mount, she looked around the deserted series of wells that dotted the area around her, right off the road, but despite that, no one else was there, which made her wary, as this was clearly a set of wells that were well suited for the traders and other users of the roads. She would collect together a pile of kindling and other pieces of wood, and use a flint striker to create sparks and light some dried-out moss before throwing it atop the arranged pile of twigs she had gathered together.

Despite being untied, Mikail would not roam far from his master, opting to stay close to the fire and his master in the growing darkness, he seemed more alert than most nights that they had spent away from the stables, probably feeding from her wariness. Adila would clean her face from the dust and dirt of the road, relaxing back against one of the wells, before gathering up a collection of dried meat that she chewed on for well over thirty minutes, whilst sipping deeply from a bladder of freshly-procured water. She had unrolled a bedroll from her saddle on the ground, and was laid out with her cloak wrapped tightly around her against the coolness of the light wind. Despite many weeks on the road, she found it harder to sleep than normal, the lack of individuals at this well was making her wary, but traveling on further without allowing Mikail to rest was unwise, she had already pushed him hard that day, and the stallion needed to rest.

As the darkness grew around her, so did her wariness, and she stoked the fire that she had curled up close to into a more respectable blaze, taking the time to gather a significant amount of firewood. She also slipped her double-edged sword into her heavy cloak with her, the weapon being one of her few material defenses against anyone that threatened her, she also was sure to keep her dirk slipped into its scabbard on her right side. She had encountered travelers who told her, and had heard stories of the bandits and warlords that flaunted their independent existence, and openly attacked travelers on the road. But she would make an attempt to put those thoughts aside, her eyes turning skyward to appreciate the seemingly endless supply of stars that twinkled above her, a swath of diamonds in a sea of blackness.

She heaved a sigh as she felt at peace out there in the lands of the Kyrgyz, sleeping underneath an endless sky, she could only hope that peace would continue to last through the night, as she felt her eyes getting heavy...

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The rider in black waited for a long time, listening to hear the quiet sighing of the woman as she drifted off to sleep and the dimming of her fire, before approaching. Slowly, the figure walked down the small path from the wide vista on the hillside. The woman was armed, it was easy to tell, and so the rider had to be careful when sneaking upon her. Nearing her, the rider produced a small silver blade from the black cloak and then with a sudden pounce placed the blade up to Adila's neck and another hand on her body, feeling the sword beneath her cloak.

"Careful girl," said a whisper in Adila's ear, "This is a threat, but it doesn't have to turn deadly, who are you and what are you doing in these hills? You're an Imperial, I can tell, and that can mean many things around here. I can mean tyrant...and it can mean protector. Now...which are you?"

---

Moving back along the Silk Road, the evening quickly turned to night and Jaya raised her hand to Bayari to tell him to stop. "We'll have to stop here for the night, we can't go any further or we might risk the horses falling into a hole or just some creature attacking us. You also need to rest," though she said this grimacing. Bayari was indeed shaken up, but the deep slices into Jaya's skin were covered up with rags and salted down with her supplies. Her body was burning with pain and she, more than anyone, needed to rest.

Dismounting, she stumbled away from the horses and collapsed on the ground as she looked up at the stars. "Tomorrow, we need to fight a garrison and I need to get my strength back. If we end up running into one of those creatures again, I'm not going to last, it just won't be possible. " She took a deep breath and looked over at Bayari as he was tending the horses. "But what happened today, it isn't a problem, but...damn...I didn't expect all this to happen the evening of our departure."

She reached down her shirt and felt the wound on her side, it sent pain through her body as she squirmed on the ground. "Get my mat, Bayari, and stand guard for our first shift." Something was in her wound, festering, she could feel it...it hurt like hell and it scared her...after all...it was a wound from a Jhangshi and that could present a very real problem.

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Bayari was still shaken by events as they road off away from the tomb and back towards the main road. He had not noticed his companion's injuries but rather was still focused on the desecration which had befallen his ancestors. Why would such a think happen? He had always followed the proper rituals, been good and just, why would such events happen. His mind drifted back to the drought, that presented a similar problem to him. He did not understand why the spirits would be so cruel to them.

Suddenly they stopped, he heard Jaya give him some instructions. He had been too caught in his thoughts to hear what she had had to say. He looked up at the stars, thinking about what he had been taught all his life. How Shamans were supposed to be the ones communing with the sky gods. He was taught that the Empire, and more specifically, the Emperor Himself, was Tengri's chosen weapon. A sword of justice, used to bring terror to the unjust. He understood that, but what of the just? Why did they suffer.

He dared not voice his thoughts aloud. It was near treason to think such things. His eyes briefly wandered back to see that Jaya's mouth was moving, listening to her he could sense weakness in her voice, and she was injured. His eyes widened a bit as he rushed off his horse.

"You're hurt." he said with concern as he grabbed her mat, laying it down for her, before helping her down.

He brought his nose close to her, sniffing at her wound, his eyes betraying the concerns as his suspicion was confirmed, "By a jiangshi no less." he said gravely. He reached into his back, removing what looked to be some sort of Mushroom. Getting out his mortar and thistle he began mashing it up, releasing an intense odor. He then boiled some water and poured it over turning it into a tea.

"Here." he said as he handed her the beverage, "Drink up." he ordered as if a doctor, "We'll need to head to the nearest fort tomorrow so I can get to a proper apothecary." he said. He did not mention to her the consequences of not getting the medicine.

In the distance Fort Jochid lay, to the West. Its lights emblazoning the desert land scape. Its towers looked over the land scape like vast guard posts. There they would find safety, and a chance to regain their strength... or so he thought.

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[quote name='Sarah Tintagyl' timestamp='1356509202' post='3068040']
The rider in black waited for a long time, listening to hear the quiet sighing of the woman as she drifted off to sleep and the dimming of her fire, before approaching. Slowly, the figure walked down the small path from the wide vista on the hillside. The woman was armed, it was easy to tell, and so the rider had to be careful when sneaking upon her. Nearing her, the rider produced a small silver blade from the black cloak and then with a sudden pounce placed the blade up to Adila's neck and another hand on her body, feeling the sword beneath her cloak.

"Careful girl," said a whisper in Adila's ear, "This is a threat, but it doesn't have to turn deadly, who are you and what are you doing in these hills? You're an Imperial, I can tell, and that can mean many things around here. I can mean tyrant...and it can mean protector. Now...which are you?"
[/quote]

Although sleep had come hard for Adila, it would come with the weight of the waves of high tide rolling across a beach, and she once she became drowsy, the weary traveling [i]Kheshig[/i] would doze off into slumber. She was propped against the wall of one of the wells, with Mikail grazing at some long grass nearby, but he would notice the figure come closer to Adila, and if the figure watched her horse, it seemed to become interested in the newcomers' intentions and was watching them closely. When the figure pounced atop her, she would let out a yelp, but quickly recover her wits, trying to bring her sword to bear, but the stranger was seemingly attentive to detail, and kept her from raising the blade, she would then start grasping for her dirk, sheathed partway underneath her. This would be hard to accomplish the figure atop her, and her unable to move beneath them, she couldn't make out any detail of their face as the fire was very dim, but what she did know, was they were very strong.

When the whisper danced in the breezes of the southeast steppe, she would growl out, "A threat? I am a knight of the Timurids, a protector of the Shah's consort, a warrior of honorable rank and station..."

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"That may be so, Knight of Tamerlane, but you have yet to tell me if you are a tyrant or a protector." The rider said reaching into Adila's robes and pulling out both her sword and dirk before tossing them far across the dirt and then lifting the Timurid up to her feet. "You see, you're coming into unfamiliar territory, girl," now the voice was definitely feminine as the two figures held each other on the cracked earth. "Whether it is your doing or not, this land has been driven to poverty because of the Imperials and while some of them do try and alleviate our ailments, our hunger and our thirst, more of you continue to raise our taxes, take our livelihoods, and reduce this land to the waste that you see in front of you."

She took her silver knife and placed it next to Adila's neck and held it as she whispered into her ear once more. "But sometimes, there are those Imperials from the coast or form other parts of the Empire who are not tyrants and try to do their jobs well. They're the only ones stopping us from a complete revolution. So I'll ask you again...are you a protector or are you a tyrant, because if you are on my side, then you'll know what's happening at Fort Jochid and how they've begun to extort our people in their travels."

The knife pressed firmly to Adila's neck. "Now, what are you...and I'll know when Imperial Scum is lying to me."

---

Jaya smiled painfully as Bayari began to put together the concoction that would allow her to rest easy through the night. It tasted like old mushrooms and what the Indian girl imagined poison to feel like as it ran down her throat and across her body. However the burning on her side, where the wound was festering, began to lessen in its intensity. She groaned and looked up at him as he began to settle into his own bed. "Bayari," she said with a weak smile, "Thank you, I wish today wouldn't have happened as it did and I wish we could have bypassed those totems, but thank you...for helping me."

Through the night, Jaya had terrible dreams of the Jhangshi and other rotting corpses, clawing and tearing at her body. They ripped her flesh and eat her muscle before her skin turned to a dark black and in the horde of undead, the Goddess Kali looked down at her laughing, mocking her with her tongue and six arms. She walked in Kali's legions, biting at the earth and sinking into the depths of the dirt to claw out again. When the dream ended with a flash, Bayari was stirring her to awake. They needed to start moving to the fort and Jaya could feel the wound burning again.

They started towards the fort, slowly, as Jaya's breathing became broken. Still they moved on until coming to the gates as the Indian raised her voice. "We're seeking medical attention, we were attacked last night. Can you help us, please, I am a Squire of the Imperial Guard."

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[quote name='Sarah Tintagyl' timestamp='1356591738' post='3068390']
"That may be so, Knight of Tamerlane, but you have yet to tell me if you are a tyrant or a protector." The rider said reaching into Adila's robes and pulling out both her sword and dirk before tossing them far across the dirt and then lifting the Timurid up to her feet. "You see, you're coming into unfamiliar territory, girl," now the voice was definitely feminine as the two figures held each other on the cracked earth. "Whether it is your doing or not, this land has been driven to poverty because of the Imperials and while some of them do try and alleviate our ailments, our hunger and our thirst, more of you continue to raise our taxes, take our livelihoods, and reduce this land to the waste that you see in front of you."

She took her silver knife and placed it next to Adila's neck and held it as she whispered into her ear once more. "But sometimes, there are those Imperials from the coast or form other parts of the Empire who are not tyrants and try to do their jobs well. They're the only ones stopping us from a complete revolution. So I'll ask you again...are you a protector or are you a tyrant, because if you are on my side, then you'll know what's happening at Fort Jochid and how they've begun to extort our people in their travels."

The knife pressed firmly to Adila's neck. "Now, what are you...and I'll know when Imperial Scum is lying to me."
[/quote]

Adila grimaced as the woman continued to consider her an adolescent, but she was able to keep herself from becoming too offended, as the knife was pressed into her neck. She continued to find an even tone, hissing back at her captor after she hauled her to her feet, "Fort Jochid? I know of only recent rumors of the road, whispers of the traders, murmurs of the nomads, I hear of extortion and burden. I am a protector of the weak, it would be great dishonor to extort those who are impoverished, to take advantage of the commoner, it is against my oath as a warrior, and Adila al-Sajid does not contravene her oath."

Mikail had took interest in the two figures grappling with one another, and he let out a whinny nearby, one of his front hooves beating against the ground as Adila held the wrist of the figure who had the knife against her neck. "It is not my intention to extort these lands, I am not here to take your livelihoods, I am a traveler from west to east. If you want it in simpler terms that you seem to relish, I am a 'protector'..." Edited by TheShammySocialist

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The Shaman sat over the fire during the night keeping the watch. I his hands he held a package wrapped in felt. Taking off the wrapping it produced a long curved dagger blade, attached to a handle carved from a reindeer horn. Its patterns showed where the steel had been folded over itself, creating a magnificent glow between the moonlight and the red light of the fire. He took a breath in of the cold steppe air, and then down at the squire who was twisting in her dreams.

He felt guilty for dragging her there, but most of his thoughts continued to be on corpse which had defiled where they stayed. What had happened, he wondered to himself. All the charms they had put up? Were the old ways failing? These questions continued to haunt him in the night as he looked forward to the East. Perhaps the answers would lie on their journey ahead, or at their destination.

The next morning as they made their way to the fort, his eyes were blood shot, tired from the lack of rest the night before. But energy began to come back as he saw another of the magnificent forts of the Imperial Kingdom.

[img]http://img706.imageshack.us/img706/3020/kerensutoweronthewesten.jpg[/img]

Its magnificent towers shining in the early morning sun. He looked up in awe as his companion spoke to the guard. The Shaman did not pay mind to his appearance, almost that of a beggar with his garments torn from the battle before.

The men looked at the girl as she claimed to be a member of the Imperial Guard. The militia had rarely encountered such members out here. It was odd, what had brought them this far. They sent word to the magistrate, who upon hearing it came down to see for himself.

Looking over the girl's credentials, it was indeed a member of the guard. Kai was suspicious, [i]why had the Empire sent one of her kind here.[/i] If this was a member of the guard he found it hard to believe they'd get this injured against any threat they would face here. Perhaps a rouse.

As he approached them he smiled, "I am Magistrate Kai." he said smiling. "Please come in, we will let you have access to our apothecary and then get washed up, you two look filthy. Join me for dinner won't you I would very much like to hear what brings us such an honor in a remote corner of the world."

When the two entered into the fort, they would immediately see the sight of laborers, ones who did not look too well fed. They were engaged in elaborate construction of what appeared to be luxury bathes and gardens, ones that were cheap knock offs of those in proper manors of the East.

Impounded merchant wagons were seen off to the side of the wall. As Bayari eyed them, the magistrate motioned for his men to pull covers over them. "Do not trouble you with sites from criminals." the Magistrate said smiling. He motioned them to the Apothecary. "In here." the Magistrate said. The shaman smiled heading inside the building. He began routing through the stores for the medicine.

He turned to the squire, "Something's definitely funny here." Bayari said. Edited by Triyun

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"Yes," she said and threw Adila to the ground and pointed the blade at her face, "I enjoy simpler terms, complex terms lead to complicated paths and out here, a complicated path will have you stranded in the wilderness to be eaten by the beasts. But if you are who you say you are, then you will come with me, [color=#282828][font=helvetica, arial, sans-serif]Adila al-Sajid, and we will protect the weak as is our duty." The Black Rider turned away from the Timurid knight and walked back to her own stallion as and mounted. The stars were just beginning to fade away into the light of morning. "Fort Jochid is not far from where we are, the Magistrate there has been holding poor men and women hostage to collect ransoms and build his palaces across the steppe. We are going to take care of him and then we may go our separate ways." The Rider seemed to chuckle as her stallion began to trot down the mountain path. "As you have been claimed by me. I saved your blood, now your blood is mine until you save another."[/font][/color]

[color=#282828][font=helvetica, arial, sans-serif]---[/font][/color]

Walking into the apothecary, Jaya lay down on nearby bench as she watched Bayari rooting through the herbs and potions gathered on the walls. She held her side and tried to steady her breathing as the wooden door of the shop opened and a young man, perhaps Bayari's age walked in and looked around in shock. "Excuse me, can I help you? I can assure you there is nothing funny about my medicine. Who are you to say such a thing?"

"The Magistrate directed us here," said Jaya, trying to focus, but feeling her body burning up again as she rested her head against the stone wall of the shop.

"What's wrong with you, girl? You look like you have rabies."

"We...were attacked by a Jhangshi, five hours west of the fort, coming down from the pass. He...injured us pretty badly."

"A Jhangshi?" the Apothecary walked over to where Jaya lay on the bench and removed her hand, guarding her side and ripped away the cloth. Her brown skin that lay beneath was beginning to turn to a pale, sickly green as the blood hardened into a tough rocky substance that bubbled every time the Indian tried to take a breath. "Christ, this girl needs medical attention, I don't even know if I have the skill for this." He said taking off his hat, revealing light auburn hair underneath with smooth olive skin. "Niccolo Garibaldi, at your service, Signora. But we need to help her," he turned to Bayari, "And who are you?"

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When she heaved Adila to the ground, Adila would somersault over backwards and come up on her feet, looking at the mysterious figure as she seemed to take a liking to her answer. She would remain silent as the cloaked figure moved to mount her horse again, and she gathered up her dirk and sword and sheathed them both in her belt.

"If you are going to protect the weak, then I will ride with you, but if you want me to ride with you, black rider, then I would hope you would tell me your name," said Adila, as she gathered up her meager collection of belongings, and summoning Mikail with a simple whistle. The Arabian perked up and immediately trotted over to his rider, as she rearranged her own cloak, and tucked whatever loose belongings she had into a saddle bag. She would then slip atop her mount, and deftly bring Mikail alongside the rider along the path. "And what might you mean by save another? Especially if my life did not need saving in the first place?"

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Out on the dusty road that led towards the fort of Jochid a single hunched figure slowly made his way forwards, wrapped tightly in a old, musty brown cloak and robe his sandals kicked up small clouds of dirt with each step. To help him walk the man held on to a wooden staff as tall as he was and it kept him steady as he walked. Coming to a rest he looked up the roadway towards the nearing fort and brought his free hand up to shield his eyes from the glare of the sun. His wrinkled skin was crisp and dry as were his lips as he had been walking in the heat for some time and for a man of his age it took quite some effort, retrieving a flask of water from his sack wrapped around his back he drained the last few drops from its depths before cursing and placing it back. He had hoped to avoid the fort after hearing some of the stories and rumors of what went on there but it seemed his hand was forced once again by fate.

Setting off once again he causally made his way along the road up to the grand entrance of the fort where it's guardsmen stood watch and coming before them he raised one hand in greeting before speaking. "Hail and good greetings to you kinsmen. I am Dou Li a simple elderly tribal elder on a journey of enlightenment and pilgrimage and I find myself without much food and no water. I wonder if perhaps I may be allowed entry to your fort to trade with those within?"

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"I am Bayari Konah." the Shaman said confidently, trying to summon the courage to keep in the room, "Apprentice Shamanist. This is Jaya, my guide on my journey to the East."

The Shaman's apprentice pushed his way forward to look at the wounds, annoyed by the comment about not 'having the skill for it'. It brought out his competitive spirit, to see if he could heal what a trained expert from Ehestadt could not.

"We need to form the proper balms and salves for this." he said. Walking away he rooted through the drawers putting things together. "We cannot delay." he said as he gathered things together, throwing them into a cauldron eager to impress.

Finally gathering the ingredients together with water he placed them over the fire, as the room quickly filled with the most foul smelling odor any of them had come across.

"Well?" he asked as the two looked at him.

Meanwhile in the tower, the Magistrate looked on the workers below. He had begun to build something here. His own private fiefdom, and these annoyances kept popping up. The merchants weren't paying so they were tasked with making him his palace. But now this black cloak shows up. And more and more merchants become bolder.

Then he had to deal with this Imperial Knight, would she report him? He could not just let her go missing in his sector. Her disposal had to be believable.

He grumbled as he looked down at the Apothecary. "She seems sick, I don't imagine they'd last long on the road with her in ill health." he said to one of his assistants. "Send for them for dinner, inform the chef to make something [i]special[/i]." he said.

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"You may call me, Siyah," said the rider as she turned her head and looked through her robes at Adila mounting her horse. They left Adila's small, temporary campground and stayed on the high mountain trails that overlooked the Silk Road and the glimmering cities and villages in the distance. Fort Jochid was close and from afar the sounds of shovels, picks, and men shouting filled the early morning air. It was a treacherous path being so high up and the trail with thin. The stallions had to keep their balance as they wandered around small summits before coming to an area where the riders could see the fort and surrounding countryside.

"Your life did need saving, Adila al-Sajid, it needed saving from me and I, in turn, saved it. The ways of nature are strange and the ways of the Steppe are stranger. You are from the lands of the Timurids, you know the ways of nature or you could not have survived."

Looking down at the fort, Siyah dismounted and walked to the edge of the path. "We will approach at night. There are store rooms within the fortress with gunpowder and other flammables, once we cause a fire as a distraction, we will free those merchants and other workers who have been imprisoned by the magistrate. Then we will kill him, his officers, and whatever soldiers stand in our way and burn the fort to ash." She turned and looked at Adila and took off the garments wrapped around her head. Beneath the robes, a pale face with cream ivory skin looked back, narrow black eyes and long black hair. "Unless you are not willing to hold your oath."

---

Within the fort and the apothecary's shop, Jaya watched as Bayari prepared a balm for her wound with both tact and confidence as Niccolo sat back with his arms folded. When the balm bubbled in the fire, it smelt worse than the Jhangshi and the Italian pressed his hand to his mouth, shaking his head. "Something that foul smelling cannot possibly be good for anything." Then he watched as the Shaman took the balm and slowly rubbed it on Jaya's wound. The girl tensed her body, another searing pain pushing through her veins, but the way the blood seemed to bubble and burst began to settle.

Jaya's breathing became more relaxed as minutes passed on and she smiled up at the young Shaman. "I guess, we're back to even then. You nearly get me killed and then you at least find a way to stop the pain."

"I've never seen a wound like that? Are you sure that it's even completely cured?"

As they talked, however, the doors of the shop opened as two of the fort guards walked in and bowed their heads lightly. "Excuse us, the Magistrate has requested your presences at dinner," they said to Bayari and Jaya. "Thank you, Master Garibaldi for helping them."

"Well...I..."

Jaya slowly got up from her bench and groaned, "Though could you possibly tell the Magistrate that I cannot possibly make it to dinner right now. I'm too weak and I need to rest. We will be in the fort for at least another day or so, would it be possible to take dinner with him then?"

"We will relay the message, Madam." Said the guard as he left with his partner.

When they left, Niccolo turned to Jaya and Bayari, shaking his head. "You two don't want to get mixed up with the Magistrate's business. Thing's aren't so good here right now. Bandits have been raiding the fort and he's been imprisoning merchants and other young men and women." He said sitting down on his counter. "I need to leave myself. It's too dangerous."

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Inside the apothecary Bayari wore a smirk on his face. "Perhaps there are some things that you could learn from us village folks?" he asked the apothecarist as he looked at the results of the healing.

He looked down at Jaya's wounds, "It may take a long time to heal if ever fully, but it will not turn her into a living corpse. These types of wounds, they do linger some, at least without some powerful spiritual intervention, but they are manageable." he frowned, "Though, that such a thing went beyond our charms. I do not know what that means."

The young shaman than smiled at his protector, "Do not worry though." he added, "I am sure now that we are on the road...."

As he continued to talk they were interrupted by the invitation of the magistrate. Bayari looked over to see the man entering.

[i][color=#282828][font=helvetica, arial, sans-serif]Jaya slowly got up from her bench and groaned, "Though could you possibly tell the Magistrate that I cannot possibly make it to dinner right now. I'm too weak and I need to rest. We will be in the fort for at least another day or so, would it be possible to take dinner with him then?"[/font][/color]

[color=#282828][font=helvetica, arial, sans-serif]"We will relay the message, Madam." Said the guard as he left with his partner.[/font][/color]

[color=#282828][font=helvetica, arial, sans-serif]When they left, Niccolo turned to Jaya and Bayari, shaking his head. "You two don't want to get mixed up with the Magistrate's business. Thing's aren't so good here right now. Bandits have been raiding the fort and he's been imprisoning merchants and other young men and women." He said sitting down on his counter. "I need to leave myself. It's too dangerous."[/i][/font][/color]

Of course they aren't, thought Bayari. "I see." he said simply, "We saw the people working outside, I assume those are his prisoners, they looked like they were in chains."

Turning to Jaya he sighed, "You need to keep your strength up. It looks like there may be little chance for rest, but hey a good meal couldn't hurt, could it?" he asked. His stomach growled. "We could have them bring it here?" he suggested.

Having come from an impoverished village, he'd started the journey without much to eat, and now hunger was really starting to get to him. Besides he could smell the rich aroma of roasted meats coming from the kitchen already. His mouth was watering, his eyes looking like that of a dog's pleading with Jaya for scraps.

-------

Outside the gates the guards looked at the old man whom had approached them. He seemed weak, and without any sort of protectors. They smirked to themselves as they spoke, "I am afraid that we're all out of shelter here." the guard said, "Where are you heading?" the guard said as he motioned for the others to snatch the man.

------

The decline of invitation did not go over well with the magistrate. "I see." he said, angrily as the guard informed him. He did not like the decline of hospitality, perhaps they were already suspicious of him. He twirled his fu manchu mustache as he looked down from the tower on the feint light of the apothecary. "Well then." he said.

"Perhaps when they sleep we will give them a bit of a surprise." he said. He looked into his desk drawer and several scorpions who were scurring up the sides of their glass jars. He smiled.

"How are we making progress on tracking down the black cloaked bandit?" he asked his guard captain. "It is coming along sir, I've sent out patrols to where he normally operates." the guard captain said.

"Good good." the magistrate said.

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