Author: WarriorArnelle PM
"We will find her. No stone unturned, no question unanswered." This Ibadar of Elmcourt promises his twin Sarin when they witness their sister's kidnapping and the slaughter of their entire patrol. Sheer luck saves the twins, and now they have sworn to bring Dylena home safe. But the game is bigger and the stakes are higher than they know, and there are no second chances.Rated: Fiction M - English - Fantasy/Adventure - Chapters: 17 - Words: 51,038 - Reviews: 50 - Favs: 5 - Follows: 6 - Updated: 03-06-13 - Published: 01-22-13 - id: 3094387
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Sarin sighed deeply as he peered down the path at the sparking lights below him. It had taken them nearly three weeks or more- he'd honestly lost track somewhere in the second week- to get where they were now, but there was Brighthollow below them, so close he could hear and smell it but still too far for them to reach it tonight.
He glanced back at his companions, both of whom looked slightly the worse for wear. Etsen was curled up by their small campfire, his ears looking nearly as wilted as Sarin's entire body felt; beyond him, half-hidden in shadow, lay Ibadar. Sarin sighed again, shoving his hair out of his eyes again and grimaced in his twin's direction. Knowing Ib as far too tired to do much of anything, let alone travel the last few hours to Brighthollow's gates. As soon as they'd landed safely, he'd changed forms and collapsed where he'd stood, the same routine as every other day these past few weeks. This time, however, Sarin was fairly certain that his twin wouldn't be awake for at least a full day, possibly longer.
Ib had been getting steadily thinner and greyer as the days went on. He was pushing himself far too hard, but he wouldn't hear a word about Sarin taking over, even for one day, or just a few hours. Ib was more concerned for his brother's slightly sprained shoulder than his own well-being. 'Typical,' the redheaded Kascha thought as he carefully rolled his injured shoulder with a slight wince. True, it was still sore, but he could at least carry his own weight for a few hours and spare Ib that extra passenger. But his silver-haired twin refused, hands-down, to hear of it until Sarin's wing and shoulder were completely healed. He groaned softly and turned back to the lanterns shining just a mile or two below them.
They were so close… Part of him wanted to get up and walk straight into town, but the more sensible part of his mind- the part Ib usually had- so kindly informed him that that would be a monumentally bad idea; Ib would be dead weight, and he and Etsen wouldn't be able to carry him the entire way, and the gates would be sealed by now, in any case. Sarin growled, running a hand through his long, red hair and winced when his fingers caught on what felt like every single knot on their way through. After one last, quick, secretly longing glance down into Brighthollow, Sarin turned away and went back to where his brother and friend lay. As he settled down next to their tiny campfire, Etsen tiled his head, his ears perking up slightly.
"We could go down there tonight," he said after a moment, carefully watching Sarin's reaction and just barely resisting the urge to roll his eyes when the redhead shook his head, his long hair flying. "Why not? Most cities will still open smaller gates for late night travelers." Sarin just shook his head again, carefully untangling a knot in his hair as he did so.
"Human settlements, maybe," he told his Wolven friend, keeping his voice low. "Not here. Brighthollow might be one of the more trusting Kascharan cities, but even they won't open the gates once the sun's set and the gates have been sealed for the night." He hissed softly as the knot finally came undone, and he moved on to the next one as Etsen blinked at him in confusion and slowly sat up.
"Sealed?" he asked, tilting his head slightly; Sarin nodded.
"Unlike most human cities, Kascharan ones seal their gates every night. It's a sort of spell, and once it's done, no one gets in and no one leaves until they remove the seal at dawn or they've got special permission from the Council." He grinned ironically at Etsen and added, "Sadly, that's something that even a Guard Commander of another city doesn't just get." Groaning softly, he gave up on untangling his hair and leaned back on his elbows as he watched the flames dance. "Besides that, it's nearly two miles away, down a dark path, and that's too far to carry Ib right now. Plus it would be a really bad idea to move him right now, in any case."
Etsen suppressed a groan at the slightly depressed tone in the other's voice. Sarin had been doing this more and more lately, and, frankly, it was starting to really bother the young Shifter. He understood that the redhead was worried about his brother- he was, too; Ib hardly looked healthy- but that didn't mean that Sarin had to let his own health go, mental or otherwise. "Why so glum?" he asked, studying his friend closely. "We've made good time, getting here almost a week earlier than we hoped, and we haven't seen hide or hair of those Hunters since Samurdor." He flicked his ears back, tilted his head the other way, and fixed his mismatched eyes on the Kascha's face.
Sarin debated ignoring him as he returned his attention to his hair, sniffing when yet another knot came undone, carefully avoiding Etsen's eyes. He really didn't like people fussing over him, and he still felt that it was his and Ib's fault that Etsen was here in the first place. It was their fault that the Hunters now knew the Wolf was travelling with them, and most likely knew their destination, which he did. It was their fault that he was no longer safe, no matter where he went. Glancing over at said Wolf, he opened his mouth to say something to that effect, but Etsen beat him to it.
"Don't even start, russ," he grumbled dryly. Sarin snapped his mouth shut and gave the Shifter a reproachful glower that he simply returned in kind. "Like I've told you every night for the past three weeks," he curtly informed the redhead, his hands twitching like he wanted to either smack Sarin or just strangle him for being obstinate and an idiot, "You and Ibadar didn't 'get' me into anything. I chose to help; I chose to get myself involved in this, and I don't regret those choices." He paused, rubbing one ear thoughtfully and added, "Frankly, I haven't enjoyed adventuring this much in ages."
Sarin stared at him. "Of course," he muttered sarcastically, and Etsen raised a silver eyebrow at him, "because being hunted by homicidal ulan maniacs intent on torturing you to death can be described as 'fun' or 'enjoyable'." He flopped the rest of the way down, sprawling onto his back as Etsen's other eyebrow rose to join the first. He waited a minute to see if Sarin would say anything else; when he didn't, the young Shifter leaned over him, making sure the redhead couldn't look away or avoid his eyes.
"I might be slightly insane," he ignored Sarin's quiet snort of laughter and went on as though nothing had happened, "but, yes, I've enjoyed this. I never thought…" and there he trailed off, not particularly wanting to finish that thought. Sarin raised a coppery eyebrow at Etsen; he'd never heard the Wolf-Shifter use that quiet, wistful tone before.
Glad for the chance to get Etsen's attention away from him for a little while, He speared the Wolf with a piercing glare he'd learned from his mother years ago and asked, "Never thought what?"
The silver-haired Wolf glared at him and rolled off Sarin, ending up next to his friend, staring up at the stars above them. He was silent for a long time, and Sarin was beginning to wonder if he ought to repeat his question when Etsen spoke softly, so much so that the Kascha had to strain to hear him, "I never thought being free would be like this." He stopped then and made to roll over, to put his back to Sarin, but the redhead was having none of that.
"Oh, no you don't!" he growled, making sure to put a playful note in his voice; if he noticed the baleful glare the Wolf gave him, he showed no sign of it. "You made me talk when I really didn't want to; now it's your turn!"
Etsen closed his eyes but made no move to turn away again. Sarin grunted, bit back a growl of impatience, and poked the Wolf in the side, grinning when Etsen tried and failed to swat his hand away with a quiet whine, "Stop that, go away."
"Sorry, kete, can't do that." He kept poking until finally Etsen jumped to his feet and glared down at Sarin.
"Fine," he snapped, moving settle down a little closer to the fire and just out of Sarin's reach. "Just stop poking me!" Pretending that he didn't hear Sarin's muffled snicker, the Wolf stared into the flames, wishing he'd just kept quiet. Once again, the two were silent for a long, long time, the only sounds the crackling of the flames and the gentle sighing of the evening breeze. Sarin closed his eyes and started breathing deeply, enjoying the cool night air as the first moon peeked through the clouds for a moment.
After a while, Etsen shifted slightly and Sarin cracked one eye open to study him; finally, the Shifter spoke, his voice low and distant, "I told you that I was probably born into slavery, right?" Sarin hissed fiercely, his eyes glowing as bright as the embers in their fire at the word "slavery" but he nodded.
"You mentioned it back in town, yes." Etsen winced at the dark, angry tone in his friend's voice, but he did his best to ignore it and just talk.
"Well, that's all I've ever known. Even though my first master was kind, I was definitely not quite on the same level as everyone else, except Arnelle and a couple of the other slaves. And then his company flopped, and he had to sell almost all of us; I ended up as a fighting slave." He paused, fighting back four years' worth of memories of bloody battles, injuries, and the dead stares of his opponents, swallowing hard before going on, "Finally, though, the arena let me go. But… I didn't know how to be free. I had lived all my life listening to someone else, obeying orders, never really making my own choices. So I would look for 'masters', people who, while they didn't actually own me, necessarily, would treat me like they did." He paused again and grinned slightly at the serious-faced Sarin. "It was until you and Ib showed up and I decided to join you that-"
"That you were really free," Sarin murmured, interrupting, and studying his friend so closely that Etsen felt heat rising in his face. He wasn't too fond of being stared at like that. He nodded, hoping to get Sarin to turn that stare somewhere else, his ears tilted back slightly.
"Yes," he answered after a moment, looking slightly over Sarin's shoulder instead of directly at him, deftly avoiding his eyes. "Exactly that." He hesitated then, still not looking at his redheaded friend, and after a moment Sarin asked softly,
"You're not sure what to do with that, are you?" The Kascha winced instinctively before remembering that Ib was safely unconscious and as such couldn't beat him for his distinct lack of tact. And it didn't seem to have bothered Etsen much.
"Part of me seems to," he was saying, having not noticed Sarin's brief second of distraction, "and part of me is just confused." The Wolf-shifter sighed, covering his face with his hands, his ears now flat to his skull again, but he made no sound, nor did he move for a long time.
Sarin grinned slightly after a while and went to crouch by his friend's side. "You're a Wolf at heart, Etsen," he told him after a moment. "You're meant to be free; it's your nature!" The Shifter lowered his hands and glanced over at Sarin as the Kashca added, "And we can teach you how to be free, although I doubt you'll need much instruction!" Etsen stared at him for a long moment, half his face and his white eye glowing red in the firelight.
After a long moment, he grinned, looking much more like his normal self, and Sarin breathed a secret sigh of relief as the Wolf touched his shoulder and whispered, "Thank you." Sarin nodded, laying his hand over Etsen's for a second.
"Anytime, ke- koska." Silence reigned for a second and then both of them cleared their throats and looked up towards the sky. The first moon, now little more than a thumbnail, was vanishing over the horizon and the second was about halfway across the sky. Sarin tossed a small ember into their fire and stood. "It'll be dawn soon enough," he said calmly as theough that moment had never happened. Etsen nodded.
"You go sleep," he said softly, still focused on the moons above their heads. "I'm awake enough to watch until dawn." Sarin didn't argue, simply nodded and going to lie next to his twin. Within moments, he was asleep.
He was standing in a cloud; that's what it had to be. All around him, wisps of white and silver drifted past him, and every once in a while, he'd catch a whisper, like someone was calling his name. But he was never quite sure.
Slowly, Sarin turned around, waving a hand absentmindedly through the mist around him. What he was looking for, even he had no idea; he just knew there was something here he needed to see, or maybe someone…
Even as he thought that, the clouds around him lifted, replaced by grey stone towers flying with the banners of the Xchellan's house: a winged sword hanging above a field of grey; Sarin blinked, and suddenly the banners were torn and streaked with soot. Distant screams echoed down to the bottom of the deep ravine in which he stood. Above him, a vaguely threatening rumbling caught his attention, and he looked up only to barely hold back a rather unmanly scream of terror at the sight of house-sized rocks, rubble, and boulders came crashing down directly towards him.
Sarin threw his arms up to cover his head, crouching down, knowing full well that any attempts to flee were useless. The creaking, cracking, and rumbling grew nearer and nearer as he waited for the pain…
The impact never came. Startled, Sarin looked out from under the meager protection of his arms and gaped around him. The falling stones and debris had vanished and the white, billowing clouds were back. As was that strange whisper, although he still couldn't quite make out what it was saying.
He looked up then, feeling the sudden desire to be in the air. Dark orange and black wings sprouted from his shoulders; a distant corner of his mind wondered why his injured wing suddenly didn't hurt, and he was about to launch himself into the air above him when the mist suddenly seemed to cling to him, holding him still, keeping him landbound. He snarled, fighting the grip, but his voice didn't carry. It seemed that the clouds around him had become solid, blocking both movement and sound.
For a split second, the haziness around him lifted a second time, and he saw… he wasn't sure what he saw. It seemed that he was standing above the mountains now, looking down at what must be the ruins of Esterdragon.
But something was moving… Sarin narrowed his eyes, trying to see what it was. A pair of wings flashed purple for a second in the dim sunlight, and after that… A blazing whiteness filled his vision for a brief instant, and then he was back in a familiar clearing, clinging to a tree branch desperately, his twin frozen just inches away.
He couldn't move. He tried, and he tried, but the most he could get was a slight twitch in one of his fingers while below him he heard his sister scream his name, Ib's name, for their mother, anyone to come help her. But, as it had been on that day six months ago, he could do nothing but watch.